Code has to engage with the relevant areas.
As advice from a BMD breed club the Code of Ethics has to refer to breed relevant areas and not shy away from raising them but it also has to be realistic and recognise it is not feasible to set rigid criteria in all of these areas but encourage breeders to engage with all the important issues. As far as the club is concerned a good responsible breeder will consider all relevant areas in a correct and appropriate manner and then make a considered choice about breeding partner’s for their breeding bitches.
Contrary to what some people seem to think the Code is NOT saying to breeders that they HAVE to prioritise ‘Histio’ testing or only accept a certain level of Inbreeding or must not go beyond a certain hip score etc. It is not saying that ‘Histio’ testing is the absolute only thing to consider, this would be ridiculous. To put things coarsely it is no use breeding a dog that will never develop DM if it has a high chance of dying from cancer before it gets to the susceptible age for DM. Equally it is not good breeding Bernese with improved outlooks for cancer if they do not look and behave like Bernese or suffer pain and infirmity due to poor hips or elbows. Many people would say that at this moment in the breed’s development ‘Histio’ is a massive problem and therefore should be given some increased emphasis in the decision process but all aspects of breeding still need to be considered against each other for every potential combination and an informed balanced decision taken.
It is about saying breeders must make considered informed choices and then take responsibility for them. The fact the club does not set specific criteria in any area should not be interpreted as saying these areas are not important nor that the club agrees that people are free to go as excessively high in scores as they can. Each area must be balanced up against others for every individual proposed mating and an informed evidence based decision made with a full understanding of the compromises and potential issues arising from these fully understood.
The Code is saying that club members breeding Bernese Mountain Dogs should be properly considering these areas with appropriate test results and making responsible decisions they would be prepared to explain and justify if challenged. It does not seek to tell breeders what to do but to clarify the breed issues they should be considering.
Those enquiring about the breed for the first time and undertaking research will often look at the Code of Ethics for information. By including the above factors in the Code of Ethics the club is highlighting these as areas that responsible breeders should be considering and therefore informed puppy enquirers should be asking about. You cannot expect perfect answers in all areas and of course no breeder will ever tell you that they do not breed for health but in asking specific questions and considering the responses you will get a good impression about how high a priority health is for any breeder. Remember sometimes there is not a right and wrong answer but the fact breeders have an answer in each area is a good thing. “I don’t need to bother with that, it’s not necessary” is not a response that should fill you with confidence if you are asking about DM or cancer testing for example.
Traditionally for many years the health questions enquirers have been encouraged to ask about have just been hips and elbows but nowadays the above issues mean that enquirers should having some discussion with the breeder about DM screening, ‘Histio’ test and inbreeding. However careful they might be no breeder can give any absolute guarantees about the health of any puppy but you should be satisfied that your breeder has made informed decisions about all these aspects. They may have to concentrate in one or two areas and compromise a little in others, every mating will have stronger more likely safe areas and probably those with a little more risk.
You will not find anyone prepared to guarantee you a puppy with clear hips and elbows, DM clear, ‘Histio’ index A and with a low co-efficient of inbreeding – as well as a good outlook for everything else you need to consider. Good responsible breeders will still be using and producing Index C dogs, sometime poorer hip and elbow scores but there is no real excuse for breeding DM At Risk dogs or high Coefficient of Inbreeding dogs as these things are completely controllable. You should talk to the breeder and decide the likely outcome of these things for your puppy. Do not expect to get everything as good as it can be in any puppy, that is unrealistic at this time but if everyone works to the guidance in the Code of Ethics then things will improve for our breed and the outlook for any individual puppy will improve.
Whether you are an existing or previous owner, or a new to the breed enquirer, when asking the right questions of breeders when looking for a puppy you have a part to play in the process by encouraging breeders to engage in these important areas. Breeders who do not engage in the ‘Histio’ test for example and mate completely ‘blind’ with unknown status dog and bitch might be producing a litter with an abundance of Index A dogs with a low chance of developing our biggest cancer but this is unlikely. In the UK the most likely outcome is that they are mating a ‘C’ to a ‘C’ and have a high chance of producing a big majority of dogs with poor outlooks in this respect. Breeders are free to do this and you are free to buy their puppies but do so from an informed position and don’t get surprised later.
Owners of Bernese Mountain Dogs still have a responsibility to the breed expressed in the Code of Ethics. The Code asks members to contribute to various health initiatives such as the Death Survey and whilst there is no absolutely pressure health test for hips, elbows, DM or Histio some owners do these things because they feel it is helpful to the breed’s bank of information.
Any owners that decide to breed any litter with their bitch become a breeder and should be considering all the things that the Code requests as discussed above. All breeders need to be responsible breeders whether they have one litter in a lifetime or litters every year. Being infrequent breeders or only claiming to be breeding ‘pets’ does not absolve you from responsibility.
All members be they owners, breeders or even future owners of the breed have a responsibility to ‘do the right thing’ for the breed. Good responsible behaviour and practises will not happen by accident, it needs to be worked at and persisted with. The first part of this is deciding what ‘doing the right thing’ actually consists of and this is where the Code of Ethics comes in. This article is only about the health aspects of it but there is much more than this within it that applies to all of us, so, please have a look at it because as a member you should be aware of it and how it might affect you.