Finding that specific litter of puppies was not easy. Although I do not breed or show, I am very involved in my breed. I volunteer my time doing breed education, I write for our breed club newsletter and I am an active member of the breed club including holding a position on the club executive. I know many people in the breed and many breeders. I know what to look for in a reputable breeder and how to spot those red flags in those breeders who may not be so great. Even with the contacts and knowledge I have, finding a puppy, and more importantly, a breeder is a daunting task. I can't imagine how someone new to the breed or buying their first purebred puppy feels. How do you find a good breeder? How do you know if someone is reputable? Should it matter?
My search for a breeder and puppy was complicated by what I do with my dogs. Since I am very active with my dogs in various activities, temperament and structure was at the top of my priority list. Agility especially is very hard on any dog, never mind a large breed, so I was looking for more moderate lines in terms of size. This size preference excluded many breeders that I admire and think are doing a wonderful job with their breeding programs as I personally would hesitate to do serious agility with a huge boned dog. In general Bernese have wonderful temperaments, but there are some lines with some shyness (good breeders are very careful about breeding away from this trait) and there are some Berners that are too laid back for my personal preference as a performance dog. This is where finding a good breeder comes into play.
After much research and emailing, I finally found a breeder I was comfortable with who also had what I was looking for in terms of health, temperament and size (moderate but still within breed standard). This is a breeder who has had Berners a long time and knows their lines inside and out. They were honest with me about their dogs' strengths and weaknesses. The most important things in their breeding program are health and temperament. They do not skimp on health testing and only breed those dogs who pass all their clearances and who are sound in body and mind. This would be the most important thing for me, even if I wasn't looking for a puppy to be a future performance partner. I also believe that Berners need to live with their family so I was only interested in a breeder who's dogs are family companions and do not live their lives in kennel runs or strictly outdoors. It is also important to me that puppies are raised as part of the household and grow up well socialized. Puppies raised in kennels, barns or outdoors is not what I consider ideal.
Other reasons I was attracted to this breeder was their long time commitment to the breed and breed clubs. I strongly believe that if you are going to breed, you should be involved in your breed in some way beyond producing puppies. Not everyone is interested in being directly involved in club politics but if you are breeding you should be giving back to your breed in some form or another. Club events, organizing breed fun days, putting on carting clinics, being involved in rescue, mentoring new breeders, and the list goes on and on. In my mind there is really no excuse to not be involved in your breed and breed club in some way. I am always very suspicious of breeders who are not at least members of their breed club. Breed clubs are a way for breeders to network and to expand their knowledge about the breed. Breed clubs also hold their breeder members accountable to minimum set of standards on health testing and the care of breeding dogs. If someone is breeding Berners and is not a breed club member (a CKC member does not count) I would really take a hard and honest look at why that is. Chances are it is because their breeding practices do not meet the requirements of the club. Some breeders will have all kinds of excuses as to why they do not belong to a breed club - too political, club members are mean, they like to do their own thing - but really, all these are just that - excuses. Reputable and responsible breeders want to be a part of the larger Berner community.
Another deciding factor in choosing the breeder I did was diet and vaccinations. The litter that I was waiting for a puppy from was 6 generations raw fed and minimally vaccinated. Bernese have such fragile immune systems and so feeding fresh, raw foods and limiting exposure to vaccinations and other harmful chemicals only seems to make sense. Since I have already been feeding raw for many years as well as choosing titres over vaccinating, it was nice to find a breeder with a similar mindset. Actually, there are more and more Bernese breeders going this route, which is good to see, but having a breeder with many years of experience feeding raw (even before it became accepted) means that I get to benefit from that experience.
One last reason that I chose the particular breeder I did was because of their experience with working their dogs. They knew exactly what temperament and drive would be best for the performance dog I wanted. Sometimes when breeders who are inexperienced with the working side of the breed know you are looking for an agility or performance dog they automatically think that the most active puppy will be the one best suited to that type of work. That is not necessarily true. A good breeder will know that there is much more to it and will choose a well structured, confident puppy who has a strong connection with people (desire to please) as well as some innate drive (toy, play). This might not be the most active puppy in the group but likely it won't be the puppy who just lazes around either. Since this breeder knows her lines so well, she could predict the general outcome of the breeding she was doing in terms of how well these pups would do as performance dogs. She thought I would like this combination, and so far I haven't been disappointed.
Although I put a lot of thought and research in finding a puppy suitable for what I wanted in my next dog, I would have done much the same if I was looking for a puppy that I had no interest in competing with. Health, temperament and finding the right breeder is important no matter if you are buying a pet puppy or are hoping to have the next star in the show ring. Everyone deserves to have a well bred puppy from a breeder who is committed to producing the best dogs she can and is doing everything possible to do this. These breeders are out there, although sometimes it can take perseverance to find one, and chances are you will not find one if you need a Bernese puppy tomorrow. But believe me, finding the right breeder, even if it means a bit of a wait, is worth it.
Just over a year ago, 6 little puppies were born. One of them destined to be mine.