It looks like the AKC isn't the only organization that plays fast and loose with gun dog histories. It turns out that even NAVHDA indulges in some pretty sloppy pseudo-history as well.

In its Aims, Programs, Test Rules booklet , NAVHDA states that:
There are several breeds of versatile dogs common in continental Europe, and with four exceptions, all were developed during the last decades of the 19th century.

I take issue with parts of the above statement. First of all, the number of versatile dog breeds developed in continental Europe is obviously more than just “several”. The actual number is close to 40. NAVHDA recognizes 22 of them. In addition, NAVHDA recognizes the 4 pointing breeds developed in the UK, breeds that that were not developed “in continental Europe” or traditionally bred and trained for versatile work. As for the 4 "exceptions", well that is just plain horse hockey.

The four exceptions are much older breeds that provided a base for some of the others. These are the Weimaraner, the Vizsla, the Brittany, and its German cousin, the Small Munsterlander.

While it is accurate to state that the versatile breeds were developed at the end of the 19th century, claiming that the Weimaraner, Vizsla, the Brittany and “its German Cousin” the Small Munsterlander are “much older breeds” is simply wrong. They were all developed around the same time as the other versatile breeds and in the case of the Vizsla, almost completely recreated from scratch in the first half of the 20th century.

The text goes on to provide even more astounding inaccuracies.
The tracking hound, pointer and waterpudel were the basic breeding stocks most widely used to develop the short and wirehaired groups.

I have no idea what “The tracking hound” is. While there were types of dogs, hounds if you will, that were used to track game: Lymers, Schweisshunds, Bloodhounds etc. there was no breed known as "The tracking hound".

And what the heck is a "waterpudel"? It think it may be a reference to water dogs. Since one kind of waterdog is called the "Pudel" in German, it looks like the author just cobbled a word together in an effort to sound sort of German-ish.

And then there is this whopper:“The longhaired group evolved from the Small Munsterlander and flat-coated retriever.” Just how the “longhaired group” evolved from breeds that simply did not exist before the middle of the 19th century is quite a mystery.

Finally there is even a specific statement aimed at closing the list to dogs that some feel should be on it. "No distinctive versatile hunting breed has been developed in North America.”

This statement is not really there to add anything to the subject of gundog history. Rather is is a thinly veiled argument against the recognition of the pointing Labrador; a strain within the Labrador breed that can do all of the things the versatile breeds do, but for whatever reason is not considered by NAVHDA to be a versatile breed.

C'mon NAVHDA, you can do better. In the eyes of many, you stand as the North American authority on all the versatile breeds. You are certainly the largest and best known organization that tests them. You could at least check the facts on their histories before you send your booklet to the printers or post it to your website.


  1. Hey, Craig, (and I mean the following with a smile on my face) if you're going to 'pick on' the vizsla, it would probably be just as accurate to say that if there was a distinctive versatile breed developed in North America, then the vizsla might be it.
    Meaning, you're absolutely right that without the efforts of Bela Hadik, Frank Tallman, and Dr. I.S. Osborn(amongst others), the vizsla breed might have gone extinct. But it had also almost disappeared during the First World War. This is just to suggest that while there have been significant rises and almost-apocalyptic falls in population, there has been a continuous line of red-dogs back to at least the 1300s (which can't be said for some of the other versatile breeds). That doesn't make them better, but their history is a little more distinguished.

    Glad you're picking on NAVHDA in an equal-opportunity kind of way, though! Looking forward to your book.


  2. Excellent input Andrew!

    The Vizsla does have a very interesting history. And you are right, one can make a case for at least some sort of line or connection tracing all the way back to the 1300's when the word Vizsla was first used to describe yellow hunting dogs.

    But its a vague link at best, sort of like tracing my family tree back to King Arthur. Is my family English? Yup. Was King Arthur from England? Yup. Bingo! Now where is my crown and sword? (actually my family is Icelandic and Ukrainian..but I'm pretty sure some relative probably went to England once...)

    Ok, I'm exaggerating. The connection is not that vague and there is a case to be made for the extra-old Vizsla, but let's not lose sight of the fact that Hungarians call many different hunting dogs Vizlas (the Weimaraner is “weimari vizsla”, the German Shorthair is the “német vizsla” and so on). So any mention of a Vizsla in some dusty old manuscript is a reference to a hunting dog...nothing more, nothing less. The only descriptions we have of those Vizslas mentioned in the 1300's is that they were yellow. No description of coat type, size, shape, hunting style, nada. They were "Yellow Hunting Dogs" probably much closer in look and hunting style to the modern Transilvanian Hound (Erdelyi Kopó) and Slovakian Hound (Slovenský Kopov) than to the modern Vizsla.

    Even words for color have changed over the centuries. Yellow can mean different things to different people at different times.
    The word yellow in English..."has been traced to an Indo-European root *ghel or *gohl which seems to have denoted both yellow and green. This has evolved into many terms which have reached English by a variety of routes, including jaundice (from Latin galbus “greenish-yellow”, via French), gold (so that “golden-yellow” is a tautology, etymologically speaking), choleric (from the Greek word for “bile”, which is yellow-green in colour) and yolk (which, therefore, just means “the yellow part of the egg”)." From http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/colour.htm

    Lord knows what a 14th century scribe meant by "yellow"...let alone how the word he used (probably Turkish) was translated into 20th century English. And how the word is supposed to describe modern Vizsla whose colour is now said to be "red" confuses things even more.

    For a good example of how slippery colour descriptions can be take a look at the coat colour standard for breeds that are, for all intents and purposes, brown. They are called everything from Liver to Chocolate to Chestnut. My favorite is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever standard that states the colour: "must be as nearly that of its working surroundings as possible"

    So, to sum up. The Vizsla, in name at the least, can claim a connection to the 1300's. There were yellow (red? gold?, green?) hunting dogs in the area at the time. But that is about it. To suggest that they are in fact the Vizslas we know and love today is like saying the Weimaraner is really old because "the grey dogs of Saint Louis" came to central Europe via France in the 1400's (hint: they were probably not grey...and they surely did not point) Or that the Small Munsterlander is really old because Gaston Febus mentions long haired "espagniols" way back when.

    The versatile dog breeds, as we know them today are the new kids on the block. They date back no more than about 175 years. Even modern genetic research seems to confirm this: http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2004/10/ancient-breed-of-dog.html

    Personally, I find the modern histories of our dog breeds to be far more interesting than the legends that are attached to them. I stand in awe of the men and women who created, recreated and kept the Vizsla alive through revolution, war, conquest and finally freedom. They are the unsung heros of the breed. They are the real noble essence of the Vizsla.

  3. Craig: I couldn't agree more. As I'm sure you'll discover (and I'm sure it's probably true for many of the versatiles), there are regional and/or performance differences within the vizsla. The tales of 'rescuing' the vizsla from behind the Iron Curtain make some great reading and are probably a greater testament to the virtues of the breed than mythic references in a manuscript. (I put a post of my own up about the 'rescue' here: http://regalvizsla.blogspot.com/2008/04/vizsla-memorabilia.html)

    Thanks for keeping it real.

  4. Craig - I have not visited the NAVHDA site to read the excruciating details, but I believe that they allow the "English" dogs to participate.

    It is well known that ENglish setters and their variants (Gordon and Irish) were developed from SPANIELS that were gifted to English royalty by the French (in a rare period of civil relations). The French got these dogs from SPAIN - and called them "Espanols' or some variants of the name meaning simply "Spanish" dogs. This would be about perhaps 500 years ago.

    Seems mysterious that these European dogs are not accounted for in the history of versatile dogs in Europe, and they certainly predated any breeds developed in the past 150 years, and probably provided the root stock for Brittannies (formerly Brittanny SPANIELS), Portuguese water dogs, Munsterlanders, etc.

    In history this sort of reporting is called 'revisionist'. To the victor goes the ideology, apparently.

  5. Well said Mike!

    Setters are indeed from Spaniel root stock. And yes indeed, they arrived from Spain, via France.

    And you are right, not only did they provide at least a good portion of the root stock for many continental breeds but they also returned the favour over and over to their Spaniel and Braque cousins in the last few decades by being bred into just about all the continental breeds, most often by the light of the moon.

    The reason this is not really highlighted in breed histories is the same old, same old: nationalism, chauvanism, anti-english sentiments and the inability to give credit where credit is due. But it is not one sided. Try to get an Englishman to admit what everyone already knows: the best English Setters and Pointers in the world are no longer bred in the UK. They are bred in places like Italy, France, the US and Scandinavia.

    Nevertheless, there is a long standing and very official division between the "continental" breeds and the "Britanic" breeds in Europe. Unlike in America where they can compete in the same trials, in Europe (the UK included) they are always run in separate classes. Continental breeds for the most part are run solo (with some exceptions) and the British breeds are always run in braces (with some exceptions).

    Judges and hunters expect to see differences in speed and range (the brits being faster and wider running) and in other aspects such as head carriage, stride, point and "coulée" (roading in toward the game that is pointed).

    Breeders strive to maintain differences in character as well. In Germany the continental breeds are expected to be much sharper on predators, much more fur and tracking focused, loud on trail and sight etc. In France, Italy, Spain, the continentals should be softer, more attached to the master, easier to handle than the British breeds.

  6. Great discussion-- I can relate these things to my breed (Asian sighthound) and the myths around them...

    Candidate for "American versatile" : Boykin Spaniel?

  7. Interesting to run across this as coincidentally, yesterday I was reading that very passage from the NAVHDA that very PDF. I'll keep your blog in mind as I re-read it.

  8. Excellent! Have you presented this to them ?

    In the NAVHDA day to day, I suspect this is pretty low on the totem pole.

    Perhaps with some proof, they might revisit most of the text.

    You're right about the pointing lab, it's never getting in. A shame that. I suspect they could triple their membership overnight :-)