relate to the Puppy Buyer
more and more bad breeders
advertise that they do
The average puppy
buyer that I talk to
is generally CLUELESS about what the heck clearances are.
Below, I'll try to
discuss clearances in a manner most novice puppy buyers can understand.
First, and most
importantly - YOU, the puppy buyer, need to buy from a breeder who factually
does clearances. ASK to VIEW the actual clearance documents BEFORE you pay the
breeder ANY DEPOSIT!! (Many breeders lie about doing clearances). I can't say
this enough as its so important.
and still important, is the fact that the clearances of the generation of the
litter's grandparents may be genetically more influential on that litter than the
litter's parents. Arguably, other very influential orthopedic genetics are the third
(3rd) generation: the great-grandparents. So having/knowing
clearances on only the parents has limited benefit. Its vitally important
to also know what all the clearances are in the second generation (grandparents and
all their siblings) and the third generation (great-grandparents and their
siblings). So having clearances only on the litter's parents JUST ISN'T ENOUGH!
for a breeding decision.
What the heck is a Clearance?
definition of a Clearance is a certified professional, unbiased health
evaluation posted on a DOCUMENT - this is data printed onto a sheet of
paper from a certified professional source.
Most Clearances are subjective (professional opinion) and some
Clearances are clinical (factual). There are various types of Clearances:
Orthopedic, Eye, Thyroid, Heart, vom Willebrands, and just about any other
malady that can be monitored. The MOST common clearances in Berners are:
hips, elbows and eyes. Most good breeders obtain a thyroid clearance
because some believe the level of thyroid issues in Berners seems to be
Breeding Views for more discussion about
what a clearance is.
Why the heck do I need to view a Clearance when all I
want is a nice pet?
I guess the
answer to this depends on your pocketbook and the amount of time you wish
to invest in your pet.
buy Berners (and other dog breeds) from breeders who don't do clearances
HAVE A HIGH RISK of buying a problematic puppy/dog.
actually do clearances will know more about the health of their breeding
stock than those breeders who ignore the need to do clearances prior to
clearances in the parents, grandparents and great-grandparent help give
YOU the best chance of buying a healthy puppy.
clearance documents BEFORE you part with any money.
Many breeders LIE and
say they do clearances when, in fact, they don't.
If a breeder cannot produce the
actual clearance documents, find another breeder who can/will produce clearance
There are many common
excuses and outright lies given for why a breeder cannot produce the
clearance documents. For instance, some of these bad breeders may
lie and say something like "Our Berners were too young when they
were OFA'd and so they never gave us any documents ". OR "PennHIP
doesn't give a clearance document." These are two of a great
many blatant lies that bad breeders tell buyers.
Worse, buyers don't often know the
importance of clearances and so easily accept excuses from a bad breeder.
Avoid any breeder who
cannot produce the clearance documents for you to physically view
PRIOR to accepting any of your money.
A good breeder will WANT
to show you these documents and give you some education about what
the data means.
I advise you to learn
how to understand these documents for yourself and not necessarily
rely on a breeder to interpret them for you.
However, it is important
to realize that every breeding is a gamble. If a breeder can go into
detail about the pedigree and tell you about their calculated risks,
then you'll have better information to decide if their gamble is
worth your money.
discussed above, orthopedic clearances are certified professional evaluations of
a dog's orthopedics. These can include: hips, elbows, shoulders and knees (patellas).
Today, in Berners, we usually clear only for hips and elbows. However, some of
us believe that shoulder problems seem to be on the rise and more breeders are
including shoulder clearances, too.
Orthopedic clearances are obtained by a dog owner's Vet taking radiographs
(x-rays) of the dog's hips and/or elbows and/or shoulders. These radiographs are
then mailed to the registry of choice (OFA, PennHIP, WCVM, OVC). The radiographs
are evaluated at the registry, and the results are mailed to both the Vet and to
the dog owner (usually the radiographs are returned to the Vet that submitted
(radiographs = X-rays)
case of PennHIP, only a PennHIP certified Vet can submit radiographs to this
registry. PennHIP requires to keep one set of radiographs for their files, and
the Vet is required to keep the second set.
OVC both require one radiographic view of each element to be evaluated (one view
of each elbow, one view of hips). The hips are 'extended' (pulled forward). Each
elbow is extended (pulled forward).
PennHIP requires three (3) radiographic views of each hip, with positions and
distraction pressure adjusted in each view. PennHIP certified Vets must go to a
series of PennHIP seminars to learn their radiograph techniques, and are also
required to continuous study (to be certain they keep up-to-date with PennHIP
PennHIP is the ONLY registry that requires this certification
and continued education of Veteranrians prior to accepting their radiographs for
requires three (3) views of each elbow (fully extended, mildly extended and not
extended) and one (1) view of the hips (fully extended).
What do these clearances cost?
expense is the Vet visit and the cost of radiographs. The more radiographs
taken, the higher the expense. Then there's postage. Then there's the registry
fee (usually about $50). So, the major part of the total cost is dependant on
how many radiographs are taken. For an OFA or OVC evaluation, which requires
only three (3) radiographs, total cost may be around $250. For PennHIP and WCVM,
the costs are higher because the number of radiographs required is higher (6
views for PennHIP and 7 views for WCVM). So a PennHIP or WCVM clearance could
cost between $400 - $900.
These subjective evaluation of clearances include hips, elbows and shoulders,
but can include only either hips OR elbows OR shoulders, at the sole discretion
of the dog owner. Also, the dog owner can choose to make their dog's clearance
results public/open in the OFA Registry so anyone can view them, or private so
no one can view them. Its a general rule of thumb that when an owner chooses to
keep their dog's orthopedic results private, that person is thought to be hiding
bad evaluations (this may or may not be true, but its the general opinion). All
public/open clearances can be found on the OFA website:
http://www.offa.org by a search on the dog's
name or AKC number.
can be: Excellent, Good, Fair or Dysplastic (to various degrees)
can be: Clear or Dysplastic (to various degrees)
VIEW Sample Forms
What the heck does an OFA Excellent or Good or Fair mean? You figure that out
and you'll be doing better than all the breeders I know who use OFA!!
We hope these mean 'not dysplastic'.
Although this entity no longer offers evaluations, when they were open for this
business, they offered subjective clearances that included hips and elbows. GDC
Clearances were historically required to be Public, as this was solely an Open
registry. However, this database of clearances have been merged with OFA and can
be found at the OFA website. There were a few problems noted as a result of this
merge but most are thought to have been repaired.
Hips: Clear or Dysplastic
to various degrees
Elbows: Clear or
Dysplastic to various degrees
At PennHIP, ONLY HIP clearances are available. These clinical clearances
include a specific number of distraction for each hip, and then an overview of
where that Berner's loosest hip is in relation the the rest of the Berner hips
in the database at the time of evaluation.
Today, the goal is for each Berner hip is to be tighter than a 0.60
distraction index, and for the Berner's loosest hip to be in the middle
(51%+) or above on the overview of all Berners in the database.
does not maintain a searchable database, as yet, and is therefore not considered
a 'recognized registry' by the BMDCA. There is no online website to look up
clearance documentation. However, the breeder should supply you, the puppy
buyer, with a copy of these certified clearances. Use the above information to
determine for yourself the health of the breeding dogs' hips.
There is change in the wind, though, because PennHIP is currently taking
steps to be able to provide an open database for those who wish to
participate in it. (I can hardly wait! Yippee!)
be noted that, ideally, both hip numbers should be fairly close relative to the
other. When one hip is significantly different in the distraction from the other
hip's distraction, this is called a 'subluxated hip'. Ideally, its a good idea
to avoid subluxated hips in breeding, unless the breeder knows the pedigree (and
the Berner) intimately and is making a calculated breeding decision.
view an actual PennHIP Brochure, click here.
Their website: pennhip.org
WCVM: This subjective evaluation of clearances includes hips and elbows.
Like PennHIP, though, WCVM does not maintain a searchable database and is
therefore not a recognized registry by the BMDCA. However, WCVM was the first
entity to provide breeders with 'orthopedic clearances' and so has been at this
sort of breeder's help for the longest of any of these clearance registries.
Also, WCVM has been clearing Canadian Service dogs for over 13 years, with a
high rate of success. One could conclude that WCVM clearances are very worthy of
obtaining, despite the BMDCA's view.
Hips: Good or Dysplastic to various degrees
Elbows: Clear/Normal or Dysplastic to various degrees
This subjective evaluation of clearances includes hips, elbows and shoulders.
American breeders have been known to obtain clearances from OVC when OFA
clearances showed dysplastic. And vice versa (American breeders went to OFA when
OVC results showed dysplasia). There are many breeders who swear by OVC with the
fervor that many breeders swear by OFA.
Hips: Good or Dysplastic to various degrees
Elbows: Clear/Normal or Dysplastic to various degrees
For More Discussion Of Orthopedic Clearances, CLICK HERE
Ideally, in Berners, eye clearances should be done annually (once per year). Not
every breeder does this, and not every breeder may need to do this. But every
breeder should have this done at least once prior to breeding their Berner, and
once or twice again later, while the litter is growing up.
How this is achieved: Like Ophthamologists for humans, there are certified
animal eye doctors. These are a type of Veterinary Specialist. In their course
of work, these animal eye doctors routinely assess the health of a dog's eyes.
Very similar to how a human's eyes get checked, a dog will have their eyes
dilated via medicine and the eye doctor inspects the dog's eyes very much like
an Ophthamologist inspects a human's eyes (gazing in with a shining light, etc).
This doctor checks for things like: eyelid malfuntion, retina health, etc. The
actual evaluation takes about 15 minutes, on average. And the cost is about $25.
After the eye exam, the Doctor gives the dog's owner his diagnosis and prognosis
(if there are ailments found). The owner is then given a sheet of paper (CERF
form) showing the Doctor's professional assessment. And then, for an additional
$10, the dog owner can then mail/submit that form to the CERF registry (to share
their dog's information in that database).
Any and all abnormalities, or lack thereof, will be noted by the Doctor on the
Entropian: this is an eye disorder that has
to do with the eyelid rolling inside. Various degrees of entropian can
happen. One problem with entropian is that the eyelid rolled in can
irritate the eye and also cause "weepy eyes" (drainage due to the
irritant). In large breed dogs (like Berners), entropian can be a very
common during certain growth stages. The skin on the head loosens (often
causing entropian or ectropian) and then when the skull gets bigger, the
skin tightens again (and no more entropian or ectropian). Again, this
sort of growth phase is very common in Berners. Some pet owners and
Vets rush to repair entropian on a growing puppy (between a few months
old to a few years old) and then, at maturity, the dog's eyes are
screwed up because of surgery done when the pup was still growing (and
it's tough to predict how growth may affect eyelids). It's usually
best to wait for surgery on entropic or ectropic Berners until they are
fully matured and their head is finished growing (probably 3 years or
older) - UNLESS it is a really serious problem. Also, this is a
surgery that should be managed by a Veterinary Opthamologist and NOT a
regular Vet!!!! You want someone with specialized training in this area
if you must have surgery on your dog's eyes.
Ectropian: this is an eye disorder that has
to do with the eyelid rolling outside. This condition can cause the
eyelids to be irritated by constant exposure. Often, a good remedy for
this problem could be eye helps like Visine. Again, this is a common
problem in large breed dogs. You want to wait until the dog has finished
all growth cycles before addressing this with surgery by a Veterinary
Opthamologist. If there a very serious problem with Ectropian, your
Veterinary Opthamologist can offer some better advice than an average
Vet may do.
For a list of Veterinary Opthamologists, go
here: http://www.asvo.org/ and click
on their Links.
PRA (progressive retinal atrophy) is a solely genetic disease in Berners that
causes them to go blind. Ethical breeders know which dogs in which pedigrees are
known carriers of this gene. Unethical breeders don't have a clue, but may lie
and say they don't have it in their lines. The truth is, very few pedigrees do
not have this factor somewhere. BUT it is believed that PRA affects LESS than 1%
of the entire breed. Surprised? Yes, I was too. The huge deal that Berner people
often make of this ailment can make you think it's a huge problem in our breed.
But it's not a huge problem. In fact, it's rare (thankfully!). But it is
important to get clearances that show PRA isn't there to help keep it as a rare
factor in our breed!
Like Orthopedic Clearances, its best to know the CERF clearances
in the grandparents' generation AND the great-grandparents' generation as well
as both of the litter's parents.
Total cost for one CERF is about $35 ($25 for the Vet Opthamologist's visit and
$10 to register with CERF).
Visit CERF's website here:
Berners, Thyroid Malfunction is one of the leading illnesses. Allergies and
excessive weight gain are typical signs of a malfunctioning thyroid.
that Thyroid is tested is having your dog's bloodwork done, usually at your
malfunction (too low or too high) is tough to accurately diagnose from only one
blood sample/test. Usually, its best to have this test done periodically. This
offers insights as the to overall health of the operation of the dog's thyroid.
What is "normal thyroid" in other breeds can actually be ABnormal in a
Berner. Most Veterinarians are not familiar with Normal levels for
Thyroid in Berners - they go by standards for all breeds and aren't
educated about this specific breed. This can be misleading because
normal in another breed may not be normal for a Berner. Suspect your dog
has thyroid issues? See your Vet AND contact some experienced Berner
breeders for help!
don't give a 'clearance' for thyroid, per se. The dog owner is given the results
of the bloodwork, showing the thyroid health.
will certify a thyroid screening and will post this on their website (www.offa.org).
Just because a dog is not listed with a Thyroid Clearance on the OFA
website does not mean that the breeder has not had the dog's thyroid
screened. For instance, I screen my breeding dog's thyroid because I
want to see how it tracks over time. But I don't submit to OFA because
ONE certification does NOT mean that the dog's thyroid is clear. Thyroid
must be tracked many times over a long period of time to determine its
true health status.
If thyroid health is a real concern to you,
ask to view the Vet's bills for thyroid testing. Every good breeder
keeps their Vet receipts.
Like Orthopedic and CERF Clearances, its best to know the Thyroid
clearances in the grandparents' generation AND the great-grandparents'
generation as well as both of the litter's parents.
bleeding disorder. This is a totally genetic disease that makes the blood unable
to clot normally. One common and unfortunate way that many people learn that
their dog has this disease is when the dog is being spayed/neutered, and the Vet
cannot control the bleeding. So the dog dies on the table.
not be noticeable in a young pup, but this genetic disorder will usually present
itself within the first few months of a dog's life.
Fortunately, ethical breeders generally know which pedigrees have or don't have
a vWD dog (or likely carriers of the gene).
Also fortunately, today vWD is still very RARE in the better Berner
vWD is though to affect LESS than 1% (one percent) of our breed. I believe
this malady is more common in other breeds.
Again, less than 1% of all Berners have this malady. However, we have no
facts to support what the true status is of this disease in our breed.
Unfortunately, the unethical breeders have NO CLUE about this disease in
pedigrees they breed from. And worse, many of these people absolutely do not
have been great strides in creating a vWD Test to identify those dogs with this
VetGen is a commercial laboratory that offers a testing service for vom
Willebrands in several breeds, including Bernese.
NONE - N O N E of VetGen's scientific support of their genetic
discovery(s) OR method of testing are available to be verified. I find
In the science community, the Holy Grail is to be Published, especially
to be published into peer reviewed and peer approved publications.
Scientists work their whole lives to "get published". The more published
a scientist is, the better his/her credibility inside that community.
SO, in a science community where publication of one's discovery for peer
review and peer approval is a major goal - VetGen doesn't publish
ANYTHING about it's "genetic discoveries"? Nor about it's testing
ALL - A L L geneticists that I personally know have no
regard for VetGen. This means they do not have any respect for VetGen in
the field of science.
Therefore, I feel that its noble that a breeder does vWD testing, but
since this is an inconclusive test, at best, it really means nothing to
me. At this time, there is simply no assuredness to the results of this
We are not the only breed to question the validity of VetGen's science
and testing. I know that many Doberman breeders seriously question their
This is the reason you do not see a vWD clearance on my breeding dogs.
It's also why I don't see the merit of any Berner breeder gaining this
sort of "clearance"
(it's admirable if they do this
clearance - but it does show they lack understanding of the science of
Perhaps the best
way to avoid vWD is to know the pedigrees you breed from.
Of course, like anything genetic,
it can show up from out of nowhere. BUT, with vWD affecting LESS than 1%
of our breed, this is an incredibly rare disease, thankfully. Sadly,
there is no viable way to breed away from it yet.
Puppy buyers should closely question the breeder to determine if vWD is
a factor in their puppy, or not. Beware of lying, unethical breeders, who don't
really know what the genetic factor for vWD is in their dogs.
CARDIAC - Heart
Today, the only known genetic heart ailment in Bernese is SAS
Thankfully, SAS is still really rare in our breed.
have done clerical and administrative work in a Veterinary Cardiac
environment. I probably know a little more about this topic than the
average breeder BUT I'm far from being an expert. For instance, I bet
the average GOOD Berner breeder has no clue what a Holter is. Boxer and
Dobe breeders know and use holters frequently. This huge difference
clearly displays the difference between Berner breed, which has no major
heart issues and other breeds that do have major heart issues.
The fact is that heart issues are RARE in Berners - thankfully.
Another fact is that Cardiac clearances are fairly worthless in our
Yes, I said fairly worthless in our breed.
"Clearing for heart issues" has very questionable benefit in our breed.
Alternately, Cardiac clearances are incredibly, very very valuable in
other breeds - like Boxers and Dobermans.
Why are Cardiac clearances fairly worthless in our breed? There aren't
any heart ailments and the one that there could be, SAS, is almost
impossible to diagnose in adult Berners.
True Story: I personally know one of the Top Veterinary Cardiologists in
that profession and had the exciting opportunity to have this
professional examine my dogs' hearts. I made the appointment. I was
excited. When I told this professional about the upcoming appointments,
this professional asked me "Why do you need this? Your breed doesn't
have heart issues!" I responded that a dog related to one of mine had
recently had an "Equivocal" result on a cardiac exam. This professional
responded that that is a very common result because, very often, heart
health can be really tough to accurately diagnose.
Also, this person went on to explain to me that there are some
Cardiologists who employ old, set standards of evaluation and other
Cardiologists that employ newer, revised standards based on newer (peer
reviewed and approved) studies. This means that there is a great
variance of opinions within this community about certain standards used
to evaluate dog hearts. Because of this variance of opinions, very mild
variances are disputable - hence the common "equivocal" result
(especially on dogs that are asymptomatic - never displayed symptoms of
This professional encouraged me to spend my money instead on ailments
that are known in our breed - like more orthopedic evaluations.
Having said all that, as a puppy buyer, if a Breeder does "Cardiac
Clearance", this is usually a good sign that that breeder really wants
to breed good dogs (the breeder is uneducated about the topic matter,
but their intentions are admirable!!).
more clearances, the merrier (and the more anal retentive that breeder is!).
Some ethical breeders will pursue other clearances based on issues they
know are in pedigrees that they work with.
breeder offers you clearances in addition to what I've listed above, all the
better to show a very caring breeder.
But if a
breeder offers you clearances INSTEAD of those I've listed above, don't be
Clearance Final Notes
important to understand the value of certain clearances. Without clearances,
we'd be severely handicapped at knowing which dogs to breed and which to not
The fact is, many clearances can be tough to
things I suggest a puppy buyer look for in a breeder:
breeder does orthopedic, eye and thyroid clearances in the breeding stock prior
breeder knows the orthopedic, eye (and hopefully thyroid) clearances in at least
3 generations behind the breeding pair (preferably at least 5 generations).
Because of the laws of genetics, its most likely that a puppy will genetically
reflect traits in the pedigree behind the parents. So if a breeder doesn't know
what health issues are in the pedigree, then that breeder could NOT possibly be
able to predict the health of the puppies.
A. ASK who else is breeding that pedigree. Find out what other breeders
are involved in the pedigree that breeder works with. Good breeders
usually flock together and everyone pretty much knows everyone else. If
the breeder you're chatting with is using known pedigrees, other
breeders will know their dogs to some extent. ASK for references - this
will tell you if the breeder is sincere or not. For instance, if you ask
for references and the breeder says they import their dogs and so they
have no references to give you - chances are you're buying from a
breeder I would never buy from. Bernerdom is really a very small world
and most breeders either know something about each other or at least
about another's pedigrees or dogs in a pedigree. This will tell you if
that breeder is breeding from 'known pedigree' or puppy mill bred dogs.
Feel overwhelmed? You're in
good company. Even good breeders can be fooled by bad breeders. Use
common sense and your gut instinct.
Most importantly, use some
Berner education AND lots of patience!!