More and more as I read through Facebook comments I see a dramatic uptick in suggestions for the use of Berner-Garde. This is a good thing! Awareness and use of this amazing record-keeping tool in the world of Bernese Mountain Dogs is gaining steam. Not only that, but the BG website has recently received a much-needed facelift and is quite easy on the eyes!
But if you are a first time puppy buyer or a pet owner two years into your first Bernese Mountain Dog… what value does the BG database bring to you? Isn’t it just a tool for show people and breeders?
Let’s start by asking not what Berner-Garde can do for you, but what you can do for Berner-Garde. “The mission of the Berner-Garde Foundation is to support efforts to improve the health and longevity of Bernese Mountain Dogs.” True story! I lifted that right off the BG website. A mission to improve the health and longevity of our breed sounds like a win-win to me. This hard working group of volunteers not only maintains the database we’ll take a look at in one moment, but also supports a community of researchers dedicated to seeing the impact of histiocytoses (a broad term for multiple Berner-prone cancers) and other genetic maladies dramatically reduced in the breed. Research supported by Berner-Garde is linked on the website for anyone with a mind sophisticated enough to process such language. And by entering your dog in BG, no matter the dog, no matter the breeder, no matter… you contribute to this important research. Within your dog’s record, you can enter any tests/lab reports and results you obtain during the life of your dog, as well as AKC performance titles (many of your dogs are already CGC) you earn together. When we then follow through and enter the date and cause of death, we help our researchers draw ever closer to the possibility of giving future Berners a shot at increased health and longevity. Your story matters!
Now let’s talk to our puppy shoppers… how can BernerGarde help you obtain a pup from what we typically call a “reputable breeder”? See, it’s not just puppy buyers and members of Facebook groups who are starting to bandy about the term “Berner-Garde”. Savvy, yet less-than-scrupulous breeders are also beginning to realize they are going to be asked about a Berner-Garde presence, but they also know most of us don’t necessarily know what to look or ask for beyond “Are you on Berner-Garde”. So they will enter their own name and a dog or two and… voila! They are “on Berner-Garde”.
Below are some legit Berner-Garde records. Legit? Yes, because they are complete. These dogs are listed by kennel, owner, registered name, breeder… in other words, they are easy to find with a simple search.
The chart, of course, will show you results on all tests that have been run. If a breeder has been suggested to you, first see if you can find their presence on Berner-Garde. If you find them, open the records of several of their dogs; use the “done” button at the top of the page to return to the breeder’s list of registered dogs when through with a record. Are they running and recording all of the recommended tests? Keep in mind that even some BMDCA breeders do not run all the tests. Only you can determine what is important to you, but with Berner-Garde you can take your own responsibility for that. You may find a top show breeder who doesn’t believe in DM testing (for the record, I will test all of my dogs for DM); that breeder may be breeding Grand Champions and you may be ok with their decisions. There is not 100% agreement on these issues among breeders by any means… but again, you can take the reins with your decisions when you have a database like Berner-Garde at hand.
At the very least, you’ll want to be sure you can find proof (everything on BG has been “fact checked”… certifications must be uploaded and reviewed before they are entered into the database) that your breeder is using mature dogs (over the age of 2), presenting final OFA scores on hips and elbows (prelims can be done at the age of one, but they are not final scores and at one year of age, dogs are too young to be bred), and also recording the additional testing that will matter to you as a dog owner. As the foundation provides the gold star for dogs that have been “fully vetted”… this is an easy marker to search for. (Keep in mind the gold star is also given as a marker for preliminary hip and elbow scores, not just for finals.)
Is your breeder “finishing” his/her dogs? A finished dog is a Champion of Record… meaning they have earned 15 points in conformation, awarded by at least three different judges. Two of the dog’s wins must be “majors” (awarded by different judges), which is three, four, or five points, determined by how many other dogs of the same gender are competing. Dogs don’t need to be finished before they are bred, but it is regarded as another box on the reputable breeders checklist, and many breeders will continue acquiring points towards the CH title on a bitch after breeding. Why?
When a dog goes into the conformation ring, a question is placed before the judge, and it’s not “which dog do you think is prettiest?” The question is, “Of this group you are looking at right now, which one of these do you think BEST represents the standards of the breed?” The judge is looking at structure here, which determines how YOUR puppy is built. Have you ever thought, “Why doesn’t my puppy have a long, luscious coat like that one? Why are my Berner’s legs so stinking long? Why is my dog’s head long and not more square? Why does my dog’s back bow in the middle? Why do my boy’s back legs look like he just came off a long horseback ride?” Breeding. Breeders who thoroughly consider pedigree and record their dogs on Berner-Garde are also the breeders who are taking the utmost care to choose pairings based not only on genetic testing and limb health, but based also on the physical traits that will best improve the breed. Many dogs earn the Champion title, and while that doesn’t mean that dog should be bred or is fine to be paired at random (both genetic results and physical traits need to be considered) it does mean there is at least general agreement the dog meets breed standards.
FUN FACT: YOU CANNOT REGISTER A DOG NAMED “CHAMP” WITH THE AKC. CHAMP IS A TITLE, NOT A NAME. FRIENDS TRIED TO DO THIS ONCE AND WERE TOLD BY THE AKC TO CHOOSE A NEW NAME… THEY CHANGED THE “A” TO A “U” AND THEIR LAB’S REGISTERED NAME WAS CHUMP. BUT HIS CALL NAME WAS STILL CHAMP.
Hopefully this is a good introductory tutorial on Berner-Garde. Again, some unscrupulous breeders are beginning to realize they need a presence on BG, so it’s good that you learn how to use the database. Check your breeder’s thoroughness in testing and reporting. Ask questions… “Why do you only have prelims recorded? Why are you not testing for DM? Are you planning on finishing this dog?” They may have satisfactory answers for you. Have someone you trust check out or vet potential breeders on your behalf. You don’t need a show dog, that’s true. But you need a GOOD breeder. Both you and your puppy deserve that much. Get acquainted with Berner-Garde, make some friends who will help you vet breeders, and put yourself in the driver’s seat!