The combination of an ever-growing portfolio of fieldsports activities and the need to stop borrowing other people’s dogs for the aforementioned led me to start my search for a new canine working companion. I looked at labs and spaniels but, given my extremely specific requirements, I ruled out several of the more popular breeds, narrowing the shortlist down to three possibilities from the HPR (Hunt Point Retrieve) family. June 2008 saw the arrival of a small ginger bundle of mischief in our household. He didn’t arrive on a whim, and wasn’t randomly chosen from a classified ad in the back of a shooting magazine; rather, he arrived after two years of careful research into the breed and its breeders.
The Hungarian wirehaired vizsla: a true all-rounder
First and foremost I needed a steady breed that could live calmly with my pack of exuberant bloodhounds. Other requirements included the ability to hunt and point game for my Harris hawk to work over, hunt and retrieve all day long on the rough shoot, point woodcock and be something sane and sensible for my partner to handle when stalking. The breed would also need to be a steady character able to accompany me when I was working on wildfowling trips, driven shoots and walked-up hawking days without creating mayhem. The Hungarian wirehaired vizsla (HWHV) fitted all the above criteria nicely.
Despite the “ginger” leg-pulling, the author’s Hungarian wirehaired vizsla has proved his worth on shoot day.
The breed originated in the 1930s when Hungarian hunters wanted to produce a dog more suited to working in water and harsher conditions than the native, smooth-coated Hungarian vizsla. They aimed for a strong, workmanlike dog with a weatherproof coat, and to achieve this they bred the Hungarian vizsla to a German wirehaired pointer. At a later date some bloodhound was added for nose ability, and possibly some pudelpointer. The first ones (imported from Hungary) were seen the UK in the 1970s but it wasn’t until 1992, when the first litter was actually born in the UK (again from Hungarian imports), that the breed slowly started to gain popularity. In 1995 there were over 50 registered with the Kennel Club, so a group of enthusiasts decided it was time to start a breed club to promote this multipurpose breed. The inaugural meeting resulted in 52 founding members and saw the start of the Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla Association (HWVA) whose membership now stands at 300.
The Hungarian wirehaired vizsla: on the up
In those 17 years the breed and the HWVA have gone from strength to strength, with a dedicated group of aficionados tirelessly promoting the breeds’ working abilities at game fairs and country events all over the UK. Fieldsports enthusiasts are quick to spot the charming temperament and excellent working ability of the breed.
Even as a playful pup, the author’s Hungarian wirehaired vizsla showed great potential as well as enthusiasm during early training.
In 2011 the Kennel Club annual puppy registrations reached over 470 and the HWVA attained full field trial status, as well as organising grouse pointing and gundog working tests. Having chosen a breeder who happened to be an HWVA field trial secretary, I was lucky to have easy access to training advice. Although I had trained a number of working trial bloodhounds in the past, a gundog was a whole new area, and the advice of breed experts like Richard and Karen May at the Amiryck HWV kennel helped enormously.
Starting with the basics was easy and by 16 weeks he was happy to sit and stay, as well as retrieve small dummies in the garden. As my Harris hawk wasn’t known to be dog-friendly they were introduced to one another rather cautiously, but right from the start the bond was amazing and they could regularly be seen sitting calmly together on the lawn enjoying the spring sunshine.
Under the hawk with the Hungarian wirehaired vizsla
Once the basics had been picked up, the Hungarian wirehaired vizsla was happy to go out under the hawk and learned to point pheasants. It was a good way for him to spend his first year, as the trips out were only three or four hours long and very relaxed, with just the two of us working together.
The following season saw him out on rough and woodcock shoots where he was greeted with initial caution and a little bit of “ginger” leg-pulling by the die-hard labrador and springer folk. However, after three seasons of working twice a week he has become a valued member of the team, and his ability to hunt up to and point a woodcock that several springers have already run past has made him a popular choice with the guns.
The Hungarian wirehaired vizsla is renowned for its charming temperament and excellent working ability.
Since then he’s gone from strength to strength. He spent a great deal of the summer learning to blood trail deer and has made an excellent stalking companion. He also goes wildfowling and will sit happily and quietly in a muddy gully for several hours without the need to be tied to a stick – his impressive, workmanlike size means that he’s more than capable of retrieving a heavy Canada goose from the estuary.
As yet there is no discernible split between the working and show fraternity, which was another reason for me choosing the breed. In fact, most people I’ve met do both with equal enthusiasm. The breed seems to be very healthy and there’s a capable bunch of people keeping a close eye on things to ensure it stays that way.
The import of seven dogs from Hungary last year will help with the genetic diversity of the breed in the future, and as long as people are careful not to over-use one sire or line, the breed’s future should be safe in their hands.