Interview with Bobbie Hefner, Breeder of Swiss Star Farms’ Bernese Mountain Dogs
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Bobbie Hefner: I live in Grass Valley, California, on 11 acres with a pond and a house on top of the hill. I have been in dogs since I got my first tri-colored mutt when I was five years of age. At age eight, my father gave me my first camera and I spent time dressing up “Nicky” and photographing him. Seventy-six years later, I am still photographing litters of puppies and dogs.
That five-week-old puppy, given to a five-year-old kid, became the guiding light that took me down the road I never dreamed I would be on. I have been in Bernese Mountain Dogs now for 36 years. I currently have seven Bernese, ranging in age from eight months to 10 years. Five of the seven arenow retired.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Bobbie Hefner: My registered kennel name is Swiss Star’s. I chose it as my lines came down from the Swiss breed and I wanted them to shine in every way a star does.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
Bobbie Hefner: I have had many noteworthy winning dogs, but the dog that set me on the road to success was one I was lucky enough to get as a barely two-year-old, and just recently bred to my foundation bitch, Ch. Vombreiterwegs Swiss Lace, “Lacey,” from Mary Townsend. When circumstances had prevented his owners from keeping him, they called me and asked if I wanted to have him. I purchased him with one point left to finish his AKC Championship for a four-dollar transfer fee, a glass of iced tea, and a roast beef sandwich. I had no idea at that time that breed history was going to be made.
He was Am. Can. Mex. FCI Int’l. Ch. Dallybecks Echo Jackson CD NDD HIC TDI CGC. “Jackson” (October 1987-March 1998) was bred by Marge and Andrew Reho. He became the Number One producer of champion dogs in the history of the breed, producing 81 champions. He is also the Number One producer of obedience-titled dogs.
In 1992, Jackson was invited to the AKC National Dog Championship. Because of that, he was the dog used in the AKC video to show what movement should be like in this breed. Even today, many of the past and current Top 20 dogs go back to this dog. In 1993, we retired Jackson from the AKC Breed ring.
In 1990, we sent him to Canada where he was No. 1 BMD and a multiple BIS winner. With two years of limited showing in the US, Jackson placed in or won the Group 47 times. In Jackson’s first litter with my Lacey, four of the seven puppies finished their championship, including Ch. Swiss Star’s Blue Baron who won the National Specialty, not once but twice. At age seven, he because an international champion, receiving the highest V ratings based on the Swiss Standard. I am proud and humbled to share with you his many accomplishments.
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
Bobbie Hefner: The other dogs that were influential to the history of Swiss Star Farms include Ch. Dallybecks Instant Appeal. “Jessie” took her first 5-point major at six months of age and went on easily to finish her championship. The first time I bred her was to a Norwegian import named Ch. Norman Viking Argo.
Out of that breeding came Ch. Swiss Star’s Christmas Spice, owned by Joe and Lynn Wynne, who took an Award of Merit at Westminster. Out of “Argo” and Jessie came the World Dog Show winner in Mexico, Ch. Swiss Star’s Knight Of A Viking, call name “Normann,” owned by Laura Lopez-Mendez.
After that, she was bred to a Swiss import, owned by my friend, Gina McDonnell, who also owned the 1987 Winner of the National, Ch. Harlequins Thor The Bear, who was also my Lacey’s sire. Gina was on her way to work when she saw this dog in a cow pasture with the cows. She convinced the owner to let her take him home and show him. (It took two weeks to get the “cow stuff” out of his coat and clean him up.) He finished his Canadian championship in three shows. His name was Can. Ch. Weron V.D. Schwarzwasserfluh.
I sent “Jessie” to Gina to be bred to this dog, and that breeding produced six champions, including Am. Can. Ch. Swiss Star’s Midsummer’s Knite, call name “Oberon,” who was also an Award of Merit winner at Westminster and the BOS at the National Specialty in Rhode Island. He was also a multiple Group-placing dog and Canada’s Number One dog in 1995. I repeated the breeding, and that produced Am. Can. Ch. Swiss Star’s Raider of the Last Bark CD. “Harrison” became the first Dual Versatility dog.
We have won every award possible on a National level: BOB, BOS, WD, WB, and BOW, Sweeps and HIT (all except Futurity, as I always forget the timeframe to enter). I have imported dogs from England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. All finished their championships and all have added something special to my life in dogs. Out of the Lacey and Jackson litters, I am the most proud of a puppy we bred who, at the age of nine, became the first BMD to accomplish the remarkable title of Ch. UDX U-CDX Swiss Star’s Welcome Waggin CDX TD NA CGC. “Stormy” was written up in the AKC Gazette.
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Bobbie Hefner: All of my puppies are raised in the house. I have an office where the whelping box is and everything that I will need. (Also a very uncomfortable cot that I sleep on close to them for at least two weeks.) After that, they have the run of the office and then I move them to the family room.
At four weeks I let them play on my deck, which is huge. The weather determines how long I let them be outside. I handle the puppies daily, including holding them up, down, etc., which stimulates the immune system. As they get older, we let them roam around on different surfaces, run in and out of tunnels, and play with and explore multiple toys. From three weeks until they go home, I always have lots of company to visit with them.
What is my “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decisions?
Bobbie Hefner: Most of my puppies go to wonderful families that already have my dogs, and some are coming back, even now, wanting their seventh dog from me. If I am lucky enough to find a good show home, it is most often a puppy that stands out almost right from the start.
At five weeks, I begin to stack them on a table. At six to seven weeks, I start looking where the post sternum is positioned. I want it to stick out a bit in front of the front legs. After that, I look at where the shoulders are placed and what the rear angulation is like. And then I just sit on the deck and watch them move. This usually says it all. And, of course, I look at the bite, the shape of the eye, and the tail set. I don’t dwell on the markings. When I look at a puppy, or any dog for that matter, I try to determine if that dog can do the work that it was bred to do, and for this breed, it has to be in balance to do the work not only as a Swiss farm dog, but as a cart-pulling dog. Can the dog do it all day without breaking down?
How do I prepare my pups for the show ring? Does my breed require any special preparation?
Bobbie Hefner: I used to show my own dogs and take my own to handling classes, but with a few orthopedic surgeries I now let someone else do that. I do go on walks with them and go through all the motions of making them stand correctly, and let someone check the bite and go over the dog.
Can I share my thoughts on how my breed is currently presented in the show ring?
Bobbie Hefner: I think there is still too much trimming done in this breed. It clearly states in the Standard that the breed should be shown in its natural coat.
Are there any health-related concerns within my breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Bobbie Hefner: The biggest health concern in this breed is their short lifespan, which really has not changed much in years or in any country. The average age is seven, with a variance of two years on either side. Almost all Bernese Mountain dogs will die of cancer, whether they live a short life or a very long life. Histiocytic Sarcoma is the number one killer in BMDs. Once diagnosed, they almost all die within two to four months.
My beautiful first grand champion, “Journey,” GCH Swiss Star’s Off To See The Wizard, had this cancer. We caught it early and treated her with chemo, vitamin C infusions, Chinese herbs, and mushrooms. She lived, happy and pain-free for 19 months, and then, within two days, she had to be put down as our vet thought it had gone into the bone marrow. She was almost nine when she passed.
It is hard to find a Bernese owner who has not had experience with cancer. But that said, it is still the only breed I would ever want. There is just something almost magical about them. Then again, if you don’t want dog hair in that cracked egg you just put in the pan (or hair on your clothes or a “whole other dog” under the couch), you may not want this breed!
Is my breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Bobbie Hefner: The Bernese does make a good family dog as they tend to love kids and get along well with other pets. However, a lot depends on how the kids treat the dog. When we have owners with children that we are just getting to know, they have to come to my farm with their children so that I can see how those kids are with not only puppies, but with adult dogs.
This breed is big, powerful, extremely strong, and very intelligent. Without proper training they will run the household and drag you right down the street. By contract, all of our puppies must go to Puppy Socialization Class after 16 weeks. They must attend no fewer than three different Obedience sessions as they mature, and they must have the AKC CGC before they are 18 months old. (Many of my dogs have achieved their CGC by six months of age.) This way, I know the dog will be under some control and is well-behaved, not just when it is home but when it is in any situation.
Do I feel that my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Bobbie Hefner: Yes, I think many breeders support the preservation of the breed. Do we need more? I think you can never have enough, and it is important that each breeder helps the next generation of breeders to become what the breed will require in the future. I know there are breeders out there who will not get back to someone who calls looking for a puppy since they don’t have any puppies or their list of buyers is already too long.
Years ago, I know that when I went down the road of becoming a breeder I also needed to be an educator to the public. So, even when my list of people wanting puppies is long or I won’t be breeding again for a year, I answer every call and every email with a note to have them call me at my phone number.
Most who call have never had a Bernese. I talk to everyone and I teach them all I have learned in 36 years; what the breed is really like, what care they need, etc., etc., etc. I am often on the phone for an hour at a time, and many times during the entire week with different people all over the US. I don’t do it because I have all the time in the world, as I don’t. (Not only am I involved in Conformation shows, I do Canine Scent Work with three dogs and Rally with one dog, and also Obedience.) I do it because it is the right time to do it.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with my breed?
Bobbie Hefner: This is the fun part. Four dogs sleep on their own beds in my bedroom, and I set the alarm each morning at 7 a.m. One morning, I woke up early, before the alarm went off, and just hopped out of bed to make coffee and toast. As I was putting butter on the toast, I heard that alarm go off with its “god-awful” sound.
I didn’t want to leave the toast, as I knew one of the other dogs would grab it. So, as I was putting the last amount of butter on the toast, the alarm was getting louder and here comes one of the dogs out of the bedroom with the alarm clock in her mouth, pushing it into my hand. This is how smart they are. All those many mornings, she knew it was me who turned it off and, when I didn’t, she brought it to me so that I could fulfill this a.m. job.
Another time, I was out on the deck with company when my phone in the house started ringing. I was just going to let it ring and go to voicemail but, the next thing I knew, one of the dogs pushed open the screen door to the deck and brought me the phone—still ringing—and handed to me. You just never know what your dog is observing you doing.
I just want to end by saying that even accomplishing many things in the breed, I truly have to thank my many friends and owners of my puppies who have been the reason I’ve prospered within the dog community, and also my family who put up with my dogs and have been there to care for them when I was off photographing and traveling or “vacationing” in a hospital bed after surgery. Well, there is that too! It truly does take a village.
Are you looking for a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home a Bernese Mountain Dog?
Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.
Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Magazine
Read and learn more about the good-natured Bernese Mountain Dog breed with articles and information in our Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Magazine.
Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Magazine - Showsight