ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Amazingly aristocratic, the Bernese mountain dog is one of the most attractive types of working dogs from Switzerland. Its physical aspect is majestic considering its large size, black, shiny coat and adorable features. The beauty of this dog breed can charm any person who likes strong dogs with imposing statures.

Not the kind of dog that barks at any stranger, the Bernese mountain dog is brave and very loving. It loves its whole family and likes to be present in the middle of the action, whichever that is. Recently bred just for companionship, the Bernese mountain dog has many useful qualities.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsAbove Average

Dog Breed Group: Working Dogs
Height: Generally 1 foot, 11 inches to 2 feet, 3 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: Generally 70 to 115 pounds
Life Span: 6 to 8 years

The name of this dog breed comes from Bern, which is a town in the Swiss Alps. It was created by mating shepherd dogs with mastiff dogs. They are very adaptable when it comes to doing various chores. In the past, some of them used to carry trolleys that were loaded with milk, cheese and other products. Others were making themselves useful by guarding herds or flocks.

The Bernese mountain dog’s appearance can be easily distinguished from other dog breeds from Switzerland thanks to its long and slightly wavy coat. The colors of this dog type’s coat are arranged in a very unique way. It has rusty stains around its eyes and a white spot between its forehead and snout. Its paws are white and a part of its chest too, in the shape of a cross. This dog breed inspires strength thanks to its muscular and well-proportioned body. Its chest is wide and its legs are long.

This dog’s personality shines thanks to its patience and its tolerant character. It is a perfect family dog because it is devoted, it behaves nicely with children and doesn’t get bored even if they tend to exhaust it with the same demands. Training such dog is done easily at young age, so there is no reason not to love it!

Main Highlights
  • The Bernese mountain dog originates in Switzerland, namely in Bern.
  • This dog breed is very old, dating back 2000 years ago during the Roman Empire.
  • It was bred as farm dog, helping with gathering and guarding cattle and sheep.
  • It used to carry carts loaded with groceries or fabrics from one village to another.
  • The Bernese mountain dog is very agile despite its massive bone structure, waist and size.
  • It can be described as a dog with a special personality that stands out by protectiveness towards its owners and intelligence.
  • This dog type is very alert and has a lively temperament.
  • It has an excellent personality and loves to learn new things
  • It is very easy to train because it wants to please its owner.
  • Ideal family dog, the Bernese mountain dog is very good with children and it can be shy with strangers.
  • Not aggressive unless it has a very good reason, this dog breed is alert, confident, fearless and reserved with strangers.
  • The Bernese mountain dog is strong, sturdy and solid with a balanced walking style.
  • Some specimens exhibit a white spot at the base and behind their necks, called “Sweet Kiss”.
  • It doesn’t like heat, so it should be kept in cool places.
  • It shouldn’t be fed with foods rich in proteins because it might become bloated.
  • It was voted “the most beautiful dog” by the Americans during the 1980s as a result of a pool organized on TV.
  • It is most loved, esteemed and spread dog in Switzerland. It is also popular in Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, France, Italy, Canada and the US.
  • Swiss dog expert named Heim said about the Bernese mountain dog that is “the most beautiful dog in the world”, statement which is entitled.
Breed History

Although there are 4 distinct Swiss shepherd dog breeds, they were all called by the same name until the end of the nineteenth century, namely “Sennenhund”, which means drover dog. These 4 dog breeds were developed in different regions and named after them. The thing they have in common is the fact that all have tri-colored coats.

Swiss Shepherds’ origins date back 2000 years ago when the Romans invaded Switzerland, also known as Helvetia. They were used as guard dogs and to guide cattle.  Those that were strongest used to carry carts filled with milk, cheese and other foods and fabrics from one location to the other. At first, these dogs were known as Gelbbackler, which means “yellow cheeks”, Vierauger, which means “four eyes” or, more commonly, Durrbachler.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, dog experts began to be more and more interested in the Swiss shepherd dogs. At that time, the Swiss recognized the Saint Bernard dog breed officially, but not the other shepherd dogs. Albert Heim, the breeder of Newfoundland, was the first to see the difference between these shepherd dogs used for various purposes. Under the guidance of a group of 30 amateurs, he began to handle the selection of cattle dogs from the canton of Bern. Among the most successful were those specimens grown in Durrbach, so the first official name of this dog breed was Durrbachler.

In 1907, Dr. Heim has established the first standard of the breed and, a year later, he proposed the “Berner Sennenhund” name. These dogs looked quite different back then, so breeders had to bring homogeneity among these dogs. 1907 is also the year when the Bernese mountain dog’s club was founded.

As a curiosity, there was a whole dispute between breeders regarding the shape of the Bernese mountain dog’s nose. It was noted that 2 of the 8 specimens presented at Lucerne during the first official exhibition had an anatomical peculiarity. The top line of the nose was basically split in 2 symmetric parts. Some breeders part of the official Club were excited considering that it was an unseen characteristic that should’ve been preserved. Dr. Heim convinced them that, in reality, it was not an original feature of the breed, but on the contrary, a congenital abnormality.

After World War II, the situation was very precarious for the Bernese mountain dog. There were only a few copies left and almost not enough purebreds to mate and give birth to healthy new dogs. On top of that, not all were worthy of mating because they were behaving atypically or they were too afraid in general. The modern Bernese mountain dog was actually created by a male Newfoundland and a Bernese female. Alex, the male resulted from the 3rd generation is considered the prototype of the modern Bernese mountain dog. Alex was mated with no less than 51 females.

Size

The Bernese mountain dog is a large sized dog. As usual, male copies are taller and heavier than female copies, as it follows: between 25 to 27.5 inches tall, male Bernese mountain dogs may weigh between 80 to 115 pounds, while females weight between 70 to 95 pounds and stand 23 to 26 inches tall.

Personality and Character

The Bernese mountain dog is very fond and devoted to its owners and constantly wants to be helpful. Loyalty is the basic trait of this dog breed along with the urge to please their owners, which is inoculated at genetic level. For this reason, they are excellent for auxiliary therapy in case of people with mental disabilities or impairments. Also because of this dog breed’s gentleness and intelligence, it is increasingly used as a guide for the blind, especially in the US. Moreover, there are few copies trained for mountain rescue activities. Even if all these tasks are joyfully met by the Bernese mountain dog, it is the happiest when it is surrounded by people who love it, not that frustrate it.

The Bernese mountain dog is not fitted for a monotonous and boring life. It likes to go to different places and accompany its owners on vacation or on trips. It likes to play a lot, being very affectionate and responsive. In addition, it is known to be an emphatic dog that is able to sense when something is wrong with its owner. This type of dog is easy to distress and relax if engaged in a fetch game.

This dog breed instinctively defends its territory and its owner without being trained to do so. It is very determined and fearless when it comes to facing strangers and taking care of its owners. Furthermore, it is a working dog, always ready to do tasks, strong and docile. Even so, it is gentle, very curious and sometimes shy, attaching itself to the most sensitive member of the family.

At maturity, this type of dog might seem slow and heavy, but it is in fact like a highlander that rushes to do its job. Dominant by nature, it is not very tolerant with other animals since it was first used to guard and guide cattle.

Separation anxiety is a real problem when it comes to the Bernese mountain dog. It is accustomed to be in the company of people, so it needs someone around almost all the time. It reacts negatively if left alone for more than 4 hours, starting to chew on various objects with its powerful jaw.

Health and Potential Problems

The Bernese American Club undertook a study on the health of this dog breed on a total of 1332 dogs. Their average lifespan was 7.2 years. Cancer is one of the main reasons why these dogs die, usually at an early age of 3 to 4 years. They suffer from several health problems, so screening is mandatory for puppies. Susceptibility to disease is also high. There are a fairly large number of genetic diseases that affect these dogs, as it follows:

  • Hip dysplasia: This is one of the most popular and discussed disease. In some cases, it can manifest mildly without lameness, but in other cases it can completely debilitate the dog. Studies have shown that, unfortunately, dogs with dysplasia can produce dysplastic offspring. Hip dysplasia can be diagnosed by performing pelvic radiographs by a veterinarian.
  • Shoulder dysplasia: This disease describes disorders that affect the dog’s shoulder joint. Among its clinical signs is lameness of varying degrees that can occur from the age of 5 months, or even during adulthood. Diagnosis is also based on radiological examination.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans: This is a disease of the cartilage, which can lead to arthritic changes in the joints of these dogs.
  • Panosteitis: It is a disease of the long bones of the limbs, which usually affects puppies from 5-8 months to 2 years. The disease causes pain and lameness, which can be intermittent, chronic and can move from one foot to another. Diagnosis is based on radiological examination too.
  • Ectropion and entropion: The eyelid turns inward or outward and it is an ophthalmic condition that is transmitted genetically.
  • Dilation and gastric torsion: These occur frequently in this type of dog due to its conformation.
  • Allergies: The Bernese mountain dog is prone to developing food allergies.
  • Hypothyroidism can occur relatively frequently, as well as the Von Willebrand disease, aortic stenosis and autoimmune diseases.
  • Cancer: It is perhaps the biggest challenge for both veterinarians and breeders. A study conducted in year 2000 showed that half of all Bernese mountain dogs die because of it.
Care Features

The Bernese mountain dog is not indicated for those people living in apartments, because it cannot accommodate unless it is taken out for walks often. It needs at least one hour of exercise per day and when it is little, it has to be walked in a yard or on a leash because of the way its bones are forming. After 1 year of age, it can be left playing and running without a leash.

Easy to train, the Bernese mountain dog is eager to please throughout its life, but it is the most obedient when it is young. If it is not trained when it is young, it may become violent, unmanageable and think it can do whatever it wants. Since this dog type is characterized by sensitivity, training should be done gently and it should be permissive. Even when it responds slowly to certain commands, its trainer must be patient and understand the higher degree of complexity. Obedience training is not really necessary for the Bernese mountain dog, except a few copies.

Feeding Schedule

A Bernese mountain dog should eat around 3 to 5 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into 2 meals. In general, this type of dog should eat between 22 and 24% proteins and between 12 to 15% fats per day. Since it has recorded a slow growth rate, it is very important not to allow the sudden accumulation of weight regardless of its appetite.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Bernese mountain dog’s coat is of medium length, straight or slightly wavy, silky, soft and made of 2 layers. Its color is shiny black with shades of reddish brown and white in the following areas: legs, cheeks, eyebrows and under the tail area. Because of its abundant coat it must be brushed daily, especially during its shedding periods. Bathing or cleaning it with dry shampoo is necessary.

In those places where its hair gets tangled easy, namely back legs, neck, lower links of the legs and behind the ears, one should pay more attention and brush it more often. When necessary, the hair between this dog’s paws should be carefully removed.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

These dogs are affectionate, patient and very good with children, towards which they have a protective attitude. They tolerate children’s insolence, but children shouldn’t be left alone with such large dogs because accidents can happen even if the animal has good intentions.

The Bernese mountain dog requires early socialization with other pets. When it stays away from other animals for a long time, it may become dominant with them, especially with other dogs. This dog needs repeated interactions with other animals. It needs to be around people too and be given attention.

The Bernese mountain dogs have a pleasant personality and they like to be included in all the aspects of family life. They are among the most appreciated companion dogs considering their size and they don’t cause too much trouble since they should be kept in a yard, not in a small apartment being highly resistant to low temperatures and quite sensitive to high temperatures. Emphatic and quite friendly, the Bernese mountain dogs have many health issues that are usually transmitted from their parents, not acquired during their life because of improper care. Both Americans and Swiss people considered at some point during the past that this dog type is the most beautiful of all.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Charlotte Kingston

    We are interested in getting a Bernese Mountain dog soon because they’re a lovely breed. The few times I’ve been around them are happy moments but I recently learned that they have short lifespans? I saw this on the advert though…wondering if the following could be true. How legitimate are these claims?

    …»mother bred from champion line stud and Belgian bred bitch. European lines guaranteed to reduce chances of cancer; breeding puppies living to 10-13 years.»

    Can this also result in more health problems since they will be living longer?

  • KittyDaniels

    We are owners of a 6 month old Bernese Mountain Dog and we’re agonizing whether to
    have her spayed at such a young age. Although breeding is also an option, we fear that her lifespan will be shortened after a litter. She’s our baby and we would like to give her a good and comfortable life. Any thoughts on this?

    • Her lifespan can be affected if she’ll give birth, but the more important concern there is if you are willing and/or capable of taking care of more BMDs. Having your BMD spayed is not a bad option, and considering the possible illnesses that can be developed for dogs that were not spayed, this is actually a good move.

  • The only problem that turns off prospective pet parents of BMDs is its awfully short lifespan, which is just about 7-8 years. If a breeder claims to breed BMDs that can live beyond the average lifespan, some of it might be true, but you may want to ask for further proof.

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