Breed of the Week: Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla

At first glance, the story of the Wirehaired Vizsla seems fairly ordinary— Hungarian hunters created the breed in the 1930s and ’40s by crossing smooth-haired Vizslas with German Wirehaired Pointers. But if you consider what was going on in that part of the world during the breed’s formative early years, the story turns out to be anything but ordinary.

Hungarian pointing dogs with rough coats are mentioned in writings as far back as 1886. By the early 1900s, “prickly coats” and long-haired1 coats were occurring in litters of smooth-haired Vizslas as a result of the rampant crossbreeding going on in Hungary at the time. Eventually, when the first standard for the Vizsla was drawn up, only the smooth coat was allowed. However, it is clear that some breeders continued to breed rough-coated dogs—probably because they found them to have an advantage in colder, wetter regions. Then, in the late 1930s, two breeders, József Casas and László Gresznarik, decided to make it official. They bred two Vizsla bitches to a solid brown German Wirehaired Pointer named Astor z Potattal. The best pups from the resulting litters were then crossed.

József Vasas and László Gresznarik where not just everyday hunters or breeders looking to build a better mousetrap in some far off corner of Hungary, both men were well-respected gundog experts. Gresznarik, in particular, was known throughout the region as an experienced breeder of German Wirehaired Pointers, Cesky Fouseks and other breeds. In Slovakia, Koloman Slimák—another well-known figure who would eventually go on to create the Slovak Pointer—also began to work on a wire-haired version of the Vizsla shortly after Vasas and Gresnarik got the ball rolling. However, it appears he may have used a slightly different recipe. According to some sources, he German Wirehaired Pointers, Irish Setters, and Pointers into his own line of smooth-haired Vizslas.

The part of Europe in which all three men lived and worked was not an out-of-the-way backwater. In fact, it stood front and center on the world’s stage several times during the early years of the breed’s development. In 1920, the signatories of the Trianon Peace Treaty completely redrew the map of the entire region. Hungary lost almost 70 percent of its former territory, including much of its northern highlands. Suddenly, millions of Hungarians found themselves citizens of a brand new nation: Czechoslovakia. Eighteen years later, on the eve of the Second World War, the situation was reversed. Hungary regained most of the land it had lost in 1920, and was given a large chunk of southern Slovakia. During the Second World War, the front lines of battle passed over the region twice, completely devastating much of it. After the war, Czechoslovakia was reestablished and the borders were once again redrawn.

It is hard to fathom how men like Vasas, Gresznarik, Slimák and others involved with the Wirehaired Vizsla could have continued their breeding efforts during those tumultuous times. But somehow they did and, somehow, the Wirehaired Vizsla survived—barely. Like its smooth-haired cousin, it had come close to extinction during the war, but its supporters rallied just in time to save it after the hostilities ceased. During the 1950s, a state-run kennel was established for both versions of the Vizsla and, by the 1960s, the breed had recovered well enough to be recognized by the FCI. Since the 1970s there has been slow but steady growth for the Wirehaired Vizsla in Europe and North America, but the breed is still far less popular than its smooth-haired cousin. Although still considered a rare breed, the popularity of the Wirehaired Vizsla is growing. There are now breeders in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Sweden, the US, Canada and the UK. Approximately 200 pups are whelped annually in Hungary, and an additional 100 to 150 more by breeders elsewhere.

The first time I ever saw a Wirehaired Vizsla was at an informal training day arranged by a group of enthusiasts right here in Manitoba. The only Vizslas I’d seen before had smooth, short coats, so i was quite surprised to see one that looked like it needed a shave! I was soon corrected by the dog’s owner who told me that the Wirehaired Vizsla is a completely separate breed.

Watching that young dog work through the mud and reeds of a local marsh—we were training for an upcoming NAVHDA test—was a real treat. He had a lot of drive and his coat looked ideally suited to the cover. Over the next few years, I saw other Vizsla here and there, but I never really got the chance to speak to any breeders or owners. It wasn’t until Lisa and I travelled to Hungary, and met an extraordinary young woman, that we finally began to learn more about the breed.

Zsófia Miczek
does not look like your typical gundog breeder. In fact, she looks like she should be on a movie set or at a fashionable café in downtown Budapest. Her pretty face, blond hair, and youthful personality do not exactly shout “hard-core hunter”. But looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Not only is Zsófia perfectly at home in the hunting field, she’s a familiar face on the field trial, hunt test and dog show circuit in Hungary and beyond. In fact, she’s the founder one of the most successful Vizsla lines in the world.

Lisa and I met Zsófia at her home just outside Budapest and spent the better part of a warm spring day with her and her dogs in the field. Having photographed a number of smooth-haired Vizsla the day before, we were curious to see how the two breeds compared. The first thing we noticed, obviously, was the harsh, wiry coat. It seemed to be a slightly lighter shade of “russet gold” than the coat of the smooth-haired Vizslas, but still very appealing. Some coats were longer than others. Zsófia mentioned that breeders have now achieved better consistency in this regard, but that her oldest dog had the “old style” coat— noticeably longer and softer than the others. Dogs from more recent generations had harsh, flat-lying coats with just enough facial furnishings to give them a distinguished look without being too fuzzy. In the field, the dogs were all business. They showed a lot of desire as they hunted at a medium gallop out to about a hundred meters. They responded instantly to Zsófia’s whistle as she handled them across the rolling terrain.

Compared to the smooth-coated Vizslas, the Wirehairs seemed a tad bigger with a stronger, more forceful stride. In terms of character, they were a lot like their smooth-haired cousins: happy, friendly and eager to hunt. The strongest personality that day actually belonged to Zsófia. She is a fiercely competitive young woman determined to prove herself and her dogs in the male-dominated gundog scene in Hungary. Lisa asked her if all Hungarian women were so strong-willed and tenacious. Zsófia smiled, and replied:
I don’t think Hungarian women are known for being particularly tough. I guess I am just an unusually strong woman. I have had to deal with the fact that being blond, female and young is a disadvantage in this sport, because most judges and competitors are men, who just can’t accept my success. It’s as if some of them do everything they can to prove that I am not as good as my record shows. Emotionally, it is very difficult and I have a hard time accepting it because, if there is one thing I hate, it is discrimination. But I am not going to step back. I will continue to prove the quality of my dogs, no matter what! 
To me, Zsófia’s reply perfectly echoed the kind of determination the breed’s creators must have had in the early days. It is nice to know that the Vizsla is still in the hands of such tenacious people today.

Here is a video of one of Zsófia’s dogs working a (planted) quail.

1. pups with long-haired coats—a disqualifying fault in both standards—still pop up from time to time in litters produced by smooth-haired or wire-haired parents. 
2. Gresznarik owned the “Selle” kennel until the 1960s. It was taken over by Stefan Hrncár in 1971.

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

1 comment:

  1. Are they using released bobwhite in Hungary? Not sure that irony is the correct word, but seems kind of funny using release bobwhite in Hungary, while I have used released "huns" in the US.