Bergamascos are highly intelligent, loving, and trainable. They are a shepherding breed with an origin back thousands of years from Persia (in the area that is now Iran). These hardy shepherding dogs worked with their nomadic masters, tending and herding flocks of sheep in the harsh mountain climates from Persia west to Europe. Certain of these nomads ultimately settled in the Italian Alps and remained there; their dogs becoming what is now known as the Bergamasco.
In the years after WWII, Bergamasco numbers declined. The breed’s American devotees earned a victory in 2015, when the Bergamasco Sheepdog was admitted to the AKC Stud Book.
Bergamasco Sheepdog Appearance
The Bergamasco is a large, muscular herding dog. Their height ranges from 22 to 23.5 inches. They are slightly longer than their height and they weigh 57 to 84 pounds.
The Bergamasco’s coat is its defining characteristic. The hair has three different textures that form naturally occurring loose mats, or “flocks” (strands of hair woven together, creating flat layers of felted hair), covering the body and legs.
Adult Bergamasco’s coat is basically maintenance free. A Bergamasco doesn’t shed, doesn’t need to be brushed, and doesn’t need to be bathed more than two or three times a year. It’s made up of three types of hair, called “dog,” “goat,” and “wool.” Goat and wool hairs start to appear when the dog is a year old. When they do, the coat must be ripped into mats—a process that can take a few hours or a few evenings. But once it’s done, it’s done.
Bergamasco’s life expectancy is 13 to 15 years. They are attentive, intelligent, and patient. They are excellent companions and devoted to family, especially children, but they have their own ideas on just about everything. Bergamascos are courageous guards, with a strong protective instinct, but is never aggressive. He will look for guidance and is eager to please, but probably won’t follow with blind obedience. His breed standard describes him as “naturally stubborn” but in a good way, working until a task is done.
The Bergamasco has a particular empathy for children and chooses himself to be their watcher. He is also an ideal dog for therapy visits to children who are in the hospital or have disabilities. They are gentle with family, and, in the absence of a flock, his primary job is to protect them. He is alert, always ready to bark an alarm. He may not tolerate other dogs who misbehave or humans who act threatening in his home. The Bergamasco accepts strangers once they have been introduced to him. If raised together, he gets along well with other pets.
The Bergamasco is highly athletic, so plenty of exercise is important for his physical and mental health. He also requires a lot of space for activity and is not a good choice for apartment or condo living. Bergamascos are devoted to their people and prefer to be in the home with them. They should have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is inside, the Bergamasco wants to be with them.
Caring for a Bergamasco Sheepdog
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for a Bergamasco Sheepdog.
Bergamascos need high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured with meat listed as the first ingredient or home-prepared (with veterinarian’s supervision and approval). All diets need to be appropriate for the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). To avoid an overweight Bergamasco, calorie consumption and weight level needs to be regularly monitored. Not all human foods are safe for dogs, so take caution and research first. Although helpful in aiding training, giving too many treats will cause obesity. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. Of course, a veterinarian is the best resource when there are questions regarding diet.
The Bergamasco Sheepdog requires only a moderate amount of exercise every day. Because they bond closely with their owners, exercise should include some sort of shared activity rather than the dog being left alone in the backyard. While they are generally calm, Bergamascos have a good amount of energy and are happy to join their owners in almost any sort of activity, whether that includes retrieving a ball or going on a brisk walk or hike. He can be a good competitor in dog sports such as agility, obedience, and rally and is a natural at hiking in the mountains.
Gently exposing the Bergamasco puppy to a wide variety of people, places, and situations will help him develop into a well-adjusted, well-mannered adult. It’s essential to teach him from puppyhood when it’s okay to exercise his protective nature and when to let the owner take charge. Early socialization and training are a necessary part of his upbringing to prevent him from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Bergamascos respond well to consistent positive training. A light hand is all that’s needed for this smart breed. He will respond to kind, firm, consistent training, but he can be independent and self-sufficient.
There is almost no health information on Bergamascos because they are generally a healthy breed living well into their teen years. Some dogs may be faced with health challenges in their lives, but the majority of Bergamascos are healthy dogs. They are at risk of experiencing the following conditions:
- Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: The ball and socket of the joints do not fit properly
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): A degeneration of the retina causing vision loss
- Entropion: The inversion, or turning inwards, of the eyelids of the dog
- Ectropion: The eyelid folds outwards usually affecting the lower lid
- Skin Allergies: Hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system include eczema, hives
- Heat Related Conditions: Overheating and dying of heat exhaustion quicker and at lower temperatures than other breeds
Teeth should be cleaned a couple of times a week. Gum disease can lead to heart, liver, and kidney problems. Nails need to be trimmed at least every six weeks. Nails that aren’t trimmed can splinter and infect the quick or grow and curl into the flesh. This can be painful for your dog to walk on. Nails should never touch the ground. Trimming is past due if nails are clicking on the kitchen floor.