One of the cool things about pet-sitting is learning the truth about different breeds of cats and dogs. From the common tabby and mixed mutt to the highly refined purebred, like humans, they’re all pretty much a product of their upbringing. Although we’ve never cared for a pit bull or Rottweiler, I’m among those who believe you shouldn’t judge a dog by its pedigree. Even the gentlest Lab can become a cold-blooded killer in the wrong owner’s hands.
Thankfully the chocolate Lab we pet-sat was typical of her breed: big, goofy and very friendly. We’ve also cared for full- and cross-blooded canines such as the Lhasa Apso, Labradoodle, golden doodle and not one but two relatively rare Thai ridgebacks (talk about your fierce facade) and all, while displaying the specific traits of their particular pedigree (friendly Lab, reserved ridgeback, easily trainable spaniel), all have been good-natured, and that’s wholly to do with upbringing.
One of the rarer breeds we spent time with was a Vizsla. We’d never heard of it either, let alone encountered one. This guy’s name was Miller and, true to his lineage (the pointer-retriever group), he was indefatigable. You could throw his ball a hundred times and a hundred times he’d fetch and drop, and still egg you on to another hundred. And that’s after a two-hour walk/run. He was so fixated on his ball he wouldn’t look at you, only the ball, and he was irritated by distractions or affection. All he wanted was that ball, dammit.
His owners, Jim and Bev, picked him specifically for that high energy, as Bev is hyper-active as well and needs an outlet for all that steam. In the home of a lazybones, both dog and human would be miserable. We’re a little more laid-back, so we think twice about offers to sit for peppy pups like border collies and Jack Russells. But Miller was such a character we couldn’t say no.
Here’s what we learned about our new four-legged friend: The Vizsla, a sporting dog of medium size, originated in Hungary and bred as a hunter of fowl and small game by the Magyar tribes of the Carpathian Basin as early as the 10th century. Later they were kept as companion dogs by royalty, warlords and barons. That’s because the Vizsla became one of the rarest of the pointers: a great house dog. They’re naturally gentle, affectionate and loyal but also quite protective of their family (they’re referred to as Velcro dogs because they stick to you once they’ve claimed you). Their short, smooth coat is almost always a golden-rusty-coppery colour. They’re very handsome and they know it, as evidenced by Miller’s prance instead of a trot. They’re terrific swimmers, which is handy for retrieving downed ducks. They’re easily trainable but only under a gentle hand; harsh correction, as with any breed, can mess with their minds.
Throughout its history, the breed lived through wars and occupations but nearly went extinct after being overrun by English and German pointers in the 1800s and again at the end of the Second World War, when a count revealed only about a dozen left in all of Hungary. Careful breeding, in Romania, Austria, Slovakia and Serbia as well as Hungary, brought back their numbers. They’re less common in North America — the first of its type, two pups, arrived in the US in 1950, and the American Kennel Club only officially recognized them in 1960. According to the Vizsla Canada organization, the first three dogs imported into our country was in 1955 by an Ontario sportsman, but it was a Quebecker who got the breed recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 1958 — two years earlier than its American counterpart.
Miller, of course, doesn’t know or care about his family tree. He just wants you to throw that damn ball. Again.