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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



















































"Its my thought that,

in the beginning,

man seduced the dog into friendship

by his offer of free human-grade food.


And man has been trying to come up with a cheaper payment plan ever since."


~Esther Wilson, author




Below, we'll discuss


Kibble dog food (dry)

Canned (wet)


Real Food (Home Cooked)

Table Scraps


Read and learn more about helping your dog health through good diet choices...

Certainly, one of the biggest factors in your large breed dog's health and development will be what you feed it on a daily basis. One of the best things you can do for your large breed puppy/dog is to feed it correctly. 

  •  No matter if your dog is a pure-bred or a mixed-breed dog that's large: this webpage was designed specifically for your reference, and also for anyone else it may help.

Growth rate in large breed puppies is very rapid because they've got a long way to go compared to smaller breeds. It is vitally important that a large breed puppy's growth be monitored to insure a slow, steady growth that allows for properly dense bone and solid joint development. One of the easiest ways to insure ortho issues develop in your large breed puppy is to feed it a diet that does not keep its growth slow and steady.

Remember as you're reading below that I'm sharing simply out of my experience and experiences I know of in regards to dog food choices. I accept that not everyone agrees with my thoughts displayed here. I hope my webpage here is just one of many stops along the way to your dog food education. 

I firmly believe food choices for my dog(s) should be structured for the individual dog. 

Although every dog may be classified in a corresponding group (i.e., a Bernese Mountain Dog is considered a large breed dog), every individual dog is still unique in its dietary needs and abilities.

My favorite quote is: Quality Food does NOT equal Quality Nutrition. Don't understand? Then read on.

I am 100% convinced (and have witnessed) that a well-bred large breed puppy with perfect structure can be completely ruined skeletally/orthopedically by wrong diet. And this wrong diet can be totally from wonderful, quality food resources. Why do I believe this? I've seen it more times than I want to think about. Very often, a large breed puppy grown on a continually imbalanced diet (with special imbalances in important skeletal growth items like calcium and phosphorous) can grow to look like a freakish genetic mess. If this shocks you, then you really need to keep reading.

Diet is one of the hottest topics in the world of dog breeding, and Berner breeders are typical of this. Here are the current choices as I see them:

-Kibble: the dry dog food you purchase that comes in a bag or box. 

-Canned: the wet dog food you purchase that comes in a can.

-BARF: Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, aka Bones and Raw/Real Food. 

-Real Food: 'Human' food, raw and/or cooked. (Included here is also 'Table Scraps')

-Or any variation of the above.

Below, I'll try to objectively portray each feeding method. Keep in mind that many people tend to combine methods.

IMPORTANT: I feed my dogs twice per day and I may offer a light snack midday. This helps keep their system properly balanced. I've witnessed that the stress put on dogs who are fed once per day can be intolerable for them. And heck, I know what eating something once per day does to ME! So I won't do that to my dogs. I feed two good meals per day, minimum (even to those dogs who, like me, need to lose a few pounds).

Also, I do not free-feed my dogs (aka, leave food in the bowl so they can eat any time they want to), because in large breed dogs this promotes the deadly Bloat.





Perhaps MORE IMPORTANT than diet is the freshness and quality of your dog's drinking water. Many people never give dogs' drinking water a second thought. But many diet issues can be helped or even cleared by providing fresh, high quality drinking water.


Also, a good diet can easily be compromised (harmed) by providing lesser quality water.


Like humans, the dog's body is primarily made up of water. (And Berners drink an incredible amount of water, higher than most other breeds).


Carefully consider the daily quality and freshness of your dog's water.



All Kibbles Are Not Created Equal

Okay, so my first foray into dog feeding (way back when) was to switch from feeding family table scraps to the highly desirable Purina Dog Chow (and I write this with a slight grimace at my ignorance).

I felt good about this new commercial dog food because the marketing told me it was prepared especially for my dog. I was certain that was far superior nutrition to mere table scraps. And as special treats for my beloved dog(s), I fed them the highly expensive dog treats called Gainesburgers. Those who have been in dogs since the 70's will remember this horrid product.  I was certain 'expensive' meant 'best'.

So I sacrificed in order to afford good dog food for my beloved pets. It took me quite awhile before I realized the Gainesburgers (and the Purina Dog Chow) was giving my dogs itchy-red ears and paws, occasional diarrhea, hairloss, etc. (aka, Food Allergies).

Commercial dog food and I have come a LONG way since then. 

Its a fact that commercially manufactured dog food has only been around since about the 1950's or so. Many of us today don't realize that dogs lived on OTHER foods (aka, non-commercially prepared dog food) prior to the invention of commercial dog foods.

The dry version of commercially manufactured dog food is generally called 'Kibble'.

Today, one of the easiest ways to feed a dog is to use kibble. Its simple. A dog owner can go to the store, buy a bag of dog food (kibble), dump some in the dog's food bowl, maybe add some water and viola! the dog is fed. But how well fed is this dog?

A good starting kibble question is: "What kibble should I choose for my large breed dog/puppy?"

Here are my basic Kibble Rules.

Kibble Rule #1: There is no such thing as the perfect kibble for my dog. (see also Rule #1 in Breeding Views)

Kibble Rule #2: Quality ingredients do not always equal quality nutrition for my dog. 

Kibble Rule #3: The choice of kibble WILL impact my dog's health (good or bad), whether or not I'm aware of it. 

Kibble Rule #4: My Vet bills and my dog's general health and longevity will directly reflect my education about dog diets. 

Kibble Rule #5: Just because one kibble works fine now doesn't mean it will always be the appropriate kibble for my dog.

Kibble Rule #6: If all kibble choices are obviously NOT agreeing well with my dog, try another feeding method (like BARF or Real Food). (This is especially true for dogs with allergies and extremely sensitive digestive systems).

Dog food manufacturers have poured zillions of dollars into studying canine nutrition and marketing it. And it shows, because there is a vast multitude of kibbles available on the market today. There are the old standbys, like Purina, and there's yesterday's cutting edge kibbles like Nutros and Science Diet and there's newer kibbles like California Natural, Innova and Canidae. And now there's the newest, cutting edge kibbles like Wysong, Nature's Variety and Natural Balance.

How the heck does one decide which kibble to feed their dog?

Until recent years, kibble was almost always designed to provide the nutritional needs of small to medium dogs. Only recently have kibbles been available that are designed for large dog breeds and specialty dogs (active, elderly, overweight, etc). So, for years, most people who fed kibble to their large breed dog never realized it was NOT designed to nurture a large breed dog or puppy. Accordingly, all kinds of resulting problems were commonly seen with large puppies and dogs: too rapid bone growth, early growth platelet closures, etc. One reason this kibble effected the large breeds is because the nutrition was too rich and thereby did not allow for the slower growth patterns needed to grow large breed puppies correctly. 

Today, thankfully, you can find many kibbles which are designed to meet the nutritional needs of large breeds and other special needs dogs.  

In case you don't read this elsewhere, let me be certain to point it out: The Focus of feeding a large breed dog is good nutrition that creates slow, steady growth.

And one of the primary problems with kibble remains: the ingredients. 

To give kibble manufacturers their due, it must be really tough to produce a quality kibble for a reasonable dollar fee. Many manufacturers pour in lesser quality or compromised quality ingredients to cut costs. Many manufacturers also include non-nutritional 'fillers' in their kibble to add volume since kibble is usually priced based on weight (volume). Quite often, manufacturers will add in artificial ingredients for a specific benefit: color, taste, preservative, etc. Many people believe these factors in kibbles promote illnesses in dogs, like cancer and allergies.

Today, other kibbles have evolved to capture the market of the more discriminating kibble buyer.

Case in point, consider the kibble called "Innova". To the uneducated observer, Innova looks like a totally great kibble! And it certainly IS a quality kibble - no question about that. It contains all natural, quality ingredients with nothing artificial and the processing methods are state of the art for quality benefit. And even better yet, these items are said to have have been professionally balanced by a nutritionist. Doesn't that make it the perfect kibble for MY large dog/puppy? 

I concede that for some small or medium breed dogs, Innova may be a great kibble choice. However, I believe Innova is just too rich to feed to any large dog as it promotes a too fast growth process and other associated ailments. I've heard of certain large breed owners having good success with this kibble, but more often than not, I've witnessed the opposite. Of course, I understand why many uneducated dog owners buy it: the marketing of the quality ingredients makes it a show stopper for many kibble buyers who never look beyond the quality ingredients to the factual application in their large dog's diet needs. This  is why I say: Quality kibble does not automatically equal correct nutrition for a specific dog.

On another note about Innova, I'd like to mention that I've used it with good success when I needed to help a large dog rapidly gain quality weight.

You should be aware that most every kibble on the market today uses an array of carbohydrates to provide nutrition instead of organ meat resources. Carbohydrates are much more economical to use to bring nutrition to the kibble. And carbohydrates are necessary for the binding and formation of the actual kibble. Some of these carbohydrates are more easily digestible than others. And some carbohydrates used are downright difficult to digest. This is one reason why some kibbles will agree with certain dogs while other kibbles will not.

You should also be aware that the ingredient term 'meat by-product' usually means exactly that: a part of the animal which is not considered human-food grade quality (beaks, feet, eyes, etc). But I digress.

So the question remains, what kibble should I choose for my large breed dog?

Test the kibble quality: One of my 'kibble' quality tests is to soak the kibble in hot water for between 5 and 10 minutes. Lesser quality kibble usually expands greatly after soaking while denser, more quality kibble doesn't expand too much. Want to test this for yourself? Get a free sample of Purina kibble (any one they make) and a free sample of Canidae. Pour each kibble into separate bowls. Add hot water and allow each bowl of kibble to soak as stated above. Then watch the results for yourself. Purina will absorb to perhaps twice its size (or more, if soaked longer) but Canidae will not expand nearly as much by comparison. Then think about the fact that these expansions happen inside the dog's digestive system after eating. And then think about the common ailment called 'Bloat' in large breed (deep chested dogs). (Click here for more info on 'Bloat') (editor's note: Bloat is thought by many to be linked with food which swells in the dog's belly after its eaten).

The primary tools in choosing a kibble are:


get educated


use common sense


don't get so picky that you miss the goal


a large variety of good-looking ingredients doesn't equal better nutrition (but it may mean more allergic response)


unintelligible ingredients often means poorer quality (i.e., glutens, animal digest, etc)

Kibble must be geared to meet the specific dog you're feeding: nothing more, nothing less. When in doubt, see Kibble Rule #1 (above).

Here's a great kibble website for you to visit and get lost in:


Its important to note that one kibble may not meet all the needs of your dog on a continual basis. I feel its best to occasionally alternate kibbles. This could be my unique neurosis, but I feel it's better nutritionally and the dogs seem to prefer this. Further, it's a great way to find out which kibble works better AND helps avoid a dog building an intolerance to a specific kibble (which commonly happens). When kibble is alternated, however, there may be gastric upset. So slowly altering kibble is the preferred method.

Large Breed Puppy Kibble: Whatever kibble you choose to feed your large breed puppy, it is incredibly important to monitor bone growth and development. Make it a habit to look over your puppy's structure on a daily basis. This is your best notification of when to change kibble choices. 

I find there are two most common errors to adjust in puppy feeding: too fast growth rate and not enough nutrition.

For instance, common signs that bones are growing too fast for the joints to compensate (and the kibble is too rich) is a distinctive turning out of one or both of the puppy's front feet while in sitting position. Another sign is the bending of the 'wrist' or knee of the puppy's front leg(s). Some breeders choose to feed adult food to large breed puppies at a young age. I believe the goal there is to moderate growth to a slow process.

However, I also believe that puppy is missing out on some basic nutrition that will affect it at some point, probably during adulthood. A great way to monitor nutrition is to feel your puppy's coat: is it healthy? glossy? vibrant? or dull, lifeless? Another symptom to monitor is your pup's eyes: do they look healthy? How about activity and energy - is your puppy full of life or slightly lethargic? (Note: level of activity can be breed specific, so that's to be considered). Coat, eyes and energy can all be indicators of the level nutrition.

Perhaps the best method in evaluating how a kibble is performing for your dog is what I call 'The Poop Test'. A dog's poop (stool) will tell the tale of what's happening in that animal's digestive tract. Ideally, poop should be well formed, moist, not very smelly (or not smelly at all) and should happen after every meal.

'Cow Pie' stools or 'Liquid' stools or stools that are formed but have a 'Greasy' appearance or 'Smelly' stools are all signs of digestive issues. These are common diet issues, but don't rule out illnesses, parasites or bacterial infection.

During diet transitions (like from one kibble to another), its important to watch the poop, and understand that it may take a few days to re-settle a dog's digestive tract.

More than 7 to 10 days of fairly loose stools sends me and that dog to the Vet's. More than 5 days of incredibly loose stools has us at the Vet's.

Somewhat bloody stools - at any time - and stools that are almost completely water and shooting out at lightspeed - send me and that dog to the Vet very promptly (that day or early the next). Really bloody stools have us in the Emergency Room asap.

Keeping similar ingredients in kibbles that you're changing from/to is perhaps the single best thing you can do to help the transition.

However, its important to point out this fact:

Just because one kibble says 'Chicken and Rice' and another kibble of a different brand also says "Chicken and Rice' - this doesn't mean they have the same ingredients. Ingredients sources and processing may be totally, completely different. This is one reason why a dog may do well eating one brand of 'Chicken and Rice' kibble but cannot tolerate a different brand of 'Chicken and Rice' kibble. Sometimes, this difference even happens within one kibble brand (hence the price difference).

So, how do you adjust kibble to fit your puppy's current growth pattern? This is easy and can be done without gastric upset if you choose a kibble with very similar ingredients in both puppy and adult formulas (like California Natural). For bones growing too fast, a cure I often choose is to swap adult food for 1/2 of the puppy kibble - so the end result is the puppy gets 1/2 puppy food and 1/2 adult food. This commonly occurs somewhere between 4 months and 6 months of age. I continue to monitor the bone development over the next few weeks (and the feces) and may again alter kibble choices depending on what I feel is happening with the growth pattern. 

Be aware that changing kibble can cause gastric upset. This is of most concern when you're blending two kibbles that do not have very similar ingredients. If you must blend two kibbles of differing ingredients, blend slowly by adding only a small amount of the new kibble in each feeding Slowly increasing volume of new kibble with every third or fourth day's feeding. Be patient with this transition. If your puppy/dog still has major gastric upset even after using this slow transition method, that's an important sign that that kibble is not appropriate for that dog.

By the time 6 months rolls around, my large breed puppy is usually on adult food. Certainly, long before the 1 year mark, my large breed puppy will have been totally on adult kibble for a long while.

There are exceptions, of course, like the puppy who is a picky eater and is constantly underweight - that's a puppy who will probably be on puppy kibble longer than 1 year.

For really large breeds, like Irish Wolfhounds or Tibetan Mastiffs, I usually transfer from puppy to adult kibble by 3 or 4 months.

Important Fact: Chicken is perhaps the most easily assimilated meat for a dog's digestive tract.

My Kibble Choices For Large Breed Dogs (in order of my general preference)


Wysong  http://www.wysong.net (I strongly feel Wysong is generally the BEST dog food on the market today)


Nature's Variety  www.naturesvariety.com


Pinnacle  http://www.breeders-choice.com


I would feed either Wysong or Nature's Variety ALL THE TIME if I could afford it for my whole crew. When I have a problematic dog, I go to one of these kibbles (usually Nature's Variety, but only because its easy for me to get). I do feed canned Merrick on an occasional basis, but its price keeps it off my regular menu.



Natural UltraMIX http://www.castorpolluxpet.com/


Natural Balance http://www.naturalbalanceinc.com


Canidae http://www.canidae.com


Merrick http://www.merrickpetcare.com


Solid Gold http://www.solidgoldhealth.com


California Natural for Adults http://www.naturapet.com


TimberWolf Organics  http://www.timberwolforganics.com/


Innovative http://www.naturapet.com


Advanced Pet Diets  www.breeders-choice.com


AvoDerm www.breeders-choice.com


Natural Life Venison Fomula  http://www.nlpp.com/venison.html


Wellness  http://www.oldmotherhubbard.com


Precise Plus http://www.precisepet.com


Balance Diet http://www.balancediet.com


Premium Edge  http://www.premiumedgepetfood.com/


Royal Canin  http://www.royalcanin.com/


Karma Organic www.karmaorganic.com


VeRUS  http://www.veruspetfoods.com/


Eagle Pack www.eaglepack.com

Note: Certain foods like Natural Balance and Canidae do not have formulas specifically for puppies. These companies feel that their 'adult' version is fine for puppies, too, if increase of volume is fed. SageKeep agrees to disagree w/this philosophy. I believe that very young puppies need higher caloric intake that a higher quantity of food content just cannot achieve.

IMPORTANT: For a large breed puppy like Berners, you want a Protein-to-Fat ratio of about 24% Protein to 14% Fat - or very close. You do NOT want a protein level above 26%!!! (Yes, this means goodbye to EVO and similar foods).

Some of the above kibbles are more expensive than others.

~ Shop wisely ~

  To locate information and Distributors on the above products, visit:


In the above lists, you may note the absence of many popular kibbles on the market today. I'll address some of those here and give my reasons: Science Diet and Eukanuba.

I am greatly disturbed by seeing the amount of vets who sell and promote Science Diet. I feel this kibble is a great balance of nutrition for many breeds but it has so much other 'crap' in it that I simply do not feel good about feeding it to my dogs. I am convinced this kibble - as it is today - lends itself toward promoting cancer and other illnesses in dogs. This is simply my personal opinion. HOWEVER, The Whole Dog Journal lists Science Diet in their Dog Food BlackList (dogfoods they do NOT recommend).

In times past, I successfully fed Eukanuba. Mostly, its been a great kibble to use as proved by how well my dogs responded to it. However, due to recent changes in corporate policy, the ingredients have been down-graded (typical of Purina foods). Today, almost everytime I feed Eukanuba, one or more of my dogs exhibits allergy symptoms right away (usually infected ears). So I don't feel great about feeding Eukunuba to my dogs on a long-term basis. However, I still use this kibble from time to time on dogs I feel can tolerate it well. Note: Eukanuba is also listed in Whole Dog Journal's Dog Food BlackList (dogfoods they do NOT recommend).

There are some decent kibbles left out of the above list like:


Sensible Choice






Further down on my food chain list are some kibbles I will only feed if there's nothing else available:




Nutro (Premium or Ultra)






I've successfully fed most of the above kibbles with good success.


To the cheaper pocketbook person who lives with a very healthy large breed dog, perhaps these kibbles may provide a decent alternative. I especially like Sensible Choice and Diamond.


Important Fact: Unlike humans, Dogs need a simple diet.


Below are two of several types of kibbles that go overboard with complex ingredients. These are designed specifically to market / target human buyers who don't understand that dogs need a relatively simple diet. Kibbles like these show lots of wonderful ingredients - a variety of meats and/or garden vegetables - that look like a feast to the uneducated human eye. Its been my profound experience that MOST of the time, these types of kibbles cause allergy issues and worse, you can't readily tell which ingredient is causing allergy symptoms because there are so many different food sources (ingredients).





Chicken Soup for the Dog Lovers Soul


Its important to note that the quality of dog food can easily have a direct effect on the quality of your dog's health.


Important Fact: The FDA is cracking down on dog food manufacturers who advertise that they use 'Human Grade' meats/ingredients. Canidae is a perfect example of this. Today, although Canidae continues to use human grade meats in their kibble, they aren't supposed to label it thataway per FDA rules. These FDA rules say that once an ingredient - like human grade chicken meat - enters the dog food manufacturing facility, it is no longer human grade quality.



Some of my basic rules in choosing dog foods:


   1. KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) (aka, the fewer the food resources/ingredients, the better)

   2. Does my dog's breeder recommend it?

   3. Is it the right formula for my dog?  

   4. Human Grade food sources / ingredients are much preferred.

   5. How is it processed?

   6. Is it easily accessible to purchase?

   7. Can I afford to feed on a regular basis? (Note: feeding a quality dog food generally means fewer Vet bills, so consider this factor)



Below are kibbles I will NEVER, EVER FEED any dog of mine:


Science Diet (although I applaud and have fed Prescription Diet for sick dogs with diagnosed issues)


Purina Beneful


Kibbles & Bits




Waltham Lamb

There are tons of wonderful performance and other kibbles that I'm leaving out here. This is because there are few of these kibbles I feel are appropriate to feed large breed dogs long-term, especially not the performance kibbles. Labrador Retrievers? Yes. Bernese Mountain Dogs, Tibetan Mastiffs, etc? No. For more info on performance type of kibbles, ask a really good Lab breeder.

SO . . . Who should you ask for advice on which kibble to feed your large breed dog?

    1. Your dog's breeder - this should be your first resource for diet info. (Unless its a puppy mill/pet shop - those people have no clue about nutrition or want to know). Frankly, if you bought a puppy from a responsible breeder, then you should also have enough sense to feed what they suggest. Resist the temptation to go shopping and decide for yourself - you're not very qualified to choose. The only reason to change should be if the kibble the breeder prefers simply is not agreeing with your dog - and even in this instance, you should confer with the dog's breeder. (Can you tell this is one of my biggest pet peeves with puppy buyers???)

    2. An experienced, responsible breeder of large breed dogs, preferably a breed you identify in your dog.

    3. A Veterinarian who understands nutrition. Surprisingly not all of them do, unfortunately, but its worth getting their input. Plus, sometimes they're a great resource for alternative food choices if your dog displays digestive problems or food allergy reactions.

Got any questions for me about kibble choices? I am NOT an expert, but I am glad to share my experiences with you and to refer you to someone who has experience with your dog's breed (especially if I do not). Email me at info@sagekeep.com

Canned Dog Food

I believe canned dog food can be a good supplement to a kibble diet. I feed canned dog food on a regular basis, to compliment the kibble. The finished result is about 1/4 canned and 3/4 kibble.

However, I do not believe canned food alone represents a sufficient diet for a large breed dog (or for any breed of dog).

For one thing, this food choice does not require chewing and that's one important facet in any dog's diet that mere chew bones cannot totally fulfill. A dog needs to chew its food for better digestion, just like humans.

For a list of canned dog foods, look above to my Kibble selections and see those manufacturers I favor.


(aka, Biologically Appropriate Raw Food)

(also aka, Bones And Raw/Real Food)

I have it on good authority that there are people who feed their dogs via this diet method with great success. I have personally used - and currently use - variations of this feeding method to cure dogs with allergies and digestive disorders and because I feel good about feeding fresh foods. A true BARF diet can be a great alternative to kibble, if done correctly.

In this discussion, I should mention that I feed raw meat on a regular basis BUT it is not as part of a traditional "BARF" diet. I feed raw meat about every second or third day, although if I happen to have a great fresh meat source for the moment, I'll feed it everyday for a week or two.

I feed raw meat separately from kibble - as a separate meal experience. The meats I use are, generally: chicken, beef, elk, venison, lamb, pork and whatever other quality meat I come by that I deem feedable. Yes, these raw meats usually have bones in them (although I don't feed raw chicken breasts - my own unique neurosis). I make certain the meat is fresh, clean and from a good source. So yes, I will feed raw meat as a meal in the course of my dogs' diets. Again, I feed it separately from kibble as a separate meal. For instance, during summer, I feed kibble/canned for breakfast and raw meat for dinner (the raw meat is cold but not frozen, and it helps cool-down my dog's body after ingestion).

Having said the above, its tough for me to write objectively about a true BARF diet because I am very opposed to it on some important levels. There is an incredible amount of research, knowledge and work that goes into a nutritionally successful BARF diet. And very often, people do not utilize enough knowledge and resources to feed this diet correctly to a large breed dog. (This is why I prefer kibble, which is already nutritionally balanced by professionals).

It's my view that BARF diet works better after a large breed dog's growth cycles have finished and the dog's physical development is at a mature stage. This is because its tough to monitor proper nutrition throughout growth stages in a large breed puppy, whereas an adult dog really requires just maintenance.

Another reason I feel BARF is inappropriate for puppies is because of the potential that raw meat carries harmful bacteria. Young puppies generally don't have the immunity to fight bacterial infections from meat they've eaten. Puppies can get quite sick fast - and even die - as a result of eating infected (bad or spoiled) meat. Do some research on items like Salmonella and Cociddia if you need more information. And the reason I know this is because I've gotten puppies from BARF breeders who weaned pups on raw meat and the pups' digestive tracts were full of bacteria when I got them (so this isn't something I just heard about).

Additionally, I've witnessed large breed puppies/dogs whose structure and health have been severely compromised during growth cycles by BARF method of feeding (especially when done wrong). Again, this is something I've personally witnessed.

Far Worse, I've encountered many owners who feed via this choice who are extremists and who refuse to acknowledge their attempts at this diet are ruining their dog's growth/health. Their thought process is something like: they're feeding quality real food they prepare and choose themselves and so that must make it better than kibble. Right? (Bad logic). 

Whether Kibble or BARF: Anyone who refuses to see what's happening in the dog from diet choices is someone who needs to give that dog to another home.

One of the most ignorant reasons I've ever heard given in favor of BARF goes something like this: 'After all, dogs have eaten raw food in the wild since creation!' I can only suppose that people who cling to this thought process must own a primitive dog breed like a wolf, for certainly they can't be referring to a domesticated dog breed like BMDs who've never lived on raw food as a breed. Tibetan Mastiffs are a primitive breed and yet are not known to have survived on raw, wild meat and other such food sources. 

Again, I've personally used a diet patterned after BARF to nurture dogs with allergies and/or digestive disorders. This diet certainly saved those dogs' lives and sanity. And I know of others who've used BARF to nurture dogs with allergies or other illnesses and have had great results. Moreover, I do feed raw meat to my dogs (albeit, not a true BARF diet).

Importantly, I know of many people who feed BARF method on a regular basis with great results. It can be done. Most of these people tell me its a LOT of additional work, but they feel its well worth their efforts.

One interesting note that BARF people have shared with me: there's no poop clean-up. Most of the poop from BARF dogs usually easily disintegrates naturally over the period of a week or so. One BARFer told me that she feels the extra work she puts in creating meals is balanced by the lack need for poop scooping after meals. As a routine pooper-scooper, I can appreciate her view.

The main problem I've seen with certain people who feed BARF is that they just don't accurately balance the nutrition. And this is a really tough feat without a degree in nutrition! That's one plus for kibblers - it's professionally balanced already (okay, well sort of - if you're feeding the right formula for your dog). 

A lack of balanced nutrition means that different body parts may grow at a much faster or slower rate than other relating body parts. And the one body part may become damaged during daily use because of compensating for the other body part which experienced more rapid growth. This unequal growth pattern is easy to see in a dog whose head is too small for its body, or whose legs look spindly under a heavy body, or whose movement is sorely restricted while still a puppy. These are typical ear marks of long-term poor puppy nutrition no matter how quality the food resources are. Also, I've seen dogs die after eating raw chicken with bones, which is a staple in a BARF diet. Another risk is the opportunity for spoiled food poisoning (Ecoli). This is possible by the very nature of feeding raw, uncooked meat.

Having said all this, I once more freely acknowledge that there are many people who successfully feed their dogs a BARF diet. And I applaud their efforts and successes.

I must mention that I believe there's a scarily high number of people who attempt a BARF diet and screw up their dog's skeletal development. I feel this is because many people are unwilling to accept and acknowledge their ignorance by getting fully educated and seeking qualified BARF mentors.

I believe to accurately employ the BARF feeding method requires an owner's sufficient time, dedication, education and being properly mentored by those who already have a recorded history of BARF success stories.

To learn more about BARF, please visit their website at:


If you choose to feed via the BARF method, please, please, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1. You must first know how to watch for signs of incorrect orthopedic development in your dog. (This applies to kibblers, too).

2. You must first know how to assess health issues in your dog. (And this applies to kibblers, too).

3. You can be realistic enough to accept that you may be unable to correctly feed your large puppy/dog via this method and thereby return to a professionally balanced method (like kibble) for the safety of your dog. (Note: your dog's breeder will probably be an excellent judge of this).

4. You have at least two (2) very experienced BARF mentors you hold yourself accountable to and learn from on a weekly basis until you've successfully raised two or three dogs on this diet. Preferably, one of these mentors is the dog's breeder.

5. You are able to put your dog's best interests before your personal asthetic preferences (aka, let's say you are a vegetarian who eats only organic foods. If its in your dog's best interest, will you then feed your dog kibble with non-organic ingredients in it? If you can't agree, give your dog away to a more responsible home today and get a cat).

In closing, there are several BARF chatgroups which act as support groups for people wishing to feed this method. Go to Yahoo Groups (www.yahoo.com) to find these groups.

I am continually amazed at the number of people who park their brain at the door and choose to feed their dog some form of a BARF diet no matter what is happening to the dog's development.

Of course, I am equally amazed at the number of people who continue to feed kibble to their dog when its obvious the kibble does not agree with their dog's body - like resulting allergies, digestive upsets and the like.

This doesn't mention how amazed I am at the number of people who purchase based on marketing and not knowledge of their dog's nutritional needs. I'm specifically referring to 

    (1)  people who buy low dollar kibble because they're cheap 

    (2) people who frown on anything less than high dollar kibble (because expensive means better, right?) (wrong) 

    (3) people who buy kibbles with lots of good-looking ingredients (being ignorant to the fact that dogs need a simple diet)

    (4) people who frown on anyone who doesn't feed BARF

    (5) people who frown on BARF without understanding its value when correctly implemented 

In my book, all five people are equally ignorant about dog feeding choices.

Real Food

(aka, Human-Grade Food)

Long ago, before the Bernese Mountain Dogs became a recognized breed, they lived life as a typical Swiss Dairy Farm dog. This often meant a diet based on various milk products and grains as these were staple items in the average Dairy Farmer's lifestyle (and their dogs generally ate their left-overs / table-scraps). Meat was a delicacy for Swiss Dairy Farmers in that era and so meat was probably not very common in the diets of old Swiss farm dogs (like Berners).

Yet even on a meager diet of primarily milk and grains (and generally lacking in meat), the Bernese dogs were expected to be strong and perform rigorous labors. I personally find this old Berner diet interesting because of the general intolerance dogs have to lactose (they lack the enzyme to process lactose found in milk).

Today, some people choose to personally prepare their dog's food themselves. This is different from the BARF diet listed above. The resources for this diet option are almost totally 'human grade foods' easily obtained at a local grocery store, farmer's market and/or food co-op. 

For myself, I've opted to feed a 'Real Food' diet to dogs with allergy and/or tummy issues (like after surgery, after whelping pups, etc). Frankly, if this wasn't such a huge time and money investment, I'd feed this method always. However, I do feed real, raw meat very often but I don't feed the Real Food diet.

Many people who feed this diet make up a 'batch' of food intended to last a few days or many days. The batch is broken up into separate meals by placing 'one meal portions' into a container that is then placed in a freezer. As needed, the meal portions are taken out, thawed and/or re-heated, and served.

Perhaps my favorite 'Real Food' diet plan is this:

  • -Organic Basmati White Rice (replace w/organic pasta occasionally) (in a pinch, organic brown rice may do, if the dog's digestive tract is sturdy)
  • -Some form of cooked quality meat (and I even used canned meats when I was pressed for time). Note: I usually feed Beef, Turkey, Lamb/Mutton, Chicken, Elk, Venison and Pork - all de-boned prior to cooking. On some meats, like Beef and Lamb, I will leave the bones in the stew pot while its cooking to add flavor. But I'm careful to NOT give these bones to my dogs as cooking makes them brittle and potentially harmful for them.
  • -Veggies: most any kind (fresh, canned or frozen)
  • -Plain Yogurt Or Cottage Cheese (or, in a pinch, Acidophilus Milk) (none of these are included in stew - are added only just prior to serving)
  • Note: Yogurt typically doesn't get too far in the digestive tract to be of great help. But it can add some good bacteria to a normally healthy dog. If you're looking to add good bacteria to an unhealthy digestive tract, consider Jarro-Dophilus (click here for that website: http://www.jarrow.com/products/JarroDophilusfos.htm)

Basically, I cook the meat separately to make certain its thoroughly cooked. Then I just throw it and everything else into a large stew pot (except the yogurt or cottage cheese). And I include items like the water from canned veggies, fat from cooked meat, etc. 
Please note I avoid feeding items with no or little nutritional value, like white rice, etc. 
First, let me say that I feel the above recipe includes a great balance of nutrition, and, as such, really shouldn't require much supplementation (if any).
Multi-vitamins: From my own research, I am convinced most commercial multi-vitamins sold in the US  are completely indigestible, for humans and for animals. This is often because of the binding agent used in processing to create the pill form. More importantly, human-grade multi-vitamins include items that are potentially harmful and even fatal to a dog. I don't feed my dogs a multi-vitamin supplement.

All my supplement choices are usually top quality products obtained from a reliable health food store and are intended for human consumption:
-Alfalfa in pill form (cold processed)
-Flaxseed oil
-Garlic in pill form (preferably odorless kind)
-Organic Aloe Vera juice (calms upset tummies wonderfully
-Fish Oil
-Vitamin E (water soluble version, preferably)
-Vitamin C
-Glucosamine w/Chondroitin (without MSM)
Your local Health Food Store is a great resource of Supplement information. Talk to their customer service / sales personnel. Be certain to visit more than one store, as its good to compare info and advice you receive. Once you learn how certain items are manufactured, you know can begin seeking out cheaper resources of quality items.

Why Do I Feed Basmati White Rice and not the regular White Rice found in a grocery store?

Basmati White Rice is all natural, un-processed rice. The balance of nutrients has not been tampered with. And it has not been exposed to contaminants.

Enriched White Rice has been processed so that most of the natural nutrition has been eliminated. Contaminants such as bleach have been used in the processing, which is never completely eliminated from the rice. The manufacturer attempts to add back in nourishment, hence the 'enriched' part of the labeling. However, its almost impossible for the nutrients added back to reflect the purity and balance of the original, natural nutrients.

Here's an interesting article on Brown Rice versus White Rice

      -Source: Nutritionist, Sue Gilbert, posted at iVillage.com

Question: "...I eat a lot of veggies and whole grain breads, however, I eat white rice rather than brown rice. When you look at the nutritional information on the package, the white rice appears more nutritional because it is enriched, but isn't brown rice really better?"

Answer: "In its natural state, compared to unfortified white rice, brown rice is a better source of several nutrients such as riboflavin, folate, iron and magnesium. It has three times the fiber of white rice.

Brown rice is naturally better for you compared to white rice. However, because some important nutrients are stripped during the process of manufacturing white rice, many companies choose to put back what they took out. Often they overcompensate. Therefore, when you compare a package of fortified white rice to a package of brown rice, the white looks like a better choice. However brown rice has the advantage of having more fiber, which is probably a bigger health benefit than the fortified vitamins, since my diet tends to be more deficient in fiber than in the vitamins white rice is fortified with.

Rice Comparison Chart

source: http://www.lundberg.com/brownrice.html

Brown Rice White Rice 
1 cup

1 cup

Calories  232  223 
Protein  4.88 g 4.10 g 
Carbohydrate 49.7 g 49.6 g
Fat 1.17 g 0.205 g
Dietary Fiber 3.32 g 0.74 g
Thiamin (B1) 0.223 mg  0.176 mg 
Riboflavin (B2) 0.039 mg 0.021 mg
Niacin (B3)  2.730 mg 2.050 mg 
Vitamin B6 0.294 mg 0.103 mg 
Folacin 10 mcg 4.1 mcg 
Vitamin E 1.4 mg 0.462 mg
Magnesium  72.2 mg 22.6 mg 
Phosphorus 142 mg 57.4 mg 
Potassium 137 mg 57.4 mg 
Selenium 26 mg 19 mg 
Zinc 1.05 mg 0.841 mg


Please feel free to email me with any questions about how to feed this diet plan and what I've witnessed from its long-term use.

If you'd like to speak with another breeder who's fed her dogs a Real Food diet similar to this for many years, contact Wendy at aesopsmtndogs@hotmail.com

Also, please NOTE: I am NOT a nutritionist nor do I feel remotely qualified to be one. I am solely sharing out of my personal experience, my dogs' experiences, my common sense and my own research. I recommend that you contact a Certified Nutritionist with questions about the merits of this diet plan prior to implementing it.

Table Scraps

Its my thought that, in the beginning, man seduced the dog into friendship by his offer of free human-grade food. 

Accepting tasty food hand-outs from a human may have seemed a good alternative to a dog's hard work at foraging for food on its own. Besides, the human-grade food probably tasted better.

Perhaps the exchange of 'free food' forged the original human-dog bonding? (note: this is one theory I use to justify feeding my dogs occasional treats from the dinner table, a human behavior understandably deplored by most knowledgeable dog trainers)

At any rate, I doubt there are very many dog owners who've never, ever fed their dog a sample of 'human food'. Some of us have been educated that many human foods are inappropriate for canine consumption. Some of us have been educated that dogs can/should live somewhat/mostly/solely on human food scraps. 

Its very important to know there are items in many human foods which can be harmful and/or fatal to the dog if ingested.

For instance, most dogs (and cats) lack sufficient quantities of the enzyme lactase needed to breakdown the lactose in milk products. So basically, the average dog is 'lactose intolerant'. Chocolate, tea, coffee and other caffeine infested products can be toxic and affect the dog's heart and nervous system. Grapes, raisins and macadamia nuts contain unidentified toxins which can be fatal for a dog to eat. Eating too much salt may lead to dog's electrolyte imbalances. Fat trimmings from meat can cause pancreatitis. Some citrus items can cause severe vomiting. And the list goes on.

Note: Many dogs may tolerate (tiny) amounts of milk chocolate but most dogs find dark chocolate potentially fatal.

Some people feel that plain 'kibble' simply isn't good enough for their dogs. And by giving their dog some table scraps in addition to the kibble, they alleviate the feeling that somehow their dog is missing out on a great meal. Sometimes, they're actually creating a nutritional problem.

Even if you're feeding your dog 'good table scraps', moderation is still the key here. Too much of a good thing isn't always good. For instance, when you add table scraps to an already nutritionally complete kibble diet, you're creating imbalances to an already balanced nutrition source. 

If you're feeding table scraps to your dog, here are four good rules of thumb to apply:

1. Do your research to learn what food items can cause gastric upset and/or be fatal if ingested by your dog. Additionally, try to learn what food items may actually compliment kibble (like certain meats, or veggies, depending on what kibble you're feeding).

2. Use your research and careful consideration when feeding table scraps to your dog.

3. Don't allow more than 10% of your dog's overall food resource to be via table scraps.

4. If you notice certain items that cause your dog problems (excessive gas, diarrhea, etc), even if these items aren't supposed to cause those problems, DON'T FEED those items to your dog again. (duh!)

In case you're wondering, YES, I've fed my dogs some table scraps. For instance, before I knew better, I'd feed them the fat trimmings from my cooked meats. My dogs loved these tidbits and usually lived long lives despite my lack of wisdom in choosing scraps to feed. 

Today, I still feed a few select table scraps: usually certain cooked vegetables and leftover meats. But I don't feed table scraps to be anything close to a main source of nutrition.

I try to be careful to not overbalance the nutrition already present in my dogs' kibble. 

Final Chews

Feeding your dog  is not an exact science. There will never be, should never be, only one right answer. 

All a mere human can do is to put their best effort toward feeding as appropriately as possible and using their dog's body's response as the gauge of correctness in food choices.

Most successful dog owners I know feed their dogs a combination of kibble and real food. They mix a broth with kibble and sometimes add real cooked meat/veggies. I also know of several successful dog owners whose dogs have done very well on either a strictly BARF diet or a strictly kibble diet or a strictly kibble and canned diet.

Let me leave you with some closing thoughts about food choices for your dog:

1. Its NOT how good you feel about what your dogs eats, so much as it is how good your dog's body and mind respond to what you're feeding.

2. Every dog should be fed based on its unique needs given the whole picture: breed, size, structure/orthopedics, health, temperament, weight, coat, lifestyle and digestive ability.

3. Do NOT assume that just because your dog likes the taste of what you're feeding it means it's the right food to feed. Case in point, many dogs are fond of dumpster diving for food but that does not equal good nutrition.

4. If your dog does not like the food choice (i.e., won't eat the stuff), try blending with or totally going to a different food choice. Don't cheat your dog in nutrition because you're too stubborn (and cruel) to feed a quality food the dog actually likes.

5. No matter what method you end up feeding, make certain its the one your dog's body responds to the best.

6. Because a food is: expensive; cheap; fast; raw; organic; hand prepared by you :does NOT necessarily make it better nor more appropriate for your dog.

7. Respect the breeder's advice on diet. Let their experience teach you. Even within breeds, growth patterns are unique to a pedigree. Your breeder knows what's worked well with other dogs in the pedigree. Wisely use this input for your dog's best interest.

Best Wishes on your food choices.

You're welcome to email me with any questions:


Note: The above represents only my experience and my resulting opinions. 

Another Note: All emails with derogatory comments about my food choices will be happily deleted and forgotten.




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