Frequently dismissed as a “Norfolk lurcher”, the Hungarian wirehaired vizsla is steadily gaining popularity in the shooting 
field — and with David Tomlinson

Every season I enjoy a day or two brushing — that’s Norfolk for beating — on a shoot where the gamekeeper, Tracie Rickman, is a Hungarian wire-haired vizsla (HWV) enthusiast. Her dogs are brilliant advertisements for their breed, as they are good-looking, steady and responsive workers. They do, however, create some consternation among new Guns who have never seen them before.

“What sort of dogs are those, Tracie?” is the usual question. She has to be quick to reply, as the brushers will assure unsuspecting Guns that they are Norfolk lurchers, the affectionate term by which Tracie’s hairy orange dogs are known.

I  first came across HWVs not long after I started writing this column more than 16 years ago. A reader called Clint Coventry wrote to me, inviting me to see his dogs in action. I went to meet Clint and his partner Anita, was introduced to their HWVs and saw them working. I was impressed. Clint used his dogs mainly for beating and hawking, and it was clear that they excelled at both disciplines. He said that they had all the attributes of the familiar Hungarian vizsla, but their rough coats made them better suited to the British shooting field. He added that he also found them unusually biddable and easy to train.

Fashion is a fickle thing in the world of HPRs, and there are many examples of handlers who have abandoned one breed, enthused about the new one they have just taken on, only to move on again to another a few years later. Intriguingly, all the people I know who have taken on HWVs have remained faithful to the breed, while its popularity has continued to grow steadily. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince people that they are Norfolk lurchers.

wirehaired vizsla

Its rough coat gives the wire-haired vizsla added protection in harsh conditions when in the field

Hungarian wirehaired vizsla – one of the newest gun dog breeds

Historically, the HWV is one of the newest breeds of gundog: it was developed in the 1930s in Hungary by crossing smooth-haired vizslas with German wirehaired pointers (GWPs). The aim was to produce a shooting dog that combined the colour of the vizsla with the heavier coat and more substantial build of the GWP, making it better suited to working in harsh conditions. Development of the breed continued during World War II, with a number of Hungarian kennels becoming involved. It is thought that pudelpointer and Irish setter blood was introduced.

Today, though the breed remains relatively rare in its native Hungary, it has been enjoying growing popularity elsewhere in the world. The first HWV was shown at Crufts way back in 1980, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the first litter was whelped in the UK. The relaxing of Britain’s strict quarantine rules at the start of the new century made it much easier to bring dogs in from the Continent and this did much to boost the popularity of the HWV in this country.

Unlike another relatively recent arrival, the GLP, the HWV has been embraced with as much enthusiasm by the show fraternity as it has by working enthusiasts. Whether this is a good thing is debatable, but one of the attractions is that this is still a genuine dual-purpose breed, with no division between working and show strains.

A wirehaired vizsla taking part in a spring pointing test

A wirehaired vizsla taking part in a spring pointing test

Crufts entries on the increase

HWV entries at Crufts now comfortably exceed those for much-longer-established HPR breeds, such as German wirehairs and Brittany spaniels, and are rising annually. Making up a dual champion (field and show) remains a definite possibility.

No breed is perfect, and this includes the HWV. Years of selective breeding from a small stock base means that genetic diversity is poor, but despite this the overall health is relatively good, with allergies the most commonly reported health issue. There have also been a number of cases of hip dysplasia: the average hip score is a relatively high 11. Equally high is the price of puppies: expect to pay anything from £800 to £1,000.

There are two dedicated breed clubs: the Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla Association and the Hungarian Wire-haired Vizsla Club of Great Britain, both of which organise working tests for their members. The former also holds an annual novice field trial.

My most abiding memory of watching HWVs work is a five-year-old dog I met in Yorkshire, working in the beating line on a driven grouse day. He was a recent rescue dog from a pet home, but despite never having received any formal training, he worked diligently and steadily all day. I can’t imagine a rescued spaniel doing the same.