This is a long detailed article but well worth reading to the end if you are serious about purchasing a good quality Saint Bernard puppy.
Choosing the correct breeder is by far the most important decision you will make on the tricky road to buying a pure bred dog.
Let me say this again:
CHOOSING THE CORRECT BREEDER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION YOU WILL MAKE ON THE TRICKY ROAD TO BUYING A PURE BRED DOG!
So, how does one go about this difficult task? Do you choose the breeder with the flashiest advertising or web-site? Perhaps the one with the biggest dogs? If the price is a factor, is the lowest price or highest price best? What about the breeder that breeds the most puppies? Or perhaps the least puppies? If the breeder insists on inspecting your property or home is this a good sign or simply an invasion of your privacy? What about contracts; would you feel more assured if you have to sign a lengthy legal document or if you receive no paperwork at all?
I can think of many other criteria that are currently used, but let’s look at all this from the following view-point:
How do any of the above conditions positively affect the dog that you are purchasing?
I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THEY DO!
You can read many articles extolling the virtues of a good breeder or how to select a puppy. Simply look in the monthly or annual dog magazines. They tell the buyer what questions to ask and what answers are acceptable. Surely the breeders are reading the same articles? Just as surely they have learnt the required answers. This means that they are EXPECTING you to ask the standard questions. The unscrupulous breeder, the fly by night operator, the puppy brokers and the myriad of other sellers cannot all be stupid.
Unfortunately there are still many, many uninformed puppy buyers who are in such a hurry to take home a Saint Bernard puppy that they simply do not “look before they leap”.
Let me list some of the most common statements from current or previous owners of problem Saint Bernards:
– The puppy cost X amount without registration papers, and 500 (or more) with papers, so we decided not to take papers! We want to breed with our dog now because she is “pedigreed.”
(Registration in most countries is not very much at all. )
– We could not approach the mother or father of the puppies because they were “protecting” them and would not let us near. Our puppy is very aggressive.
– The breeder would not allow us near the puppies because they needed to grow up in a sterile environment. We could only observe them from outside the run.
– The parents were both “purebred” but the breeder decided that it was a waste of time to register the litter.
– The seller was not the breeder so we were not able to view the parents.
– We received our puppy at 5 weeks of age because they were weaned from the mother (or the mother rejected them or some equally lame reason)
– The puppies were not vaccinated or de-wormed because it is an excellent experience for the new owner to do it.
– And the best one: The breeder never shows their dogs at licensed shows, but calls their dogs “champions” because they are all champions to them!
I could list many more of these statements, but the point has been made. These are excuses made by “puppy producers”
To be a “breeder” of Saint Bernards and not a “puppy producer” requires more than simply putting a bitch with a male and then selling the resulting puppies to whoever pays the negotiable price!
Let me give you my definition of a Saint Bernard “breeder”
A breeder demonstrates a passion for Saint Bernards by his/her knowledge of the requirements of the official standard, knowledge of the background and history of the breed, participation in licensed breed shows, continued education through seminars and workshops and membership of national and/or local specialist clubs and organizations. A breeder continues to strive for improvement in the puppies he/she breeds and maintains effective contact with puppy owners for the purpose of evaluating their stock. A breeder at all times has the welfare and best interests of their dogs as the number 1 priority with regard to all dog issues!
EVERYONE ELSE IS A PUPPY PRODUCER!
Let me now break down my definition into manageable parts and look at how each aspect can have an influence on the quality of the puppies that are bred:
THE REQUIRED BREED STANDARD
Every country has an official standard for each breed. For Saint Bernards in There are 3 standards: the FCI standard. (Federation Cynologique Internationale) www.fci.be, The AKC standard and the Kennel club Standard.
It’s important to accept that the three standards are not all that different, although there are some differences. You can view each standard and my comments elsewhere on my site.
Also available is my Illustrated FCI standard with detailed comments.
How can a person call themselves a breeder if they are not familiar with the required standard for their breed? Knowing what a Saint Bernard looks like is very different from knowing the specific requirements for each individual part. For example, how long should the tail be? This is such a basic requirement that every breeder should know. If the tails on their puppies are incorrect, how would they know if they do not know the standard.
Now, I have used the tail length as an example since it is a relatively small factor which most people achieve correctly in their puppies by default. However, there are many more criteria that are simply critical in breeding a Saint Bernard that conforms to the official standard. The fact that this is such a large breed makes conformation even more difficult to achieve. Think about areas such as important ratios of length, height, leg length, muzzle width and depth, top line, croup, hocks etc.etc.etc. Without an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the required standard, how can you attempt to breed dogs that meet that standard?
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY OF THE BREED
This may not seem important, and I have met many “breeders” who simply have no idea of the background of the Saint Bernard breed. Because of this they are not aware that the Saint is a MOUNTAIN dog. This factor is very important when you assess the movement on a Saint Bernard, which in turn leads to other important factors to consider when breeding, such as strength of hips, length of hocks, shoulder angulation, front pasterns, feet etc. The fact that it was a RESCUE dog means that a certain temperament was required. The original use of the Saint was closely linked to its development and knowing this is important in assessing the requirements as set out in the standard.
PARTICIPATION IN LICENSED SHOWS AND CONTINUED EDUCATION
Whether you live in Johannesburg, Cape Town, New York, London, Zurich or Milan, or anywhere in between, if you want to be a breeder, you should be prepared to travel to the licensed shows to exhibit your Saint Bernard. How else will you know if your puppies conform to the breed standard? Kennel blindness is an international fault among all dog breeders! Without the opinions of qualified judges as well as other breeders, how can you be certain of the continued quality of your stock? The simple answer is that you cannot! Also, exhibiting at only 1 or 2 shows each year with little or no competition is of no value in this regard. It is absolutely necessary to exhibit your dogs at the specialist breed shows to obtain a valid opinion of the quality of your Saints, compared with a large number of other Saints. Generally judges at specialized shows have more experience and usually have a successful breeding background and their opinion is of far more value to the breeder than judges at All Breed shows, who may not be specialist Saint judges.
It is also absolutely necessary to attend specialized breed seminars, as well as general seminars on other aspects such as nutrition, training, breeding disorders and defects, AI, socialization and many other aspects. These seminars are usually available throughout the year at various venues around the country. Of course you do not have to limit your shows or education to your own country.
MEMBERSHIP OF LOCAL AND NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
In South Africa all official dog related activities are affiliated to KUSA (Kennel Union of Southern Africa). KUSA is the official representative of the FCI and as such is the ONLY recognized controlling body for Saint Bernards, and in fact most other breeds in South Africa.
The situation is very similar in most other countries.
How can you not be a member of the official controlling body if you wish to become a breeder?
In addition, in my opinion it is absolutely essential that you are a member of a specialist Saint Bernard club if you claim to be a breeder, and you should exhibit your dogs at the annual specialized shows held by the club. NO EXCUSES.
This is the area of most contact with other Saint Bernard fanciers and breeders, where you can compare the quality of your dogs to those of other breeders. In addition, these clubs usually have specialized judges, with successful breeding backgrounds, officiating at their shows.
STRIVE FOR IMPROVEMENT AND MAINTAIN CONTACT
What better way to maintain contact with the owners of your puppies than to encourage them to show their dogs at breed shows? In this way the breeder achieves a number of important objectives, which in the long run, will assist him/her to breed better dogs! By encouraging puppy owners to show the dogs you will receive the opinions of judges, bystanders, international and local visitors and the other exhibitors and breeders. As mentioned previously, to a genuine breeder this is a vital requirement in the ongoing quest to strive for improvement in your breed program.
Breeders should never be discouraged by negative criticism of their dogs, since an honest, informed opinion could be a valuable contribution to improvement in the future generations that they produce.
Similarly, a breeder should take any wins and compliments in exactly the same light. Use them as a tool to evaluate your efforts and strive for further improvements. There is no perfect dog!
WELFARE AND INTEREST OF THE DOGS
A breeder always has the welfare and interest of their dogs as the number 1 priority in all dog issues!
This statement means exactly what it says. In any issue involving the dogs the breeder places the welfare of the dogs first.
This does not mean that family, children, work etc all come second. The dogs should be treated as a separate issue, with their welfare and interests placed first in the order of dog issues.
I have come across a number of Saint Owners with poorly bred or problem dogs that tell me the only reason for buying the puppy in the first place was to remove it from the dire environment that they found it in. Although this action is commendable it has the effect of encouraging the “breeder” to breed again, knowing that they can sell their puppies under any circumstances.
PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE BREEDER
It is important that you know what a breeder has achieved with their Saint Bernards. If they have been showing for a reasonable length of time then they should have some record of wins in shows. If they are new, you should be aware of that.
Champion qualification is not the only form of quality control, but champions are officially recorded in the database, and it does provide an indication of several factors, such as success in shows, adherence to conformation requirements, dedication to the breed and so on. No qualified champions will tell a different story.
Has the breeder attended breed seminars or lectures relevant to breeding. Do they have any puppies previously bred by themselves. Will they be keeping a puppy from the same litter you may be looking at?
All this information should be proudly presented by any breeder.
If a breeder has been breeding for many years, but cannot show any material progress or success, I would question why they are breeding.
TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN A BREEDER AND PUPPY PRODUCER
In my opinion the differences between a breeder and puppy producer are fairly significant. A list of these should at least include the following:
– A breeder should be a member of the official dog organization of their country and also a member of the Saint Bernard club.
– A breeder should know and understand the requirements of the breed standard in detail.
– A breeder should exhibit his/her dogs at the club specialist shows and other licensed breed shows, and be able to demonstrate their results openly.
– A breeder should attend seminars and other educational presentations to continuously improve their knowledge.
– A breeder should encourage potential buyers to visit their kennels to view adult Saint Bernards as well as puppies. Handling the sire and dam AND the puppies as much as possible is also essential.
– A breeder will examine pedigrees and use the best available sire for their bitch, and not simply the male owned by themselves.
– A breeder should keep their puppies until at least 8 weeks of age before allowing them to go to their new home.
– A breeder should put down any puppies with deformities or abnormalities that would reduce the quality of life or cause suffering.
– A breeder should research nutritional requirements of their breed and feed accordingly. Knowing the nutritional requirements of the breed is far more important than simply feeding the most expensive food with the best media advertising, thereby abdicating your responsibility to profit driven commercial organizations.
– A breeder should ALWAYS be prepared to re-home a dog bred by him/her if the owners cannot keep it, for any reason.
– A breeder should research housing requirements for their breed and provide suitable housing accordingly.
– A breeder should maintain a spotless and healthy environment in which to raise their dogs.
– A breeder should provide the buyer with an original veterinary vaccination card showing vaccinations and deworming that have been completed by a Veterinarian. Also provided will be written instructions on the care and feeding of your puppy together with a truthful pedigree of at least 3 generations.
– A breeder will provide you with a health guarantee of at least 48 hours, subject to a veterinary examination before taking the puppy to their premises.
QUESTIONS THAT ARE NOT REALLY IMPORTANT
The saying “Caveat Emptor” or “Let the buyer beware” must be applied to the process of buying a dog. A certain amount of responsibility must be accepted by the buyer for the end result! If you, as the buyer, have done your research, then you will already have the answers to many of your questions. If you have not done any research you have only yourself to blame when things go wrong. Once you have decided on a breeder and eventually on a puppy, the responsibility for that puppy is transferred to you. You cannot expect the breeder to replace the puppy if it is not a show winner, or if it is not as tall as you expected? Or for ANY other reason. Remember, there is no perfect dog. If your research led you to believe that you had chosen the correct breeder and was based on honesty and openness on the part of the breeder, then you must take what you get and be happy with it!
Unfortunately there are some questions that are really not important, that most people insist on asking. A few of these are listed below with an explanation of why, in my opinion, the answers are irrelevant.
– Are your puppies x-rayed for hip dysplasia?
Saint Bernards can only be properly evaluated for HD after 20 months of age, so the puppies obviously will not be x-rayed.
Incidentally, x-raying of adult Saints is not as important as many puppy buyers believe, for a number of reasons. If you are showing your dogs , by the time they get to 20 months you will know if they have a hip problem or not, because you will be able to see it clearly. Of course, HD evaluation is still important in the long term breeding process, but even HD free hips are no guarantee of obtaining HD free puppies. This is a highly complicated area and requires far more discussion and education than we are prepared to provide here!
– How many puppies do you have?
How is this important? A good breeder will never sell 2 puppies from the same litter to 1 owner and especially not a male and female!
– What color are the puppies?
This is totally irrelevant. Saint Bernards are usually born black & white with pink noses. The black fades over the first few weeks and results in a combination of reddish brown and white, with black noses, final coat colour is usually achieved by 18 months of age. Any other colours or only 1 colour are considered a fault.
– What puppies do you have in stock?
Excuse me while I go and look on the shelf in my stock room to see if there are any left that I did not know about!
As the potential buyer of a Saint Bernard puppy you now have a method of selecting a “breeder” that could assist you in preventing future problems with your puppy. You can make a checklist for use when speaking to the breeder. Try not to ask the normal questions listed in the media unless the answers will mean something to you.
Refuse to buy from any “breeders” that cannot answer your questions or provide answers that do not seem logical. Excuses for being different from the standard should never be accepted.
Remember that any litter bred by irresponsible owners could lead to a deterioration in the quality of Saint Bernards , especially if those resulting puppies are bred from in future, thus perpetuating the cycle.