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rec.pets.dogs: Bernese Mountain Dogs Breed-FAQ

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Archive-name: dogs-faq/breeds/berners
Posting-frequency: 30 days
Last-modified: 10 Nov 1997

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                           Bernese Mountain Dogs

   There is a wide variety of dog breeds available today. Carefully
   examining the choices will give you a better chance of finding a dog
   that fits into your home and family. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of
   the Rockies has prepared this FAQ to introduce you to our breed and
   help you decide if a Berner is right for you.
   Created October 15, 1994. Updated January 17, 1996. Copyright 1995 by
   Philip Shaffer,
Quick Links

     * [Breed FAQ Homepage] Homepage of all the breed FAQs
     * [BMD Clubs Page] Breeder referral and other Bernese Mountain Dog
       club contacts
     * [BMDCR Page] Homepage of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of the
     * [BMDCA Page] Homepage of the Bernese Mountain dog Club of America
     * [Swiss Breeds Page] A great look at all the Swiss breeds with lots
       of pictures
     * [Berner-Garde] The international Bernese Mountain Dog health
     * [Mailing List] Home of the Berner mailing list
Table of Contents

     * Summary
          + Temperament and Behavior
          + Expenses
          + Health and Fitness
          + Miscellaneous
     * Origins of the Breed
     * Hips and Elbows
     * Cancer
     * Working
     * Clubs
     * References and Links
     * Breed Standard

  Temperament and behavior
     * needs lots of human companionship; must be a full member of the
       family; a dog that must be allowed inside the house
     * gentle, calm, affectionate, and faithful to their owners
     * very good with children and other animals
     * intelligent, but needs patient, consistent training
     * seldom nuisance barkers
     * good watch dogs but not guard dogs
     * reserved around strangers but not shy or fearful if given proper
       socialization when young
     * moderate activity level, a fine walking companion but lacking the
       endurance of lighter boned breeds
     * a working breed that was originally used for draft work and light
       duty cattle herding
     * purchase cost varies widely around the country
     * males and females should cost the same
     * $120 for first year routine vet care
     * $50 per year for routine adult vet care
     * $120 per year for miscellaneous vet care
     * $20 to $30 per month in food
     * $180 for 20 hours of basic puppy and obedience classes
     * home and yard improvements such as fencing or a run
  Health and fitness
     * the median life span is 6 to 7 years, however, for dogs that enter
       adulthood in good health the typical life span is around 9 years
     * cancers are a serious problem and common cause of early death
     * joint problems are common
     * serious autoimmune problems and kidney problems are known
     * the Berner-Garde data base tracks many health problems and can be
       accessed by breeders and potential owners.
     * 65 to 95 pounds for females; 80 to 115 pounds for males
     * males 25-27-1/2 inches at the withers, bitches 23-26 inches
     * heavy shedding once or twice a year and for some dogs throughout
       the year
     * coat naturally repels dirt; regular brushing but only occasional
       bathing is required.
     * very few are prone to drooling
     * not a natural retriever
     * not naturally inclined to hunting, though some chase squirrels,
     * not naturally a water dog but some take to swimming for fun
     * some have a tendency to dig holes
     * fun to travel with if properly trained
Origins of the Breed

   The name Bernese Mountain Dog is a rough translation of the German
   "Berner Sennenhund," which literally means Bernese Alpine Herdsman's
   Dog. The breed's original name was Durrbachler, after an inn where
   these farm dogs were bought and sold. The modern breed was developed
   from dogs found in the countryside around Bern, Switzerland and is
   only one of several Swiss breeds. The original Berner Sennenhund was
   an all-around farm dog, used to guard the farm, drive the cows to and
   from their mountain pastures, and pull carts loaded with milk cans to
   the dairy; modern Berners retain some, although not necessarily all,
   of these instincts. The breed was rescued from near extinction by
   Professor Albert Heim around the turn of the century and has developed
   slowly since then. In 1948 there was a significant outcrossing to a
   Newfoundland dog, with a resulting improvement in temperament and
   increase in size.
   Berners are known to have first come to America in 1926, and possibly
   even earlier, but the breed was not recognized by the AKC even after
   intervention by the Swiss Kennel Club. A decade later, two more were
   imported from Switzerland; these dogs became the first of the breed to
   be registered with the AKC, in 1937. By the 1960s, a small group of
   loyal Berner owners and breeders was developing in the United States.
   During 1994 there were 1594 Berners registered with the AKC, making
   the breed the 68th most popular out of 137 AKC-recognized breeds. The
   breed's popularity has been rising steadily and is now at the point
   where "backyard breeding" is a problem.
Hips and Elbows

   Hip and elbow dysplasias are common conditions in Bernese Mountain
   Dogs. These are structural defects in the joints that can cause mild
   to crippling arthritis.
     * Dysplasia is inherited, but many genes are involved.
     * It is possible for normal parents to produce dysplastic puppies;
       however, the chance of a particular puppy's having dysplasia is
       reduced if both parents are normal, and even more greatly reduced
       if other close relatives (parents' parents, parents' littermates,
       and other puppies produced by the parents) are also free from
     * environmental factors--overly rapid puppy growth, improper diet,
       and strenuous exercise--do not cause dysplasia but may act to
       worsen it.
     * X-rays of mature dogs are the definitive way to diagnose
       dysplasia. X-rays may be done of younger dogs who are exhibiting
       clinical symptoms (e.g., lameness), but they may not accurately
       predict how bad the final effects will be. Because both hip and
       elbow dysplasias often are not apparent at birth but develop over
       time, mild or moderate dysplasia often cannot be diagnosed in
       young dogs.
     * The Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals (GDC)
       evaluates dogs at 1 year of age by X-ray. The Orthopedic
       Foundation for Animals (OFA) evaluates dogs at 2 years of age by
       X-ray. Dogs found to be free of dysplasia are issued a certificate
       and a registration number.
     * Of all the breeds evaluated by the OFA, Bernese have the eighth
       highest incidence of hip dysplasia. 28% of the Berners whose hip
       X-rays are submitted are rated as dysplastic, but in reality the
       overall incidence in the breed is probably considerably higher,
       since many owners do not submit the X-rays if dysplasia is
     * Surgery to correct dysplasia in puppies can be helpful but costs
       $400.00 to $1,800.00 per joint. Hip surgery is usually more
       successful than elbow surgery.
     * Recommendations
       Both the GDC and OFA recommend that:
         1. breeding dogs be free of dysplasia
         2. breeding dogs' parents and grandparents be free of dysplasia
         3. 75% or more of any siblings or half siblings of breeding dogs
            be free of dysplasia

   Cancers are a serious problem in the Bernese. An ongoing study of
   these diseases in the breed, sponsored by the Bernese Mountain Dog
   Club of America, indicates the following:
     * Approximately 9.7% of Berners get cancer.
     * The average age at which cancer is diagnosed is 6.21 years;
       however, this varies widely.
     * The most common types of cancer found in Berners are:
          + histiocytosis (24.0% of cases): these tumors are inherited,
            but probably through the action of many genes (polygenic)
            acting together
          + mastocytoma: also inherited
          + lymphosarcoma: not inherited
          + fibrosarcoma: not inherited
          + osteosarcoma: no conclusions yet as to heritability.
   A tumor registry has been established which is continuing to collect
   and analyze tissue samples from affected dogs. It is hoped that
   additional data will enable researchers to reach further conclusions
   about the incidence and heritability of other types of cancer in the
   Bernese Mountain Dog. In addition The (GDC) has established a registry
   for histiocytosis and mastocytoma since these are known to be

   Coming from a working background, Berners enjoy the challenges of
   learning new things. Most Berners are eager to please their owners and
   can be trained quite readily in a variety of areas. Because of the
   breed's eventual large size, it is to the owner's advantage to begin
   obedience training (household manners and basic obedience commands) at
   a young age. However, since Berners as a breed are slow to mature,
   both physically and mentally, owners should not push puppies in
   training too rapidly; these dogs are definitely not obedience "child
   prodigies." The training of a Berner puppy requires firmness,
   consistency, and lots of patience, and is most successfully
   accomplished with many brief, fun training sessions. Despite their
   large size, the majority of Berners are "soft" dogs and do not do well
   with harsh corrections. To avoid the possibility of orthopedic injury,
   a Berner should not be asked to jump or pull loads before the age of
   A hundred years ago, Bernese Mountain Dogs worked at guarding the
   farm, herding cattle, and hauling milk cans to the dairy. The guarding
   ability is greatly diminished these days (although Berners still make
   good watch dogs), but the herding instinct and draft capabilities
   remain intact in many dogs. Although at this time Berners are not
   permitted to compete in AKC herding events, the majority of Bernese
   will pass a herding instinct certification test, and some owners
   actively train their dogs in this area. Berners are eligible to
   compete in trials offered by the Australian Shepherd Club of America
   (ASCA) and the American Herding Breed Association. However, it is
   draft work that receives the most attention The Bernese Mountain Dog
   Club of America, the national breed club, offers two titles in draft
   work: NDD (Novice Draft Dog) and DD (Draft Dog). The trials for these
   titles require a dog to demonstrate both control of the cart and
   strength and endurance to pull a load. Many Berners participate in AKC
   obedience and tracking tests, as well as agility competition. They
   have also been quite successful as therapy dogs and, to a limited
   extent, as search and rescue dogs.

   [Clubs Page]
   The national breed club in the United States is the Bernese Mountain
   Dog Club of America (BMDCA). There are also clubs in Canada, many
   European nations, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries.
   On the local level, there are over 20 regional breed clubs located in
   various parts of the United States. These clubs sponsor a variety of
   social and educational activities for Berner fanciers. New Berner
   owners, as well as people considering the purchase of a Berner, are
   welcome to attend these events.

   There are currently four informative breed books available in English.
   The Cochrane and Simonds books focus on the breed in England; the Russ
   and Rogers book along with the Smith book deal primarily with the
   breed in the United States. The German language book is the most
   complete referance available. For those interested in draft work the
   Powell book is excellent.
   Baertschi, M.& Spengler, H: _Hunde sehen, zuechten, erleben - Das Buch
   vom Berner Sennenhund_, Haupt, Bern und Stuttgart, 1992
   Cochrane, Diana. _The Bernese Mountain Dog_. Diana Cochrane, Westgrov
   e House, Haselor Hill Nr. Alcester, Warwickshire B49 6ND, Great
   Britain (1987)
   Consie Powell. Newfoundland Draft Work - a Guide for Training. Consie
   and Roger Powell, Ottawa Newfoundlands, 5208 Olive Road, Raleigh, NC
   Russ, Diane, and Rogers, Shirle. _The Beautiful Bernese Mountain
   Dogs_. Alpine Publications, P.O. Box 7027, Loveland, CO 80537 (1993)
   Simonds, Jude. _The Complete Bernese Mountain Dog_. Howell Book House,
   866 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022 (1989)
   Smith, Sharon. _The New Bernese Mountain Dog_. Howell Book House, 866
   Third Ave., New York, NY 10022 (1995)
   _The Alpenhorn_ and _The Bulletin_ are each published six times a
   year, in alternate months, by the BMDCA _The Alpenhorn_ is a magazine
   containing articles on all aspects of the breed: showing, breeding,
   training, health issues, etc. _The Bulletin_ is a companion newsletter
   to the _The Alpenhorn_ containing national and regional club news
   reports, correspondence, recent titles earned, club minutes, etc.
   _The Illustrated Standard of the Bernese Mountain Dog_. This version
   of the official standard includes pictures, illustrations and
   commentary to help both novice and expert better understand and
   interpret the AKC standard. It is available from the BMDCA.
Breed Standard

   For every breed recognized by the AKC, there is a breed standard which
   defines the ideal dog of that breed, physically and temperamentally.
   The standard is written by the parent club for the breed - in this
   case, the BMDCA. Because the breed club in each country where Berners
   are recognized--Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, etc.--
   formulates its own standard, there may be some minor difference
   between the AKC standard and the standard in other countries.
   The AKC holds the Copyright to the AKC Standard for this breed and
   have refused permission for its reproduction here. For full details
   please consult their publication _The Dog Book_ or visit the BMDCA
    Bernese Mountain Dog FAQ
    Philip Shaffer,
    Bernese Mountain Dog Club of the Rockies

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