The Code of Ethics is a mandatory part of the club in the sense that we are required to have a Code of Ethics under Kennel Club rules for a KC registered club. It sits alongside the Club constitution and spells out certain behaviours and practises that are incumbent on members. The Code of Ethics can only be amended following the laid down procedure of proposal, circulation followed by discussion and a majority vote in favour of the change at the club’s AGM. The committee are not able to change its content neither can the Breed Health CoOrdinator. Like everyone else in the club membership, the committee or any individual position or sub committee in the club, can only propose changes to the club’s AGM for the membership to approve before they are allowed to become a part of the Code of Ethics. Even then, any changes agreed at the club AGM do not become part of club structure and applicable to members until formally approved by the Kennel Club.
Whilst some of the Code gives behaviour expected by the club and the KC for all members, for many the most crucial parts relate to breeding practises aimed at reducing genetically influenced diseases. This is a vital area for all breed clubs and finding an acceptable balance between realistic, sensible advice and idealistic, utopian demands is an ever present conflict which rears it’s head at club AGMs from time to time with sometimes strong opinions on both sides of the discussions. In a perfect world we could all produce perfect 100% healthy puppies because they were all bred from parents with absolutely no hereditary diseases and there would be no need to consider such things but of course we are obliged to operate in the real world where perfect dogs and bitches do not exist and choices and compromises have to be made and the Code can give guidance in these decisions breeders have to make.
There are two main issues that are debated when application of the Code of Ethics, particularly to breeding practises, is discussed. These are firstly whether following the whole code should be compulsory or a recommendation and secondly the setting of criteria for breeding choices.
A recurring part of this ongoing debate for many club AGMs over many decades is how compulsory to make these practises. Should they be mandatory or just recommendation? Interpretation and discussion of this principle has been the source of many, sometimes heated, debates at many club AGMs and a few other meetings over the years. It is true that adherence to the Code of Ethics is mandatory for club members but it is a fact that only a few specific parts of the Code are mandatory and the rest are “only” recommendations. The choice of words, such as ‘must’ instead of ‘should’ for example can be crucial.
Some people feel if things are not mandatory and applied rigidly then they are meaningless but others better accept that the club has no real power so such things can only ever be beneficial guidelines that we hope members can take on board.
Another factor coming increasingly into play in recent times is the background society we have to live and operate in. For example, the Animal Welfare Act revisions of 2018 place a higher legal obligation on breeders for not only welfare practices but also on breeding to avoid genetic issues. It is entirely possible these legal changes could mean more future legal actions within the dog world and the club reflected this by updating it’s Code of Ethics accordingly at the AGM of that year to protect its position. All clubs and organisations have to constantly evolve and change to reflect the environments they operate in or risk being caught out by the potential consequences. Scientific progress in tackling genetic disease can also be a cause for changes to the Code of Ethics and as a club and as individuals we cannot ignore progress and have to engage with and respond to all developments.
In reality, compulsory or recommended, surely the club has to have some guidelines in place as to good practice otherwise we are failing in our duty to protect the breed as far as we can. Those who say a non-compulsory Code of Ethics is meaningless would clearly rather have nothing in place but they should consider what having no guide as to the factors to think about would actually say. No recommendations at all would mean a total free for all with the only guidance being given by observed individual practice? Should the club with its stated constitutional aims “to foster …..the breed in Great Britain” and …”to protect the interest of the breed” offer no guidance at all as to how breeders and owners should conduct themselves? Surely a breed club should be saying how things should be and the fact this cannot be made compulsory practice should not mean that the Code of Ethics has no value and should be abolished. Where else would well meaning owners and breeders keen to learn and ‘do the right thing‘ for the breed, find any Bernese specific guidance approved by a whole club as it can only be amended by an AGM? Perhaps randomly on Social Media which is full of personal opinions often dressed up as fact or corporate proven views?
Consider this point too, if it were possible to have things tightly ‘screwed down’ and enforced how meaningful would it really be? How much would it really “protect the breed”? How much meaningful difference would it actually make? People who wanted to transgress could just leave the club and carry on doing whatever they wished. Alternatively, they could just register the ‘code offending dogs’ in a family non member’s name or follow one of numerous other practices people are said to do to get around such KC and even legal rules. Even if ‘offenders’ didn’t hide their practises the club could waste an awful lot of time pursuing them and holding meetings to discuss them to and then, even in the ‘best’ case scenario, ultimately lose one club member who will then just leave the club and carry on doing what they do. Even if such a breeder wanted ‘breed club membership’, to maintain their Assured Breeder Scheme status for example, they could simply join one of the other UK breed clubs who have no such criteria in their Codes of Ethics.
When they have been proposed the club’s membership via the AGM process has almost always voted against compulsory rules and this is not always, as is often cynically presumed, simply because enough people want to do exactly as they please. There are some good realistic and pragmatic reasons for keeping the Code of Ethics as recommendations and indeed this runs parallel to the KC’s general approach to health, which can perhaps be summarised as improve by education and awareness not compulsion. This is because in this country neither the KC nor any breed club have any powers to force people to be members or follow such good practice in order to breed or own dogs. If you make things too strongly applicable then people can simply leave the club and not even be in a position to even get to know about such principles. It will be interesting to see if any legal case arising from the Animal Welfare Act updates of 2018 set a new case law precedent encouraging attitudes to change and increase awareness of, and adherence to, health guidelines in the field of dog breeding.
The second missing factor that some people feel makes the Code meaningless is the lack of criteria given when discussing breeding choices. For example some say that the Code should set lines of health test results that should not be crossed such as saying (for example only) that breeders should not breed with a 2 or 3 scoring elbow or anything higher than a 25 hip score. In fact there are 5 health status areas that the Code makes reference to these are hips, elbows, Systemic Histiocytosis, Degenerative Myelopathy and the CoEfficient of Inbreeding. This makes any setting of boundaries virtually impossible and this is discussed elsewhere on this web site within the health section on the Health and the Code of Ethics page which should be referred to for information around this point which is crucial enough to be specifically referred to by the Code of Ethics in clause 15.3.
A very brief summary would be that we do not have any perfect dogs all dogs have strong and weak points when considered as breeding choices. It is impossible to rigidly follow what would be, looked at in isolation, reasonable recommended criteria in each of these areas, at the same time. Put together into one mating decision this action would mean the options for breeders would be down to a low (single figure) percentage of the gene pool which would be counter productive, and indeed disastrous for the future of the breed. Responsible breeding is about making informed and educated, prioritising decisions and not breeding by numbers purely for health. Some, if not most, breeders will have their own boundaries in certain areas but even then they may occasionally need to consider crossing these self imposed restrictions to deal with a problem. It should also be remembered that health is just one area for breeders to consider and, whilst vitally, vitally important, it can never be the absolute defining, and only, reason for breeding choices.
In summary the Code of Ethics have a role to play for all members, only about half of it applies solely to breeders and much of it applies to all dog owning club members. It is there to give a steer to people considering breeding and as such has a huge role as an educational tool giving a summary of, and a reason for breeders and buyers to find out more about, hereditary issues. With a little thought it can hopefully be seen that the practicalities of impossible enforcement and meaningless penalties mean it can never have a role as a serious regulatory tool to forcefully improve the breed. The law of the land now says breeders should take genetic health into account and the Code can only ever inform the things BMD breeders observing the law should be considering from an informed evaluated breed position, its role can never be to effectively police this.
Progress for the breed can only be gradual and all the problems cannot be solved in one generation but if everyone took the time to understand the principles expressed in the Code of Ethics and adhered to them the breed would improve. It should not be viewed as a weak and meaningless policing process but as a helpful and focussed educational tool outlining the issues both BMD owners as well as breeders need to be aware of.
Composition of the Code of Ethics
Points 1-14 of the Code of Ethics are given by the Kennel Club and all K.C. registered breed clubs were compelled to introduce these, completely replacing their former Codes by November 2008. Following this many breed clubs felt they had to reintroduce breed specific clauses to reflect their purpose and the KC subsequently allowed this.
The addition of the breed specific points, 15 onwards was agreed at our club AGM in April 2009 and these fairly closely replicated content from the previous Code of Ethics which had evolved over many years and AGM debates. These breed specific clauses in the Code of Ethics are sometimes revised at AGMs responding to changes in the issues affecting the breed, new health conditions, new health tests, changes in legislation or regulation or even simply developing feeling within the breed. The latest Code of Ethics is published below.
All members of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain undertake to abide by its general Code of Ethics.
1] Will properly house, feed, water and exercise all dogs under their care and arrange for appropriate veterinary attention if and when required.
2] Will agree without reservation that any veterinary surgeon performing an operation on any of their dogs which alters the natural conformation of the animal, or who carries out a caesarean section on a bitch, may report such operations to the Kennel Club.
3] Will agree that no healthy puppy will be culled. Puppies which may not conform to the Breed Standard should be placed in suitable homes.
4] Will abide by all aspects of the Animal Welfare Act.
5] Will not create demand for, nor supply, puppies that have been docked illegally.
6] Will agree not to breed from a dog or bitch which could be in any way harmful to the dog or to the breed.
7] Will not allow any of their dogs to roam at large or to cause a nuisance to neighbours or those carrying out official duties.
8] Will ensure that their dogs wear properly tagged collars and will be kept leashed or under effective control when away from home.
9] Will clean up after their dogs in public places or anywhere their dogs are being exhibited.
10] Will only sell dogs where there is a reasonable expectation of a happy and healthy life and will help with the re-homing of a dog if the initial circumstances change.
11] Will supply written details of all dietary requirements and give guidance concerning responsible ownership when placing dogs in a new home.
12] Will ensure that all relevant Kennel Club documents are provided to the new owner when selling or transferring a dog, and will agree, in writing, to forward any relevant documents at the earliest opportunity, if not immediately available.
13] Will not sell any dog to commercial dog wholesalers, retail pet dealers or directly or indirectly allow dogs to be given as a prize or donation in a competition of any kind. Will not sell by sale or auction Kennel Club registration certificates as stand alone items (not accompanying a dog).
14] Will not knowingly misrepresent the characteristics of the breed nor falsely advertise dogs nor mislead any person regarding the health or quality of a dog.
15] Breeders will breed with due attention to general health issues and the most relevant aspects of the Bernese Mountain Dog. This is with particular emphasis to:
15.1] WELFARE AND PRACTICE
a] Endeavour to ensure all stock to be bred from is free from contagious disease.
b] Not allow puppies to go to their new homes before 8 weeks of age and microchip them prior to this.
c] Ensure that nervous or aggressive Bernese shall not be bred from. The club encourages all breeders to complete a Character Assessment on their Breeding Stock, and to seriously consider the merits of using an animal in their breeding programme who does not hold a grading of pass or above.
d] Refrain from whelping with a bitch until she is approximately 24 months of age, ensure no bitch shall be bred from in any way that is deleterious to the bitch or the breed and that the last litter shall be whelped before the bitch’s 7th birthday and the bitch’s first litter shall be before her 5th birthday
e] Ensure that stud dogs are over 12 months of age before being used at stud and not used excessively. The use of a stud dog shall be refused on any bitch considered to have poor health, temperament or quality.
f] Ensure that Bernese Mountain Dog puppies are only bred from Kennel Club, or other KC recognised Kennel Club, registered BMD parents.
15.2] DEALING WITH SPECIFIC HEREDITARY CONDITIONS
All breeding must be carefully planned in an attempt to reduce conditions known to be hereditary or have hereditary influences, in the Bernese Mountain Dog such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, Systemic Histiocytosis, DM, ectropian/entropian, ‘trembler’ and elongated soft palate.
a] All breeding stock must be x-rayed for evidence of hip dysplasia and the plates should ideally be submitted to the KC/BVA scoring scheme. Results from any other equivalent officially recognised Kennel Club overseas scheme will be acceptable for dogs born and reared overseas. Breeders shall treat mild cases as they would any other fault and exclude from their breeding programme dogs with more severe evidence of hip dysplasia or with a poor EBV rating for hips dysplasia.
b] All breeding stock must be x-rayed for evidence of elbow dysplasia and the plates should ideally be submitted to the KC/BVA scoring scheme. Results from any other equivalent officially recognised Kennel Club overseas scheme will be acceptable for dogs born and reared overseas. Breeders shall treat mild cases as they would any other fault and exclude from their breeding programme dogs with more severe evidence of elbow dysplasia or with a poor EBV rating for elbow dysplasia.
c] All breeding stock should be tested and awarded a Systemic Histiocytosis grading under the scheme developed by the University of Rennes and offered by Antagene. Breeders should follow official advice regarding breeding combinations.
d] All breeding stock should be tested, either directly or by parentage for Degenerative Myelopathy and mating choices should ensure not to create any affected dogs, i.e. each combination should include a clear dog.
e] Due consideration should be given to the KC Coefficient of Inbreeding when planning matings and ideally CoI ratings should not exceed twice the breed average.
15.3] It is accepted that in any single breeding it is virtually impossible to completely comply with all of the advice points following testing raised in 15.2. This makes the setting of meaningful standards of test results impractical. However, for each mating responsible breeders should assess and address their own priorities and needs, as well as those of the breed, and all of the above specific areas should be considered.
16] Breeders will supply comprehensive welfare information with all puppies sold. This to include information on inoculations, veterinary care they may have had or require and guidance on care, exercise and training of a Bernese. Registration documentation should include (at least) a 4 generation pedigree.
17] Breeders will guarantee the health of their stock subject to a veterinary examination within 2 working days of the sale or transfer and shall insure puppies for a minimum of 4 weeks against illness, loss or sudden death.
18] Breeders & stud dog owners will try and keep in touch with the progress of his or her breeding or progeny and the breeder be prepared to take back any dog of his or her breeding or to be instrumental in the rehoming of the dog at any time throughout the dog’s life.
19] Breeders will, when breeding dogs, adopt as a minimum standard the principles, requirements and recommendations as embodied in the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeders’ Scheme.
20] Breeders shall not sell adults or puppies to any country not covered by club constitution paragraph 24 and will not sell stock for export unless the recipient is personally known to the breeder or approved by a local veterinary surgeon or local Bernese Mountain Dog Club.
21] Will at all times exhibit good sportsmanship at all events relating to the club and to dog shows.
22] Will not denigrate any other member or kennel
23] Serious or repeated breach of these provisions may result in expulsion from club membership, and/or disciplinary action by the Kennel Club and/or reporting to the relevant authorities for legal action, as appropriate.
24] The committee of the club shall deal with reported breaches of the Code of Ethics in a reasonable and proportionate manner and in more serious cases where expulsion is considered refer the incident to the membership via an SGM as per rule 18 of the Constitution. All cases to be appropriately reported to the membership as much as possible.