AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - January 1999

Enhance the Watchdog Image

The working heritage of the Bernese in its native Switzerland included serving the farm as a draft dog, drover and watchdog. The breed's inherent aptitude for performance of these tasks persists to this day and is readily apparent when Bernese are given the opportunity. While the capabilities of drafting and droving may not be prerequisites for selection of a family dog, that of watchdog may be.

Owners want the best of both worlds: a dog that will guard the home, yet welcome guests with a wagging tail. This is a demanding combination. The Bernese is a friendly dog with tremendous devotion; it is not bred to be an attack dog. Certainly the dog's size is in itself a deterrent to would-be intruders. How a Bernese responds to strangers depends a great deal upon how much socialization the dog has experienced.

A man who selected a Bernese as the ideal dog for his family recently discussed with me his eight years of experience with a large male Berner that joined their home when it was 8 weeks old. At 6 months, the puppy was enrolled in an obedience class. Wisely, both husband and wife attended and periodically exchanged roles of handler and observer.

Among the many suggestions offered during the eight weeks of training were several tips regarding home protection. One was to encourage the dog to accompany the owner to the front door when someone knocks or rings the doorbell. When the door is opened, the dog's commanding appearance greets the visitor.

At this point the dog is given the command to sit at its owner's side. If the person at the door is known to the family, the dog is released by saying the person's name followed by the word "friend." If the individual is unknown to the family, the dog is commanded to sit-stay until the owner decides to release the dog with "friend." Even though the dog is not attack-trained, the use of "friend" in releasing the dog implied the existence of another command which would result in a different response from the dog should it be given. Statistics show that 85 percent of criminals who break into homes are either known to the family or have previously been to the home. Since the impression created by the dog's obedient response to "friend" could only lead those having met the dog to conclude that he was a trained guardian, it is an effective deterrent to would-be intruders.

The value of this training was underscored when the man's suburban neighborhood experienced a rash of uninvited entries of occupied houses, with the target for theft typically being an unwatched purse. While relaxing on the back porch with his family one evening, the man's dog uncharacteristically barked furiously while looking toward the woods behind the property. The following morning, the lady of the house next door discovered that her purse was missing. The home with the Berner was never disturbed.

For this household of a family with four children, it was essential to have a dog that would understand the comings and goings of the youngsters and their playmates, yet afford a sense of security. The Bernese Mountain Dog's heritage as a farm dog endowed it with a high degree of tolerance of and gentleness toward many different creatures, intelligence to perform tasks such as droving and drafting, and sensibility to alert its family to strangers or strange happenings. These characteristics are readily transferable to the qualities needed in a family dog, and can be enhanced through obedience training.

National and regional specialty in March. Do as the specialty logo beckons and "Make Tracks to the Old West" for the 1999 Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America national specialty in Tucson, Ariz., March 17-21, and the Grand Canyon State BMDC Regional Specialty March 22 at the same location. For details, visit the GCSBMDC's Web site: http://pweb.netcom.com/~tailsrus/bmdca1999specialty.html.

Miss Julie Crawford, 26391 May Twilley Rd., Delmar, MD 21875,- breed Web site: www.csn.org/~pshaffer/ bmdca.html (Note: website is no longer functional.)