You will find that most Bernese breeders are very inquisitive about prospective purchasers. Expect to be asked lots of questions about your family, your home, your lifestyle, your job and your schedule. Any reputable breeder will want to make sure that potential owners are knowledgeable and committed, and that a Bernese Mountain Dog is a suitable choice under the circumstances. Answer honestly...its not a test. And remember, just as you have the right not to buy from a certain breeder, every breeder has their own criteria for deciding where their puppies are placed.
As a buyer, you should be focused on finding a breeder that you both like and respect. You should have the same or similar views on development and training issues. You should understand and agree with the breeder's goals, both in general and with respect to the breeding pair in question. You should be comfortable that the breeder will be a resource available to you in future years.
Remember...in all likelihood you will choose a breeder or breeders months before the puppies are actually born. Since most breeders have waiting lists, you are truly choosing a breeder and not choosing a puppy.
Thus, it becomes absolutely critical that you ask the right questions so you can make an informed decision.
Although not an exhaustive list, the following questions are an excellent start. Don't plan to rattle through every question with every breeder. Instead, use the questions that are really important to you to help narrow the list. Then, as the breeders get to know you better, you can continue your education as well.
The only wrong way to buy a puppy is not to ask any questions at all.
- The Breeder
- What is your name, address, telephone number?
- Are you a member of the National Club? Regional Club?
- Can you provide me with references for you and your dogs?
- Do you have any puppies now? Are you expecting a litter?
- What are your future breeding plans? Do you have a waiting list? How long?
- What is the likelihood that I might be able to get a puppy from you?
- What do I have to do regarding reservations? Do you have a reservation contract?
- If I place a deposit with you, under what conditions will/can my deposit be returned?
- Are you aware of other breeders I might contact?
- Breeding Program
- How long have you been a breeder?
- How often do you breed a litter of puppies?
- How many litters have you produced? How many litters have you bred this year?
- What type of successes have your dogs had in the show ring?
- Do you breed other breeds?
- Is breeding Berners a full-time job, or a hobby?
- Do you cull your litters (and if so, on what basis)?
- What are your personal goals in your breeding program?
- What can you tell me about the longevity background of the dogs in your pedigree?
- What is the oldest Bernese you have produced? What have your dogs died of and at what ages?
- Parents of Puppies
- Sire's stats (name, height, weight, etc.) and dam's stats (name, height, weight, etc.)?
- Can I see either or both parents in person or photographs? Other family members?
- Can I have a copy of pedigrees on current and future litters?
- What titles, awards, have these dogs won/been awarded?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the sire and dam?
- Why did you decide to breed these two dogs?
- Hip & Elbow Dysplasia, OCD
- What can you tell me about the orthopedic background of the dogs in your pedigree (and siblings)? Are parents and grandparents clear (for hips and elbows)?
- Is this information clearly available on your pedigree?
- Are the parents certified by (OVC, OFA, GDC, etc.)? What are the certification numbers?
- Statistically speaking, what have you been producing as far as clear orthopedics in your litters?
- Other Health Issues
- Have there been reported cases of cancer in your line? If so, what type(s) and where in the pedigree has it occurred? Histiocytosis?
- Has either of the parents been assessed for thyroid problems?
- Has there been, to your knowledge, any history of Lymphocytosis? Bloat? autoimmune Diseases? Allergies? Lupus? Immune Mediated Meningitis? Renal Failure? Seizures (including "fly snapping syndrome")? Other?
- Are the parents certified free from hereditary eye disease? PRA (progressive retinal atrophy)? Cataracts?
- Have any puppies you bred had any of these problems?
- Were there any developmental health problems with the siblings in this litter (i.e., parvo, worms, etc.)? Other litters of the same parents?
- Will there be a contract? What is included?
- Can I have a copy of your contract to review?
- What guarantees are given under the contract?
- At what level does the guarantee come into effect, and who or what decides this?
- If there is a replacement puppy, what happens to the initial dog purchased?
- How do you differentiate between pet and show quality puppies?
- How much for a show quality puppy? How much for a pet quality puppy?
- Do you require spaying/neutering for pet quality pups?
- Do you require that puppies be sold with a co-ownership? If so, what are my obligations?
- Early Development Issues/Placement
- What type of temperaments are you producing? Do you temperament test?
- What do you do in raising puppies to help produce well-rounded temperaments?
- Have your temperaments and working ability in your dogs/line been confirmed through obedience, draft, tracking or agility competition?
- At what age do you let your puppies go? What training will they come with?
- What will you be providing me in terms of information with the puppy?
- How involved as a breeder do you want to be in the raising of this puppy?
- Will he/she be crate trained when I get this puppy?
- What do you recommend (or not recommend) for feeding the pups?
- When do you recommend switching to adult food?
- If the food not readily available in a grocery store where can I get it? How much is it?
- What vitamin supplements (if any) are recommended?
- Are your dogs kennel or house dogs? Are your puppies raised in the kennel or house?
- What do you do to socialize the pups? With people? With other dogs?
- Tell me your thoughts on immunization for this pup? X-rays? Elbow and hip certification?
- Breeder/Owner Interaction/Support
- Are you available as a resource for information re: problems with puppy?
- Would you be willing to take the pup for a week while we are on vacation?
- Do you recommend any particular veterinarian or animal hospital? Why?
- Do you recommend any particular emergency veterinary care facility? Why?
- Do you recommend any particular kennel or boarding facility? Why?
- Can you receive email? Are you subscribed to the Berner Mailing List?
If you don't understand what some of the questions mean, then ask the breeder! Just say that someone suggested that you ask this question, and would they be so kind as to explain the significance of the question as well as the answer. Again...you will impress the breeder by showing that you've done your homework to know what questions to ask, and by showing that you're still continuing your learning process.
As far a selecting a puppy, you might not have a choice. Many breeders will do the selection themselves. This may involve temperament and personality testing, and this may also be a function of dividing show and pet quality puppies. The breeder will try to best match each puppy with the prospective owners. If you trust your breeder, then trust their selection.
One final thought on selecting a puppy: don't get hung up on perfect markings. Unless you're buying a show quality pup, you probably won't get a perfectly marked Berner (even if such a thing existed). The true magic of the Bernese Mountain Dog is its boundless love and affection, not its markings. An over-marked or under-marked Berner can be just as sweet, just as gentle, and just as wonderful as every other Berner. Beauty is only fur deep!