Questions to Ask Breeders

     Pet stores, newspaper ads, Kijiji and the internet may seem like a good place to get your new family companion, however you should do your research. Many breeders who use these means of advertizing may not be responsible breeders, but are backyard breeders (someone who casually breeds purebred dogs with little or no regard to the breed standard, genetically linked defects or temperament) or puppy mills (a term used to describe what many consider the irresponsible or inhumane practices of some large scale breeders).
The problem with these types of breeders is they are not trying to better the breed, but are in it to make money. Or sometimes they just do not know any better, and give no consideration to the future of the dogs or the breed. They do not put the work into researching lineages, and their associated health concerns (genetic or structural). Or developing a dog to be sure they meet the breed standard and type and temperament.
This list of questions has been put together to help you find a responsible Bernese Mountain Dog breeder.
 
 
1.  What Health and/or Temperament tests do you do?
If you ask this and get the response; “Oh, all my dogs have been to the vet and had their shots”... RUN! In this breed, it is so very important that they get at least the basic health clearances (OFA/ OVC/ PennHip certified Hips and Elbows, OFA/ CERF Eyes and OFA Heart). With so many more tests available today it is also preferred to see others such as DM (an incurable, progressive degenerative disease of the spinal cord), Thyroid and vWD (though this has lower incidence in Berners). Berners also have a body type which lends itself to Bloat. Unfortunately there is no test for this, but the tendency does run in lines, so avoid lines that have had this issue.
Also, ask to see the results! Just because they have been tested, does not mean they have passed! Look up verified results of these tests either on OFA or BernerGarde.
Temperament is also important in this breed. It is a hallmark of the breed. Berners may be aloof to strangers, even bark, but not shy or aggressive. Shy aggression can be a definite problem in this breed, and a very difficult issue to handle. This is why it is nice to meet the parents or to see a title on them, one that denotes they went through some sort of temperament testing to achieve it (TT, CGN or even a CH).
You also want to look for a breeder that does temperament testing on the puppies. You can tell the base temperament of a dog when they are very young, before any training has altered it. It allows you to be prepared and to target them for any extra/ different training they may need. Ask for the results on your prospective puppy!
 
 
2.  How long have you been breeding? What breeds?
It takes a lot of time and effort to learn about the health problems, temperament traits, training requirements, structure differences and pedigrees and lines of one breed, let alone several. If a breeder is breeding several breeds, they likely are not as familiar with the intricacies of all of them (but not always).
Look for a breeder that is active in the breed; not just breeds, but competes, trains  with the breed. The amount of knowledge accumulated is more important than the amount of time in the breed.
The BMD community is a small, well-knit one. Listen to the opinion of their previous puppy purchasers and other breeders. This is a big commitment for you, be informed of who you are dealing with.

 
3.  Can I meet the parents? What is the reason you bred them?
This is a bit of a trick question as many breeders will not have the stud dog on site. In fact, if they do, it is time to ask more questions. If the breeder has both parents and is planning to breed them together numerous times, it is very rarely done to improve the breed, which should always be the purpose of breeding. It can be a way to reduce expenses (ie: no stud fee, travel expenses) or as some backyard breeders claim: to “recoup the cost of buying [the pet dog]” (which are usually dogs who should not be bred in the first place).
Most often the sire is from some distance away, and was chosen to improve something in the girl or her pedigree (after all, no dog is perfect). The breeder should be able to give you a clear and concise analysis of why they put that sire with that dam, and what they are hoping to get out of the litter. Whether it be an improvement on durability (structure), health, longevity or type (eg: more coat, better colour, nicer head, etc...).
Sometimes the breeder does have some great males in their kennel, that are only bred to a select few of their females. Be sure to ask for the reasoning behind the breeding in this case.

 
4.  Have the parents been bred before? What were the issues with that/those litters?
This is another one of those trick questions for our breed. As outlined in our BMDCC Breeder Code of Ethics, a breeder cannot breed a bitch in two consecutive heat cycles (ie: only one litter every 11+ months). Pregnancy, whelping and raising a big litter of large, quickly growing pups is very hard on a giant breed dog like Berners, and can lead to complications.
As per the Code of Ethics, breeders also may not repeat (meaning the same male and female) a breeding sooner than 18 months. This is because many problems take a while to develop, and testing must be done after a certain age for many of the health concerns problematic to Berners. Other health problems (OCD or epilepsy) usually occur before 2 years of age, and can rule out a re-breeding.
Sometimes breedings are repeated, when the progeny produced were particularly exceptional. For example; showing superb structure and type while showing no health problems and being clear on all health clearances.
If the parents have been bred before, the breeder should report all problems found in that litter (health issues, temperament problem or puppies that did not meet the standard). The breeder should be forthright and honest with the history of the dogs in the pedigree. If they claim there were no problems at all, they are likely not being truthful or simply do not follow-up with their puppy owners. Even for responsible breeders, despite our best efforts and research, things happen. For example, even if you breed two dogs with “excellent” rated hips, there is a statistical chance to get a pup with Hip Displaysia (just a much lower chance than if you breed “fair” hips).
 
 
5.  Where do the parents and puppies live?
Bernese Mountain Dogs are a very social breed that truly need to be with people. For them to be a well-adjusted adult, socializing needs to start very early. They need to be exposed to many varied stimuli, even before they open their eyes (daily things like random banging, talking, the vacuum, loud voices, etc...) Look for a breeder whose adults live in their home, not a kennel. The puppies should be raised in the home as well. Many use a room in their house where the dogs can be exposed to humans and lots of activity.
 
 
6.  Can I get a puppy right away? When can I take the puppy home?
Bernese are a difficult dog to breed. Being such a large dog, she is difficult to travel with for breeding, so many times the breeding is accomplished by AI. AI has a lower success rate than a live breeding.
It also takes a large investment, not just of money, but time and work to properly raise a litter and give the puppies a good start. By the time the litter is old enough to go to their new homes, both dam and breeders are exhausted!
So, many responsible breeders only have 1-2 litters a year. Be prepared to wait for a good puppy. You are taking a risk by obtaining a puppy from someone who always seems to have some available.
A responsible breeder will NEVER allow a puppy to leave before 8 weeks of age. Some breeders even keep them for a few weeks more. Puppies learn a great deal from their mother, “aunts” and littermates. Removing them early can rob them of these valuable lessons and make your future life with them very difficult. If you do take your puppy home at 8 -12 weeks, your socializing with people, new places and other dogs must start immediately. This extra “work” in their first year of life will pay off for the rest of their life though!

 
7.  Do you show or compete with your dogs?
Generally speaking, breeders who take the time to show or compete in events such as CKC conformation, obedience, rally-O, drafting, agility, etc... are more committed to improving the breed. They are “proving” their breeding stock via an impartial judge.
This also proves they have put a lot of time and training into their dogs. A very successful dog also needs to have excellent structure, intelligence and sound temperament. So they are a good indicator of superior stock. Why is structure so important? Check out our CKC Breed Standard page for the answer.
Look for titles on the parents, as well as the other dogs in their kennel. The more titles before and after the name, the better the dog.Click here to see what all those letters mean.

 
8.  Do you have a contract? When can I see it?
All responsible breeders will have a contract they will require you to sign before you can take your puppy home. Make sure you understand all it's points and that you agree with all of them. Once you sign it, it is enforceable in a Canadian court, and there are breeders who will take you to small claims court for the full amount if you breech it. So be sure you are comfortable with what it says.
If you do not agree with a point, and they will not change it, go elsewhere.
The most common clause and the one responsible breeders are the most strict with is the non-breeding clause. This is for the safety of the dog and the future of the breed. Only the best examples, and dogs with something exceptional to offer the breed, should be bred. This usually means 1-2 (or even none) out of each litter. Most often these are kept by the breeder, or the stud owner, to continue their breeding program. 
 
9.  What happens if for some reason I cannot keep my dog?
This is a very important question. If for some reason you can no longer care for your dog, whether it be due to your health or financial reasons, you want to be sure it is cared for. Most responsible breeders will have it in their contract that the dog must come back to them, where they will either stay or be re-homed to a loving home. Many contracts require that the dog can never be re-homed without approval from the breeder, as a good breeder will want to know where the dogs they produced are throughout their life.

 
10.  How do you choose your puppy's homes?
Avoid any breeder who sells a puppy cash-in-hand. Expect a lengthy (and seemingly nosy) questionnaire from a responsible breeder. They will have a multi-step application process, so they are sure your family is suited to life with a Berner, and that they can place the right dog with you. Their goal is the give you the perfect dog and for you all to have a happy and long time together. They will want to hear about the good and the bad, and news on the health of your Berner for their entire lifetime.
Avoid any breeder who sells a puppy cash-in-hand.

 
11.  Are you on BernerGarde?
BernerGarde is a world wide database gaining more and more recognition within the breed. In fact, the Canadian national breed club (the BMDCC), recently made it mandatory for all BMDCC recognized breeders to have all their dogs, and all their health certifications and issues listed. Therefore, it is our strong recommendation for puppy purchasers to do their research on BernerGarde and to avoid breeders that are not on, with all their dogs and full disclosure on their health.
The BernerGarde Foundation was established in the 90's to collect, maintain and share information about genetic diseases and health issues in Bernese Mountain Dogs. The database is used by Veterinarians and researchers who are working to reduce disease in Bernese. The BGF also supports research studies by these professionals, aimed at reducing the health problems. So it is in our own best interest as breeders and pet owners to supply absolutely all information to the database.
According to various studies, the average lifespan of a Berner is between 7 and 8 years. BernerGarde has stated it as their mission for all Bernese Mountain Dog owners be able to expect a life span of 12 to14 years for their dogs. And they understand that for this to happen, we must reduce the incidence of several serious hereditary diseases.
So, knowing all this, doesn't it make sense to go to a breeder that supports BernerGarde?  After all, posting information is free.
 
 
 
 
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 12.  Are you a BMDCC recognized breeder?
In an effort to protect this breed we love, the BMDCC holds it's recognized breeders up to a higher standard. It has drafted a Breeder Code of Ethics to protect not just the breeding dogs, but the future generations coming out of it's kennels as well.
It should be noted that it seems to be working as the North American population has increased its average lifespan by 10% to 7.9 years in the last decade.
Check here for a list of Canadian breeders that have agreed to abide by the BMDCC Breeder Code of Ethics.