Canine Behavior/? Adopting vizsla
Hi Jody, My husband and I are considering adopting a 2 yo Vizsla with little formal obedience training. My first stop (if this goes ahead) will be clicker training classes. I do have a few concerns though, and would value your opinion.
1.Do you think that Vizsla's can ever have reliable recall (with training)?
2. One website that I read said that I should be prepared to devote "all free time" to the dog - yikes! I enjoy being active, but don't know if I want to take that on! Your opinion on this?
3. It has also been said that they are prone to separation anxiety- thoughts?
Thanks for your time!
Vizsla's are an intelligent and high energy dog. They're also a sensitive breed, which means they're very attuned to what's happening around them, both environmentally and the body language of others in their space (a harsh look or disappointed sigh might make them feel defeated).
With solid training, using a lure/reward based program that weans off treats very quickly (usually within the first training session of that particular skill) and continued practice, there's no reason to believe you cannot have a very solid recall (Come) from a Vizsla. Remember, they were originally bred as hunting dogs and so had to be able to go out in the field to flush or retrieve and then return to the human hunter either by rote or by verbal command.
These dogs do best when they have loads of activity to occupy them. Giving them a job is great. This might include carrying a pack while on walks or, if you're in a place where it's safe for him to be off leash (once his recall is trained) play fetch along the walk by throwing a favorite toy or ball well ahead, and allowing him to go get it and retrieve it for you.
Because they're very intelligent and very high energy, they are easily distracted (especially when young). So, training should first occur in low distraction settings and then build up to very little distraction, then slightly more then more then more... They are going to be aware of everything going on in their environment, so if you're trying to train with him and there are squirrels chasing each other in trees, or birds flying around, it may be nearly impossible to work with him (until you've built up his ability to ignore lesser distractions).
The more time he spends with his people INSIDE, the more well behaved he'll become as part of the family. I'd do all of his initial training inside your home. So, even if you're taking him to a public class, you should practice all the skills you're learning in each and every room of the house. My preference to training practice is to make it part of the regular life, and not do a lot of formal training sessions. So, instead of setting aside 10 minutes to "train", I will ask for Sits or Downs or Waits/Stays or eye contact in the middle of games (interrupting tug or fetch to ask for these skills) before resuming play time. I'll ask for these skills so that the leash can go on or come off, so that food can be given, so that he can get in or out of the car, go in or out the front door, get on or off the couch/bed, etc. By building these skills into his regular life we do two very important things. First, we help him generalize that no matter what activity we're doing or where we are in the house or the outside world, these commands mean the same thing (dog's do not generalize the same way we do and need to practice in many settings before they learn that Sit always means "put my bum down and wait for further instruction"). The second important thing this does is teach our dog that he can earn all sorts of real-life rewards for doing these skills on request and that it's not always food, but is always good. This way we're not bribing him with treats and we won't end up with a dog who will only perform if you have food in your hand...
He will need a lot of enrichment activity. I would never feed a Vizsla out of a food bowl. I would only feed him from treat dispensing toys such as Kong or hollowed out marrow bones and the like. By doing this, he has to work for his food which is great mental stimulation and will help to keep his energy even throughout the day (less hyper...). It also teaches him that these items are great things to engage with because they are self-rewarding. As he chews on them, he gets reinforced for doing so because chunks of food come out! How awesome is that!?!?!? This will go a long way toward curbing his potential to chew on other things like your couch or the walls.
Playing games with him such as hide-and-seek (he can be seeking food treats hidden around the house, or he can be seeking a favorite toy or a person), doing sport activity classes such as NoseWork are low-impact but high mental activity options. They are great fun and a beginner class (no other formal training needed for nose work) can teach you some great ways to entertain him at home.
While he will definitely need daily exercise in the form of walks and off-leash run around time, even more important to that is mental engagement. It's the bored dog who becomes destructive in their effort to entertain themselves.
I have two excellent examples for you. I had a client who was a Vizsla puppy. He spent 22 out of every 24 hours alone in the back yard, with the occasional visit by a human working at the house. These visits lasted 30 seconds to maybe 10 minutes. My training sessions of 30-45 minutes 3 times per week, were the most consistent and extended period of human contact he had. This was an incredibly smart, sweet, loving dog who wanted very badly to please me and to engage with me. But, he was out of control hyper in the house because he was never allowed to be in long enough to calm down and then get praise for it to reinforce that this was good behavior. It was also so exciting for him to come in because he was always out, that it was for him, like it is for most dogs when their person comes home - he was overwhelmed with joy at being included that he just couldn't help himself for the first 10 minutes or so, and that usually annoyed the owner enough that he was put back outside, and so it became a cycle that was more frustrating for the owner and less supportive for the dog. This dog was nearly impossible for me to work with because he was always so excited by my arrival AND so distracted by the birds and squirrels that he could hardly focus. When he was being fed by way of stuffed Kongs, his focus improved and I got his 3-second stay to a 45-second stay in a single session. But when the enrichment stopped, his focus diminished again. It was very difficult to train this dog and I was very frustrated and heart broken for the dog.
On the flip side, there is a business man I know who runs a U-Wash Doggie. He has a Viszla that he's had since she was a puppy. She comes to work with him every single day. As a puppy, he kept the door to the business closed, or kept her fenced behind his desk. But he trained her and worked with her on her recall and her other basic obedience commands. Now, she's about 3 years old. His business door stays open and she's not fenced in behind his desk. She lays back there if she wishes. Or she lays in the middle of the store and greets people who come in. Or she (and her new "sister") lay outside on the sidewalk in front of the store. They even occasionally wander to the grocery store next door, but she doesn't run off and she does come when he calls her (as does her "sister").
Same breed, two very different lifestyles. One is neglected and relegated to the back yard and his mental needs are not met (he has a large yard and runs around all day, but also digs and destroys everything he can get his mouth on). The other, has a highly enriched life, good training, the owner invested time in training the dog and the dog has loads of mental enrichment by way of going to work, greeting people, treat dispensing toys and other activity, and she's sweet and docile and extremely well behaved. This is an excellent depiction of the difference that training and enrichment can make for the same breed of dog.
Now, I'm not suggesting you need to take this dog with you everywhere. You can help him learn to be comfortable alone, initially you'll want to acclimate him to a crate (help him believe that crates are Disney Land, and the VERY best place to hang out) and then after you've had him for a while, he can begin to earn some freedom one room at a time as he demonstrates he's not destructive. If you provide for his obedience training and work with him regularly (sometimes you will have to set up training sessions, especially recalls), mostly through your regular daily interactions with him, if you provide him play time, walk time and run around time and if you provide him with lots of environmental enrichment, then you can have a great dog in a Viszla.
I love this breed. I also know that I'm lazy and don't take my dogs for daily walks. They have a dog door and can go out and run around in the yard and potty at their leisure. I don't know that I could provide enough activity for a Vizsla. If you like to go for daily strolls that last 30-60 minutes on average. If you like to go hiking/nature walking several times per week, then you are active enough for this breed. If you are prepared to do some basic obedience classes and then some specialty classes such as trick classes or nose work or agility or flyball or other sport classes (you don't ever have to compete, you can do them just for the enrichment and bonding opportunity) and if you're committed to keeping the dog inside and part of the family, then you could provide an excellent home for such a dog.
**Properly loading a Kong or Marrow bone. He will need large Kongs. I usually encourage owners to have several (at least 4, but the more the better). You will make a mixture that breaks down like this:
85% of the total is the dog's regular high quality, corn/wheat free kibble
5% of the total will be yummy treats for the surprise value
10% of the total will be some kind of soft binder to hold it all together.
Binders can be any soft, dog-safe food. Some of my favorites for this process include mashed potatoes (no garlic), apple sauce, liverwurst, peanut butter, low fat cream cheese, nonfat plain yogurt, Beech Nut baby food (not Gerber as they frequently have corn starch fillers), high quality wet dog food or you can just soak the kibble in a low sodium broth (vegetable, beef or chicken) until the kibble is soft and mushy.
Mix it all together and then stuff that Kong full. You'll need to smear a little something sticky (peanut butter or cream cheese texture) on the small hole of the Kong so nothing leaks. Then fill the Kong completely with the mixture. Once full, you can give it to the dog fresh and it will take him about 5-10 minutes to consume. You can refrigerate it to help it set up a bit and to store pre-made Kongs for ease of dispensing. This will also last 5-15 minutes. If your dog is willing, you can freeze the Kong and make it a Kongscicle. Then, it will take the dog 1-2 hours to consume the food inside. If you choose this option, I suggest you leave about a 1/4 inch of space open, partly so there's room for the food to expand, but also so you can put a dollop of something fresh on it when you hand it to him so he's got some instant reinforcement for engaging with it. Then, as he's licking it and working at it, his tongue will begin to defrost and dislodge chunks.
I frequently will combine more than one binder ingredient to increase the interest factor. This also allows me to use a higher-fat option like liverwurst (haven't yet met a dog who doesn't love liverwurst!) with something lighter like apple sauce so we're not over feeding the high fat foods. You may need 2 or 3 even 3 Kongs to get an entire meals' worth of food for a large dog. But, remember that you're going to cut the kibble ration by 10% of what the bag recommends because you've got other calories in there and we don't want a fat pup.
You can load a marrow bone the same way, with one alteration. You'll take a hard treat such as a dog cookie or biscuit and lodge it in the narrowest part of the bone so that he'll never be able to dislodge it himself. Then, when you return to him, you can ask for the bone (or the Kong) and dislodge whatever last bit is in there that he couldn't get himself. Now you're his hero! because you helped him get the bit he couldn't. Before long, he'll greet you with the Kong or bone in his mouth, offering it up so you can help him get that last bit.
All his Kong engagement at meal time should occur in his crate so that he learns to settle down and focus on this. This will also help him learn that his crate is a great place to be because he always has something great to chew on and this is where his meals happen.
It is doable to have a well behaved Vizsla with a strong recall who is not destructive in the house. But it does require an investment in making sure he learns how to behave, making sure he is part of the family at least 90% of the time, and making sure you provide plenty of mental stimulation for him so he's not bored.
I hope this helps. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.