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ALL Photos on this website

are SageKeep Dogs bred or owned by Esther Wilson

unless otherwise specified.

Beware of Bernese Mtn Dog Breeder websites that steal photos of Berners from other breeders and then display those photos to falsely portray their kennel.


Many graphics used courtesy of Classique Graphics by Dawn Gabig














































How Clearances relate to the Puppy Buyer

In today's internet marketplace,

more and more bad breeders

advertise that they do 'clearances'.


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.

Second, 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?

My 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 getting higher.

See my 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.

People who buy Berners (and other dog breeds) from breeders who don't do clearances HAVE A HIGH RISK of buying a problematic puppy/dog.

Breeders who 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 breeding.


This means, clearances in the parents, grandparents and great-grandparent help give YOU the best chance of buying a healthy puppy.

Most important:

View the actual 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 documents.

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.

Orthopedic Clearances

As 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 them).

(radiographs = X-rays)

In the 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.

OFA and 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 procedures). PennHIP is the ONLY registry that requires this certification and continued education of Veteranrians prior to accepting their radiographs for evaluation.

WCVM requires three (3) views of each elbow (fully extended, mildly extended and not extended) and one (1) view of the hips (fully extended).


COST: What do these clearances cost?

The initial 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.



OFA: 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.

            Hips can be: Excellent, Good, Fair or Dysplastic (to various degrees)

            Elbows can be: Clear or Dysplastic (to various degrees)


VIEW Sample Forms http://www.offa.org/samplecerts.html


            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'.



GDC: 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


PennHIP: 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.

PennHIP 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!)

It should 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.

To 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



OVC: 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

Eye Clearances

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 CERF form.

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.

COST: 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: http://www.vmdb.org/cerf.html


In Berners, Thyroid Malfunction is one of the leading illnesses. Allergies and excessive weight gain are typical signs of a malfunctioning thyroid.

The way that Thyroid is tested is having your dog's bloodwork done, usually at your Vet's office.

Thyroid 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!

Vet's don't give a 'clearance' for thyroid, per se. The dog owner is given the results of the bloodwork, showing the thyroid health.

OFA 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.

Von Willebrands Disease

A 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.

vWD may 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 pedigrees. 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 care.

There have been great strides in creating a vWD Test to identify those dogs with this disease.

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 this incredible!!

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 methods? WHAT?

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 test.

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 validity, too.

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 this test).

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.


Today, the only known genetic heart ailment in Bernese is SAS (Sub-Aortic Stenosis).

Thankfully, SAS is still really rare in our breed.

I 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 breed.

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 heart disease).

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!!).

Other Clearances

The 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.

If a 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 impressed.

Clearance Final Notes

Its 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 breed.

The fact is, many clearances can be tough to accurately interpret.

Two things I suggest a puppy buyer look for in a breeder:

1. The breeder does orthopedic, eye and thyroid clearances in the breeding stock prior to breeding.

2. The 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.

2. 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!!


See Also: Orthopedics




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