Each day wonderful dogs are euthanized because there are not enough homes for them, and because people carelessly breed their dogs. This reality must serve as a backdrop for any discussion about breeding Bernese Mountain Dogs. People who want a well-bred Bernese Mountain Dog are typically not the same people who would want to adopt from the shelter. And should people who want to breed very, very well be prevented from doing so simply because irresponsible people have created too many poorly bred dogs? But all this is a different discussion -- what I want to talk about today is the breeding of Bernese Mountain Dogs, and the place that a championship has in that practice.
A dog earns an AKC "breed" championship based on structure and to some extent, temperament. In other words, the dog is judged based on how well she meets the established Breed Standard, which describes the ideal dog for that breed. The Standard is really not that complicated -- there are descriptions of ideal for such things as Substance, Head, Neck, Topline, Body, Coat, Gait, and Temperament. (You can read the Standard at: http://www.bmdca.org/pages/BMD_Standard.php).
There certainly is some interpretation that is required -- for example, the Standard states that, "sturdy bone is of great importance" -- but what does "sturdy bone" look like? Can a berner be "too sturdy"? Other parts of the Standard are quite specific -- for example, it states that, "the nose is always black" -- this is pretty straightforward. Of course, some will bend this -- after all, a nose colored with a magic marker is black, isn't it??! Cheater, cheater -- and seriously -- why would you color a dog's nose?! Those markers stink and a dog's nose is SO sensitive -- that is not only against the rules, unethical, and stupid -- but it is flat out MEAN -- and I saw it done AT RINGSIDE on a berner in Idaho -- DUH. The dog did not win, in spite of a black (and stinky) nose.
But as usual -- I digress... At a beauty pageant dog show the judge is deciding which of the dogs -- in his or her opinion -- best meets the Standard and in the most ways on that day (in other words, it takes more than a black nose). And so theoretically, a champion is a dog that has been evaluated multiple times and found to be congruent with the Breed Standard by several experts (i.e., judges).
People will whine and complain that dog shows are political and it is all about professional handlers and blah blah blah -- and a championship doesn't mean anything. Well, sour grapes to you, friend -- the vast majority of judges are good, ethical people and professional handlers just do a better job than most of us so get over it -- and get better.
There are at least three reasons that I have come to think that only champions should be bred (with a very rare exception). First, although no guarantee, it helps assure that dogs with decent structure are being bred. Performance people who think this does not matter need a serious reality check -- it should matter MORE to those of us who ask our dogs to be athletes. Correct structure (and sound orthopedics -- do not even get me started on THAT subject) are the very foundation of all work -- what good is a great working attitude when a dog is unsound or cannot hold up over time because of poor structure?! And so we should want -- demand, really -- that our canine athletes come from the very best parents, and a championship is one measure of this.
This brings us to the second reason I think a championship should be a prerequisite for breeding -- breeders will say, "oh, I have enough experience to evaluate my own dogs." PUH-LEEZE -- don't fall for that. If that were true, said breeder would evaluate that gosh -- this one is stunning so let's show her!
Everyone thinks their dog is "special" and "beautiful" -- and they are -- but owners and breeders are way too biased to be good evaluators of their dogs. And so we need judges and championships to help us see reality and not just that special, beautiful dog that exists in our rose-colored glasses.
Now, this third reason is related to the second reason and bound to step on toes -- oh well. What I love about having standards is that they hold up The Ideal -- they give us a target to shoot for, a direction or goal that represents what is very, very excellent -- and championships are one way to tell if we are aiming in the right direction. Good breeders who really care about trying hard to be objective and honest know this -- and they show their dogs to get outside feedback about how well they are doing relative to the target. Of course, some people do not really care about the target and are content to shoot at whatever -- no comment...
I think the bottom line for me is that a championship is one reflection of trying to breed dogs as well as possible. It is not the only measure but really -- to me, it has become one of the minimum standards. I will only breed girls who are champions, have working titles, all health clearances, and who have a decent temperament (and healthy relatives, etc.) -- and my goal will be to produce something even better, something that meets even more of the Breed Standard, and not just a litter of "nice" puppies. There are "nice" puppies dying today at the shelter so really -- we do not need more of those...
We have a breeding planned -- and it is not for people who just want a nice puppy (see above regarding the shelter). In 6 - 8 months Cadi will be in season again (she is in now), and she will be bred at that time. This will allow us to have orthopedic data for her first litter when they turn two in November, and that information will help inform the final choice of her husband. Cadi's litter with Jed are lovely puppies with excellent temperaments and they are very, very smart -- I want the puppies from her second and last litter to go to people who value working ability AND who also value the importance of breed type/structure. Some of you are already waiting for a Cadi puppy but I mention this planned breeding in case anyone else wants to be considered for what will be a very, very special litter -- bred with the minimum amount of compromising that is possible. When one breeds infrequently, one must do it very, very well...
In other and somewhat related news -- today I showed Zoey in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho -- this was the fifth time I have shown her in the past four weeks and she won for the fifth time, earning two more points towards her championship. I will show her again tomorrow, and then we take a break from the beauty pageant as both puppies (Zoey and Syd) are starting to blow coat.
Beware of people with black markers and have a champion quality weekend.