Annie Bell's Article for the BMDCV Newsletter

2102 BMDCA Specialty

Exiting the Red Lion hotel in Portland Oregon after the 2009 BMDCA Specialty, Anne Gribbon and I looked at each other and said “We’re coming back”. With USA-Specialty newbie Ivana Leonard from Canberra, we did indeed come back making our separate ways to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in early May.

The southern hemisphere was well represented. Apart from Anne, Ivana and I; other Aussies who made the trip included Beatriz and Colin (NSW), Lindsay and Luke, Ben and Holly (SA), David and Gail (WA) along with Kiwis Linda and Chris Jury, and Lisa Stevenson (NZ). (Apologies if I’ve missed someone.) All packed heaps into their respective holidays including Canada, Europe and other part of the US. There were places to go; dogs and people to see …

I knew that it would not be possible to see everything at the Speciality or environs. I have an interest in the American Civil War and Gettysburg is central to that. However, I had to make a decision. History is history. After 100+ years, there won’t be much change on the battlefield. I’d come to see the dogs and learn more about the breed that stole my heart 10 years ago … visiting the battlefields will have to wait for another trip.

The 2009 Speciality had been overwhelming, particularly meeting so many iconic personalities in the first hour. This year it was different. Armed with the experience of 09, I knew the format and had an idea of what to expect. Social media, particularly Facebook has been very helpful in maintaining contact with people met in Portland. I knew what they looked like, what were hot topics for them and they, mine. Chatting with them was like picking up from the last cup of coffee. I had another list of people to meet (for many live on the US east coast and didn’t travel to Oregon) and catch up with many of the quilters who made blocks for the Guardian Angel Quilts Project.

The benefit of being in the host hotel is that the venues aren’t too far away (and not that far to walk when you’ve been shopping). There are always Berners to pat, walk with and people to chat to. My favourite was a baby Berner boy. He was important. He had all the cheek (as assessed weight for age) and strutted like the cub in ‘The Lion King’ – tail and head up; walking like Ronald McDonald with feet several sizes too big. Every time I saw him the tune ‘Hakuna Matatta’ seemed to surround him. He was … well collectable.

I always suffer from jetlag and as usual was up soon after dawn. It was a serene vista outside our window – made much better by seeing Berners out for toileting. It made me acutely aware of the early morning routine I was missing being so far from home. I KNEW that Gideon, Harri-ette and Suki were ruling the roost at Yass Kennels where they were on holiday, telling stories and looking regal.

The lesson I’d learned in 09 was ‘get involved’. Anne, Ivana and I helped stuff some of the 800 welcome tote bags and Berner U tutorial packs. Even now I’m still to read all the material. It was worthwhile being able to meet and talk with some known and new Berner folk as we went round and round.

Photo inserted with Jean Cheesman’s permission

Whilst stuffing bags I met someone I’d wanted to meet for years – Jean Cheesman. (Jean created the websites for the two quilting projects I’ve been involved in.) She is one of my go-to people for help; even though she lives in the UK. We’d spoken so often by post over the years that meeting face-to-face was pretty special. Neither of us could speak; we just hugged.

Being Bernerless, Anne, Ivana and I had free hands and were always on the lookout for a Berner fix. We took on the ambitious task of walking three 7mo pups and their mum for an exhibitor. The pups were fun. Anne has been Berner-less for a while and like me, was out of practice with puppies. Ivana’s skills were best of us all as she has a young pup (Hugo) and a full bottle on what they would/could do. It was really funny to watch as the pups May-poled around us. I had the privilege of handling a Berner girl with a reputation not dissimilar to Harriette. Berner girl Kay and I got on well together I’m pleased to report.

Most favourite Berner who doesn’t live with me

On my 2012 bucket list was catching up with Zanzebern Defender (Denzel) who now lives in the US. I’d written to his owner some months previous to introduce myself and ask if she was attending the Specialty, could I meet her and maybe give Denzel a cuddle? As the Specialty approached, she contacted me confirming that Big D would be there. I was overjoyed and very impatient for the day that he arrived in Gettysburg.

Photo by Dawn Weber (Washington): Lyn Vann and I

Meeting Lynn Vann was a highlight. She was very accommodating allowing me to spend a lot of time whilst she prepared Denzel for the ring. (I morphed into a Denzel groupie and probably overstayed my welcome.) I can but thank her for being so gracious and patient indulging me during that time. He looked the goods, placing in all classes he entered.

I’ve been asked ‘Did he recognise me?’ The answer is No. It had been over two years since I’d seen him and he has a wonderful life with Lynn. It was a joy to see him keep his eyes on her at every opportunity. I was privately delighted that whilst he was being groomed, he put his head on my arm, leaned into my torso, snoozing whilst Lynn finished grooming his rear… such a Denzel thing to do.

2012 saw Denzel recognised as a top producer. At the BMDCA dinner on the Saturday night there was a rolling picture show of the Top Producers and periodically I looked to see Big D’s pic. That made me very proud** Lynn also allowed us to get some photos with big D after competition was over. You can’t get any better than that. The whole experience – priceless!

Denzel with me, Anne (centre) and Ivana (right).

Having seen a dog that sparked my interest, it was eerie checking the catalogue to look at the sire and dam. More than once Zanzebern was listed. It would appear that I have a particular interpretation of the breed standard implanted in my head and Zanzebern influenced its formation.

Rescue Gallery

The Specialty is not complete without acknowledgement of the important work done by the Regional Clubs in rescue and organisations such as the Berner Auction Rescue Coalition (BARC). On display were biographies and photos of dogs rescued from puppy mills, brokers, abandonment and other bad situations. Rescue dogs have had their own gallery since 2006. This year 47 dogs were showcased. If you want to read their biographies, go to:

A warning - do not start reading when overtired because you will cry!

Photography Competition

For those who are members of Berner-l, you know that you get a daily Berner photo fix. At the Specialty was a photo competition with a number of categories. It seemed that the competition had more entries than 09 and the quality of the photos was excellent. Classes were open to amateur and professional photographers and there was a selection of photos exploring colours and effects that a happy snapper like me would never have thought of. Picking winners in conformation classes was easier IMHO than selecting winners in the photo comp.

Managing Time The Speciality runs for 6.5 days. From Monday to Friday, there is always more happening than you can physically attend. Again I missed herding and tracking, two sports I wanted to see this year. The venue was over the state border in Virginia. They are on my bucket list for next time.

The table below illustrates what activities were on and when. You have to make choices … and that means that you will start to think about attending another Speciality in order to see the things you missed.

Activity Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Berner U X X X
Track X X
Herding X
Draft X X
Obedience X X
Rallly X
Agility X
Conformation X X X X X

Berner University

I cannot emphasise enough the value of Berner University (Berner U). This is the 8th year it has been conducted and my second year attending. It’s an excellent source of information, catering for everyone from pet owners to breeders. It is run over three days and coupled with two evening guest speakers. Daily were three two-hour tutorials with guest speakers on Monday and Tuesday evenings. This year the speakers were Karen Pryor whom some of you may know as the doyenne of positive reinforcement (clicker) training and Parvene Farhoody who discussed recent developments in research about (the effects of early spay/neuter) when to neuter.

All presentations I attended were excellent. The quality of the presentations, the interactivity, frankness of discussion and having Berners in the classroom was very stimulating and made me feel like I was at home. I exited tutorials with more things to think about than I’d walked in with. A highlight was a breeders forum including breeders Fara Bushnell (Ayelhi), Laurie Farley (Trillium), Susan Ablon (Gwebarra) and Barbara Beck-Wilczek (Tennescott) talking about where they started and where their breeding decisions took them.

If Berner U Faculty Head, Linda Seaver’s aim was to make you think, she was successful! Again I felt there was an earthquake in my knowledge as the new material tried to find its place in my chaotic mind. If there is a take-away message to anyone who might think of going to the Speciality, go to Berner U. It is worth the airfare, before seeing any of the competitions. The competitions are gravy.

For those of you who receive the BMDCA magazine ‘The Alpenhorn’, the June edition has good coverage of Parvene Farhoody’s lecture on neutering, Ruth Nielsen’s – Contracts presentation and Dr Matthew Breen’s update on BMD health research.

Dr Breen's Berner-U presentatation, \May 8th 2012


Tracking is something that we don’t see Berners here in Oz and I’m not sure that we’ve ever had a Berner attain a tracking title – but I’m ready to be educated. Tracking is a basic form of search and rescue utilizing the instinctive canine scenting ability. …. Tracking usually takes place in fields and woods. Berners enthusiastically take to this sport. …. It demonstrates that a dog can follow human scent trail through a myriad of other scents to locate a lost article such as a glove or wallet. In a tracking test the handler follows at least 20 feet behind the dog on a long lead and can give the dog verbal encouragement. Finding the article dropped by the tracklayer indicates the end of the track".Information courtesy of BMDCA Info Series.


Bernese herding is different to Border Collie herding. Berners are ‘upright’ (the dog walks normally), loose eyed (the dog does not use its gaze in a fixed, predator stare to control the stock) dogs. Learning the Bernese- style of herding requires a trainer familiar with these traits. Berners were traditionally used as drovers to herd slower tame dairy cows. Speed was not a requirement, neither were more aggressive herding behaviours. Information courtesy of BMDCA Info Series.

Herding is recognised in Australia. Beatriz’ Spy is believed to be the first Berner to get a herding title in Australia. As part of their trip to Gettysburg, Colin and Beatriz spent a long day as herding stewards. They were two exhausted people after competition was complete.


The BMDCA draft test is a series of exercises designed to develop and demonstrate the natural abilities of Bernese in a working capacity involving hauling. Bernese have historically functioned as draft dogs in various capacities and performance of these exercises is intended to demonstrate skills resulting from both inherent ability and training that are applicable to realistic work situations. Information courtesy of BMDCA Info Series.

This always leaves me with a lump in my throat for the Berners that do it undergo long and careful training before entering competition. This is one of the canine sports that is a ‘must see’ at any Specialty. It is yet to be recognised as a canine sport in Australia. It is part of our breed’s heritage and they look bloody good (pardon the French).

Photo used with permission of Ruth Nielsen (Washington)
Julie Bacon’s boy Karma – tri-athlete at three separate Specialties


Obedience at the Specialty is conducted in a similar manner to competition here. Precision and accuracy are essential elements but the natural movements of the handler and the willingness and enjoyment of the dog are very important. The difference was that the competitors were all Berners.

It was special seeing the working relationship between dog and handler. I always enjoy watching Vilma Briggs compete; her relationship with her dogs (Latte in particular) is a live tutorial.

Photo used with permission of Ruth Nielsen (Washington)
Vilma Briggs and Latte in Obedience. They won ‘High in Trial’.


Rally is a new sport in Australia. Already we have two who have their Rally Novice titles – Gael Goldsack’s Tilly and Lynn Dawson’s Viggo. It is as challenging in its own way as obedience. Rally is based on a course that has been set by a judge. The judge tells the handler when to begin; the handler and dog proceed at their own place through a course of designated stations. Each station has a sign indicating the activity that is to be performed. Unless specified, handlers are permitted to talk, clap their hands, pat their legs or use any other means of verbal encouragement. Coming from an obedience background where signals and few voice commands are used, this is really a paradigm shift but good fun.

Even those who were inexperienced provided the comic relief that Berners are capable of (I think this was in Rally it might have been obedience). The classic was a Berner in the down stay, who rolled onto her back and completed the stay upside down, legs akimbo. How the handlers managed to control their mirth was a credit to them. That handler won’t forget Gettysburg in a hurry!


There is nothing like a Berner doing agility! They love it! Many people think that Berners and agility don’t mix. In fact their intelligence, confidence and willingness to please are as important as successful agility training. Berners can do agility successfully, although there is little denying that upper level titles are difficult for the largest bodied Berners to achieve. Information courtesy of BMDCA Info Series.

There is nothing more impressive than a Berner having a blast around an agility course…. Nuff said.

Photo used with permission of Ruth Nielsen (Washington)
Toby Erhlichman’s Nora doing what she loves to do.

Triathlete Award

Entries in Rally, Obedience and Herding were up because of the Triathlete Award. Berners/handlers were to qualify in three or more canine sports. Eligible events include, agility, draft, herding, obedience, rally and tracking with performance at the regular titling level. Introduced in 2009, there were 7 who qualified. Four years later, 14 teams successfully achieving Triathlete.

Ruth Nielsen, who had the original idea says in a forthcoming article for The Alpenhorn: ‘My crazy idea has taken on a life of its own as the Award was now talked about and sought after by people who had no idea how or where the Award started – they knew this was THE prize for the Working Berners – the dogs who could do it all’! She calls it the People’s Award for two reasons: firstly, it is an unofficial award being grass roots recognition of working Berners and secondly, and most importantly … anyone who wants to compete in multiple events can ‘Tri’. A brilliant idea that is gaining momentum year by year.


Photo by Dawn Weber (Washington)
Anne Gribbon and I ringside with friends met in Oregon.

Many hours were spent watching conformation with friends from Washington State. Together we discussed dogs and their individual merits. I was surprised at how complacent I’d become having been away from dog shows for 6 months because of work commitments. That was about to change… watching Anne Summers, Joanne Gerow, and Marion Klok (Netherlands) I received another intensive, extensive, marathon tutorial. (Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Tuuli Yrjonen (Finland) judge – she judged Futurity when I was attending Berner U.)

I was fortunate enough to learn more about form and function from these discussions. It stood me in good stead for picking winners at our Victorian Specialty judged by Lisa Ebnet (USA) and at my local All Breeds shows. I suffered a numb bum from sitting in the bleachers but if it meant that I honed my knowledge through a little physical discomfort then it was worth it.

The conformation was enhanced by the Veteran’s Sweepstakes being scheduled at night. With many in the audience in evening dress, Judge Anne Summers too, it gave a sense of occasion to the fantastic veterans who competed naturally resplendent in their tricoloured tuxedos. Moving these classes to the evening was an excellent innovation, apart from discussing the day’s events, what else should you do but observe an array of spectacular dogs, eat well and drink good wine?

It had been said to me in the past that the dogs on the east coast of the US were better than the dogs on the west. I’m not so sure that still rings true. Whilst there were a couple of kennels I didn’t see this time in either conformation or canine sports, there were many prefixes present at both. Some exhibitors fly from the west coast with their dogs, others drive the equivalent in distance of Perth to Sydney, or Adelaide to Cairns.

I did not envy Marion Klok’s role as the Regular Class judge at all! In the Best of Breed Competition there were over 120 entered. When Marion made the cut to the final 24, I would have been happy to give Best of Breed to any of them. The differentiating points were way beyond my limited knowledge and experience. She could also touch the dogs…

It was good seeing people I knew handling dogs including Ben and Lindsay. I’m sure they had as much fun in the ring as I did watching from ringside. Watching closely both amateur and professional handlers was an education in itself and I walked away with more things to think about –like placing the front feet correctly. A-framing was commonplace at Gettysburg. I became quite paranoid looking for it in class after class.


Parades! Ah the Parades! Some dogs knew all about applause. They needed no encouragement to play the crowd, because THEY were THERE! The crowd in turn responded.

Veterans Parade

Oh my aching hands and soggy Kleenex! Like 09, tears weren’t far away when the Veterans walked the ring. 109 dogs aged 7 and older were entered in the Veterans Parade. Of these an incredible 23 celebrated their 10th birthday! The oldest was born in 1999 – a Berner girl CH Brenna’s Cindy v. Lindenhof CD RE NA NAJ OAP OJP JHD HTAD-1 BMDCA Versatility dog 2008, BMDCA Working Dog, BMDCA Working Dog Excellent. The bio from the Parade booklet reads:

‘A Versatility Dog in 2008, Cindy raised 39 pups. Open agility titles followed at nine, at 12, advanced herding and BMDCA’s Working Dog Excellent Award. HOWZAT!

But one had me in tears: ‘ARCHX Jamar’s Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours’ RL1X2, RL2X, RL3, CD-H, CGC, TDI aka ‘Stevie’ or as he is better known ‘Stevie the Wonder Dog’. At 7.5 years and blind since birth (though you’d never know unless told) he has achieved amazing things in Obedience and Rally… The USA has a separate competition for dogs with disability.

As is expected there were some (I think 7) who crossed the bridge between nominations closing and the day of the parade. One left for the Bridge on Monday the first day of the Specialty. It was with mixed emotions as Randal Dowler read the profiles whilst their owners stood together hand-in-hand receiving recognition. I felt for Randall as he read these - you have to be so careful when using a mic. Like 09, he did it with aplomb and care that only comes from being a Berner owner, practiced in the ways of the microphone.

It is so, so interesting to hear applause express celebration, sorrow and understanding at the same time.

Parade of Titleholders

This is something else… 92 Berners demonstrated their versatility and working ability titling in Agility, Conformation, Drafting, Herding, Obedience, Rally and Tracking. Many had post-nominals that exceeded their pedigree length. Ruth Nielsen’s AM/Can CH Brighteye Wakantanka CDX, OAP, OJP, OFP, NA, RE, MDD, BNDD, Can CD, DD, AGIS, AGNJ, AGNJS AGNS aka ‘Tonka’ exemplifies this.

Tonka was a hoot! He walked into the ring like he owned it. He paused, proudly stood, turned his gaze, stood again to allow people to admire and ‘bring on the applause’. What a dog!

Health Auction

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Photo by Ivana Leonard,
‘Happy Dance’ now lives in Kansas.

In late 2011 I was searching for inspiration for the quilt for the 2012 Health Auction. I made my first item for the Health Auction in 2009 and intend to donate something each year until I am no longer able. The quilt pattern that I’d planned to do for 2012 was driving me nuts and there was no way that the ‘dummy run’ I was making at the time would be finished in sufficient time for me to make it again. (It is still work in progress)

Then Spike passed away… Inspiration came quickly from bouquets of flowers, a quilting block called ‘Salute to the Colour’ and characteristic Spike behaviour – his happy dance. So I had the design, the colours and its name within 72 hours! All that was left to do was make it. In that quilt were sewn many tears and memories, along with frustration from seams that were remade several times! I reflected on this activity and realized that it was akin to Mr Spike; trying to get him through Beginners obedience when he had the attention span of a gnat. So the process of making the quilt in a craft sense paralleled his life.

Happy Dance went to America in early April complete with story and valuation. Having worked so closely with the quilt, I’d forgotten how big it was until it was on display. It was designed to fit a California King-sized bed.

The Health Auction is a big occasion and even if you don’t bid, or donate anything just be there! You really see the Berner community pull together. The atmosphere is something to be experienced and is indescribable. I probably felt it more acutely because I was participating in a small way. Anne and Ivana were beside me for moral support whilst the Happy Dance bidding was underway. I needed that assistance for Happy Dance raised $4750 – far more than I expected.

I bought a painting of a young pup (Lavish Brut Premier) that had to be posted home to Oz. It survived the journey and now hangs proudly in the passage next to Spike’s portrait. A record amount was raised at the auction - $58,000 - will go to fund research into Berner health. I understand this is matched $ for $ by the US Government.

I’ve been keeping a running tally of all the quilts that I’ve made/or project managed for fundraising for health or rescue. Since 2006, the total raised stands at just over $17,000…. After 10 years, I’ve found my niche – and my happy place.


Shopping at the Specialty is pretty good. This year there were 29 vendors to pick and choose from. I have never had so much trouble trying to spend money. Usually I shop like a bloke, know what I want, buy it and get on with living. With Berner Buddies raffles, stuff for the Club shop and my own list of stuff to purchase I spent over 4 hours shopping! I haven’t done that in years! It was exhausting.

It meant purchasing an additional suitcase for the trip home – as I also bought a lot of quilting fabric whilst staying with friends in Virginia. Be careful how you pack them for if over 23kg it will cost you $200 excess per bag to fly internationally More by luck than design, my two suitcases weighed exactly 23 kg.

Shopping at the Specialty 2012


Gettysburg was as good as Portland but in a different way. Facebook has made a big difference and having a working knowledge of how the Specialty runs means that you can pace yourself rather than try and fit everything in. Am I going again? Yes in 2015. The cunning plan is to go via Vienna (Austria) and/or Villies-Bretonneux (for the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day) then to Washington and travel by train across the USA to the Specialty in Northern California … We’ll see what the budget says we can do…

Tips for those thinking attending a BMDCA Specialty
  • Who should go? Everyone who is interested in learning more about our beloved breed. You don’t need to be a breeder, exhibitor, or tragic like me to get something out of the specialty. All interests catered for in some way. Even if you can only attend for a day – GO!
  • Select a Specialty to attend. The BMDCA has a rolling list covering the next 10 years
  • Plan your saving, and save your plan. Get obsessive about it. ·
  • Get yourself a budget and work out accommodation, flights and expenses.
  • Think about leveraging a trip to somewhere else whilst you’re there; don’t miss the opportunity to see places you may never see again. ·
  • Enter the lottery for the rooms at the host hotel. This means you will need to make the decision to go at least 12 months in advance. ·
  • Go with a friend/s for sharing helps to defray cost and maximise the experience ·
  • If there are people you want to meet, make a list. Chances are that you will meet many within the first 24 hours and then many more. ·
  • Book in for all possible meals that are on offer. You pay for them when you register and that means some meals you don’t have to think about. ·
  • Discuss with your friend/s the classes you will attend at Berner U. You can’t attend them all so try and gain as much information as you can between you. ·
  • Attend the evening speakers’ presentations. ·
  • Take photos of your dog/s in a brag book (or probably now on tablet). People you meet want to see your dogs and are more than happy to show you theirs. ·
  • Buy a catalogue and if possible the Parade catalogue. These will allow you to review photo galleries like those by professional photographer Chris Stefanac ·
  • Go and look at the grooming area and watch (with their permission) exhibitors groom. ·
  • Read the Rescue Gallery stories… ·
  • Attend the Health Auction if only to be part of the crowd. ·
  • See as many of the canine sports as you can but ensure you see the Veterans Parade. ·
  • Try and get to the local attractions. I regret not taking an afternoon to go across the battlefields on horseback. Lesson learned.·

Need any help? There are a number of BMDCV members who have been to a Specialty and we’ll be more than happy to help you prepare for your Specialty adventure.

Annie Bell --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

** What is a Top Producer.? The Berner's owner must be a BMDCA member at the time the dog becomes eligible for Top Producer recognition. To be a BMDCA Top Producer a dog must have sired at least six Champions, Versatility or Working Titled dogs; a bitch must have produced at least four. This award is given on a one time basis. All BMDCA Top Producers are eligible for a free page in the BMDCA yearbook.

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