|The Old Method...
The old, time-worn methods for choosing breeding stock with sound orthopedics
was the 'Test Of Time'. The dog was normally given time to grow up and fully
mature (2+ years old) before a good breeder would typically declare that dog
to be 'sound' (orthopedically). That's one reason you'll hear some breeders purport
'Don't breed them until they're at least 2 years old'.
The good thing about the old, time-worn method is that you knew if the dog
was lame or not at maturity. The bad thing about the old, time-worn method is
that you didn't really know exactly how sound the dog's orthopedics really were.
Case in point: I know of a Berner owner who had a top winning, gorgeous bitch
who moved like a dream. She typically won Best of Breed or at least Best
Opposite at whatever show she was entered into. When her owner/breeder went to
get her orthopedic clearances, it was determined by several different
professional resources that that bitch, in fact, had very dysplastic
elbows (both elbows were bad). In fact, one top radiologist this breeder sought
out could NOT believe the x-rays he saw were
actually from that bitch - so he personally took more x-rays. He was
flabbergasted and had never seen that before.
In the days of the old, time-worn methods, that bitch
(noted above) would've been bred - because the owner/breeder would've been
clueless that the bitch was, in fact, grade 2 dysplasia in both her elbows. Because of professional
orthopedic clearances, the bitch owner/breeder had reliable input that that
bitch was dysplastic. So she spayed that bitch, and never put her into the
Berner gene pool. But the bitch was a superb mover - lovely breed type, very
sound bitch who moved like a dream. That was a tough decision for that breeder,
as I know of several 'good breeders' who would've bred that nice bitch anyway.
Beginning The New Method...
In the 70's and 80's, responsible Berner breeders began using the professional
radiology services of Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and Genetic
Disease Control registry (GDC). For many years, only the hips were x-rayed
and evaluated for orthopedic health.
Hips: How this worked in the beginning and still works today:
In the UNITED STATES...
A breeder will take their Berner into
their local Vet. The Vet or a Vet Tech will take ONE (1) radiograph (x-ray) of the Berner's hips.
Prior to the radiograph being taken, the dog is usually sedated with
anesthesia. Some Vets may opt to not use anesthesia, and while this is
undoubtedly in the dog's best interest, it is a controversial decision
among breeders. Some breeders believe that a dog that is not
anesthetized is not fully relaxed and will therefore show hips as being
tighter than they are.
The position of the dog during this single "hips view" radiograph is
with the dog laying flat on it's back, with the rear legs pulled
forward. The single radiograph focuses on the hips while the dog is
laying in this position.
that radiograph will be submitted to OFA, along with a submission form.
On the submission form, the submitter (dog owner/breeder) can choose to
either release the results publically or to just receive the results
If the dog is younger than 2 years old when the radiograph is taken:
One (1) radiologist at OFA will review the hip radiograph. This OFA
radiologist's evaluation will be called "Prelim", which means
"preliminary evaluation". OFA offers evaluations on dogs younger than 2
years but will not "certify" the dog as being free of hip dysplasia.
This is true whether or not OFA evaluates this dog's hips to either be
free of dysplasia or to be dysplastic. The theory here is that the dog
is still young and developing.
If the dog is aged 2 years or older when the radiograph is taken:
Three (2) OFA radiologists will review/evaluate the radiograph. The
three evaluations will be compiled and averaged into one result.
If the compiled evaluation result from all three radiologists is that
the dog's hips are free of dysplasia, the result is called a
"Certification". This means that OFA has certified the dog's hips to be
free of dysplasia. To give dimension to their evaluation, each
radiologist will have also given a "grade" to the hips. Their grades are
averaged into one grade that will appear on the OFA Certificate. These
grades are: Excellent, Good or Fair.
However, if the averaged OFA radiologists' evaluation is that the dog's
hips have dysplasia, then OFA will not give a certification. Rather, the
three radiologists' evaluations will be compiled to achieve one result
and this will be the result returned to the submitter. Grades of
dysplasia are: Mild, Moderate and Severe.
years, GDC only used 'Normal (clear) or Dysplastic'. Then GDC eventually gave into
Breeders' pressure for more detailed info, and began a similar grading clearance
system to OFA.
Because of the expense and effort involved, and because the 'old method' had
seemed to work well, many, many breeders refused to get their Berners'
It took much peer pressure, good results, and much time to turn the tide so
that OFA and/or GDC clearances were done by ALL responsible Berner breeders - before
'clearances' (certifications) had become the new standard of 'responsible breeders'.
OFA has an online database (www.offa.org)
and, if the breeder elected to make the orthopedic results 'public' (which is
done on the form at time the radiographs are submitted), then you
can find them there. However, the breeder can elect to have the orthopedic
results kept private, and they won't be found there (even though they exist). GDC's results were mandatory 'public'
information in an open database.
About 2002, GDC decided to 'go out of the orthopedic clearance' business.
They sent all their data and allowed OFA to merge it into the OFA databases.
This was mostly successful, but there are still some glitches from this merger
Many good Canadian Berner breeders elect to use the resources of OFA/GDC. But
Canada has its own orthopedic clearance facilities. Ontario Veterinary College (OVC)
and Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). The OVC and WCVM are used
religiously by several very good Berner breeders in Canada - and many of these
good breeders elect to never use the OFA/GDC system at all. OVC and WCVM both
offer professional radiology evaluations for orthopedic clearances on breeding
stock, but their systems are a little different than OFA. Also, neither OVC nor
WCVM maintain an open database of dogs cleared through their registry.
Interestingly, the BMDCA doesn't recognize WCVM evaluations, even though they do, in fact, offer
superior orthopedic evaluations because they require more views (better than OFA or GDC in MY opinion!).
But the BMDCA does recognize the OVC evaluations, which aren't any different
than OFA evaluations except the OVC does not have an open database.
The New Method Grows...
Elbows: In the early 90's, most
responsible Berner breeders began to add Elbows to the
X-rays submitted to OFA and/or GDC for radiology certification. Both OFA and GDC
Elbow Clearances are: Normal (Clear) or Dysplastic (to various degrees).
As had been the case with getting breeders to certify hips, it was a major
uphill battle to get ALL good breeders to standardly also get elbow
certifications, as well as hips. Even today, there are some good breeders who
only submit hips for certification, not elbows.
Note: In some breeds, OCD (osteochondritis) is prominent and therefore
Shoulders are also certified. As yet, OCD is not yet recognized as being prevalent enough for the
majority of Berner breeders to want clearances on Shoulders. However, several
breeders clear shoulder orthopedics routinely, anyway.
Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine began a program to help Golden
Retriever Breeders eliminate/reduce Hip Dysplasia in their breed. Their method
of evaluation includes three (3) views of the hips in various positions,
including one where the hips are displaced to a certain degree.
After some significant success with their new method of evaluations on
Goldens, Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine opened their orthopedic
clearance project to all other breeds. And they named their registry 'PennHIP'.
Because PennHIP's methods are very different from OFA, and
they are more exacting/precise, Vets have to go to additional school to become PennHIP certified.
also have to maintain a continuing education to keep their certification, too. So not
every Vet is PennHIP certified.
PennHIP clearances are more expensive than OFA, because the number of hip
X-Rays is tripled AND the Vet has had to acquire extra certification to be able
to submit to PennHIP.
PennHIP only certifies HIPS - NOT ELBOWS.
SageKeep uses PennHIP (and WCVM) as clearances on Hips of breeding stock.
If you'd like to read the PennHIP brochure which explains WHY PennHIP has had
so much success attached to it - significantly better than OFA -
CLICK HERE to read the PennHIP
The fact is that ALL good Berner breeders today will do orthopedic
clearances (certifications) on their breeding stock. And they'll know the
orthopedic clearances of at least two generations behind the breeding pair AND
many of the siblings in those generations.