Füzesiné Szegvári, Zsuzsa:

Characteristics of the Vizsla's coat-type and colour

The Hungarian Vizsla is a short haired dog with a uniform tawny colour. One might think that all Vizslas are the same in this respect and no complications are possible. However, the situation is far from as simple as that. There are frequent arguments about the ideal look, and sometimes extreme views are voiced especially with respect to the colour of the eyes and the hair, which some would wish to define with absolute precision. Therefore the question is worth investigating in some detail.

Hair colour:

The Hungarian breed standard writes, “Various shades of dark sandy gold. Ear leathers may be a shade darker, otherwise uniform in colour. Reddish, brownish and lighter shades are undesirable. A small white patch on the chest or in the throat region, no more than 5 cm in diameter, as well as white markings on the toes, are not considered faulty. The colour of the lips and the eye rims corresponds to the colour of the nose.”

Unfortunately it is nigh impossible to define colours accurately in words, and it is especially hard to translate such descriptions to foreign languages, which give rise to many misunderstandings. Therefore I venture to elaborate the shading with comparisons. It is definitely a grave fault for a Vizsla to have a mahogany shade like an Irish Setter, a light colour like that of a generic Golden Retriever, or a dark brown hue like a German Pointer. Except for the extremes however, various shadings are all acceptable; and though momentary fashion trends may favour lighter or darker individuals, the key requirement is for the dog to have a uniform colouring.

The heredity of darker or lighter shades is probably determined by so-called modifier genes that influence actual colouring according to their quantity: the more of the so-called ‘rufus' factor is present in a dog's genes, the darker he will be.

However, colouring also changes with age and hormonal conditions (e.g. during gestation). A pup born with a dark coat will frequently attain a medium dark colour after its first-year coat is shed, while a light baby Vizsla will have a richer colour as an adult. Thus, my experience shows that the ultimate shade of any given pup cannot be predicted with certainty; however, the average colour of the bloodline (parents, grandparents) tends to manifest itself in the majority of the offspring.

There are also some Vizslas with feet, muzzle or ears darker than the rest of the body. This is a fault, as it is likely to indicate the background work of genes from other breeds. Another fault occurring especially in dogs with a darker coat is a colouration in the eye rims, nose and lips that is lighter than the body hair. Even though this is aesthetically less pleasing, it should not be considered a grave fault.

The standard gives exact specifications for the permitted size of breast patches and white colouring on toes. Nevertheless, certain schools would forbid the presence of a single white hair, and in some countries any white markings disqualify specimens at shows. My personal opinion is that this degree of formalism with respect to colour is excessive. Most uniform-coloured dog breeds do manifest the white breast patch to some extent or other, though the genetic background of this is not yet known exactly. I feel that the general impression of a dog is not lessened by a small patch or marking, though this is a matter of taste.

One of the most frequently argued issues is the colour of the iris of the eye . Yellow breeds whose nose is not black (such as Vizslas) always have eyes lighter in colour than other individuals and breeds with black nose. Typically, the Hungarian Vizsla has a lighter eye colour in youth, which turns darker with sexual maturation and continues to darken with age for a long time. Definitely light, yellow-coloured eyes give the dog a cold gaze discordant with the character of the Vizsla, never achieving the friendly and amiable impression that medium-brown eyes give. The iris of a mature Vizsla should at the least be one shade darker than its coat; even darker colours are not unwelcome but actually desirable.

Harmony in the colours of the eyes and the coat is a crucial factor in the general impression a dog makes. However, judges and breeders are wrong to give absolute sway to the colour of the eyes, preferring an individual with darker eyes but otherwise of inferior qualities.

The type of the Vizsla's coat

The Hungarian Vizsla is bred in two officially recognised coat variations: with short and smooth hair, and with wiry hair. Still, now and then an individual with long hair is born, though these fortunately are few and far between, their birth often kept secret and surrounded with gossiping.

To study this issue, we must first briefly consider what is known of the heredity of hair quality in dogs .

As far as presently known, the hair quality of dogs is essentially determined by three genes/ loci (according to convention, the dominant allele is indicated by capitals and the recessive by lowercase):

1. short (L) – long (l)

2. wiry (more accurately “hirsute”) W – smooth (w)
(The term Wiry is not exactly suitable for this gene, since its manifestation is not wiry hair, but hair elongated in regions where the coat would otherwise be short and smooth even in the presence of ‘l' (such as the muzzles and the feet), regardless of hair texture.)

3. Hairless – normal(hairy)

Variations to these fundamental traits are caused by minor genes called modifiers, which operate as quantitative traits in a polygenic process (i.e. the more of a modifying factor is present, the more intensively the respective trait manifests). These determine coat texture, density, length (i.e. short or long relative to the short or long major trait), the extent and intensity of curliness, etc. The effect of such modifiers is more fully evident in longhaired breeds.

The Afghan Hound, the Old English Sheepdog, the Saluki, the Borzoi, the Poodle, the Hungarian Puli and Komondor are all longhaired breeds; while the Doberman Pinscher, the German Shepherd and the Smooth Collie are genetically both shorthaired, and the conspicuous differences between these breeds are due to modifier genes. The Skye Terrier, the OES and the Komondor are longhaired–wiry, while the Afghan Hound and the Irish Setter are longhaired-smooth.

Applying the above to our case, the shorthaired Vizsla ideally has the genotype ‘L,L + w,w'. Given that the gene for long hair (l) is recessive, it may be present throughout generations without the breeder becoming aware of it, until by blind luck the dog is mated with another latent carrier (of genotype L,l).

What may be the source of this ‘l' gene dormant in the population? Studying the history of the breed it becomes obvious that pure-breeding in the scientific sense and official registration has a history of barely eight decades. In the times before that, the Vizsla had ample opportunity to mingle with other, longhaired breeds. We have written records of semi-long haired individuals born in the 1920's and 30's. Another opportunity for the intrusion of genes was the period following World War II, when the breed could only be reconstructed by introducing to the bloodlines specimens of unclear or incompletely documented background.

It is also ‘known' or at least widely rumoured that in the 60's and 70's certain breeders, behind closed doors of course, introduced some genes to the bloodline by cross-breeding with Pointers, Irish Setters and possibly Retrievers using to improve certain working abilities. One of the (unexpected) upshots of this might be the occasional appearance of individuals with long hair. Today, it would be no use to trace back the origin of such genes; rather, any surfacing information ought to be widely publicised, thereby reducing the chances of the birth of a longhaired individual. Those born on the other hand ought to be excluded from the genealogical register and given to loving masters, neutered whenever possible. It must also be kept in mind that both parents of such individuals carry the gene, so breeders ought not to point fingers at one another but should draw the necessary consequences with regard to both the sire and the dame, and keep them in breeding only of they are individuals whose outstanding positive traits far exceed the disadvantage posed by the potential birth of pups with a faulty coat and by the transmission of the faulty recessive gene. Given that this is a fault of aesthetical nature that does not impair the quality of life of such pups (only their commercial value), I deem it unnecessary to eliminate carriers strictly from the breeding pool.

However, I would also note that the MEOE (Hungarian Kennel Club) supports no initiatives to breed selectively the long-haired variety . This would not be expedient in any manner, as this coat type has more disadvantages than advantages in the actual hunt.

Variations are also apparent within the regular category of short hair . The majority of the stock of Hungarian Vizslas comprises varieties of the short hair range that are extra short and relatively light. Certain individuals, referred to at ‘mouse-haired,' have definitely sparse coats. This is not advantageous for work performance, therefore the breeding objective should be to achieve a slightly longer and denser coat. Unfortunately, judges at our shows hardly ever consider this point.

Another sporadically occurring coat variation is much denser, with a degree of undercoat also present. When such dogs shed their coats, especially at a younger age, their fur becomes heterogeneous and rather scabby-looking: the thicker undercoat turns sallow and falls out unevenly, almost in lumps, giving the dog an unattractive appearance. After two years of age the coats are usually no longer shed in this manner, so this fault is very hard to note and eliminate. This trait is probably not related to the recessive gene responsible for long hair; however, this is merely my observation and no scientific study or survey has been made into this subject.

The coat type of the wirehaired Hungarian Vizsla is a much more complex issue.

To recapitulate the origin of the breed: the formative crossing (shorthaired Hungarian Vizsla x wirehaired German Pointer) by default involved genes for both smooth hair and wiry hair, as well as those for both short and long hair (on the basis of descriptions), with a relatively high quantity of ‘soft' and ‘dense' modifiers. (That is to say, the wirehaired specimen selected for the original mating had relatively dense, long and curly hair. Some recollections say that the Irish Setter was also used for developing one bloodline.) Therefore we must not be surprised to see in the present day mostly semi-long wiry hair that frequently turns out to be overlong and wavy.

In my opinion the objective should be to achieve hair as strong and straight as possible, yet sufficiently dense and markedly following the wirehaired type . This can be attained by consistent and purposeful selection.

There is also a school that favours the short and wiry hair type. Such specimens have hardly any beard, eyebrows and brush on the hind legs, i.e. the typical features of a ‘wiry' dog are not conspicuous. This type is indeed very practical for use in the hunt, yet it is at a disadvantage with respect to the harmony of appearance, success at shows and general attractiveness.

Since the breed is relatively young, upshots with smooth hair continue appear to this day. Naturally, these must not be used for further breeding, nor should they be mated with shorthaired Hungarian Vizslas.