AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - October 1997

Passionately Fond of Children

People who own Bernese Mountain Dogs can't help but notice that their dogs are incredibly happy around children. This aspect of our breed is neither new nor one for which American fanciers can claim credit.

In her article "The Bernese Is a Loyal Dog of the Swiss Alps" in the June 1935 GAZETTE, Mrs. L. Egg- Leach wrote: "Love of children, faithfulness to their master and his family seem to be very strongly developed in this breed; there is no treachery in their nature." This is as true today as it was then. She also noted that the Berners she observed in Switzerland "are valued very much as housedogs and companions, especially where there are children. They are passionately fond of children."

In my experience and from what I've been told by many owners, even a BMD that was not raised with children in the family is irresistibly attracted to them. Intuitively gentle in its behavior with "little people," the dog delights in the attention of children and responds with incredible sensitivity to each child's age, size, and mental and emotional abilities.

BMDs have served as ' mascots for daycare centers and private schools, visited facilities for children with special needs, and escorted families to sports practice, basking in the opportunity to greet and be greeted by children.

In view of the breed's exceptional aptitude as a family companion, many BMDs are owned by families with children. Regional clubs diligently try to schedule events that can involve the entire family. This year's national was an excellent example.

In hosting the five-day-long Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America national in May, the BMDC of the Rockies realized that , the site (the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colo.) was perfect for attendees who wished to combine the show with vacation plans, which would mean more children would be on hand than usual.

Show chair Cindy Still and fellow BMDCR members not only planned the traditional events showcasing the breed's versatility, but also focused their attention on children's activities. They included, among other things, a two-hour Junior Showmanship seminar, miniature golf, movies, games and a pizza party for juniors the night of the annual banquet. Chaperones provided by the BMDCR were supplemented by many volunteers from the families attending the specialty, so there was plenty of supervision. There was also plenty of room to run and play, along with the ameni- ties of the facility itself, so the young people had a great time.

As testimony to the success of this unique feature of the national, more than 50 juniors attended the pizza party. Kudos and Bernerly wags to Cindy and the BMDCR for making the specialty a family affair.

Although not every show site is appropriate for all these types of recreational events for youngsters, it is something for a host club to consider, especially when specialties span several days so that exhibitors who have families almost have to take their children along. With planning and some work, fun can be had by all.

While extolling the virtues of Bernese Mountain Dogs with children, it must also be noted that parents and chaperones must supervise and monitor how pets are treated regardless of the breed. The age of the child is not always a criterion.

No dog or other pet should have its tolerance tested.

Mrs. Egg-Leach also noted in her article that BMDs "love work of any sort... and I do not think they will ever lose their working qualities. They can be trained to do anything within reason."

I'm happy to report that although we can't take credit for the wonderful traits that came from Switzerland with our breed, American breeders can proudly take credit for preserving these traits. The most recent edition of the AKC's The Complete Dog Book says of the Bernese Mountain Dog, "For his emotional development and well-being he needs human companionship, and he is a willing and quick learner."

Considering the relatively small size of the breed's population over the years, the number of working titles earned by Bernese Mountain Dogs is impressive. The total cumulative working event titles for BMDs between 1937 and December 1996, as compiled by BMDCA records chair Alison Jaskiewicz, are: CD, 823; CDX, 150; UD, 29; TD, 63; TDX, 4; NA, 10; OA,4; Novice Draft Dog, 85; and Draft Dog, 21. (The last two titles are awarded by the BMDCA.) For the sake of comparison, 19,900 individual BMDs were registered with the AKC and 2,088 became champions in the same period.

The average of the 352 obedience scores earned in 1996 was 185.83, and 131 dogs earned one or more qualifying scores. Between 1992 and 1996, the average score was 185.70. Consistency is confirmed by a variation of no more than 0.83 between any two years. The average of 43 agility scores earned in 1996 was 96.86, with 14 dogs earning one or more qualifying scores. (AKC tracking and BMDCA draft tests are judged on a pass/fail basis.)

The BMDCA hopes that its recently established Versatility Award, available to Berners owned by members, will be an incentive to have more champions demonstrate their working ability. Ever eager to please, BMDs enjoy working with their owners in both formal and informal training. With the need for human companionship ingrained in the breed, a BMD is best suited to situations where it is an integral part of the home and everyday life.

The BMDCA Yearbook is a valuable and informative resource of titleholders, with photos, pedigrees, statistics and award recipients. The 1996 edition is available for $38, including shipping and handling, from Deborah Godfrey, 131 Winters Rd., Butler, PA 16001. Please make your check payable to the BMDCA.

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