Vizsla Breed History
Képes krónika (Illustrated Chronicle)
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.