The Hungarian Magyar Vizsla is an elegant, pointer hunting dog which was, as the name suggests, developed in Hungary. The vizsla breed is highly intelligent, energetic, and majestic in both physique and demeanor, and is at the same time an unrivaled hunting companion.
The Vizsla, also known as the Hungarian Vizsla, Hungarian Pointer, and Magyar Vizsla, is one of the oldest and most distinguished pointers in the world. A versatile, medium-sized hunter with a typical height of 21 to 25 inches and weight of 40 to 65 pounds, the Vizsla is most often noticed for its beautiful rusty gold or reddish-brown color. Spend even a few minutes with a Vizsla and you’ll also notice that it’s one of the most sensitive, intelligent, loyal, energetic, and affectionate dogs you’ve ever met. For these reasons and more, the Vizsla breed has gained a passionate and ever-growing following in the United States, Europe, and beyond.
The Vizsla dog breed has a pedigree to match its character. The Vizsla has been traced back to the Magyars of the 9th and 10th centuries AD, and appears in illustrations throughout the Middle Ages as a hunting and falconry companion of Hungarian nobles. Though imperiled by WWI and WWII, the Vizsla breed was lovingly preserved by Hungarian breeders and emigrants. The Vizsla has thrived since being given official recognition in 1960 by the American Kennel Club, and has become a highly sought-after breed among active families and those seeking dual-purpose or triple-purpose dogs.
Vizsla Breed History
The Vizsla has two origin stories. If you’re a Vizsla owner, you’ll likely regard the recent origin story as slanderous and unsubstantiated and the older origin story as 100% genuine. And with good reason: the facts strongly argue for an old and romantic history that’s well suited to this beautiful and aristocratic dog.
The argument for a more recent origin claims that the Vizsla is not one of the oldest pointers, but was bred in the first decades of the 20th century by crossing the German Weimaraner with several types of pointing dogs. This theory is partially based on the morphological similarities between Vizslas and Weimaraners.
There is some truth to the claim that the Vizsla as we know it originated in recent times. After the First World War invasion and subsequent occupation of Hungary, Vizsla numbers declined so sharply that the breed neared extinction. In response, the Oriszagos Vizsla Club was formed in 1924 by Count Laszlo Esterhazy, Elmer Petocz, Captain Károly Baba, and Dr. Kalman Polgar. A small number of select dogs were selected and registered, and a standard was drawn up to identify the “correct” type of Vizsla. The club’s goal was not merely to repopulate the breed, but to eliminate many unwanted characteristics, including color variations (breed color was then much lighter and without the characteristic ruddiness of today’s Vizslas), lighter eyes, short muzzles, white markings, etc.
Twenty years later, approximately 5,000 Vizslas had been registered. However, World War II and the post-war Soviet occupation had a devastating impact on Vizsla numbers. Vizslas were smuggled into other countries in order to the preserve the breed, or accompanied their owners as they fled across Europe and overseas to escape Soviet rule. Once owned solely by the Hungarian nobility and aristocracy, the Vizsla was on its way to becoming an international treasure.
The Vizsla’s Ancient History
When the nomadic Magyars moved westward across the Carpathian Mountains in their European invasions of the late 9th century, they brought with them several breeds of dogs that were used in hunting and falconry. Stone etchings of the 10th century show a Magyar hunter with his falcon and a dog that looks much like a Vizsla.
Dogs were much more than just domestic companions for the Magyars. Nomads needed dogs for herding and guarding livestock. But most importantly, dogs such as the Vizsla would be highly skilled at locating and pointing small game and wild fowl. A superb hunter such as the Vizsla would also have retrieved water fowl, and tracked deer or wild boar. The Magyars were accomplished warriors, yet hunting dogs were essential to their survival; only the most intelligent and versatile canines would have been up to the task.
Several references to Vizsla dogs have been discovered from the ensuing centuries:
- The late Jeno Dus, a highly regarded expert on the Vizsla dog breed, claimed that a 12th century Danube Valley hamlet bore the name of Vizsla.
- Another pictorial reference appears in the Illustrated Vienna Chronicle (Becsi kepes kronika) of 1375. This work was created at the command of King Louis the Great of Hungary, whose daughter Katherine was to marry Louis de Valois, Prince of Orleans, of France. The lavishly illustrated book was an engagement gift intended to educate the French about the Hungarians. It included a chapter on falconry which featured a picture of the Vizsla.
- A letter written during the Turkish occupation of Hungary (1526 to 1686) also mentions Vizslas in association with falcons. It’s likely that Vizslas were taken to Turkey at this time.
- Ferenc Rákóczi (1676 to 1735), who led the Hungarian uprising against the Hapsburgs at the start of the 18th century, is recorded as having been an owner of Vizslas.
- In 1825, the Vizsla was declared the Official Pointing Dog of Hungary. The Magyar Vizsla Stud Book was also established in that year to establish a breed standard, maintain pedigrees, and preserve the Vizsla’s distinctive qualities. It was also at this time that non-nobles were permitted to own Vizslas.
The Vizsla’s Early American History
October 7, 1950 was the date on which the first Vizslas were known to arrive in the United States: Sari, a bitch, and her two two-month-old puppies, a boy named Tito and a girl named Shasta. A male, Rex, arrived on July 14, 1951. Rex was bred with Sari, producing the first U.S. Viszla litter in 1952 (two males and four females).
To promote the breed in the United States, Rex and Sari’s owner, Frank J. Tallman, started the Magyar Vizsla Club of America in 1953 (the word Magyar was dropped in 1960 at the directive of the American Kennel Club). Tallman was the club’s president, and Emmett Scanlan, a State Department employee who had been instrumental in helping Tallman acquire the dogs, was the vice president. By 1958 there were 650 Viszlas in the U.S.
The Vizsla was recognized as the 115th breed by the American Kennel Club on November 25, 1960.
The Vizsla is a medium-sized hunter known for its aristocratic air, taut muscles, short coat, and attractive reddish-brown color. It possesses attributes of both pointers and retrievers, and is often compared to or mistaken for the larger, bluish-grey Weimaraner. Though smaller than most versatile breeds, the Vizsla’s athletic build gives it a unique grace that’s most apparent when it can expend its abundant energy via hunting, running, or other forms of activity.
Among other traits, a Vizsla can be distinguished by its self-colored nose, i.e. one that blends with its coat color. Its ears are long, thin, and silky. Its eyes and nails are self-colored. A strong, well-proportioned body with a moderately broad and deep chest is a Vizsla standard. A short back, lean and muscular head with hound-like face, and short coat without an undercoat are a few other defining characteristics of the Vizsla (the Wire-Haired Vizsla, which has a heavier coat, is a separate breed).
The Vizsla is a very fine “dual dog,” affectionate, loyal, and loving in the home and durable, agile, and attentive in the field.
Color & Coat
The Vizsla’s color is one of its most distinctive traits. It can vary from cinnamon to copper to rusty gold, but is often simply described as reddish-brown. (As mentioned above, its eyes, nose, and nails are also self-colored.) The American Kennel Club (AKC) Vizsla breed standard accepts the saddle-like appearance of lighter shadings on the shoulders and sides of the neck. White on the toes and forechest is also permissible. However, pale yellow and solid dark mahogany coats are considered faulty.
Vizsla grooming is relatively easy thanks to their short and smooth coats. Their coats are dense and lie close to the body due to the absence of a woolly undercoat. This thin coat is advantageous in warm weather but offers little protection in winter. It also makes Vizslas less inclined to go barreling through rough cover when on the hunt. The Vizsla’s warm color and streamlined appearance make it a truly handsome and noble-looking dog.
The Vizsla has a long tail dock compared with most pointers, which helps give it a sleek and agile appearance. Docking the tail to two-thirds its original length is standard (in comparison, the tails of German Shorthaired Pointers are docked to one-third their initial length). Though some pet owners oppose the practice of docking, it can help to prevent more painful and long-lasting injuries. In Vizslas, the final third of the tail is thin and whip-like and prone to damage, particularly in dual dogs. The AKC breed standard specifies that a docked tail is preferred. The Vizsla carries its tail horizontally.
As a medium-sized dog, the Vizsla’s breed standard calls for a relatively narrow size range: 22 to 24 inches at the withers (the highest point between the shoulder blades) for males and 21 to 23 inches for females. Of course there are Vizsla dogs that exceed or fail to meet these standards, but the standard is a good indication of typical size. The AKC disqualifies dogs that are more than 1 1/2 inches over or under the size standard.
As for weight, male Vizslas generally weigh anywhere from 45 to 65 pounds or more. Female Vizslas are slightly lighter, weighing from 40 to 55 pounds in most cases.
Vizsla Health, Care & Health Problems
Vizslas are medium- to high-maintenance dogs that require a lot of attention, exercise, and mental stimulation. A misbehaving Vizsla is invariably a bored and/or inactive Vizsla. A Vizsla’s need for human companionship is strong; thus your Vizsla’s emotional well being would be best served by housing it indoors. Vizslas are robust hunting dogs, but there are a number of hereditary illnesses for which a given Vizsla and its sire and dam should be tested before you assume ownership of it. If healthy and properly cared for, your Vizsla should enjoy a lifespan of anywhere from 10 to 15 years.
Vizslas are generally healthy and long-lived, and possess an energy level that will more than match your own. However, there are several health conditions of varying seriousness that are known to afflict the Vizsla breed. Before you purchase an adult or puppy, you may wish to have tests conducted and/or certificates provided for the following Vizsla health problems (in cases where certification is not available, a Vizsla breeder may provide a guarantee against inherited conditions):
According to hip dysplasia statistics from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), the Vizsla ranks 108th among breeds that have had at least 100 evaluations between January 1974 and December 2008. Just over 11,600 Vizslas have been evaluated in that time, and 7.2% of them were found to be dysplastic. The high number of evaluations is one proof of how seriously Vizsla breeders have taken this problem. An OFA certification of the parents of your Vizsla puppy means that their hips were x-rayed and evaluated for abnormal results and found to be in excellent, good, or fair condition.
Epileptic seizures are another Vizsla health problem. No certification is available for this condition. However, if a Vizsla has epilepsy, it’s often evident by the time it’s about two or three years old, and sometimes not until its fourth or fifth year. Responsible Vizsla breeders will provide guarantees against inherited epilepsy. Even if your Vizsla is diagnosed with epilepsy, it can be treated and controlled with appropriate medication.
An underactive thyroid reduces a Vizsla’s metabolism level, resulting in a wide variety of possible symptoms. This condition may be caused by allergies, air pollution, or an improper diet. Thyroid problems can be diagnosed via full thyroid testing, including FT4, cTSH, and TgAA.
Sebaceous adenitis is a skin disease in which the sebaceous glands become inflamed. A Vizsla with this condition will display mild scaling and a moth-eaten appearance. SA is usually found in young adult dogs. It can be diagnosed via a skin-punch biopsy.
Entropion and retinal atrophy are two eye conditions that can affect Vizslas. Eye health can be certified annually through the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
Other medical conditions to which Vizslas may be susceptible include hemophilia, heart defects, von Willebrand disease, and cancer. Vizsla dogs are sometimes allergic or sensitive to vaccines, chemicals, and common anesthetics. Food or skin allergies may also occur.
The Vizsla Club of America’s (VCA) code of ethics regarding breeding states the following: “VCA members shall breed only those dogs who have a DNA number and are free of serious hereditary defects (including epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy, Von Willebrands, entropion and cranial muscular atrophy), and are over two years of age and have been x-rayed and OFA-certified as free from hip dysplasia.”
Living Conditions, Exercise & Life Expectancy
A Vizsla’s greatest needs are exercise and human contact. Vizslas will often literally follow their owner(s) from one place to another within the house. While it’s important to have access to a fenced yard or other area where your Vizsla can go for off-leash running, your dog’s mental and emotional health will tend to suffer if he or she is required to sleep outdoors. A Vizsla can tolerate living in an apartment or smaller home, but only if you provide a lot of running and walking as compensation. Do not take on the responsibility of owning a Vizsla if you’re not prepared to give it the ample attention and physical activity it requires.
With adult Vizsla dogs, try to replicate the sleeping conditions they had before moving into your home. A soft bed with exposure to the sun may be preferred. With Vizsla puppies, you may wish to create a partitioned area where they can play and sleep. Allow your puppy some time to explore its new home, and give it plenty of love and attention-along with a few treats. Vizsla puppies are known for being somewhat difficult to housetrain, and crate training is often recommended. Vizsla puppies also like to chew on things, so keep your puppy in certain areas of the house or make sure that any potentially dangerous snacks (e.g. electrical cords) are inaccessible.
If your Vizsla absolutely must sleep outdoors, then it’s best to provide a shelter that is comfortable and well insulated. The Vizsla’s thin coat offers little protection against cold weather. The shelter should offer enough room for your dog to move around, but don’t make it too big. A smaller shelter will help your Vizsla to feel secure, and will also offer greater warmth.
A large yard and plenty of indoor and outdoor space is the best living situation for a Vizsla. Ideally, a Vizsla should not be left alone during the day. If necessary, employing a dog walker to exercise your Vizsla would help it to cope with daily absences.
It’s difficult to overstate the need that a Vizsla dog has for exercise. The Vizsla is very athletic and is one of the oldest hunting breeds in the world. This is not a dog that will be content with sedentary apartment living and a short daily walk. Jogging, running, swimming (Vizslas are typically excellent swimmers), hunting, hiking, roller blading, and extensive walking are all activities that a Vizsla would enjoy. A long walk twice a day might be adequate, but a Vizsla would be happiest if it can run-preferably off-leash-for at least 30 minutes, and preferably an hour or more, every day. If you’re a jogging addict or part of a family that loves being outdoors or going to the lake or the farm on the weekends, then a Vizsla would be an ideal companion.
If a Vizsla is not getting enough exercise, behavioral problems are very likely to ensue. These are often compounded by the fact that Vizslas need a lot of mental stimulation as well. Destructive behaviors caused by a lack of exercise include hyperactivity, chewing, and digging huge holes in the yard. Vizsla puppies will tend to jump on or at people.
A healthy, well-cared for Vizsla will typically live from 12 to 15 years. However, that range may vary by two years or more either way (10 years to 17 years).
The Vizsla breed’s exercise needs may be high, but in the grooming department it’s a blessedly low-maintenance dog. Viszlas are naturally clean with little to no smell-unless they’ve been mucking about in swamps during a hunting excursion. But even then, their short, close-lying coats help keep them from getting too muddy or smelly. They may shed more than you’d expect for dogs with such short coats, but their twice-annual shedding can be minimized with regular brushing (it’s best to brush outside if anyone in your household is allergic). Vizslas also lack an undercoat, which makes them an acceptable choice for some people with allergies. Bathing your Vizsla is seldom necessary. A weekly nail clipping, teeth cleaning, and brushing is about as complicated as a Vizsla’s grooming needs get.
Bathing your Vizsla too often will cause its coat to lose color, and will remove natural oils that keep its skin from drying out. Bathe only as necessary, and use a natural or dry shampoo. It’s not unusual for a Vizsla to be bathed just twice a year. More frequent spot washing of your dog’s face is fine, and will help to keep up its appearance. Regular use of a bristle brush would also help to keep your Vizsla’s coat and skin healthy. Check your Vizsla’s paws and eyes daily and ears weekly for signs of infection, and gently remove debris.
Vizsla Temperament & Training
Vizslas are intelligent and highly sensitive creatures that are often bred to be dual- or even triple-purpose dogs (show, field, and obedience). As household pets, Vizslas are loving, loyal, and highly affectionate, and form strong physical bonds with their owners. The Vizsla is one of the dog breeds that has earned the nickname “velcro dog” because of its need for proximity to its owner(s) and tendency to develop separation anxiety.
As with most dogs, the Vizsla’s traits can have a positive side and a negative side. If you’re thinking about acquiring a Vizsla, it’s very important that you determine beforehand if he or she would be a good match for your (or your family’s) lifestyle.
First and foremost, Vizsla dogs require much attention and exercise. This is not a dog that can be left in the apartment all day and then taken for a short walk. Vizlas need frequent interaction. Don’t be surprised if you find your Vizsla watching you at any time of the day or night, including while you’re sleeping or taking your morning shower. If left alone while you’re at work, your Vizsla must be given a lot of time and affection both before you leave and after you get home.
As for exercise, remember that Vizslas originated as hunting dogs. They have a LOT of energy, and without adequate physical activity that energy will be diverted into nuisance behavior. Inadequate exercise can also lead to psychological problems or compulsive behavior. It’s vital that a Vizsla be taken on a long walk (e.g. six miles) or run every day, and twice-a-day exercise is highly recommended. A fenced yard could also provide room to run, but keep your Vizsla’s athletic ability in mind. It’s not unheard of for a Vizsla to jump a six-foot fence.
Vizslas are ideal dogs for individuals and families that love to be active and outdoors. Roller bladers, hikers, runners, and swimmers will find Vizslas to be wonderful companions. Of course, hunting with Vizslas is an activity that dates as far back as the 9th century, and Vizslas are excellent dual-purpose dogs as well (see our Vizsla Hunting page for further details).
The American Kennel Club breed standard defines the ideal Vizsla as “a natural hunter endowed with a good nose and an above-average ability to take training. Lively, gentle-mannered, demonstrably affectionate and sensitive though fearless with a well-developed protective instinct.” Indeed, a well-trained and properly cared for Vizsla is among the best animal companions a person can have. The close bond a Vizsla forms with its owner is sometimes demonstrated by the dog gently taking its owner’s hand in its mouth (if you wish to discourage this behavior, give your Vizsla objects it can carry around in its mouth; it’s one of the breed’s lovable quirks). The highly tactile Vizsla will also regularly seek to sit in your lap. Their medium size and affectionate nature make Vizslas a good choice for families with children and/or other pets.
Because of its heightened sensitivity, motivation and persuasion should be used to modify a Vizsla’s behavior rather than sternness. If your Vizsla is misbehaving, it could be that it was inadequately trained or socialized when it was young, or, more likely, it may be bored or frustrated due to a lack of attention and exercise. Examples of behavioral problems include nuisance barking, digging giant holes in the yard, stealing food, excessive jumping and hyperactivity (very common among Vizsla puppies), destructive chewing (including walls and furniture), and even self-mutilation (e.g. chewing or scratching itself excessively). However, such behavioral issues are worst-case examples, and a Vizsla that receives adequate attention and training should be happy and well behaved.
Vizslas can be timid if not properly socialized at a young age. Early socialization will also minimize your Vizsla’s tendency to be startled by exposure to new people or situations. Like most pointers, Vizslas are independent minded, which can make them stubborn and easily distracted. It’s important to establish yourself firmly yet gently as someone to whom they must listen.
If a Vizsla sounds like the sort of dog you would love, then it very likely would be. Give a Vizsla the time, affection, and exercise that it needs and you’ll be rewarded with a loving, loyal pet that will bring much happiness and pleasure to you and your family.
A Vizsla will respond well to training, but it’s important that you understand its personality and needs in order to achieve the best results. The Vizsla dog breed is known for intelligence and sensitivity. The training should be based on attentiveness, praise, and positive reinforcement. Using a harsh tone of voice or physical correction will cause your dog stress, and may seriously inhibit your training effectiveness. Vizslas perform well in obedience competitions should you eventually wish to pursue that course with your dog.
Early socialization is one of the most important training steps if you’re raising Vizsla puppies. Before your Vizsla is 12 weeks old, introduce it to as many new people, physical environments, social situations, and animals or dog breeds as you can. Viszslas that were not well socialized at an early age tend to be timid and more easily startled, and may (at least initially) find it more difficult to behave properly when interacting with other people or pets.
Though intelligent, Vizslas often mature slowly. Prolonged house training should be expected if you have a Vizsla puppy. Several months of crate training may be required. Vizsla puppies are also known for chewing and carrying objects around in their mouths. A box of mouthable toys would be a wise investment.
Consistent, easily understood rules and positive reinforcement are essential parts of a Vizsla training regimen. Vizslas can become bored and easily distracted, especially when they’re young. When teaching new commands to your Vizsla, try to do so in a relatively quiet and distraction-free environment where you can command its full attention. Vizslas are eager to please and respond well to positive training, though they can be independent and self-willed. If some form of negative reinforcement is required, a clicker would be an appropriate choice.
For many Vizsla owners, obedience classes are the most time-effective and cost-effective means of training. Look for a well-regarded professional trainer in your area, or ask your local Vizsla club for recommendations. If possible, ask to sit in on a class before you pay to work with a particular trainer. This will give you a better sense of whether the trainer’s temperament and methods are a good fit. It’s also a good idea to remain in contact with your Vizsla’s breeder, as the habits and personality of your dog’s parents will obviously play a role in its development. Vizsla training DVDs might also be useful to you.
Finally, mental and physical stimulation are absolutely mandatory for a Vizsla to be on its best behavior. Your training efforts should not preclude an appropriate level of exercise for your Vizsla. Mix in plenty of obedience games and activities such as running and swimming, and your Vizsla will be much more likely to respond positively to your training efforts.
Vizsla & the Hunt
Hunting is in the Vizsla’s blood. The Hungarian Pointer is one of the world’s oldest pointers, having first hunted with the Magyar nomads as far back as the 9th and 10th centuries AD. Throughout the Middle Ages, Vizslas would find prey for the falcons of noble and aristocratic hunters. Today, the Vizsla remains one of the elite hunting dogs, prized for its keen nose and eyes and outstanding ability to locate, point, and retrieve game.
The Vizsla is a close-ranging hunter that prefers to keep its master(s) in sight. Fearless yet deliberate, a Vizsla will seldom pass by or accidentally scare up game. A Vizsla can follow both air scent and ground scent, and its short range and methodical style enable it to conserve energy during long hunts. An excellent swimmer that will readily retrieve fallen birds from water, the Vizsla has a short coat that makes it unsuitable for icy water.
Though versatile, the Vizsla is considered better suited to being a bird dog than an all-purpose hunter. Its hunting style and abilities are a good match for the walking hunter in search of woodcock or ruffed grouse in close, heavy cover. The Vizsla is also a great pheasant dog.
Highly intelligent, loyal, and sensitive to a fault, Vizsla hunting dogs respond well to affection and praise. If you need to admonish your Vizsla, do it gently. Vizslas are usually attentive and obedient to commands, though they can be distracted or self-willed at times.