Many dog breeds are trained as assistance dogs but can vizslas be service dogs?
Hungarian vizslas may not be a common choice for service dog training, but a vizsla service dog has a unique set of skills to offer a person living with disability.
In this guide we explain exactly what are service dogs, the different types of assistance dogs, examples of vizsla assistance dogs and why vizslas can be good service dogs.
This article is based on research and personal experience as a Vizsla owner. I’m not a qualified dog trainer, Vet or dog behaviourist.
Can Vizslas Be Service Dogs?
Yes, vizslas can be service dogs. Vizslas are a highly trainable and intelligent dog breed. Their sensitive and gentle nature combined with their powerful nose and medium size means they are suitable for many different types of service roles including as medical alert assistance dogs, seeing eye dogs and mobility assistance dogs.
While not seen as a traditional breed for the role, there are already many vizsla service dogs performing life saving jobs for their owners in the US and UK.
Their success is forging new paths for the Hungarian vizsla breed as a good service dog.
What Is A Service Dog?
A service dog is a type of working dog trained to assist a person with a disability live a more independent life.
Assistance Dogs International groups service dogs together with guide dogs and hearing dogs under the general term “assistance dog”.
According to ADI the specific function of a service dog is to “perform a wide variety of tasks including but not limited to pulling a wheelchair, bracing, retrieving, alerting to a medical crisis and providing assistance in a medical crisis”.
The Americans With Disability Act (ADA) defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities”.
While the term “service dog” means slightly different things in different countries, the terms service dog and assistance dog are often used interchangeably.
In both instances they refer to a highly trained dog that performs specific tasks for a person living with a disability.
In the past the most common dog breeds chosen for service dog roles included labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and german shepherds.
But as the number of service dog functions expands, more breeds are being trained as service dogs.
Let’s take a look at the different service dog types to better understand why vizslas can be good assistance dogs.
Different Types Of Assistance Dogs
The most commonly known type of assistance dog is a guide dog, or seeing eye dog.
Guide dogs have been helping vision impaired people for over a century, with the first official guide dog school opened in 1916.
However there are now many other types of assistance dogs including:
- Hearing Dogs
- Mobility Service Dogs
- Seizure Service Dog
- Autism Service Dog
- Diabetic Alert Service Dogs
- Medical Alert Service Dog
- Psychiatric Service Dogs
- Service Dogs For Veterans with Military Related PTSD
Vizslas have exceptionally good noses and that has been recognized by organizations who are now prepared to train vizslas as medical alert assistance dogs and diabetic alert dogs.
But their lovable and affectionate temperament also means they are suitable for a range of other service dog roles including mobility and PTSD support.
Service Dog Vs Therapy Dog
Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and affection to people in a range of different settings including:
- Aged care facilities
While therapy dogs are well trained dogs, they are not recognised as service dogs as they are not trained to assist one individual.
However vizslas do make great therapy dogs when trained well. They love spending time with humans. Their affectionate and friendly personality and love for cuddles and attention means they are a good choice for therapy roles.
Reasons Why Vizslas Can Be Good Assistance Dogs
Vizslas have several characteristics that make them good assistance dogs.
Intelligent and Trainable
Vizlsas are intelligent and their desire to please means they are very trainable too.
With more than 50% of dogs failing to complete their service dog training, intelligence and trainability are essential characteristics in successful service dogs.
Their trainability helps them pick up new tasks quickly and take on multiple roles for their owner.
Plus their natural instinct to retrieve (and medium size) means they are perfectly suited to mobility assistance roles.
Vizslas are hunting dogs and one of their most powerful senses is their sense of smell.
Their nose can detect minute changes in pheromones on an owner’s skin and breath which makes them perfectly suited as medical alert assistance dogs.
Vizslas can be trained to be diabetes service dogs and medical alert assistance dogs and it is one of the service dog roles vizslas excel at thanks to their amazing sense of smell.
Read Emily and Barna’s story here.
Their hunting bloodlines mean vizslas are energetic, strong and hard working. They love to have a job.
For many vizsla owners that job is out in the field hunting, flushing and retrieving game. But their size and and desire to work can also be harnessed for service roles such as mobility service dogs.
Vizslas need mental stimulation as part of their daily exercise needs and a hard day of mental work can tire a vizsla out just as effectively as a walk off leash.
Gentle and Affectionate
Vizslas have a sensitive temperament and are a lovable and friendly breed.
These characteristics make them a great choice for service dogs who also need to be part of a family.
Their loyalty and desire to please their owner also helps them adapt to different situations as required. The well known term “versatile vizsla” was never more relevant!
Great with kids and very cuddly, they are the perfect combination of working dog and companion dog.
Low Maintenance Grooming
Vizslas have a short single coat that requires little brushing and less shedding than other breeds.
They also don’t tend to have a doggy smell and are very easy to keep clean.
This low maintenance grooming is a big plus for service dog owners compared to heavy shedders like Labradors and German Shepherds that require more day to day maintenance.
Challenges For Training A Vizsla Service Dog
So why aren’t there more vizsla service dogs in the community?
Well vizslas do have some characteristics that can make them more challenging than other breeds to train as service dogs.
Vizslas are a high energy breed that need to be kept busy to stay out of trouble.
While the mental stimulation of working as a service dogs helps keep that energy in check, they still need the opportunity to burn off some physical energy on a daily basis.
For this reason they aren’t well suited for service dog roles with owners who are house bound.
Not Naturally Calm
One of the most difficult things in the early days of training medical alert dog Barna, according to Emily Cook, was “how to get a hyper vizsla to just lie down and relax when required”.
Relaxing and being calm are not natural states for many vizslas especially when they are young! They are often hyper-alert and find it difficult to switch off.
While the ability to be calm can be trained, compared to other retrieving breeds like Labradors and spaniels, it can be more difficult and take more time.
Strong Prey Drive
Many vizsla breeders breed dogs specifically for hunting. Others breed from strong hunting bloodlines to protect the historical purpose of the dog as a hunting dog breed.
As a result, many vizslas have a strong prey drive which is not a characteristic suited to service dog jobs.
While all dogs can be desensitized to distractions, it can be more difficult to train dogs with a high prey drive.
How Long Does It Take To Train Vizsla Service Dogs?
Depending on the type of service dog role, accredited service dog training can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to complete.
Carefully selected puppies are often cared for by volunteers in their own home for the first eight to twelve months before formal training commences.
Professional service dog training organizations train dogs for specific service roles depending on the requirements of their clients.
In the case of medical alert dogs they are trained to detect a specific condition such as blood sugar levels, collapse or allergy response.
Vizsla Assistance Dog FAQS
Yes, vizslas can be good service dogs. They are a highly intelligent, trainable, and versatile dog breed who are eager to please and have a strong desire for companionship. With persistent and patient training they can be a great assistance dog.
No, emotional support dogs are not the same as service dogs. Emotional support dogs are considered pets and do not require any training. Whereas service dogs are highly trained to perform specific tasks for people living with a disability.
Yes, dogs of any breed or size can become a service dog. However, the dog must have the right temperament and successfully complete rigorous training to become an accredited service dog.
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