An Open Letter To Prospective Puppy Buyers

Puppy fever is real. That I get… or should I say, that I have. They say the first step is admitting you are powerless over the addiction.

I’ve got the fever.

So here’s my challenge to those of you looking for a puppy to add to your family. I believe, in your puppy buying decisions, you hold at least part of the key to an elimination of puppy mills and careless backyard breeding practices.

And I’m looking for confirmation that you REALLY do want a puppy from a responsible/reputable breeder.

One of my great passions is seeing active puppy mills and harmful backyard breeding practices come to an end. I love this breed, and nothing makes me happier than seeing people bring home healthy, well-bred puppies. In the past two years I have joined a myriad of BMD Facebook groups; if you belong to the same groups you are likely familiar with these daily posts:

IMG_1778 These posts are met most frequently with two distinct responses. One group of people will mention the name of a breeder and perhaps tag a website. The other group of people will say, “Check in with your local Bernese Mountain Dog Club; most of them have breeder referral programs.” Occasionally there will be a cryptic “I PM’d you”… always a concerning response.

I’m no Nancy Drew, but it doesn’t take much detective work to figure out most new puppy buyers are going with the former option/response. Why? Because breeders in that first category tend to have “available puppies”.  And that is always, always a bad sign.

Most of these “puppies available” breeders will proudly advertise that the puppies have been vet checked. This is typically a visit of the entire litter to a veterinarian (and yes, the best of breeders will do this as well) where the litter is weighed, limbs manipulated, heart checked for potential murmurs, rudimentary hearing tests, movement observed, stools checked for parasites, etc. This visit cannot, however, measure or predict longevity in the puppy’s bloodlines, it does not offer a certified “clear” on the health of the puppy’s heart and eyes, it will not give the puppy a “clear” or “carrier” status for Degenerative Myelopathy or Von Willebrand Disease, nor indicate the risk levels for this particular puppy developing histiocytic sarcoma. Limb health (dysplasia) cannot be measured on a preliminary basis until one year, and at a certifiable level until two years of age.

25531_23643 a_2_s0
OFA X-Rays for two year old prospective breeding female

Most of the above predeterminations for puppies are made based on tests that have been run on the sire and dam. The damage done by backyard breeding programs and “available puppy” breeders is that most (certainly not all) do not bother to do this testing. Nor are many able to provide several generations of pedigree where the health of grandma and grandpa can also be taken into consideration. Thus, you may be bringing home a puppy bred out of two dysplastic dogs… but the breeder didn’t know it. You may be bringing home a puppy bred out of two carriers of Degenerative Myelopathy… but the breeder didn’t know it. You may be bringing home a puppy where grandma and grandpa on BOTH sides had their lives cut short by cancer… but the breeder didn’t know it.

If knowledge is power and this is going to be a treasured family member… do you want the power to stack the deck in your puppy’s favor? This is what a reputable breeder will do.

I’ve also been working through some issues with friends and group members who have brought home an “available puppy” (and make no mistake, these puppies are loved… and deserving of love) and are now dealing with severe behavior issues.

“But I heard this was such a great family dog!” Berners are great family dogs. And they are great with kids. But not all adorable puppies have been bred out of dogs with great dispositions. You may bring home a puppy bred out of two aggressive or extremely shy dogs, or a puppy who spent the first eight weeks of her life in a small wire crate with very little human interaction… but the breeder DID know about that.

Berners are great with kids… but a handful. Both need instruction to be able to get along safely. 

Reputable breeders will know their dogs inside and out. They’ll be able to tell you as much about Great Grandpa as they can tell you about the handsome sire or beautiful dam you meet on the day you came to see the litter for the first time. They won’t likely let you pick your own puppy… and don’t even dream of insisting upon particular “markings” that you would like your puppy to have. The dog is built first and painted later. What is important to the reputable breeder is that each puppy is going into the correct home. Each litter contains pups of widely varying personality – if I have an older retiring couple looking to bring home a Berner puppy, I’m not going to let them tell me the Alpha male is the right dog for them, nor the little girl pup who clearly has an FastCat title in her future. I’m going to match them with the laziest one of the bunch; they may not get to choose the gender, and I may even say, “I’m sorry, but I think it may be best if you wait until I breed A x B; they are likely to have more mellow offspring.”

Bernese Mountain Dogs are beautiful. They draw a LOT of attention in public. They are versatile and highly adaptable. They are wildly popular (never good for a breed)… up to #23 on the AKC registry list. But one thing they are NOT, is easy. These are difficult dogs to raise. They are large, heavy, and highly bonded to humans. They are bred to work and can become bored and sometimes destructive if not doing so. Puppies grow at an alarming rate with periods of teething so painful for the pup they turn into legitimate land sharks. Be prepared to be bruised, nibbled, gnawed, punched, run into, jumped on… and prepare for your children to experience the same. It is not a breed for everyone, and we do the breed a disservice to suggest they are. They should NOT, however, be aggressive dogs. Bernese are loving, deeply attached (often to one person in particular) and fiercely loyal dogs. They are beautiful, majestic, and all-at-once both strong and fragile.

Will you help protect this amazing breed? Buying from a breeder who has “puppies available”, a breeder who will not let you meet the sire or dam, a breeder who cannot provide evidence of health and genetic testing completed on both parents (preferably grandparents as well), a breeder who does not insist contractually that the puppy comes back HOME if for any reason things do not work out, a breeder who lets you choose your own puppy before their eyes are even opened based on markings alone… these may be people who love their dogs, but they are not breeders who have set out to protect the breed and who see to it, in the meantime, that you benefit from their care.

Choose your breeder first. Consult with a local BMD Club. Require proof of genetic testing! Expect a wait. Let the breeder choose (or help you choose) your perfect pup. Practice delayed gratification! And then enjoy the ride. You’ll be back. Betcha can’t have just one.


Published by: When Life Goes to the Dogs

It was my youngest daughter who introduced me to the Bernese Mountain Dog. That first boy, Hero, set in motion all kinds of crazy love. And now, at the end of the day, I often find myself asking... what do these dogs have that is so special? I'm raising three Berners now, navigating the world of social media for dogs, holistic health and raw feeding. Sherman has become a therapy dog; Zuzu may soon follow in his footsteps. Madi, as I like to say, is still cooking. I guess we all need something to put our hands to that makes us feel like we've made a difference in this world. Believe it or not, these dogs help me do just that.

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One thought on “An Open Letter To Prospective Puppy Buyers”

  1. outstanding, as a Bernese owner since 1980’s and a 20 CKC red’g breeder. thank you so much for this. outstanding


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