01 Jan Raising Your Bernese Puppy
The following is basically a reduced extract from our printed Puppy Pack which goes with all our Waldershelf puppies. In addition anyone taking one of our puppies will have had hours of verbal discussion over several visits to cover all details before leaving with ‘our baby’. The other sections of “Health Matters” and “Training” must be read in conjunction with this section.
In the following you will find we do not believe in laying down strict, precise guidelines about feeding, exercise, training etc. Rather than give rigid advice we prefer to let our puppy owners use their common sense which we will have enhanced during discussions with you. We can give general advice to be followed but ultimate responsibility for your puppy has to be yours. What suits one household may not suit another and you have to find routines that suit your lifestyle but mostly importantly produce a healthy happy dog in your household.
Remember your puppy, on being handed over, will be without the support and comfort of his brothers, mum, our other dogs and familiar surroundings for the first time in his life. Some take to this very well and others do not. He may cry when left alone and be upset for lots of the time at first. Whilst we would not want you to allow him to suffer do not fall into the trap of going to comfort him every single time he cries. This will be rewarding his behaviour and he will do it even more. Difficult as it may be the best response is to ignore him as much as possible and go to him as soon as he stops crying to reassure him. Of course this may be difficult if your neighbours can hear him but the more you reward any undesirable behaviour the more it will occur. Spend plenty of time and play with him but let him explore on his own and learn to feel secure and relaxed in his new environment. Encourage him to have a secure spot where he can feel relaxed. In the early days spend as much time with him as possible but also get him used to being left for very short periods so he learns you will come back. Gradually increase the length of these periods.
We would recommend carrying on with the quality food your breeder should be feeding. This may be a puppy feed for large breeds from one of the major manufacturers or some prefer a Raw diet. Your puppy’s ongoing diet should be a major discussion point with your breeder.
The first 18 months or so are important in the development of your Bernese skeletally and good nutrition is vital. Your dog will only grow up once so make sure he/she grows well and stays healthy. If using complete food move through the range of feeds for different aged large/giant breeds and then, at 18-24 months settle on a decent quality adult feed. The books will tell you that your Bernese will be skeletally mature between 12-15 months but he will continue to mature for several years after that and common wisdom is that Bernese are not “fully filled out” until 4-5 years old.
We would recommend that your practice is to put down your puppy’s food and give him/her sufficient time to eat it and then take it up if it is not eaten. Your puppy will not starve to death before the next mealtime. Lack of appetite can be an indicator of illness and you need to know this is due to malaise and not stubbornness. If you leave it down for him or her to pick at he/she will not learn to eat meals at mealtimes. If he or she starts to mess around with eating do not get stressed about it and fall into the trap of cooking him/her chicken, steak, fish etc. Similarly, unless he or she is genuinely ill do not add things such as cheese just to make him/her eat. This is training him to play up, he will quickly learn that ” If I don’t eat my dinner I get cheese instead”. You need to establish good habits in your dog and this is a common pitfall. If your dog appears well but not eating meals then cut out the treats to get him hungry and only leave the meal down for a short period. Some dogs can be quite manipulative in this area (and others!) and you have to stay in charge.
Once mature most Bernese will gregariously eat anything put in front of them so some control on your part may be required to keep them in shape.
We do not heavily subscribe to the traditional restrictions on exercise and feel that in years past actual harm was done to Bernese and other breeds by over restricting exercise. Bernese need to exercise sensibly to properly develop joints, muscles and bones whilst growing. That said, it is important not to overdo things. A fit and healthy Bernese is produced from a combination of correct nutrition, gradually built up exercise and plenty of rest. Rapidly growing puppies with their enthusiastic nature and lack of co-ordination are not always the best judges of when they need to rest so it is important you do not neglect this aspect.
We feel that as soon as your dog has the all clear to go out (usually around 10-11 weeks) you should start to take him/her short walks on the lead which you can practise in the garden before hand. The world can be a big exciting place for a puppy and at first the excitement of it all in itself can be quite tiring so initial excursions should be short and regular rather than lengthy. Puppies will get tired quickly and should not be over worked. They will want to be with you when you go out but, hard as this may be, this might not always be the best option for them.
Free running is also important to develop the cardio vascular system but this needs to be in level flat areas without jumps and steps and other things which can injure clumsy legs. We would particularly advise caution for the first year when free playing with other dogs and do not allow them to go “too mad” and chase around wildly. Slippery tiled floors can cause problems as well for the unco-ordinated puppy so he should not be encouraged to play on this type of surface until he has developed enough to cope.
It is common sense to build up exercise gradually and let joints, muscles and bones develop to be able to cope. A few minutes wild, high speed play with older dogs or children particularly involving lots of twisting, turning and being “knocked about” can do more damage than a much longer spell of steady lead work.
Stairs and Cars
One area that can cause problems is stairs, if a young dog has a problem with stairs it is nearly always caused when coming down not when climbing, usually by rushing down. You should not allow your puppy unrestrained access to stairs to start with until he/she is of a size big enough to take the stairs easily in his/her stride and old enough to manage them sensibly. You should then supervise the first climbing attempts but especially the first ‘coming downs’ should be restrained.
Similarly, getting in and out of the car can cause problems and should be carefully managed in the early days. Small puppies will obviously need lifting in AND out and should learn not to make enthusiastic massive leaps in either direction. If your dog has good co-ordination, (and some don’t, even when older), it will soon manage the jumping in but needs to be careful jumping out as a heavy drop onto immature front legs could cause injury to elbows or shoulders, particularly if allowed to be repeated. There will be times when you don’t want them leaping out of the car as soon as the door is opened for safety reasons so it is a good idea not to allow it from day one.
A Thought on Growth
Your puppy has an awful lot of growing to do in his/her first year and with sensible management this should be possible without any major problems. Your puppy has grown from about 1lb at birth to 20+ lbs at 8 weeks, around a 20 fold increase. A human baby weighing say 7 lbs at birth would have to reach 10 stone (140lbs) to achieve the same percentage growth in just these eight weeks!! It’s no wonder that sometimes things can get a little out of synch when growing and we have to be aware that sometimes he or she just needs gentle, casual exercise and plenty of rest.!
If he/she does develop a minor limp then a few days sensible restriction of free running should clear it up. Should it be more serious or persistent then veterinary advice should be sought. Even mature Bernese can quickly tire if running around as they are primarily designed to be plodders, walking behind the Swiss farmer or pulling a cart. Correctly developed Bernese will walk with you all day but they are not the breed to spend hours running alongside a horse or fast bicycle which will cause them skeletal and muscular problems.
This is just as important as exercise and the growing puppy needs plenty of it. This is particularly worth stressing if the dog is in a busy family environment with children who may want to play all the time. When the puppy is tired it NEEDS to rest and, especially if there are small children, you should identify an area where the puppy can go and not be disturbed. You will also need to enforce this directly with the children. Many people use a dog crate or cage for this purpose and with correct introduction and use this can be a really valuable option.
Your Bernese puppy should be familiar with toys and have learnt to play with them by the time you take them home. This doesn’t mean he/she will know the difference between your favourite slippers and his toys but he will be aware there are some things he can play with. He will need to mouth and chew things whilst teething and if used to toys he will look for approved things to bite on.
Toys don’t have to be expensive, an empty plastic bottle (with lids and seal rings removed) is great fun as is a cardboard box (make sure no staples) turned onto its side as it can be hidden in and chewed. They already know squeaky toys and play is a good way for you (or anyone) to bond with your dog.
From April 2016 getting your dog microchipped is a legal requirement. If ever your dog is lost and found by anyone this can identify him as yours instantly. It will also resolve any ownership issues which may arise. There were a few problems with the first generation of chips moving away from their original injection sites but these are hardly heard of nowadays and chipping is an acknowledged identification method. It is also a legal requirement that any dog out in public areas should wear a collar and ID tag giving at least minimum contact details.
Your puppy should have been wormed at regular intervals since birth and it is recommended that you continue this up to 12 weeks and then every three to six months after this. Your vet may advise you of this on your check up or you can do this independently nowadays. This should be one of the things your breeder discusses before you collect your puppy.
Some books will tell you to groom your Bernese every day and in an ideal world this would be perfect. Certainly whilst young you need to do it as often as you can, even for a few minutes at a time, to get them used to it but once mature this can be relaxed. Bernese coats can vary a little from the longer and silky end of the scale to the tighter coarser type with undercoat which is much more prone to knotting if neglected. If you are taking your first Bernese or have any concerns make sure you discuss this with your breeder. Again the key is to make it a positive experience from the beginning, short session, treat and praise etc.
One thing which regular grooming whilst young can help with is getting the dog used to staying still whilst being given physical attention. This will be essential at the vets.
Registration and Endorsements
Your puppy should be fully Kennel Club registered with official Kennel Club documentation.
We sell all our puppies with standard endorsements on the Kennel Club registration. These are “Progeny not to be Registered” which means you are not allowed to breed with this dog. The second endorsement is that your dog cannot be exported. Unless you intend to emigrate and register your dog with the Kennel Club in it’s new country this endorsement will not affect you.
When you buy a puppy you should make sure you understand these endorsements are in place and be clear with the breeder if they will ever be lifted and if so under what conditions. Do not make assumptions about this.
Your puppy will be often be supplied with 6 weeks insurance from your breeder. We strongly recommend that you insure your dog either by continuing this plan or taking up another. This not only gives some protection against large vet’s bills but can also cover for third party liability insurance. We live in an increasingly litigious world and accidents and incidents can happen to the most careful of people. For example your dog could escape from your garden just once and cause a traffic accident for which you would be liable.
There are a multitude of policies giving different covers and we recommend that you read the small print carefully as a few people have found out they haven’t had quite the cover they thought when the crunch comes. Pet Plan is usually seen as the market leader and best provider but is one of the most expensive. Some insurers impose limits of time or money on conditions, e.g. they may agree to spend only £2,000 on any one condition or will only pay to treat a condition for 12 months which can be expensive with an ongoing condition. You pays your money and takes your chance, just check what is covered and that you are aware of the potential shortcomings of any policy.
We recommend that you join a Bernese breed club and the main UK one is the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain. There are many Bernese events around the country through the year and we’d advise going to one or two if you can. You can meet other owners, compare your dog’s progress and usually buy Bernese memorabilia. Some events are shows, some are Fundays or Working days. The club has a web site on www.bernese.co.uk where you can view images from previous events and download membership forms as well as find out lots more about the breed.
If you only go to one Bernese event a year we recommend the GB club Garden Party. For years this was THE event of the year but as other clubs established themselves the attendances fell a little but a good family day is still had by all. Many people join and remain in the club purely for the mailings. You will receive 2 magazines a year as well as a colour handbook every year as well as other information about events and initiatives.
Your Bernese should enhance your life and will give you much pleasure for many years and if you do your homework and make sure this is the dog for you it will be a relationship for you and your family to treasure. If you have any type of problem then there is lots of help available and usually the sooner you address things the better. You can try lots of activities with your Bernese but whatever you decide to do with your dog it is important that you ………
Enjoy your puppy and be happy together.