AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - April 2005


The most impressive showcase for any breed is its national specialty. From May 9 to 14, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America annual national specialty will be held in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, at the Eisenhower Inn and Conference Center. For six days, Berners will compete in Futurity, Puppy Sweepstakes, Veteran Sweepstakes, Junior Showmanship, conformation, obedience, tracking, drafting, and agility, and there will be a variety of educational opportunities. Visit the national specialty web site at www.bmdcaspecialty.org/2005 (note: website no longer functional) for details and a schedule.

Be sure to observe at least one of the different levels of draft tests at the national. It is indeed memorable to see Bernese Mountain Dogs working in harness in front of a cart or wagon, exemplifying their natural heritage as draft dogs in Switzerland, where they hauled carts laden with dairy products for Swiss farmers. From the very beginning of the BMDCA in 1968, there have been enthusiastic efforts to preserve the breed's innate aptitude for carting, always with careful attention to the dog's welfare. These efforts have evolved from classic parades with wagons and carts to more complex demonstrations. Dogs, handlers, and spectators love it!

In 1991,the BMDCA approved draft test regulations that provide a series of exercises to develop and demonstrate Berners' inborn working abilities as well as their training in hauling. The draft test regulations note, "Efficiency in accomplishment of tasks is essential. It is also desirable that the dog evidence willingness and enjoyment of his work in a combination of controlled teamwork with his handler and natural independence." The various tasks are skillfully designed to simulate realistic work situations. Spectators are encouraged (hardly necessary) to applaud and cheer the working teams as they perform exercises demonstrating what the breed has done for centuries.

In keeping with the best physical interests of the dogs, they must be at least 2 years old or older on the day of the draft test to participate. As a rapid-growth breed, vulnerable to orthopedic problems, this assures physical maturity. Of course, training can begin much earlier with young dogs starting with a cardboard box. To learn more about drafting and how to get started with this increasingly popular sport, visit the BMDCA web site at www.bmdca.org. Click on "BMD Info Series" from the menu, then select "Bernese Mountain Dogs and Draft Work." A copy of the BMDCA Draft Test Regulations, June 2003 edition, can be ordered for $2 from Lynne Hawkinson, Ways & Means, 670 Bayview Lane, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420. (Note: email/street address/club position listed may not be current.)

Since 1995, freestyle obedience demonstrations have been a particularly dramatic highlight of the national. Witnessing the combination of a Berner or two partnered with a master or mistress as they creatively blend obedience, dressage-like moves, and dance with music is an unforgettable experience and genuine crowd-pleaser. A well-choreographed and beautifully executed performance epitomizes the inner feeling of wanting always to have a Berner at your side, reminding one of Anne Murray's lyrics: "Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" Come discover why in Gettysburg.

- Julia Crawford, 26397 May Twilley Road, Delmar, MD 27875, cwyemede@dmv.com (Note: email address no longer functional.)