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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














































My View of Canine Orthopedic Evaluations

(And how they relate to the Puppy Buyer)

(Please note below is an expression of my views and not factual documentation)

"Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." -Sir Francis Bacon

Please note that this is just MY discussion of my views as based on my experience, experiences of many dogs/people I know, and input I've gleaned from professionals in this realm.


Bad orthopedics in dogs is rampant is most every giant, large and medium breed dog. Even toy dogs have their orthopedic issues. If anyone tells you differently, that person is either uneducated or lying.


Good breeders try to intelligently breed away from bad orthopedics. But this is not a cut-and-dried process, unfortunately.


I'll discuss my views as to 'why this is' below.

Theories abound throughout dog-dom as to why orthopedic problems exist in domestic dog breeds.


Some people say :

          "Its due to line-breeding. Don't line-breed and you will have good orthopedics".

I've never found sufficient, reliable information to verify that claim.

But no matter where it came from, the fact is that there is a significant occurrence of orthopedic problems in Bernese Mountain Dogs today throughout the world - in every country, in every kennel.

Good breeders will try to breed away from anything unsound in the breed, like bad orthopedics. But not everyone can agree as to how to achieve this goal.

Some people say "The way toward sound orthopedics is to breed ONLY certified clear dogs".

And there are plenty of people who say "Controlled breeding via line-breeding is the best way to eradicate orthopedic issues."

Some people, of the old method, still say "Clearances are great, but the proof isn't in the pudding until the dog actually matures - THEN we'll see if its clear".

Some people even say "Orthopedic clearances don't matter. Its a crap shoot and anything can and will happen, good or bad."

Many theories abound.

The fact is, Orthopedics are not that easy to predict when planning a litter.

Anything can happen - and very well may happen - despite the best of planning efforts.

There are known certified orthopedically clear Berners,

from certified orthopedically clear Berners,

from certified orthopedically clear Berners

(aka, 3 generations of clear breeding stock)

who produced a Berner with hip and/or elbow dysplasia.


What's a good breeder to do with that??


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:



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.


Then 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 privately.


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. 


For many 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' orthopedics certified.

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 even today.



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. And they 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 brochure.

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.


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Last modified: 05/06/10