AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - February 1992

This month's guest columnist, Alison Jaskiewicz, (RFD 1, Box 597, Jackson Road, Mason, NH 03048) described the newly adopted BMDCA's draft test regulations in June 1991. She was test chairperson for the first BMDCA draft test.


Seven Bernese Mountain Dogs stepped into history when they earned the first BMDCA draft titles on September 22, 1991. Comradery was the word of the day as more than 150 Berner fanciers cheered, hoped and watched in fascination the 12 teams entered in the first BMDCA draft test.

Comradery also characterized the host club, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Nashoba Valley, as members clearly worked as a team to create an inaugural event for which the United States Berner community could be proud.

The draft test was held in Westford, Massachusetts, at the Middlesex County 4-H grounds. Not surprisingly, eight of the teams represented five of the New England states, but the other four exhibitors traveled from Quebec, Ohio, Wisconsin and Colorado. All felt the excitement and apprehension of participating in a first-time event. Yet at day's end, pass or fail, all declared the test a success and lots of fun. The exhibitors and many of the spectators plan to participate in future draft tests.

The judges were Beverly Barney from New Hampshire and Mary Alice Eschweiler from Wisconsin. Both were members of the original 1979 BMDCA Draft Committee and thus completed the circle of events that led to this first test. With more than 30 years of carting between them, Bev and Mar y Alice brought depth of knowledge as well as years of experience with Bernese into the ring. They took their responsibility seriously and established a high standard of judging and performance while setting exhibitors at ease.

The draft exercises were all designed to closely approximate realistic working conditions. Dogs that have not earned a C.D. are required to perform an informal heeling routine and recall to demonstrate basic control. A dog and cart out of control are a hazard, and basic obedience, prior to hitching, is a safe place to start. Once harnessed and hitched, the dogs must pull their empty draft rig at a normal pace and change to slow as well as back up at least one foot. A variety of turns and maneuvers are also executed. Not only must the dog demonstrate the ability to wait while the cart is being loaded and unloaded, it must also wait while an obstacle is removed from the path ahead. En route, two everyday distractions are simulated, and a "passerby" pauses to pet the dog. The team of dog and master must also pass through a narrow area only 12 inches wider than the draft rig. A three- minute stay and a half-mile freight haul are conducted as group exercises.

Judge Beverly Barney described the ring performances as follows: "All 12 dogs passed the harness and hitch, slow and back. Every team exceeded the one-foot back by a considerable amount. All 12 dogs were unaffected by the distractions. The five dogs that failed did so because of tight leads and/or [the handler's] guiding the dog, collisions with the ring or ring equipment, or failure to hold a stay. I would like to impress on future entrants that most every exercise allows you to talk to your dog and therefore a tight lead is not necessary and will result in failure. This is a working test, not an obedience test.

"The half-mile freight haul course was on dirt paths and roads. It provided a true test as it contained puddles, rocks and numerous tree roots. The rigs were bouncing around and making all kinds of noise. It's a wonder that the distractions didn't faze any dog. Added to this was the fact that a great many of the spectators and their dogs were following the course and lined along it. Talk about distractions!

"The seven teams that passed did an excellent job. It was a tribute to our breed to see such reliable and happy performances. The youngest to pass was a 2½-year-old and the oldest was 91/2."

The award ceremony crowned a perfect fall day. All 12 teams, harnessed and hitched, were invited into the ring to the applause and cheers of the spectators. Each exhibitor received a glass mug engraved, "First BMDCA Draft Test." Passing teams were called out one at a time, and rosettes were attached to the dogs' harnesses. A single circuit of the ring by all the teams brought a very special day to a close.

The BMDCA is proud that in sponsoring and promoting a test that spot-lights one of the original purposes of the breed, it has joined other national breed clubs that showcase the unique qualities of their breeds through tests.


Many thanks, Alison, for sharing with us the marvelous response to the first draft test. It is exciting to realize that Berner owners have a genuine incentive to preserve their dogs' inherent ability to do draft work. It is indeed a national club's responsibility to maintain both the breed's conformational and functional qualities.


It is time to make preparations for attending the Bernese Mountain Dog national specialty on May 14-17, at the Sheraton South, Colorado Springs, Colorado, hosted by the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of the Rockies.

This will be the first time that a specialty has been held in Colorado. What a perfect setting it will be for a breed that hails from Switzerland! The catch phrase for the national is "From the Alps to the Rockies." The conformation judge is Klause Alselm and obedience judges are Don Young and Ginger Pugh. Sweepstakes will be judged by Karen Ward.

For the first time, a futurity will be included as will a carting trial. Additionally, there will be educational programs, including a judges breed study group for already approved judges and those anticipating applying for the breed within the coming year. For information regarding this study group, contact this columnist at the address below or call (301) 883-3450 between 5-7 p.m. EST, weekdays; and up until 7 p.m. on weekends.

If you are interested in Bernese Mountain Dogs, the specialty is the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the breed and its owners. Don't miss the single largest gathering of BMDs in the U.S. Anyone who is involved in breeding Berners should make attendance a must, with or without a dog. Seeing the dogs at the national broadens your awareness of the present state of our breed. For information, contact the specialty chairperson, Roxanne Bortnick, at (303) 226- 2048.

May you have a happy Valentine's Day! Nothing says "I love you" quite like a Bernese Mountain Dog.

-Julie Crawford, Route 2, Box 110, Delmar, MD 21875 .