FINGS AINT WOT THEY USED TO BE!
It is very easy to wax lyrical about “the good old days” as the passage of time often cultivates a more idealistic, rose-tinted ‘memory’ of pleasant experiences or incidents in the past. Of course none of us expect anything to stay exactly the same – change is inevitable as time passes and change can be good as it may allow growth and improvement – but change isn’t always good or welcome.
The climate within the UK Bernese-owning ‘community’ – albeit a somewhat diverse and fragmented “community” - has certainly changed dramatically during the past few years and in 2008/9 some very obvious trends and disconcerting changes were recognised.
Concerned observers have witnessed the “Big Bucks Bonanza” of breeders charging a four-figure sum for Bernese puppies which some more commercially-motivated people have been VERY keen to embrace and quick to exploit and during 2008 and into 2009 those four figure sums (or perhaps a mere £50 below) became commonplace and indeed now generally accepted regardless of whether the vendor is an experienced breeder or someone marketing their first or second Bernese litter. There appears to be no correlation at all between the price asked and the “quality” of a litter, nor the good or less good reputation a breeder may have nor their dog breeding expertise.
In the early years of establishing Bernese in the UK the enthusiasts at that time ‘MAY’ have had a viable ‘excuse’ to breed from any-and-all Bernese as numbers and bloodlines were very limited, but despite the difficulties and obstacles they faced, overall the pioneer breeders tried very hard to only breed from the best they had and they also tried their best to ensure that less-good specimens did not enter the UK Bernese gene pool. Puppies with imperfections were almost always sold at a considerably reduced price (often 50% or even less) than the price charged for pups who were more ‘correctly’ made. However, nowadays it seems that Bernese with all sorts of faults and defects are deemed suitable for breeding and pups with obvious faults are being sold for full, top-notch prices and not at a reduced rate to compensate for their imperfections; recent examples of this (in 2009) were a blue-eyed puppy described to the buyer as “rare and unusual” and sold for £950, and another puppy purchased as a “potential breeding bitch” who was also sold for £950 but who had an overshot bite which wasn’t pointed out to the buyer before they took the pup home. That pup was mismarked too. Not of a standard one would expect to be marketed at full price. Not the best of potential breeding prospects. Not what any sensible and informed buyer would consider paying such a high price for!
That attitude of maximising lucrative income from Bernese has prompted many more advertisements to appear in the classifieds columns offering Bernese puppies and adults for sale than we have EVER seen during past decades and the wording and phrasings used in some of those adverts (and also used in some self-promotional websites designed to attract puppy sales) are SO extraordinary that one wonders how they would fare if put under scrutiny of The Trades Descriptions Act? Some of the statements made by those breeders/vendors who advertise are, at the very least, hilariously funny were it not for the sad reality that their glorified, embellished sales pitches which have little if any foundation in fact or realistic expectation are potentially very serious for both the ill-advised buyers who respond to such sales ploys and for their unfortunate, tricoloured purchases.
Those involved in the production of Bernese puppies – whether the owner of the dam or the owner of the sire - must guarantee a willingness and ability to provide a full back-up service which should include taking back and assuming responsibility for all dogs they bred or were sired by their stud dog for the lifetime of those dogs. Up until about 20 years ago adult Bernese needing rehoming were rarely, if ever, openly offered for sale – they were almost always offered to and taken in by their original breeders or sometimes the owners of the dogs sought help from Bernese rescue/rehoming services; nowadays too many breeders make excuses not to take back dogs they bred and too many owners who no longer want to keep their Bernese choose to openly offer the dog for sale via classified adverts, often selling to the first person with cash in hand as their priority is to simply recoup some of the initial purchase price.
And it isn’t just adverts offering Bernese for sale which are appearing more often – there are many more classified adverts offering Bernese dogs at stud too. Common sense confirms that anyone interested in breeding Bernese needs to serve an apprenticeship in the breed to even begin to have any realistic grasp of basic and essential knowledge about the breed in general and what lies within the specific bloodlines of dogs they intend to breed from.
Assessing the quality of Bernese dogs and bitches used for breeding seems to be of lesser importance to some than promoting, at the earliest opportunity, their intentions or availability: an example is a promotional advertisement which appeared very recently in the “Stud Dogs” section of a popular canine website in which the Bernese male being promoted was a mere 6 MONTHS OLD when his promotional “Stud Dog” page appeared!!!! That the advertiser announced to being a member of the Kennel Club Accredited Breeder Scheme (in 2011 the KC changed the name to Assured Breeder Scheme) has only increased the dismay and disgust felt by those who truly care about Bernese. It would be surprising if an advertiser possessed such remarkable powers of foresight in predicting the quality of the dog and his ‘worth’ as a stud whilst he is still just an underdeveloped, baby puppy of 6 months; plus, obviously, he would not have been HD or ED scored until he reaches at least 12 months old. The Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Standard states “slow to mature” but it would seem that one pup’s career has, somewhat prematurely, been mapped out for him whilst he has barely begun to experience puberty and is still such a long way to go before even reaching adolescence!
The fact of the matter is that anyone who knows anything about Bernese would NEVER be looking outside of the knowledge base of the established Bernese community when researching and investigating potential studs. Those owners who have placed classified adverts offering Bernese dogs at stud will merely attract the uninformed, opportunist bitch owners who have not bothered to become part of the Bernese community learning base or breed network who need a "quick-fix" and so will come and buy their services. How very sad, and to many Bernese enthusiasts, how very irresponsible.
Surprisingly, the Big Bucks Bonanza is currently co-existing with the much-publicised and very real Credit Crunch Crash which has affected the lifestyle and, to some extent, the attitudes of a significant percentage of the population. During the past year or two a significant number of potential owners and some who currently own Bernese seem to have decided to economise by choosing not to invest in the security of pet insurance cover or have chosen not to renew pet insurance policies despite the likelihood that it may ultimately be a false economy. If that trend continues some Bernese breeders may well find themselves facing claims from owners who do not have the safety-net of insurance cover when their purchase later develops a costly health issue. Food for thought, especially for those who make unwise predictions and promises about the high quality of dogs they sell for high and inflated prices.
Some clubs and societies have also reported a drop in membership or attendance at some events which isn’t surprising if it is due to people having only a limited disposable income and needing to tighten their belts. Hopefully the loyalty and determination of Bernese enthusiasts will ensure that the breed clubs who continue to prioritise what is best for the Bernese breed and who also provide for the needs and wishes of their members will continue to be as well supported as they have been in the past.
Jude Simonds © 2009