DUTY OF CARE
Every dog owner has a Duty of Care to ensure that the physical, behavioural and companionship needs of their charges are met and there is now new UK Animal Welfare legislation in place and also planned to help promote and ensure that. Most owners regard their Bernese as companion animals and value their dogs as friends and members of their family so they probably don’t even consider the care they give as a duty – they enjoy providing for their dog’s needs because they love their dog and want the best for that dog.
Dog owners and dog breeders have varying levels of experience, knowledge, interest and commitment to a breed. There is rarely only one, single way of doing anything and opposing opinions can occur about any particular issue. Dedicated dog breeders often have strong beliefs on how they think things should be done so it is extremely unlikely they all agree with one another, but a Duty of Care to our chosen breed should be something to which breed enthusiasts are all united.
Few, if anyone, would want Bernese to become an elite breed owned by just a privileged few – but it IS a privilege to own and live with a Bernese and every Bernese owner (and anyone else who simply admires the breed) MUST assume a share of responsibility to ensure that individual dogs and the breed as a whole are nurtured and protected.
Owners of companion/pet Bernese have a Duty of Care.
Potential owners and those who go on to purchase or acquire a Bernese should have made an effort to gain knowledge about the breed and it’s specific needs, attributes and problems. Making oneself aware of what owning a Bernese really entails is better found out before the dog is acquired and not afterwards! Reading the general description of Bernese as set out in the Breed Standard may encourage potential owners to think that all Bernese are the same and all will develop into ‘ideal’ specimens of the breed. That is not so! There can be a huge variation amongst Bernese bloodlines; physical differences in size and stature and shape, as well as variations in temperament and activity level. Caring enough to find out the potential of the puppy you are considering buying will undoubtedly make life easier for both owners and their chosen dog. Bernese should be purchased only from established, reputable, knowledgeable, specialist breeders who breed only from purebred, high-quality, Kennel Club registered Bernese possessing impeccable temperament, breed type, health and soundness.
Any and every Bernese has the potential to influence a breed’s reputation even if they are kept solely as companion/pet dogs and not themselves contributing to the production of future generations. The intense publicity generated by incidents involving dogs means that the canine species is under closer scrutiny than ever before and therefore the actions – good or bad – by any individual Bernese can affect the public’s opinion of our breed. Each and every Bernese owner has a Duty of Care to ensure that their Bernese are well trained, always kept under control and therefore contribute to, and help maintain, a good reputation for the whole breed.
Owners who decide, for whatever reason, to rehome a Bernese have a Duty of Care to make sensible decisions to ensure the future welfare of the dog is their highest priority. Breeders often sell Bernese puppies accompanied by a ‘goodwill contract’ which asks that the breeder be informed if the owner decides to part with the dog. If an owner is unwilling or unable to do that for some reason there are national and regional Bernese welfare and rescue organisations which could be contacted for help. Sadly, openly advertising an unwanted Bernese for sale is a poor choice for rehoming a Bernese as so often a sale is agreed to the first impulse, opportunist buyer with cash-in-hand rather than finding the best, informed, Bernese-wise new owner most suited to that particular dog’s needs. Bernese welfare and rescue groups usually have a register of well-informed people who would like to offer a new home to a displaced Bernese. Bernese openly advertised in newspapers and on the internet have been sold (sometimes unwittingly) to puppy farmers and dealers and individual buyers who then resell or pass the dog on, so rehoming Bernese via the original breeder or with help from the Bernese community is an essential Duty of Care.
Bernese breeders and Bernese stud dog owners have a Duty of Care.
The first, essential Duty of Care is that an owner’s aspirations to become a breeder of Bernese, involving their dogs in breeding activities does not have a negative effect on the quality of life of their Bernese.
Those who decide to buy a Bernese puppy and seek to make contact with breeders might assume that all Bernese breeders and Bernese stud dog owners have experience and knowledge about the breed and are committed to a much-more-than-minimal-interest in the breed. An assumption may be made that breeders will have spent time learning about the breed during their ‘apprenticeship’, that breeders will have participated in or attended UK Bernese events and have established themselves within the UK Bernese ‘community’ which is, after all, where meaningful knowledge about the breed is gained. Sadly, that is not always the case.
An increasing number of people who know little or nothing about Bernese other than they own a Bernese of an age capable of reproduction choose to breed Bernese just because they can; the motive may be to breed and keep one pup for themselves or they may simply have recognised a lucrative, commercial opportunity and just want to breed a litter to sell as a cash crop. Anyone who considers using their Bernese bitches or dogs for breeding has a Duty of Care to research the breed in general, learn about the good and bad points of the specific bloodlines and pedigrees of the Bernese they are considering using for breeding and explore which bloodlines might be compatible so that they are stacking the cards on their favour for producing good quality, sound and healthy Bernese puppies.
Breeders and stud dog owners will have different criteria for assessing whether a Bernese is suitable for breeding or not – but in reality how much “assessing” actually goes on? It would seem that in quite a few cases it is not very much at all! Being of breedable age, having a pedigree (or not in some cases) and an ‘acceptable’ (whatever that is considered to be?) hip and/or elbow score is all that some folk regard as enough to justify breeding from their Bernese. The deliberate crossbreeding of Bernese is, sadly, also becoming ever more common in the UK. Bernese crossbreeds are not going to benefit or enhance the Bernese breed in any way, so the reason for their production seems to be commercial – a lucrative, alternative cash-crop aimed at ill-informed, gullible buyers. Those who engage in the practice of crossbreeding Bernese are NOT displaying any Duty of Care to Bernese by misusing the breed in that way.
Responsible breeding also involves much more than the production and sale of puppies. Everyone who is attracted to the idea of breeding a litter of puppies has a Duty of Care to ensure that they have the time, space, resources and long-term commitment to provide an after-sales service to their puppy buyers and, when the need arises to take responsibility for and provide refuge to dogs they have bred during the entire lifetime of those dogs. Some breeders say they have a long-term interest in dogs they breed but those words turn out to be no more than an empty comment, whereas others instigate and endeavour to maintain contact with the owners of dogs they have bred and sold. Some breeders show no interest at all after a sale is completed and the puppy is carried off the premises.
Of course, with the passage of time it is inevitable that contact between some individuals may be minimal or even completely lost. No dog breeder can be all things to all people and no one can guarantee to be at everyone’s beck and call at any given moment, but with more and more Bernese being sold on by their purchasers or given up by their owners it is clear that some breeders could do more by offering and actually providing ongoing support by attempting to maintain long-term contact with their puppy buyers. If a Bernese breeder cannot promise to do that then they should not be involved in the production of Bernese as they have failed in their Duty of Care.
Bernese breeders have a Duty of Care to ensure that each litter is forward planned, backed up by in-depth knowledge of Bernese and a full understanding of breeding and puppy rearing practices and only embarked upon when the breeder has enough knowledgeable homes awaiting for the resultant pups; simply hoping to attract enough opportunist sales through word-of-mouth or openly advertising is not in the best interest of the pups in any expected litter.
Bernese breeders have a Duty of Care to ensure that all puppies they breed have been lavishly reared within a comfortable environment and have been well-handled and exposed to lots of human contact plus the in-home socialisation needed to prepare them for their future lives in new ownership.
Bernese breeders have a Duty of Care to ensure that all puppies are sold only to well-informed, capable buyers promising to provide permanent, loving homes where the dogs will enjoy living as family companions and benefit from all the care and attention that should occur within that lifestyle. Bernese puppies should, when sold, be accompanied by written guidance on feeding/rearing etc plus a sales contract signed by both vendor and purchaser which confirms the breeder’s long term commitment to take back and dog of their breeding plus an explanation that endorsements ("Progeny Not Eligible For Registration" and "Export Pedigree Not Allowed") have been placed on the Kennel Club registration certificate for that pup.
Breeders have a Duty of Care to ensure that they sell their puppies with truthful representation, and will only consider lifting the endorsement "Progeny Not Eligible For Registration" on any Bernese which they have sold into new ownership after serious consideration; breeders should have, first-hand, carefully assessed the mature dog or bitch as being an excellent example of Bernese and the owners have proved they are well-informed, knowledgeable people who understand their long-term responsibilities as a potential breeder to each and every Bernese they produce in the future as well as to the Bernese breed.
Stud dog owners have a Duty of Care.
An essential Duty of Care is that an individual’s aspirations to become the owner of a Bernese stud dog does not have a negative effect on the quality of life of their Bernese.
More and more people believe that owning a stud dog and selling the ‘stud services’ of their dog is an easy way to generate income from minimum investment of time and effort. Sadly, that attitude has become commonplace and the resultant problems are very apparent and ongoing. Caring Bernese enthusiasts end up picking up the pieces when the results of those ‘off-the-shelf-easy-purchase’ stud services produce another generation of Bernese who do not have a well-planned, secured future.
Breeders may well be the ones who actually rear and sell Bernese puppies, but stud dog owners bear just as much responsibility for the production of puppies; any Bernese litter produced deserves a Duty of Care from the owners of BOTH the dam and the sire as both those parties should guarantee that their joint puppy-producing venture has been well-planned and founded on knowledge and care and commitment. If the purchaser/owner of any Bernese decides to opt-out and part company with their Bernese, the breeder has a Duty of Care to offer and provide refuge and assume responsibility for the dog. If the breeder chooses not to do that (and shame on them if they don’t) then the stud dog owner is next in line and should provide refuge and assume responsibility for the dog’s future. If a stud dog owner cannot promise to do that then they should not be involved in the production of Bernese as they have failed in their Duty of Care.
Bernese organisations and clubs have a Duty of Care.
Breed organisations and clubs exist to promote, foster, protect etc., pure-bred Bernese Mountain Dogs and therefore have a Duty of Care to ensure that they always have the best interest of the breed at heart. Maintaining an awareness of what is happening within the breed by monitoring incidents and trends affecting Bernese and their owners is an essential part of caring for a breed.
Sensible potential dog owners will always try to research a breed before they make any definite decision to buy a puppy, endeavouring to find out both the good and bad points of a breed and also seek to make contact with trustworthy, reputable breeders. Researching a breed will usually lead potential owners to seek advice from those on the ‘frontline’ of that breed – officers and representatives of breed organisations, clubs and breed specific welfare and rescue groups. Bernese organisations and clubs (and by association their officers and representatives) have a Duty of Care to ensure they provide serious enquirers with current, truthful and balanced information about Bernese and also recognise that their providing breeder or puppy availability contact details to enquirers will usually be regarded by those enquirers as an actual recommendation of those breeders and their dogs.
Some Bernese organisations and clubs generate income by providing advertising and promotion space in their publications and/or websites for breeders and kennels. Some Bernese club members, when promoting themselves or their kennel, refer to their membership of a breed club as an accolade; they cite their membership of a club to ‘confirm’ good repute and credibility. Publications and websites carrying Bernese breeders’ adverts may also publish a disclaimer about the adverts or page/web content but the actual acceptance and presence (the reproduction and circulation) of adverts IS an approval so clubs have a Duty of Care to ensure that they do indeed “approve” of the practises of those they decide to promote.
Individuals or businesses who use images of Bernese have a Duty of Care.
Bernese are such an attractive and eye-catching breed that images of Bernese are used to promote all manner of things nowadays. Bernese enthusiasts are often delighted to see pictures of Bernese or references to the breed, but there is a Duty of Care to ensure that the use of Bernese in advertising (personal or business or otherwise) does not have a detrimental effect on the breed. Images of perfectly behaved, idyllic-looking Bernese in idyllic-looking environments does not represent a realistic view of what the breed is actually like; large, hairy (albeit beautiful!) demanding and costly to look after, Bernese need a lot of care, attention and training and they generate a lot of mess. Beautiful looking Bernese are attention-getters but those who use choose to feature Bernese must accept a Duty of Care to ensure any use of dogs in advertising is done responsibly and in a balanced way and only used for promotional reasons when relevant or necessary.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a special and unique and glorious yet vulnerable breed that demands, and deserves, a Duty of Care from ALL of us who delight in sharing our lives with them.
Bernese owners should regularly ask themselves ….. “Am I doing my duty?”
Bernese Mountain Dogs deserve your answer is in the affirmative! If not, why not?
Jude Simonds 2007 ©