Advice from the Breeder
De-Li's Lilian Ostermiller urges breeders to meet the people who "meet the breeds."
Having gotten the assignment to write for AKC Breeder, I opted to focus on the successful “Meet the Breeds” event in October at New York City’s Javits Center.
Courtesy Lilian Ostermiller
I was amazed by how the 160 breeds were showcased, some simple and others with elaborate backdrops and costumes of the place of origin. All representatives were smiling and helpful, with lots of educational handouts for the interested visitors. Most impressive were the well-mannered dogs and, yes, even puppies, brought for the spectators to get a “hands-on” experience. My plea to breeders: Please partake in such events. At the event in New York, 36,000 visitors were searching for help and education. What a deal for any breeder!
The Potential Owner: First Contact
Begin with a description of your breed. Is it suitable for the setting of the new home? Is it a breed suitable for children and other pets? Does the family have enough time to spend with a dog? Is the new owner made aware that the original purchase price most likely is the smallest outlay during the dog’s life?
Many questions will help to not only create a friendly and understanding scenario, but also allows finding the necessary “compatibility.” Those values are my top priority since they delineate the health, well-being, and happiness of the dog, its humans, and the breeder for many years to come.
Also, review your standard. Remind new owners that there is no perfect dog, yet breeders must strive for improvement. Breeding is an art, and many of us have found that the gene pool at times surprises us in spite of careful choices and years of experience.
Next, educate the attendees as to the base or foundation of a breeding program, such as evaluating the parents (pedigree and physical appearance, their ancestors, any physical or health issues in the parents’ pedigrees, and so on). We must make sure we do not double up on shortages and try to add more positive into a new generation. Those are hard choices, and at times we all make the wrong decision. Do not finger-point; it is part of a learning experience, and by our future selection of parents we must avoid repeating the mistakes.
Then Come the Puppies
Naturally families are very anxious to visit the newborn. I give the new mom two weeks of rest with her brood before inviting potential families. I will once again discuss the breed (size, coat, temperament, possible health issues) with prospective owners, and at the same time I am very interested in seeing how they interact with the adults and, later on, the puppies. It is hard for prospective puppy buyers to understand that there may be one or two show prospects coming out of a litter and, thus, I ask for their patience—a trait not too many seem to have!
In my breed, Bernese Mountain Dogs, markings have a role to play. Yet to me, as a breeder, markings are just a small piece of the puzzle when selecting the “show potential” pups. The new puppy owner has to be educated as to what a breeder might look for in a conformation puppy above and beyond the markings. As structure, movement, tail-set, bite, eyes, and more are part of this decision, it asks for patience and a well-developed eye.
The next important step is to educate the buyer as to raising their new puppy, the pitfalls and when and where to reach out for help. Most breeders send the new owner home not only with a contract but plenty of reading material. Are they following through? Surely lots of our efforts are not appreciated, but it is a necessity and helpful to those who wish to learn. We are very fortunate in Bernese Mountain Dogs inasmuch as we have a parent-club web site with lots of information and help.
We must make sure that the new family feels comfortable enough to stay in touch and ask questions. I stress that fact and suggest they do the same with their veterinarian. Questions and second opinions offer the security and education new owners should appreciate.
It is imperative that owners know how to socialize their new dog. Besides taking it to an obedience class, it must be exposed to different people, animals, noises, and places. A well-socialized dog is a confident dog that copes with stressful situations. Puppy buyers must be told that a stressed or fearful dog is a dog you cannot count on and may present behavior problems, and they must know that one-on-one time with the owner is most special to all dogs.
How do we mentor a newcomer as to becoming a responsible pet owner or possibly an exhibitor? My advice is always that the first purebred dog is your learning experience. It will teach you the traits of the breed and hopefully educate you as to the comparison of your dog to the breed standard. In all breeds there are some deviations, all of which may be slight and still acceptable. That first dog should allow first-time owners to make decisions as to what their priorities are and will teach them to better evaluate an animal. As a breeder I find it hardest to stand firm when an animal does not qualify for either exhibition or breeding. We so easily can make excuses for dogs we have an affinity for but who have some weakness.
I try to get new owners involved with a local breed club, the parent club, a local all-breed club, or a training club. If breeders and mentors can engage the new owner’s interest to learn about the breed and participate in any venue open to them, we have helped our breed and assured some continued care. Breeding and mentoring doesn’t end when a puppy leaves for his new home. It is an ongoing effort to educate and also listen and be available to those new to the breed and to dog ownership.
Lilian Ostermiller is a longtime breeder of outstanding Bernese Mountain Dogs under the De-Li banner. She was the Working Group’s 2008 AKC Breeder of the Year.