After visiting a breeder, you may have decided that a Bernese really is the breed for you. Whether that particular breeder has the type of dog which appeals to you, is a matter of choice, but at least you are sufficiently aware of the breed to make a considered decision. Once a suitable breeder has been located, then a firm booking can be made. It may be possible to choose a puppy which is ready to leave for its new home straightaway but it is more likely you will need to add your name to a waiting list.  . To avoid disappointment, it is wise to make sure that the breeder knows your requirements and that you are aware of your position on the waiting list if there is one.


Some breeders are more keen to sell their puppies into homes where they will be shown or bred from, so effectively advertising the breeder's stock. Often breeders have puppies which are less than perfect in some way and these are usually directed towards to customers seeking a pet/companion. The defect can be as minor as slightly less than perfect markings and of course many people are happy to give a home to these puppies. But, personally, I see no reason why buyers looking for a companion should be offered ONLY puppies of a lesser quality.  


Consideration can be given to prospective owners who have an interest in future showing or breeding but I should like to reverse the attitude that a pet/companion puppy is a sub-standard puppy. Breeders should be happy to find permanent, caring homes for their puppies, regardless of whether they are of a show potential or not. Some prospective purchasers may be more interested in puppies sold at a reduced price due to an imperfection but equal opportunity should be offered to all when puppies are priced the same and buyers are paying the same.  Breeders should try to treat potential buyers in a manner they would like to be treated themselves!


Interested purchasers should beware of the trend in selling puppies on breeding terms or stud terms arrangements. Joint ownerships are also commonly offered to new owners but be cautious before entering into any kind of contract which may affect your rights and future decisions. Breeding terms is in effect, a lease or hiring agreement which enables the breeder to use your bitch for breeding. Some breeders have told prospective owners that the only way of obtaining a good quality Bernese bitch is by entering into such an agreement as no breeder can afford to part with a good bitch outright. This is nonsense and should be dismissed. Breeding terms agreements vary from breeder to breeder and some are overseen by the Kennel Club or a legally binding contract but many are not; basically, you will be asked to enter into an agreement allowing the person you are buying a puppy from to make decisions as to when and how your bitch to be used for breeding with a sire of the breeder's choice and the breeder will then be entitled to keep one, several or even all of the puppies. Individual arrangements are made as to whether the bitch stays with you, giving you the expense of rearing the puppies, or whether she is kept by the breeder while the litter is whelped and the puppies are reared. Either way, breeding terms are not always in the best interest of the bitch or purchaser. Until the contract is fulfilled, the dog is not wholly yours.


Stud terms are also becoming fashionable but this can present an owner with unforeseen
problems. Male Bernese which are wanted as a family companion are best kept ignorant of sexual activity. Some Bernese males are not especially interested in bitches although we have all seen some dogs which are rampant and seem to think of nothing else!  To allow a male to mate a bitch, whether it be often or infrequently, is a decision which cannot be taken lightly. Stud terms allow the breeder of your dog to arrange for bitches of the breeder's choice choice to be mated to your male whenever the need arises. Some males undergo little or no change of attitude after mating a bitch. They may remain as loving and responsive as they were before the event.  Unfortunately, many owners have used a dog for breeding just once and then seen unfortunate character changes in their dog. If the decision to breed from your male has been considered carefully, after assessing his adult potential and character, then you have only yourself to blame if your are left with a somewhat frustrated sex maniac. If the decision has been made by a third party, the breeder, then it is still you and your family that have to cope with changes of attitude left as a legacy from the agreement.


Joint ownership, or partnerships, are sometimes offered to prospective purchasers who may want to buy a Bernese to campaign in the show ring. If a breeder has a promising youngster but has little or no time to show the dog herself, then she may offer the youngster to a keen newcomer. These arrangements are becoming increasingly common, as any show catalogue will confirm, and indeed in the USA many dogs are owned jointly. Individual contracts should be carefully screened before making a decision. Personally, I do not agree with contracts which may affect the ownership of a dog if, subsequently, a disagreement should occur.  If a breeder wants to retain an interest in an individual dog or bitch badly enough, then it seems appropriate for them to keep the dog or bitch themselves. If a keen newcomer wants to breed or show a dog, then I am sure that there are plenty of breeders who will sell a promising puppy outright. We wouldn't dream of adding a new member to our own family by lease, so why should we do it to gain a Bernese?


Some breeders prefer to postpone the final choice until it is time for the puppy to be collected to go to its new home. Many breeders advise that five or six weeks old is the ideal time to choose from a litter. Before this age, choice can only be made from markings and size, both of which will change as the puppy grows. Although the physical appearance of your puppy should be pleasing, it is the temperament and character of your pet which will have a day-to-day impact on your home life and so temperament must be your first consideration. Individual character is difficult, if not impossible to assess before four weeks old, so by five to six weeks the personality of puppies will be more apparent.


When a Bernese puppy is to be a family pet, owners may place little importance on breed points as set out in the breed standard. Most people know immediately whether a puppy appeals to them or not. However, if you are hoping to show or eventually breed from your Bernese then more care should be taken to study each puppy, maybe even comparing it against the breed standard. Obviously, most people would like to own the best puppy in a litter but this is not possible for everyone. If you are looking for a Bernese you hope will have breeding potential then the overall quality of the litter is of prime importance. A litter of puppies which are similar in size, shape, type and markings is more likely to contain Bernese which will go on to breed true to type than an individual pup which stands out among varied and undistinguished littermates. A one-off rarely goes on to produce a high proportion of quality Bernese. No matter what the puppy is destined to be, a sound temperament must be your first consideration. Even the most beautiful dog is impossible to live with if it has a faulty character. Health and correct construction is the second factor to influence your choice and breed points, if all correct, are the icing on the cake.


The striking tan and white markings on a basically black dog are a feature which attract many owners to the breed. Sometimes puppies are born with less than perfect markings, but these puppies are the same as the more classically marked puppies in every other way. Markings can deviate from the standard in a number of ways: too much or too little white on the face and legs, white hairs in varying proportions on the back of the neck or around the anus, or facial markings which are not symmetrical. Deviations of this nature should be taken into account, but do not overlook a puppy which is superior to the others in every other way, except in its markings.


Once the overall impression of the litter has been noted, the breeder should remove the puppies which have been booked already and those of the sex you do not want, to make it easier to study those you can choose from. Bernese puppies can be rather lazy so watch each puppy as it moves around. Apart from the general health points mentioned, take time to note the individual characteristics of each puppy. Try not to be too hasty to reject a puppy from further consideration for what may be a minor reason. The size of any individual does not necessarily indicate the stature upon maturity. There is no certainty that the biggest puppy will grow into the largest adult and the smallest may grow to reach the same size as its littermates. The proportions of a Bernese puppy are a more reliable indicator of potential size. The thickness of the bones, always heavier on the front legs, and the lengths between joints - front foot to pastern, hind foot to hock - will help you to decide, if maximum size is an important factor. A puppy which appears broader than its littermates will probably keep a solid sturdy outline as an adult, but be sure it really is broader across the chest and body and not merely carrying a heavier coat or a fuller stomach!


A typical Bernese puppy should look rather square and solid at first glance. Adults are slightly longer than they are high but puppies should look square because of the rather profuse coat. At six-weeks-old, the pup should stand with its feet set squarely on the ground and its head carried well up on a strong neck.


Although they should move freely, Bernese puppies are not exactly elegant and you are likely to witness several puppies in any litter tripping over themselves in their enthusiasm to beat their littermates to reach an attraction. There should be good width between the limbs, and viewed from the front, the front legs should look straight from top to toe, neither turning in nor out. Puppies sometimes tend to turn their feet out slightly, but this usually improves as the puppy grows and gains more co-ordination and muscle control. Unlike some large breeds, Bernese puppies do not usually exhibit large joints from which you can predict size. The hind legs are never quite so heavily boned as the front, but the hocks (ankles) should look strong and hind dew-claws are generally removed when the pup is a few days old.  Viewed from the rear there should be a similar distance between the hocks and between the feet. If the hocks converge then it is likely that the dog will be cow-hocked as an adult to a greater or lesser degree. The feet should point forward. Hind feet which turn out is a common fault within the breed, but it doesn't affect the way the dog functions. Some adult Bernese seem to have hocks which are twisted outwards, so giving the appearance that the toes are set on the outside edge of the foot. Again, to my knowledge this rarely affects the dog to any extent, but should be viewed as more serious if you are hoping to breed later on. Certainly, the fault is transmitted through generations.


A Bernese puppy's head should seem rather large compared to body size. It should be broad, both across the top of the head and through the cheeks and muzzle. The fluffy puppy coat can often conceal the real shape, so cup your hands either side of the head to see the true outline. The ears also appear rather large and I always think that this is a good sign as it often means that the puppy will reach a good adult size. The stop, the drop from the top of the head to the muzzle, should be steep and pronounced. During teething periods, the stop will often decrease and then return later on in the final growth stages. But in a six-week-old puppy, a deep stop is desired. A puppy lacking in stop appears to have a wedge-shaped head when viewed in profile and will rarely improve in this point. The muzzle should ideally be short and blunt, looking like a cube on the front of the head. Long muzzles and narrow, snipy jaws never improve in my experience. The white markings on the head can be rather misleading when trying to determine head shape, so bear this in mind. Novice Bernese enthusiasts are perhaps best advised to look for a teddy bear or panda-shaped head, as opposed to one that looks fox-like


The eyes should be almond-shaped, although in young puppies they do appear a bit rounder, but they should be very dark. Newly opened eyes are navy blue and change to brown at around eight to ten-weeks-old, sometimes later. Some Bernese have wall eyes, a lack of pigment which makes one or both eyes white. This does not affect vision at all but it does give a'rather cold expression. A puppy which has a wall eye will have brighter blue coloured eyes than the others which may still be at the navy blue stage. Close inspection will reveal a white ring around the pupil of the eye and this is the iris which is lacking in pigmentation. A puppy with one or two wall eyes should be sold for less than the perfect puppies in the litter. Interestingly, wall eyes are most commonly seen in puppies which have excessive white markings on the head. In some countries a wall eye would exclude a Bernese from show ring competition but in England I have seen one bitch shown in breed classes with this fault. A Bernese with this fault will not always produce the same fault in future generations but is best avoided if you have ambitions to breed Bernese.

A watery or thick discharge from the eye may indicate infection or possibly entropion, which is more serious and very painful for the dog.  Entropion is a turning in of the eyelids, which causes irritation and ultimately ulceration of the eyeball. This is a hereditary defect and although it can be surgically eased by one or more operations as the dog develops, any puppy showing this deformity should be rejected by the prospective purchaser.

Occasionally, a puppy may be seen with pronounced third eyelids. These are flaps of skin formed at the inner edge of the eye and are a natural part of the dog. If an eye is inflamed or sore, the third eyelid comes across over the eye to act as a natural protection. If the membrane is obvious, it may indicate some irritation which warrants further scrutiny. This third eyelid is often dark in colour, blending in with the colour of the eye. But it can also be lacking in pigment and appear pale and opaque. Again, this does not affect the function of the eye, but it does look rather ugly.

The puppy's nose may be cold and wet but often puppies have rather warmer, dryer noses than some manuals state. As long as there are no signs of discharge and the puppy is happy and active, there is no cause for concern. The pigmentation of the nose may be complete, so showing completely black, but quite often puppies don't complete pigmentation around the nose for some time. I have never known a nose to remain pink and unpigmented on a Bernese but that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. Bernese with excessive white markings are more likely to have slower developing pigmentation than those with classic markings, and undermarked puppies, those with less than ideal white markings, rarely have poor pigmentation. Generally speaking, a classically marked puppy of about six-weeks-old should have at least half of the nose coloured black if it is to be correctly pigmented as an adult. Less than that could well develop correctly in time but there is more risk. The pigment usually advances from the centre of the nose outwards.


The pigment of the mouth and inner lips and gums is usually a mixture of pink and black patches, so there is no need to worry unduly here. But close inspection of a puppy's mouth is necessary before purchase. At six weeks, I would expect the teeth to be well through the gums and evenly spaced. Crowding of the teeth in an adult Bernese is commonly seen and can be noticed sometimes in puppies. Many Bernese do have rather small incisors, the centre front teeth on the bottom jaw, and it is these teeth which are the most likely to be displaced. If the incisors are placed ahead or behind the teeth either side, it doesn't mean the dog will have an incorrect bite later on but the risk of deviation is increased.


The canine teeth, sometimes called the eye teeth, should fit well together with the top canines fitting snugly behind the lower canines. The incisors of the top jaw should fit neatly over the lower incisors with little or no visible gap. A slightly imperfect bite will cause no problems to a companion Bernese, but should be avoided if you have other plans. Dentition faults most commonly seen in Bernese are: an overshot bite, when the teeth on the top jaw, or indeed the jaw itself, protrudes over the bottom teeth by up to a quarter or even half of an inch; an undershot bite, when the lower teeth or jaw extend too far forward ahead of the upper teeth; and a level bite, when the incisor teeth meet edge to edge. These faults are seen in puppies but more usually develop during the five to ten-month-old period. The most serious dental defect that a puppy can show is an overshot bite with the canine teeth in a reverse position - the upper canine in front of the lower canine. This situation rarely improves and the lower canines often push into the roof of the mouth causing discomfort to the puppy. A Bernese puppy with this fault should not be chosen as its future is bound to be complicated.


Puppies often carry their tails higher than is seen on an adult. They use it as a rudder to help balance and as a useful handle to catch hold of littermates! The tail should be set on low so that the outline of the back flows into the tail smoothly. A tail which is set too high so that it protrudes out of the rump in an upward direction will doom the dog to carry the tail high throughout its life. The tail should reach at least to the tip of the hock joint and ideally just below that joint. Some puppies may have a kink to the tail and this will be penalised as a show fault.


The puppy's coat should be profuse and thick. It will not be shiny in a young puppy but it should be clean. A smoother coat is sometimes seen and as long as it is dense and has a good undercoat, this is not necessarily a point to cause concern. I prefer a puppy with a shaggy coat but buyers should remember that puppies which have had good access to plenty of fresh air often show heavier coats than those reared almost entirely indoors. ,Many breeders have experienced incidence of dandruff or scurf on puppies. This can be caused by a mite infestation but such a dense coat can also invite such a symptom. It usually clears up completely as the coat changes.

The tan marking on puppies is much paler than it is on adults. As the puppy matures, the colour will darken to a rich reddish tan. Black markings at the base of the toes are sometimes seen on puppies with little or no white on the feet. The tan colour under the root of the tail is often even a shade or two paler than seen on the legs. A grey shading has been seen on Bernese puppies and adults and although a serious breed fault, it is of minor importance for a companion puppy. The shading appears on the trousers at the rear of the hind legs and is sometimes noticed on the tan of the legs and running through the black hair on the back. It can disappear with maturity but should be considered a fault for a potential show or breeding dog.


The extent of white markings on a Bernese puppy comes down to personal preference. The breed standard clearly states that head markings should be slight to medium-sized but even so, this is open to interpretation. Most owners prefer a puppy with a lot of white on the face as this is most eye-catching. All things being equal, I am sure most people prefer to have a Bernese with classic markings. The set pattern of the tri-colour markings is an important feature of the breed but I feel that too much emphasis has been, and is, placed on this aspect. A Bernese without tan or white markings would not be a true Bernese but an overall solid, typical dog should not be overlooked because of minor marking deviations.

Jude Simonds © 2011

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