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  • Writer's picturebertandernietheberners

Choosing a Berner, Choosing a Breeder

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

If you're considering adding a Bernese Mountain Dog to your family, congratulations! Bringing home Bert and Ernie has given us so much joy. But it can be overwhelming to educate yourself about dog breeds and breeders, especially if you haven't owned a dog before. In this post, we're sharing some resources to help you decide if a Berner is right for your family and some questions you can ask as you are looking for a breeder.

We chose to get Bert and Ernie from reputable, ethical breeders because we wanted to guarantee that they'd have certain traits and characteristics that are the hallmarks of the breed.

Before you start your breeder search, take a thorough inventory of yourself, your family, and the time and resources you'll be able to dedicate to a new furry family member. Ask yourself:

  • How much time can I dedicate to this dog? What can I realistically commit to for daily walks, attention, care, and training?

  • Have I taken a full accounting of the financial costs of dog ownership? How much am I willing to spend monthly on food, medical care, grooming, daycare/boarding, and insurance? Am I prepared for the additional start-up costs of having a puppy (breeder fees, more frequent vet visits, one-time costs for items like kennel, bowls, etc.)?

  • How conducive is my living situation to having a dog? Do I have a fenced in yard or other place for a dog to play? Do I have neighbors, family members, or roommates who will be sensitive to noise or damage?

  • What is my tolerance for fur and dirt? Am I prepared to spend additional time and/or money keeping my dog, myself, and my space tidy?

  • What type of personality am I hoping my dog will have? Am I looking for a dog who will be independent, or one who will be a constant companion? Am I considering participating in dog sports, shows, or therapy activities?

Once you've honestly and candidly answered the above questions (nobody needs to see the answers except for you, so make sure you're taking a serious account!), spend some time reviewing the below websites and descriptions of the Bernese Mountain Dog breed.

Provides conformation (dog show) breed standard dimensions and markings as well as personality hallmarks

Comprehensive resource list - we have loved the "A Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy's First Year" article and referred to it many times during both Bert's and Ernie's first years!

Once you've spent time learning about the Bernese Mountain Dog breed (and if you're lucky, spending time with some Berners!) and decided you'd like to welcome one into your family, it's time to start looking for a breeder. Your local breed club (I.e. Bernese Mountain Dog Club of {your city/your state}) is an awesome place to begin since many maintain breeder lists or contact info for local breeders who are having litters. Attending dog shows is another good way to solidify your interest and meet breeders; check for events near you here.

A few things we looked for in a Berner breeder:

  • AKC affiliation and local breed club engagement to demonstrate knowledge of and enthusiasm for the breed

  • Berner-Garde participation - this non-profit organization is committed to advancing the longevity of the Bernese Mountain Dog breed through genetic research and testing

  • Puppies receive all required vaccinations and medical evaluations before going home

  • A contract with a health guarantee

  • Ability to articulate breeding philosophy (why are they doing this?) and socialization strategies

Things that shouldn't scare you about a breeder:

  • An ugly or out of date website! Breeders are notorious for having Geocities-esque, 1997-style throwback websites, complete with visitor counters and maybe a sparkly gif or two. Don't treat this as a red flag - most often, the breeders simply spend more time with their dogs than they do on web design. Often the best way to get in touch with a breeder may be an old fashioned phone call, but email usually works too.

  • An application form. A qualified breeder wants to make sure that their puppies are going to great homes. Don't be surprised if you have to fill out different questionnaires or applications for different breeders. The themes will be similar (and should reflect many of the questions you already reflected upon!), but this process can be time consuming. Think of it as a good sign that the breeder is carefully screening applicants.

  • A long wait. Good things take time. Especially with the Covid-related demand spike for puppies, many breeders have waiting lists that are years long. Find a few breeders who you like and get on their lists; you may be surprised at how quickly some of them move as many other potential puppy parents are doing the same thing!

These things were red flags in our breeder searches:

  • Food requirements. Be wary if a breeder requires you to sign a contract stating that you'll feed a certain brand of food. Oftentimes there is a financial incentive (i.e. kickbacks/distributor payments) at play here. A reputable breeder will send you home with some of the food that the puppy has been eating, and you can either choose to maintain that or use it to gradually transition to a different brand.

  • Too many breeds. Beware of puppy mills! If a breeder has lots of puppies or a lot of different breeds, you may be supporting a puppy mill. You should always be able to meet the mom of your puppy's litter, and puppies shouldn't go home before they are 8 weeks old.

  • Charging more for certain physical traits. A prime example of this is a breeder who might charge more for a blue eyed Berner. Blue eyes are a deviation from breed standard and indicate a recessive genetic trait that could lead to other health issues.

Once you've filled out applications, you should have the opportunity to have a conversation with your breeder well before you visit and meet puppies. Treat this like an interview - it's your chance to make sure that you feel great about their breeding philosophy and the conditions in which they keep their dogs. Ask lots of questions, whether this is your first Berner or your 10th! A responsible, ethical breeder should be happy to share their knowledge with you and ensure that you feel confident in adding a Berner to your family.

Here are some thought starters:

  • How many dogs do they have? Where do they live (in the house, in a kennel)?

  • How long have they been breeding Berners? How often do they have litters? Have they always had Berners or have they owned and/or bred other breeds?

  • What type of genetic testing do they conduct on their dogs? How long do their dogs tend to live? Have they had any major health issues (cancer, hip dysplasia, etc.)?

  • What type of activities do they do with their dogs?

  • What do they feed their dogs? Do they give their dogs any supplements?

  • How do they describe the personalities of the parents of your potential puppy's litter?

Asking the right questions can make all the difference to ensure that you feel comfortable with the breeder and well-informed about your new dog.

There are many great ways to add a dog to your family - getting a puppy from a breeder doesn't have to be the only path you explore! There are many dogs in shelters and in foster care who would make great companions. Our old dog Ripley was a German Shepherd/Lab mix rescue from the Animal Humane Society. Rip came home as a ~7 week old puppy and lived a very long and happy 12 years. He was the smartest dog in the world and demonstrated a command of object permanence not observed in many adults.

If you have your heart set on a particular breed of dog but don't want a puppy, you can seek out breed-specific rescues. Also consider reaching out to breeders to learn if they have any adult dogs they are looking to rehome! Sometimes breeders will retire dogs from conformation or from breeding. This is how we got our other old dog Ted; he was a retired show dog and his owner decided not to breed him, so he got to come and live a life of leisure with us.

We hope this has been helpful as you begin your search for a Bernese Mountain Dog. Feel free to reach out to us with questions; we're not breeders, but can offer our own perspective and experience! When it's time for you to bring your puppy home, be sure to check out this post with plenty of tips for introducing your baby Berner to other dogs in your household.

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