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Bergamasco Shepherd: The Innovative Problem-Solver

Image showing two Bergamasco Shepherd dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Are you looking for an intelligent and independent dog? If the answer is yes, then the Bergamasco Shepherd might be a good choice for you. This is one of the most curious dog breeds you will ever meet—in a good way.

While some herding dogs need to be ordered by their humans to execute a command, the Bergamasco is trained to problem-solve independently. On top of their smarts, these dogs also have unique coats that happen to be surprisingly low-maintenance and hypoallergenic.

These dogs look fluffy during puppyhood and then morph into dogs with dreadlocks. This breed does not shed, so it produces less dander and prevents you from downing doses of antihistamines. It also means you don’t have to vacuum all the time. These dogs are affectionate, good with children, and are good watchdogs, too.

Image of a person walking with a Bergamasco Shepherd dog

If you’re thinking about adopting a Bergamasco, this article will tackle some things you need to know about this breed and some basic care information so that your Bergamasco can grow up to be one happy dog. From this breed’s physical characteristics and personality traits to its care features, you’ll learn all you need to know about this unique breed.

Breed Characteristics

  • Adaptability: High; can even withstand extreme temperatures, but may not be suited for apartment living
  • Trainability: Good; very intelligent. Trained to be a problem solver
  • Health and Grooming: Good; does not need a lot of grooming. The coat is hypoallergenic
  • All Around Friendliness: Good; very friendly towards children and other dogs. Gets along with cats if they are raised together
  • Exercise Needs: Moderate; likes brisk walks or hikes. Should be a mutual activity with owners because of its affectionate nature
Dog Breed GroupHerding Dogs
HeightMales: 22½ - 24½ inches

Females: 21 - 23 inches
WeightMales: 70 - 84 pounds

Females: 57 - 71 pounds
Lifespan13 - 15 years

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is an ancient breed with a lineage that dates back hundreds of years. The breed is thought to originate in Persia (now Iran) and were the sheepherding dogs of their nomadic masters.

Over the years, the breed was brought to the harsh highlands of Western Europe and ultimately settled in the Italian Alps, where the dogs became known as Bergamasco. Bergamascos are members of the herding group of dogs. They work closely with their masters, and their goal is to protect the herd. But unlike other sheepherding dog breeds that execute on command, the Bergamasco was developed to think differently.

In the highlands where there was only one human, several dogs, and hundreds of sheep, the shepherd needed a dog that was independent. The breed was developed to problem-solve on its own.

Image of a Bergamasco Shepherd puppy and his mother

It took direction from the shepherd but the manner to accomplish the task was left for the dog to think through. It was trained to identify problems and to solve them to achieve its goal. This trait was developed because situations change quickly in mountain valleys.

Upon first glance, the Bergamasco seems like a high-maintenance dog due to its coat. Many people are shocked to know that the Bergamasco requires minimal amounts of grooming.

The hair doesn’t need brushing, and because the hair is protected by oil, the coat is odorless and does not shed. Bathing is only done around 3 – 4 times per year because the longer the coat, the more time it needs to dry. They make great pets for people with dander allergy because they are a hypoallergenic breed.

See Also: Top Hypoallergenic Dogs

This is a highly affectionate dog breed. Because they were bred to work closely with their humans, they develop strong bonds with their masters quickly. They are also good with children and will even play with them.

Bergamasco Shepherd standing on the grass in the sun

They can be wary of strangers but are not aggressive as long as they are not shown threatening behavior. Bergamascos can also get along with other dogs and family pets like cats provided that they were raised together.

Bergamascos are outdoor dogs and like spending time outdoors. However, they don’t require lots of exercises. You can let them exercise by themselves in an enclosed yard or let them tumble around with your kids.

Main Highlights

  • This dog breed is intelligent, strong, and independent. These traits were developed by early shepherds so that they can look after flocks more efficiently.
  • They are not instinctively aggressive but are good watch dogs and guard dogs. They will tell you when a stranger is at the door but won’t attack so long as the stranger does not show threatening behavior. They are patient and tolerant, but protective.
  • They are also tolerant towards other dogs so long as the other dogs do not show dominant or aggressive behavior.
  • They do well with cats especially if they were raised together since puppyhood.
  • Bergamascos have matted coats that look like dreadlocks when they become adults. The coat is easy to care for especially after the mats have set.
  • This dog breed requires moderate amounts of exercise every day. It’s best that you find activities to do together because Bergamascos like to spend time with their humans.
  • They are very trainable because of their deep desire to please their masters.
  • They don’t have genetic health issues and can live for 13 — 15 years.
  • However, they can still suffer from hip dysplasia, entropion, skin allergies, and progressive retinal atrophy, which are common among domestic dog breeds.
  • They nearly became extinct after WWII due to a decrease in demand for wool. The breed was preserved through a careful breeding program that spanned nearly 40 years by Italian breeder and scientist Dr. Maria Andreoli.

Breed History

The history of the Bergamascos can be traced to the nomads of ancient Persia thousands of years ago. They were bred by ancient shepherds to look after their sheep and goat. The nomads migrated to the Italian Alps and took their dogs with them and developed a dog that had the abilities to identify problems of the herd and deal with them independently.

When the breed first arrived in Northern Italy, the dogs became highly valued by the local shepherds. The dogs did well in cold temperatures with thermometers dipping below freezing especially during winters.

Bergamasco Shepherd walking

They were often isolated as their human counterparts could not stay with them when the weather was too harsh, so the dogs had to learn how to fend for themselves while taking care of their flock.

The Bergamascos Sheepdog almost became extinct when the demand for wool decreased after WWII. Dr. Maria Andreoli decided to preserve the breed. She brought the remaining dogs to Dell’ Albera Kennel and developed healthy and diverse lines of the dog. The modern breed and standardization exist today due to the efforts of Dr. Andreoli.

Size

The Bergamasco is a large sheepdog. This breed is most famous for its corded coat. Males of this breed are 22½ — 24½ inches and weigh 70 — 84 pounds while females stand 21 — 23 inches and weigh 57 — 71 pounds.

Bergamasco-Shepherd dog sitting outside

The Bergamasco is best described as a dog with a lot of substance. They are strong-boned and muscular because they were bred to be herders. They are well-proportioned dogs although they are usually slightly longer than they are tall.

Personality and Character

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is bright, loyal, and loving with a dash of independence. They were bred to be herding dogs, which is probably why they like watching after their human family. This is a dedicated and loyal breed that forms deep bonds with the families. The breed is not a “licky” dog but will show you a lot of affection.

Bergamascos are used to working alone in isolation when they are herding their flocks. As such, they developed an independent and intelligent personality. They were bred to be partners of shepherds rather than subordinates, so it is important that you treat your Bergamasco as part of the family. They are a good choice for people who are looking for intelligence and self-sufficiency.

Bergamasco Shepherd: The Innovative Problem-Solver

They are very good watch dogs and will warn you when people come to your home. However, they are content to watch and not show signs of aggression so long as they do not feel that they or their family members are threatened.

This dog was bred to be an independent problem-solver. They won’t blindly follow orders and are used to working their own way. They get bored with repetitive tasks, but they are highly trainable due to their intelligence. They also like to please their masters, so with proper training and early socialization, these dogs can become obedient and dependable dogs.

Health and Potential Problems

Not much is known about the health problems of Bergamasco Sheepdogs. However, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Andreoli who specialized in genetics, this breed does not have any genetic disorders.

Proper nutrition, exercise, and regular visits to the vet should keep the dogs generally healthy throughout their lifetimes. However, common diseases in domestic dogs such as hip dysplasia, entropion, and progressive retinal atrophy should still be monitored.

Two Bergamasco-Shepherd dogs playing outside

This breed can also suffer skin infection especially if owners shave their coats or trim it too short. They have three types of hair: dog, wool, and goat. Goat and wool hairs start to appear when the dog is approximately one year old.

See Also: Dog Skin Problems: Most Common Problems and Methods of Treatment

When these types of hair begin to appear, they have to be “ripped” into mats. Once it’s done, there’s no need to shave their coat or brush it. Bergamascos can have their hair trimmed, but the mats have to be left alone.

Care Features

Bergamascos need a moderate amount of exercise. They bond closely with their humans and love being around them so activities like daily walks, catch, and other physical activities with their owners are highly encouraged.

A 30-minute brisk walk (or a long walk) is alright. These dogs prefer activities with their families rather than alone-time in the backyard. Although, if you live on a farm or have a large plot of land, Bergamascos should be fine exercising on their own by running around. A long playtime with the kids is also a good alternative.

Two Bergamasco+Shepherd dogs walking on the hills

Because of their size, Bergamascos do not do well in small apartments and need a moderately-sized yard so that they can run about and stretch their legs. While they don’t need a lot of grooming, you still need to keep an eye on their coats. Owners have to make sure that the weaves stay together to prevent skin infection.

The Bergamasco is an intelligent dog, but training is still needed. Early socialization with other people, dogs, and pets will help your dog become well-adjusted and well mannered. This breed requires consistent and firm training. They do not respond well to harsh reprimands.

Feeding Schedule

Bergamasco Sheepdogs should be fed high-quality dog food. You can buy commercially manufactured dog food, or you can make your own. When in doubt, you can ask recommendations from your veterinarian.

See Also: Choosing the Best Dry Food for Your Dog

Dog food should be appropriate to the dog’s age. This means that you should feed them dog food that is specially made for their puppyhood, adulthood, and senior years to ensure that they get the right amount of vitamins and minerals for the different stages of their lives.

Bergamasco Shepherd dog on the mountain

Bergamascos respond well to positive reinforcement during training, so the giving of treats is encouraged. However, overfeeding can lead to obesity, so it’s best to control the giving of treats or to provide extra minutes of exercise daily.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

The first thing people will notice about these dogs is their coat. Colors include fawn, light fawn, black, black and brown, merle, and silver or grey. At first glance, the coat seems to be high maintenance—probably because of the cords that look like dreadlocks. However, many owners are amazed at how little coat maintenance this breed needs.

Puppies start out with having a fluffy coat. At around one-year-old they will develop “goat hairs” and “wool.” Shortly after this appearance, the coat needs to be “ripped” to separate them into cords.

Since professional groomers have limited experience with this breed, owners will have to do this by themselves. It can take a few hours spread over a few days, but once you’re done “ripping” the hairs, you’re done for life.

Bergamasco Dog sitting next to a tree

You need to check once to twice a week for the first six months after ripping to make sure that the hair is not growing back together. This is to ensure that the cords remain separate for their entire lives.

Once the mats have set, there is no need for brushing. This breed does not shed. Shaving of the coat is also discouraged since this hinders the dog’s ability to thermoregulate the heat and the cold. If you don’t like the full coat, you can trim it to a shorter length without disturbing the cords and the mat.

Bathing is not required more than four times a year for Bergamascos. As their coat gets longer, it also takes more time to dry. Some owners take to drying the coat with box fans, and lucky for us, these dogs love the wind.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

Bergamascos which have been socialized with children get along very well with them. They are very understanding with kids and tend to form close bonds with them. Some Bergamascos effectively seek out kids and seem to prefer their company. This breed is sometimes employed as therapy dogs for kids with disabilities.

A Bergamasco+Shepherd dog in the snow

This dog is wary of unfamiliar pets and animals at first but will make friends with them after some time. So long as the other dogs know who the alpha dog is, they will have no problems with the Bergamasco. Bergamascos are used to being equals with their humans, so other dogs need to be submissive. This breed gets along with other dogs so long as they don’t feel threatened.

See Also: Big Dog Names: For Your Larger-Than-Life Pooch

They are friendly towards cats they were raised with. However, they might chase unfamiliar cats and other small pets due to their herding instincts. Early socialization is needed with other pets. They don’t make friends with other animals easily, but given time, they will learn to get along with them.

As guard dogs, Bergamascos are wary of strangers. However, well-socialized dogs are rarely aggressive with strangers and remain polite and aloof. The breed is very adept at determining threats, so once they discern that a stranger is non-threatening, they are willing to become friends.

Wrap Up

The Bergamasco Shepherd is an intelligent breed with an independent streak. They love being with their families especially the kids and make loyal household pets. They were bred to be problem solvers and to work independently, so don’t be surprised if your dog has a mind of his/her own.

A black A Bergamasco+Shepherd dog

These dogs do not do well in small apartments due to their size and prefer big yards and lots of space to play and run around in. They are smart and good watch dogs with good work ethic.

What do you think about the dog’s personality? Do you think that the Bergamasco Sheepdog will make a good addition to your family? Tell us by leaving your comments below. Your opinion matters a lot to us!

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

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