Seek & Point

By Alynn Evans

Physically, there is little left to the imagination. The monochromatic color palette extends beyond fur, with the nose, eyes, and toenails all falling into some shade of copper. Like a wet jacket, their skin clings to lean muscle on a nearly perfectly proportioned body. This is a dog that was clearly bred for purpose. In other words, they’ve got a point.

The vizsla is unapologetic about being a dog, yet so remarkably sensitive they will have you questioning whether they are actually part human. Outside the home, they crave freedom. Inside the home, they require comfort. While typically soft and gentle, their demands for exploration and attention make them impossible to ignore.

With unyielding energy, one may mistake the vizsla as an absolute agent of chaos. while not wrong, it certainly overlooks thousands of years of refinement from a rich and tumultuous history.

Little is known about the origins of the Magyar people before the ninth century. These far-reaching nomads migrated from the Ural mountain region between the East European and Siberian plains, then eventually west to what is today Hungary. As wanderers, the Magyars raised livestock and horses, traversing mountain ranges with their yellow-colored camp dogs, which loosely resembled the modern-day mastiff. It wasn’t until the Magyars settled as farmers that vizsla-like hunting dogs start to appear.

When Stephen I became king around 1000 A.D., he implemented medieval feudalism that would define Hungary for centuries to come. Land was divvied up to nobles and a relatively peaceful time followed, allowing for the prolific farming of wheat, corn, rye, and barley to take hold. This attracted a variety of birds and small mammals, creating a need for a well-adapted hunting dog.

Among tall grass crops, this dog needed to blend in, with a uniform, rust-colored coat that was short and sleek, so as not catch grass during travel. This dog needed to be agile, attentive, and alarmingly accurate at alerting their hunter the presence of game — but measured enough to not scare off an entire flock. A keen sense of smell was required; through experience, hunters learned the dogs also needed a soft mouth to hold prey without crushing it.

With the yellow camp mutts as their base, the Magyars started breeding a pointer-type dog. In the early 16th century, the Turks invaded Hungary, bringing their own dogs into the mix. In Turkish, the word vizsla means “seek” and in Hungarian it means “point” — which, up until then, was exactly this dog’s job. But around this time in history, firearms were being developed and tested, which inadvertently required more from these hunting dogs. Not only did they need to seek and point; they needed a willingness to collaborate with their human hunting counterpart. The sophistication of guns was in its infancy and preparing for a shot was clumsy at best. The dog needed to hold patiently close by as their hunter prepared and fired, and then enthusiastically retrieve the prize.

Pointers were not unique to Hungary; in fact, several hunting dogs were developing throughout Asia and Europe during this time. What set the vizsla apart was its long-standing connection to aristocracy. The outstanding impacts of Hungarian feudalism meant wealthy landowners held a tight grip on the lineage of their prized bird dogs. This likely contributed to the vizsla’s particularly affectionate nature. While many dogs spent their time outdoors, vizslas almost never left their owners’ sides, giving their “velcro dog” nickname some context. The dog was a testament to purposeful breeding and a prize of the wealthy Hungarian class. While hunters from other European countries took vizslas to their home countries to mix with their own dogs, Hungarians were quite exclusive and insistent on preserving their lineage — perhaps to a fault.

The vizsla almost went extinct several times throughout history. Between the World Wars, the well-established monarchy of Hungary briefly gave way to a communist entity called the Hungarian Soviet Republic. For four years under communist rule, the land owned by the wealthy was divided, and millions of Hungarians were displaced or now found themselves residing in new countries as boundaries were redrawn following Austria-Hungary’s defeat in the First World War. This drastically impacted the vizsla population, greatly reducing the availability of esteemed breeding stock. Looking back at documentation, the early 20th century reintroduction of the vizsla in Hungary can be traced back to about 12 individual dogs.

With little peace or rest, World War II thrust Hungary into yet another era of turmoil. Many Hungarians emigrated with their pets to neighboring countries. As another wave of communism gripped Hungary, vizslas were destroyed due to their close association with the aristocracy. Any breeding needed to be done in secret until around 1956, when the regime was finally challenged.

Few vizslas made it all the way to the United States during this time. One of Hungary’s breeders, Elizabeth Mihalyi, fled with her vizsla, Panni, to Austria. She waited six years for an opportunity to get to the States, but unfortunately when that opportunity arose, she could not take her beloved dog with her. Several years later, she was sent a granddaughter of Panni’s by an Austrian breeder and learned that Panni lived to be 17 years old. Mihalyi began vizsla breeding programs with other Hungarians stateside, and the breed has slowly gained popularity since the 1950s.

The vizsla can be a difficult dog to own, with high exercise requirements and a demanding lifestyle. But enthusiasts that remain loyal to the breed are rewarded with the perfec t combination of magnificence and cartoonish tendencies. And for many Hungarians, they are a representation of resilience through a turbulent history, the hallmark of the breed being a beloved balance of devotion, vigor, and indulgent affection.



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