The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of four large dog breeds originating from the Swiss Alps. This breed hails from the canton of Bern, an agricultural area vital to Switzerland’s dairy production. Bernese Mountain Dogs worked as farm dogs: accompanying alpine herders and dairymen, herding and protecting cattle, and even pulling carts of cheese to market.
Originally recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1937, today the Bernese Mountain Dog is ranked number 22 in popularity of the 193 recognized breeds and categorized in the Working Group.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BERNESE MOUNTAIN DOG
What characteristics define the Bernese Mountain Dog? Read on to discover what physical attributes and personality traits make the Bernese Mountain Dog such a unique breed.
Though all four breeds created in the Swiss Alps are easily identified by their large size and distinctive tri-colored coats, the Bernese Mountain Dog is the only one of the four to sport long hair. The thick double coat has a long outer coat and wooly undercoat, rendering the Berner well-suited to cold climates. Ideal individuals have predominantly black coats with a white chest and white horseshoe shape around a black nose. They also have rust-colored markings above the eyes, on the sides of the mouth, and on the front of the legs. The American Kennel Club also recognizes individuals with coats that exhibit tan markings instead of rust-colored. Their bodies are slightly longer than they are tall, heavy-set and muscular, with a wide, strong back.
Bernese Mountain Dog males weigh between 80 and 120 lbs and stand approximately 25-28 inches high at the withers (top of the shoulder). Females weigh between 75 and 100 lbs and stand between 23 and 26 inches at the withers.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is characterized by a docile, self-assured, and good-natured temperament. Their reputation as “gentle giants” is well-earned by their care for livestock and humans, young and old. It is not uncommon to see a Bernese Mountain Dog with small children climbing on and over him as he lies amongst his human family. This breed is very affectionate, patient, and tend to work well around other pets and strangers. Berners can be goofy and comical in play. Bernese Mountain Dogs are quite loyal, bonding strongly with one owner or family, and would not do well living outside of the family home. Berners have a life expectancy of 7-10 years.
CARING FOR A BERNESE MOUNTAIN DOG
Understanding and maintaining a Bernese Mountain Dog’s particular needs will lead to a longer, healthier life for your dog and a more enjoyable partnership for both dog and owner. Read on to learn more about the nutrition, exercise, training, and health requirements of a thriving Berner to ascertain whether this is the right breed for you.
Bernese Mountain Dogs thrive on a high-quality dog food specially formulated for large breeds with high energy and exercise requirements. Diets should be appropriately tailored to an individual based on age (puppy, senior, etc) and activity level. Many dog foods have serving suggestions on their packaging, but monitoring food intake and body condition, as well as consulting with your veterinarian, are all simple ways to make sure your dog is receiving the nutrition he or she requires. Bernese Mountain Dogs can be prone to obesity, so use treats sparingly.
Bernese Mountain Dogs require at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day to maintain optimum health. Though they thrive best living indoors among their human family members, Berners enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. Berners are not suited to apartment or condo life: a large, fenced-in backyard is recommended. Bernese Mountain Dogs can expel energy pulling carts, an activity for which they were originally bred; there are even carting and drafting competitions as well as contests of agility, herding, and obedience.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a working dog. With the high-energy requirements characteristic of the breed as well as their large size, training and socialization during puppyhood are essential. This breed is known to take longer than average to mature, so consistent training and patience are key to successfully raising a Bernese Mountain Dog. Puppy classes are a great way to start training and socializing a new Berner puppy early on. At minimum, your Bernese Mountain Dog should learn basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, and come. Berners are typically intelligent and eager to please, making them easy to train. Due to their sweet nature, they do not respond well to harsh training methods or hard corrections. Bernese Mountain Dogs can also be trained to pull a small cart using a harness.
Due to their strong familial ties, Berners left alone for long periods of time can resort to undesirable behaviors. Some of these behaviors can be mitigated by providing access to puzzles and interactive toys.
Although generally healthy, irresponsible breeding has led to some Bernese Mountain dogs suffering from hip or elbow dysplasia and eye disease. Hip and elbow dysplasia are both inherited conditions. The easiest way to diagnose the problem is via a visit to the vet and x-rays. Both conditions can lead to arthritis but are manageable with weight management, joint supplements, medicine, or surgery, depending on severity.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy, or PRA, is a family of eye diseases that involve gradual deterioration of the retina. Many affected dogs adapt well to their limited vision.
Berners can also suffer from bloat, a common though life-threatening occurrence in most large, deep-chested dog breeds. Know the symptoms and causes of bloat to quickly identify the problem and seek medical attention.
The Bernese Mountain Dog’s long, silky coat sheds year-round, though shedding is worse when seasons change. Plan to comb your Berner’s fur at least once a week with a brush to minimize shedding and stay on top of tangles. Also consider investing in a vacuum best-suited for dealing with pet hair.
Other breeds similar to the Bernese Mountain Dog include:
- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
- Entlebucher Mountain Dog
- Appenzeller Sennenhund
- Great Pyrenees
- Estrela Mountain Dog