Life With A Berner...
Separate and apart from the considerations that go into any decision to purchase a dog, a prospective Bernese Mountain Dog owner must become knowledgeable of the many unique aspects of the breed. While there are countless positive aspects to sharing your home with a Bernese, there are several negative factors as well. You will not be in a position to make an informed decision until you give serious consideration to these issues.
Perhaps the most significant fact that any potential Berner owner must learn is that the breed is subject to several specific health problems. Hip and elbow dysplasia, progressive degenerative joint diseases, plagues all large breeds. Hip and elbow dysplasia ranges from very mild cases with no apparent ill effects to crippling cases severe enough to require euthanasia. There is a poly genetic (thus inherited) component to the cause. 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 dysplasia. Environmental factors and poor nutrition may contribute greatly to manifestation of symptoms and absence of symptoms if not absence of the disease. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) , Genetic Disease Control in Animals (GDC), and Ontario Veterinarian Clinic (OVC) are agencies that evaluate x-rays of mature dogs to screen for dysplasia. All registries recommend that: (a) breeding dogs be free of dysplasia, (b) breeding dogs' parents and grandparents be free of dysplasia, and (c) 75% or more of any siblings or half siblings of breeding dogs be free of dysplasia.
Other orthopedic problems associated with large breeds are found in Bernese. They include panosteitis (shifting leg lameness), and shoulder problems such as osteochondritis dissecans (cartilage flap or fragment). Management of growing youngsters may be critical to the manifestation of symptoms of these problems.
Bernese suffer from a high incidence of certain cancers. Indeed, cancer may be the number one cause of natural death in all domestic dogs. According to ongoing research by the BMD Club of America, approximately 9.7% of Berners get cancer. The average age at which cancer is diagnosed is 6.21 years. Some cancers are believed to be hereditary, while others are not.
Sadly, due in part to the foregoing, the average life span of the Bernese Mountain Dog is believed to be shorter than that of other breeds. An ageless Swiss expression advises: "Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, and three years an old dog. All else is a gift from God."
More likely than not, any breeder you contact will have done their homework to minimize the likelihood that their litters will suffer from the genetic health problems that can be passed from generation to generation. However, your only protection is to make sure that you understand these issues so that you can ask the right questions and verify that the breeder is using safe breeding practices. Even if you don't intend to breed or show your puppy, you are making a substantial monetary investment by buying a Berner puppy. Don't get burned by your own ignorance.
Bernese Mountain Dogs require great attention to their environment. Adequate room to exercise is an absolute requirement. Special attention may be needed in warmer climates and during hot summer months because BMD's do not tolerate heat very well without proper conditioning. Because of their size, body mass, thick coat and black color; Berners are susceptible to heat stroke. Avoid situations in which the dog may become overheated. Some young dogs will foolishly overexert themselves in the heat and should be protected from this by supervision or confinement during hot weather. If left outside in the summer, a Berner should have heavy shade in which to rest, a large supply of fresh water at all times, and if possible a child's wading pool of water. Although Berners can adapt to a wide range of living conditions, take the time to discuss your particular circumstances with breeders and other owners.
The BMD has a very strong need for human companionship. It is one of their most endearing qualities, and an important consideration for any prospective owner.
Prolonged isolation is particularly cruel to Berners, as they crave constant loving attention. Again, although the Bernese Mountain Dog can adapt to a variety of circumstances, talk to your breeder and other owners to make sure that your lifestyle is compatible with the Berner's special needs.
Life with a Berner
There are several practical considerations that should factor into your decision as well. Because these are the problems that you and your family will face on a daily basis, you should give these considerations just as much weight as the more "serious" concerns.
Size-.Berners are large animals. Males range in height from 24-28 inches at the shoulder and weigh from 85 to 120 pounds. Females stand from 23 to 26 inches tall and weigh between 65 to 100 pounds. Bernese normally possess extremely active tails, making clean sweeps of coffee tables. Uncluttered houses and fenced yards are a must.
Exercise- Berners need daily exercise (20 minutes a day is sufficient). Otherwise, they may have trouble in adjusting to the calm house-pet role that most owners expect.
Shedding- Bernese are double coated and shed a minimum of twice a year. Because of the coat, grooming every other day is to your advantage. If you require a fastidiously kept house, don't get a Berner! You will always have some dog hair around, especially in rugs, on furniture, and, oh yes, occasionally in your food.
Costs- Don't forget to factor in the costs of food, health care, crate, bowls, brushes, grooming supplies, training, boarding, toys, home repairs, etc. etc. etc.!
Feeding one dog for a year will cost approximately $300 to $500, depending on the type of food and any supplementation provided, Bernese do best on a top quality diet. . Most are very greedy eaters so you must watch their weight to insure they do not get fat, keeping puppies lean for the first two years of their life is very important. Normal veterinary expenses for the first year (puppy) will be between $100 and $400, depending on the veterinarian chosen and the locale. We recommend that you get health insurance for your puppy.
Training- An obedience course is a must for a dog of this size. A good beginner course costs between $45 and $75. Moreover, Berners tend to be sensitive or soft in many training situations. They must be handled carefully, with a loving, firm, but nonetheless gentle hand. For every hour in case, expect to spend several hours practicing.
Guarding- Though Bernese may bark and growl defensively, when it comes down to brass tacks they'd as soon kiss the intruder and give him the silver as corner him with a ferocious snarl. Berners can be protective of family and property, but if you are looking for a vicious guard dog, look to another breed.
One Last Warning
The Bernese is growing in popularity, which unfortunately can lead to less scrupulous breeding practices as opportunistic breeders rush to meet demand. You must get to know the BMD well so you can ask potential breeders the right questions. You must carefully examine your own circumstances until you are positive that a Bernese Mountain Dog is the right choice for you. There are no shortcuts -- you must do your homework. Anything less would be cruel, immoral and, frankly, stupid.
Learning about the breed is probably the hardest step in the entire process, and you must be prepared to reach the conclusion that the Bernese is not the best breed for you. Be honest with yourself. If you don't start out with an open mind, you won't be able to make the right decision.