YOUR FIRST BERNESE - Part 1
If you have decided that a Bernese should join your family, then you will be eager to find a puppy or older dog as soon as possible. But dog ownership is a very real commitment of time, expense and above all, responsibility. I think that spending time with your Bernese is the most important factor in establishing a happy relationship, yet time is the commodity that most owners lack. Bernese are devoted to people and rely on daily affection and attention from their owners. Even the company of another pet is no substitute for the human Bernese relationship. If it is likely that your daily schedule will prevent you spending time with your Bernese, then consider postponing your purchase until the situation changes.
All dog lovers will tell you that Bernese make wonderful companions. But there are times when things are not so good. An owner's responsibilities include dealing with illness, death and possibly euthanasia, so a commonsense attitude is a must. Sentimentality is a part of most people's characters but strength is also needed. Bernese are not noted for longevity: seven or eight years is the average life expectancy. Although this is not a very long time in life terms, these years can be a burden if you are not prepared to shoulder the full responsibilities of dog ownership.
Thought must be given to other basic requirements: food, accommodation, training and health care must also be planned. The cost of feeding a Bernese can vary according to the type of food provided. Puppies need good-quality food for health and growth, and economies cannot be made. Growing youngsters eat more than adults but, even so, the weekly food bill for an adult Bernese is a factor to consider in family finances. Veterinary care is another expense to budget for. Preventative medicine such as vaccinations, flea and worm control will be a regular occurrence and your dog is likely to need some treatment for ill health during its life. Insurance can be sought to cover some of the expense but obviously a premium must be paid. Third party insurance cover is also necessary in case your Bernese should cause an accident or damage property.
YOUR FAMILY LIFESTYLE
It is wise to consider your family's commitments and the impact that the addition of a new puppy will have on the established routine. Special allowances can be made for a puppy but to enjoy your Bernese to the full, you should plan well ahead. If your adult Bernese does not fit easily into your lifestyle, then trouble is bound to occur. Every member of your family must agree and genuinely want a dog to join the home. It is possible to involve your dog in most activities, but how will you arrange care for your Bernese when you are out? Bernese love to travel with the family so a car which is suitable to carry the dog and the family seems obvious but is often overlooked.
Bernese do not like to be alone for long periods on a regular basis, so someone should be at home for the best part of each day. If everyone in the family works full-time, a Bernese would be an unwise acquisition. After a hard day at work, the last thing anyone wants is a Bernese relentlessly demanding attention. Apart from feeding and clearing up after the puppy, there must be a firm commitment to training. If the person taking overall responsibility also has young children to care for, then the addition of a puppy could prove too demanding.
If you enjoy an orderly house, then the disruption caused by a puppy is a drawback. There is no need for any dog to have access to all the rooms in the house, but be prepared for a trail of dust, dirt and hair where the dog is allowed to go.
Puppies also take time to toilet train and so accidents are bound to occur. You can never be quite so house proud once a dog has joined the family. A landscaped garden may also suffer from the attentions of a Bernese puppy or adult, so you must either take a more flexible attitude or fence off an area where the dog can do no damage.
WHEN TO BUY
Plan well in advance the right moment to acquire your Bernese. Most people find it easier to rear a puppy during the spring and summer months but your own commitments and plans should influence when you take a Bernese into your home. Wanting a dog is not a good enough reason for getting a dog. It is not fair on you, the dog or neighbours to leave it unattended while everyone is at work during the day. No amount of attention in the evenings will compensate for the boredom experienced by the dog during enforced solitary confinement. It is much better to wait until someone can work part-time or give up work completely.
If a house move is planned, it may seem reasonable to get a puppy when the new house is in a mess. This could work but it is likely that you will not have much time to spend with the dog if work is needed on the new house. It is better to wait until you are settled before introducing a new pet. If you are planning building work or maybe some structural alterations to your home, be sure to get the work completed. Apart from the obvious hazards to a dog, a routine cannot be established with workmen on the premises and a puppy may find the upheaval too much to cope with.
Some people like to rear a child and a puppy together. This can be very beneficial to both but it is also a great demand upon the mother of the family. If a new baby is planned, wait until the child is of an age when it will be easier to cope with the demands of a puppy. Too many dogs are rejected when a child is born into the family. It is better to wait until after the baby is born to see if you can cope with the extra responsibility of a puppy.
Finally, if you are taking a young puppy into your home during the summer months, arrangements must be made if you are going away on holiday. Young puppies should not
be boarded in kennels and even those under twelve months are not happy in these establishments. The noise and routine can leave a youngster feeling very confused and the lack of individual attention during formative months may disrupt your training plans. Adults accept kennel situations more easily but young Bernese often acquire the habit of barking if left at noisy premises for any length of time.
A trusted friend or relative may be able to look after your pet while you are away, but by far the best solution is to organise someone to come and stay at your house to look after your Bernese. This will allow your puppy to continue his routine and habits with the least disruption, which must augur well for your return to training.
Most owners want their Bernese to live as part of the family and, given the choice, that is what your Bernese would opt for. Human companionship is a Bernese's first priority and this is most freely available when the dog is living alongside you. Although a large breed, Bernese do not need a great deal of room so a large house is not necessary for its comfort. However, a place of its own to retire to after walks and games is important. This could be a corner of the kitchen or a utility room or a similar spot, just a little away from the main traffic of the family. Bernese do not feel the need to rush about indoors. They prefer to keep a low activity level inside and are more active when outside.
Access to a garden or yard is essential. Exercise can obviously be arranged off the premises and this gives another opportunity to spend time with your pet on a one-to-one basis. But between walks there must be somewhere for your Bernese to relieve itself, and also a place to play or just lie out to get some fresh air. Young Bernese will make use of a large garden for play and exploration but most adults prefer to lie near the house to enable them to see and hear what is happening inside. Facilities to dispose of excreta must also be given some thought. Perhaps a site to install a sunken dog loo can be investigated or disposal via the sewage system may be an option. Although Bernese are not particularly athletic, they are well able to clear a fence, so it is necessary to have a suitable barrier to keep your dog on your own premises. Do not expect your puppy to respect other people's property!
FINDING A BREEDER
Puppy agencies keep a list of breeders but these are compiled on a fee-paying basis and not by maintaining any particular standard. Breed clubs also keep lists of members and these are also readily available but again, there is no indication of the quality of Bernese or the reputation of the breeders. Advertisements in weekly canine publications or breed magazines may offer some ideas as to the show record of dogs and puppies for sale. But even though you may be aware of the breed standard, you will not be able to appreciate the differences between family strains of the breed until you have seen a number of Bernese from a variety of breeders.
The ideal opportunity to compare different types is to visit a Bernese Club event or a dog show where Bernese are scheduled. One trip to a show could give you the chance to see dogs from all over the country so is well worth the effort in your quest for the ideal Bernese. Even if you are not interested in showing or breeding yourself, you will soon appreciate that some types or families of Bernese appeal to you much more than others. These differences are not so easy to spot in puppies, so it is best to have a good look, as much can be learned from studying adults.
VISITING A BREEDER
Most breeders of Bernese keep their dogs as a hobby, although some breed for profit. In both cases they will be looking after dogs as well as running a household. So your visit will be timed to cause the minimum disruption to routine. Punctuality on your part will be much appreciated. I cannot begin to remember how many hours I have wasted waiting for people to arrive to visit the dogs. It can sometimes be difficult to time your arrival exactly, especially if travelling some distance. But if you are delayed, a telephone call will be gratefully received. A little consideration will certainly endear you to the breeder.
All the family may be keen to view the dogs, but I do feel that it may be far more sensible to leave the children with a minder while you visit the breeder's premises. It will be far easier for you to absorb the information you are given without the distraction of the children. Children, especially young children, become bored within a very short time and may well become disgruntled or start to wander. If dogs on the premises are not used to children, this could be a problem. Although Bernese are usually very gentle with children, children are not always very gentle with other people's Bernese. Dogs not used to the noise and excitement generated by small children may not react favourably.
When you arrive, ask to see the adult dogs before you look at the puppies. It is one thing to see a number of dogs at a show to get an idea about a breed, but spending some time with one or more large dogs within a household can be an enlightening experience. Bernese always seem larger when seen in a room at armchair level and so by looking at adults in this way first you can be more objective. The adult Bernese should approach you without fear or aggression and be keen to investigate you. Most Bernese will, in fact, greet you as a long lost friend, but a slightly less enthusiastic greeting does not indicate a faulty temperament. The temperament of the adults you meet will give you an indication of the temperament likely to be inherited by puppies bred from similar bloodlines. It will also show you how the breeder-handles and socialises her dogs. It will be clear if the dogs are loved as pets or kept merely as viable financial stock. If a breeder gives a lot of attention to her adults, she is likely to spend a lot of time handling puppies and so accustoming them to people before they leave for their new homes.
The temperament of puppies which have been reared in the house may differ from those which have been kept in kennels. I believe that kennel-reared puppies are often at a disadvantage when they go to their new homes. They have to get used to unfamiliar surroundings, the continual presence of people and all the strange household noises and smells. If kennel-reared puppies have been allowed to spend some time in a house before
leaving for a new home, then they will adapt more easily. A puppy's attitude towards people can also be affected by kennel rearing. Behaviour patterns which are evident at seven or eight weeks of age are not necessarily adopted throughout adult life, but human interaction between three and six weeks of age is known to have great influence on future personality.
Kennelled dogs and puppies usually spend a lot of time without human company and this can set off a number of reactions. A dog that gets wildly over-excited when allowed to be in company of people may prove difficult to manage. A timid-fearful approach can be due to too little human contact and will mean that a puppy will take much longer to settle into new surroundings. Some puppies, with a good inherited temperamental background, may become rather indifferent to people. These puppies usually prove very difficult to train as they are somewhat self-centred and fail to accept human dominance. Most owners want a pet that is interesting but easy to live with. A sensible attitude to people and the ability to settle down, are the qualities most desired in the breed.
The sex of the puppy you will buy may be of little consequence to you but careful thought should be given to this aspect. If you already have a dog in residence, then you would be wise not to mix the sexes of entire animals. Separation during a bitch's seasons will cause great disruption to a normal family routine and is not fair on either dog. Many people do cope admirably, but you have to provide facilities not only to prevent an unwanted mating but also to avoid frustration. If you want to keep both sexes and have no plans to breed, the bitch should be spayed. Castration of the male will not solve the problem of sexual awareness when a bitch is in season, so is a less viable option.
In some breeds, there is a great difference between the sexes. Males are often more dominant than bitches and rather assertive. Generally speaking, this is not the case in Bernese, although some bloodlines do produce individuals which can be more active and highly-strung - but this affects both sexes. Many of the established breeders, myself included, prefer the temperament of males to bitches as they are not prone to hormonal changes affecting character. The main differences are:
Usually smaller and lighter built.
Moult twice yearly.
Urine scorches lawn.
More competition at shows.
Risk of hormone imbalance causing problems of womb, false pregnancy etc.
Spaying or castration can alter the moulting cycle; sexual awareness, hormone
imbalance and territory marking can also be lessened by such operations.
Larger and more impressive.
Moult less often than bitches (once yearly)
Can be sexually aware.
More expensive to feed.
Faster growth-rate increases risk of orthopaedic problems.
So we come down to size as being a major factor when choosing the sex. I am a believer in neutering pet/companion dogs and bitches. In an ideal world these measures would not be necessary. But in reality, pet/companion dogs, which means the large majority of the dog population, are easier to manage and so can lead happier lives as part of a family. There are so many unwanted puppies produced throughout the world born through ignorance or misguided sentimentality that I feel early neutering could at least slow down the population explosion. Breeding is a long-term commitment to a breed, and to all puppies produced. This should not be taken on lightly.
ONE DOG OR TWO
Bernese, in common with some other breeds, enjoy the company of other dogs although not as a substitute for human attention.
Owners can derive a great deal of pleasure from seeing two dogs playing together and watching their relationship develop. Because Bernese, especially puppies, are so charming, many owners decide at some time to keep two together. But it is not advisable to buy two puppies at the same time. It may, in theory, seem a good idea to have two that can be playmates for each other but you rarely get such a good human - dog bond when you are rearing two youngsters as you do not have a one-to-one relationship. All puppies need a lot of guidance to instil behaviour patterns for the future and it is essential to be able to hold the puppy's attention.
Two puppies reared together are always more interested in each other than their owner. House training, lead training and general behaviour in the house are easier when dealing with one puppy at a time. It is far more rewarding to get the formative training well established with one puppy, so that he can act as an example to another. I would suggest that nine months age difference is perhaps the minimum for most inexperienced owners to aim for and this has worked well for several owners that I know.
The difference in size must be considered and so energetic games between a young puppy and an older, much heavier and clumsier dog must be carefully supervised. Two males can also live happily together and perhaps in these situations an age difference helps to establish a pecking order. Lifelong compatibility can be assured if the newcomer learns from the start that he is the underdog and this is naturally accomplished by a sensible age difference. Bernese are a heavy, slow-maturing breed. There is always some risk of growth problems with any Bernese puppy, but these risks are increased when more than one dog lives on the premises. Some problems are wholly inherited, but management plays a large part in the occurrence of some conditions. Puppies can injure each other and can easily be injured by older dogs. Increased activity stimulated by the presence of another dog can lead to growth problems in some puppies, and so careful management and a sensible owner-attitude is a must for homes with more than one dog.
Sometimes, owners of an old dog feel that they would like to introduce a new puppy into the house before the old dog dies. When you are used to living with a dog, it is a very uncomfortable feeling to be left alone when a loved companion dies. Whether it is right to bring a new puppy into the company of a very old dog is something that each individual must decide. Often, the arrival of a newcomer can perk up an old dog and give a new lease of life, as long as the puppy is not allowed to become a nuisance to the old dog. But if the established pet has lived as the only dog in the family for all of its life, introducing a puppy may be regarded as cruel. How would you feel if, in your twilight years, you were suddenly confronted with your replacement?
Jude Simonds 2011 ©