THE BERNESE STUD DOG
FAME, FORTUNE OR RESPONSIBILITY?
Owners of male Bernese can become involved in stud dog work by choice or chance, but either way the responsibility is great. Some owners believe that owning a stud dog is a ticket to fame and fortune – a lucrative income for little effort plus a boost to the ego by becoming well known. The reality is often very, very different.
Although the breeder of puppies should assume responsibility for all puppies they have sold, some turn their back once the puppy has left the premises. The owner of the sire is therefore second in line of responsibility for these pups. Why should Bernese Welfare or Rescue pick up the pieces when it was a JOINT decision to create Bernese puppies. Although some stud dog owners successfully dodge the issue, the responsibility is still there and needs to be taken seriously no matter how many excuses are offered.
Obviously, any dog used for breeding should have quality, and be typical and sound in both mind and body. However, soundness of mind is not always judged correctly. Just because a dog allows a judge to inspect it at a show does NOT indicate that the dog has a good temperament. Behaviour outside the ring and on home ground is far more revealing. Anyone who has attended a show will have witnessed male dogs `taking off` with their owners when the owners least expect it. This is usually in pursuit of a totally innocent passing dog, and is unacceptable and very embarrassing. How often these owners excuse the behaviour as due to a bitch in season in the vicinity. Far from being good stud dog material, these are the least desirable breeding stock. Unruly behaviour from males may well be evident because of lack of training, but it also indicates a stubborn and wilful character. Would you really like this trait passed on to puppies?
Quite apart from the temperament anomalies they may pass on, these dogs are clearly NOT A GOOD ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE BREED.
The decision to use a dog at stud can have far reaching consequences for the owner, the dog concerned and the breed.
Bernese owners sometimes evolve into novice breeders as a natural progression of their interest in the breed, But make no mistake - allowing, or promoting, the use of a dog at stud is a serious business. The prospect of earning stud fees as a welcome additional income, plus the added bonus of achieving a higher personal profile within the breed circle is tempting. Breeding dogs should be a natural and easy process, but that is not always the case. Stud owners very quickly wake up to the stark reality of breeding. The stud fee is small recompense for inconvenience, complications and general hassle.
Although dogs cannot be expected to act like robots, a booking made for a stud dog is an agreement to provide a service (in more ways than the obvious!). The stud owner is expected to give some degree of assurance that his dog is capable of an efficient mating – sometimes to a difficult bitch – at the optimum time. This means last minute arrangements, the provision of hospitality for the visiting party if things don`t go according to plan and a businesslike professionalism for what you thought was a simple hobby.
The health status of the stud dog must be beyond question to ensure that his fertility is confirmed and the risk of passing infection between visiting bitches is avoided. Even when all this is in place many things can go wrong. The dog may be disinclined or incapable of mating a particular bitch, whereby the `fortune` of the expected stud fee doesn`t materialise despite the time and effort invested. If a mating doesn`t take place due to fault or error by the stud, then the bitch owner has to wait 6 months before trying to mate their bitch again with the same or alternative dog. Don`t expect that breeder to be happy about the lost opportunity. Fame can quickly turn into infamy! Both owner and failed stud dog may just as well crawl under the nearest stone.
Bernese dogs with more than a passing interest in any four legged creature which comes within sight are often considered ideal candidates for stud work. How wrong this is. An uncontrollable, oversexed male Bernese is no good to anyone, and certainly does no favours to the breed. Some male dogs experience the `joys of sex` with few changes to their character, behaviour and manageability, but many undergo changes which their owners regret. Indeed, some dogs think of nothing else and constantly exhibit inappropriate sexual activity which can be directed at dogs, people or anything else that takes his fancy. It is not just these dogs which suffer stress and frustration – the owners suffer to an even greater degree and there is NO going back. The damage is done – your Bernese male will NEVER be the same again.
If you own a perfect companion who is well mannered, totally under control and a joy to live with then he certainly has something desirable to offer the Bernese breed. But, if your life with him is so good do you really want to risk upsetting the perfect relationship and a change in his priorities? Allowing your dog to mate a bitch, even if it is just once, is a decision which MUST be right. Look at your dog honestly and try to think of the implications.
You may happen to own a Bernese dog with outstanding qualities and he may go on to be in demand as a potential suitor to a regular succession of amorous, visiting bitches. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that few dogs attract a constant stream of girls to keep him satisfied. It is unfair to introduce a male dog to sex only to leave him frustrated and confused when his sexual needs are unfulfilled. It really is fairer to keep him in a state of ignorance. You have to make the right decision for your dog. Don`t consider what YOU will get out of the deal, be realistic about what HE will gain. Pressure to use the dog, perhaps by a friend or influential breeder, is difficult to resist but be assured ONCE IS NEVER ENOUGH. Above all, assess his temperament and your control over him and if you think his attitude is wrong DON`T USE HIM.
The Bernese breed will thrive and improve only by careful selection of breeding stock. An in depth knowledge of Bernese pedigrees and bloodlines, and the recognition and recording of faults and virtues is not reserved for a special few. There is a wealth of information out there if breeders and stud owners are interested enough to look, listen and ask. Everyone involved in breeding needs to be more selective about which Bernese are bred from, and stud owners have often been criticised for accepting any bitch offered to their male dog. Doubtless many owners are flattered that their dog is the chosen one, some may feel awkward and embarrassed about refusing a bitch whilst others are focussed only on the stud fee. It is widely accepted that too many inferior Bernese are bred from, and stud owners could make a significant difference to the future of the breed by adopting a selection process for bitches accepted for mating.
A trend has developed over the past few years for some stud owners to offer special deals to bitch owners. A ploy which seems solely for the purpose of attracting more `business` - use the stud dog now and pay the stud fee when the puppies are sold is akin to high street credit offers which encourage people to live and spend beyond their means. Breeding Bernese and rearing a litter is an expensive indulgence and breeders are not well advised to cut corners or do it on a shoestring. Welfare and Rescue often have to provide help because too many breeders cut corners and cannot finance a back up service for the dogs they breed. Delaying payment of an initial expense only entices more people to breed when they may otherwise have avoided breeding because of the financial burden and risk.
Another increasingly common occurrence is for the stud owner to loan out his male, for days on end, to anyone who wants to get their bitch mated with the least effort. This may be seen as a generous act of convenience between friends, but it happens all too often between owners who are at best acquaintances across the showring and at worst all but complete strangers. Clearly, some owners are unconcerned at the disruption and varied levels of care and accommodation offered to their `prized canine asset` when away from home. A canine `Club 18 – 30 holiday` it sure ain`t! A few unfortunate dogs seem to be handed on from breeder to breeder, spending precious little time at home for weeks on end. With seemingly little attachment and commitment to their own dog, they may not care too much about the future of the breed either.
A healthy future for Bernese Mountain Dogs will only be assured if ALL of us involved in the breed adopt and maintain high standards of care and welfare of our own dogs AND constantly upgrade our selection process and breeding practises.
Jude Simonds © 2002