Our Breeding Philosophy and Priorities

We think it is very important for breeders to be clear with puppy buyers (and themselves) about their breeding philosophy and priorities. Breeders should have well articulated and consistent objectives that guide their breeding decisions.

We have lumped the many things that breeders are working on in the Bernese Mountain Dog breed into three categories. This is not a perfect categorization, since some items could arguably be in multiple categories.

The categories and their descriptions are:

Type: the overall "look" and "structure" of the dog
  1. Size
  2. Shape
  3. Proportions
  4. Head and muzzle shape
  5. Bone
  6. Coat
  7. No gross mis-markings
  8. Temperament
  1. Absence of hip dysplasia
  2. Absence of elbow dysplasia
  3. Longevity
  4. Absence of eye disease
  5. Cancer history
Conformation: (to the breed standard)
  1. Movement
  2. Markings
  3. Tail set
  4. Tail carriage
  5. Eye color
Photo of Sailor

There is room for confusion between the "Type" category and the "Conformation" category since dog size, proportions, and coat characteristics (for example) are characteristics referred to in the breed standard along with movement and markings (for example).

It is also very important to understand the characteristics of the dog that are "visible" (phenotype) and "invisible" (genotype). A dog might be very nice to look at, but have "hidden" faults that don't show up in the show ring, such as short lifespans, a propensity to get cancer, eye disease, etc. We try to understand a dogs phenotype and genotype.

While the characteristics within these categories are not prioritized, the categories are shown in the priority order of our breeding program. Clearly, all of these are very important, and we will not breed dogs with disqualifying attributes per the breed standard. But, if there are no disqualifying characteristics, we then select breedings that will:

1) Maintain or improve "type" according to our beliefs and preferences of what a Bernese Mountain Dog should look like;

2) Improve the health chracteristics of the breed including the elimination of hip and elbow dysplasia, improvement of lifespans, etc. through selective breeding;

3) Create the "perfect" conformation dog.
Photo of Sailor

We don't expect other breeders to agree with our priorities. In fact, for the sake of the breed, we hope there is diversity in breeders' priorities and programs. However, we do feel there has been an over-emphasis on Health attributes in recent years that is compromising the Type attributes of the breed.

You probably cannot find two breeders that will agree on the right "Type" for the Bernese Mountain Dog. Type is very much a personal preference issue. We have an image of the perfect Bernese Mountain Dog in our heads and that is the Type we strive for in our breeding program. Type is very subjective.

However, Health and Conformation are also very subjective (as anyone who has experience showing dogs will tell you!) There is controversy over the role of genetics versus environment in many health issues. And, the assessment of some health issues are subjective activities (such as reading X-rays.)

Likewise, assessing a dog's conformance to the breed standard is a subjective exercise played out hundreds of times each weekend at dog shows around the world. The same dogs do not always win from judge to judge, nor even when shown multiple times under the same judge.

So, all an ethical breeder can do is apply their very best efforts and judgment to accomplish their breeding priorities. And, trust that when ultimately combined with different priorities from other breeders, will yield an ever-improving Bernese Mountain Dog and a healthy and diverse genetic pool.


Posted by Rick on 07/20/2004 at 01:52 PM

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