The Bernese Mountain Dog is a large, heavy mountain dog. It has three colors in its coat, including black, white and rust or black, white and tan. The rust or tan marks the sides of the mouth, the chin, the fronts of the leg and over each eye. There can be a small portion on the white chest. The white markings appear as a sort of horseshoe shape which runs from the center of the forehead down to the nose and around the muzzle. There is also a distinctive white shape on the chest known as the “Swiss cross”. Some dogs will have a small amount of white on the back of their necks which is called the “Swiss kiss”. The majority of the coat is jet black. Some varieties may be black and white or rust and white.
The Bernese Mountain Dog has a flat head, with ears that are rounded on top and hang down. It has straight legs and its tail is bushy and typically hangs downward. It is longer than it is tall, with a strong, sturdy and muscular body.
The Bernese Mountain Dog has an ancient lineage. It comes from the farms of middle Switzerland. For generations, it has been a working dog, used to pull heavy loads. More than two thousand years in the past, Roman soldiers invaded Switzerland and brought these dogs along. They were draft, drover and watchdogs. The ability to work doing chores gave them a place in the farmlands. Within recent history, for the past several hundred years, these dogs were watchdogs, keeping an eye on the family farms for strangers. They also helped to drive cattle and sheep from place to place for farmers and also butchers who needed help moving their herds to slaughter yards or auction.
There are additional theories about the origins of the Bernese and the three other breeds that make up the four large working dogs from the Swiss Alps. Some speculate that the first large dogs were brought by Phoenicians settling in Spain around 1100 BC. These dogs could have migrated eastward to breed with other large mastiff types existing in the region.
Another possible explanation is that large dogs have existed in the region since the Neolithic period. Native farm dogs could have mated with the large Mastiff types brought to Switzerland when settlers from foreign lands came to the region.
This is a calm, yet strong, dog. It is known for its good-natured personality. The breed is considered intelligent, alert and self-confident.
Bernese particularly enjoy being with their families, but often will become attached to one favorite companion. They are good playing with children, and will readily pull them in carts. Even today, many are happy working on farms, serving as the family watchdog. They love cold weather and are strong and sturdy.
Size and Exercise
- Males range in height at the withers from 25 to 27.5 inches.
- Males weigh from 80 to 120 pounds.
- Females range in height at the withers from 23 to 26 inches tall.
- Females weigh from 75 to 100 pounds.
These dogs need to have at least 30 minutes of daily exercise, which should be moderately active to be adequate for this large breed. It can stay safely in a small fenced area, but this should not be its entire space for exercise. A walk with its owner is preferred, and short rounds of playing fetch or tug of war. Their size and weight make them lazy at times, and long periods of running are not good for their joints.
Health Issues and Living Conditions
The health issues which most commonly affect the Bernese Mountain Dog include:
Cancer; with approximately 50% dying from several kinds, including:
a) malignant histiocytosisb) osteosarcomac) mast cell tumord) fibrosarcomae) lymphosarcomaf) lymphomag) histiocytic sarcoma- aggressive muscle tissue cancer
Mobility and Musculoskeletal Issues:
These are large dogs and their skeletons and joints are particularly vulnerable to diseases that affect these body parts. Because these maladies affect working joints, mobility issues are top problems for owners of these dogs. Many resort to using varied crutches, support structures, easy to climb stairs designed for arthritic dogs and some mobile units which support front or back legs in slingsor on platformsto facilitate walking.
a) arthritisb) osteochondritis- painful inflammation of the cartilage or bone in a jointc) hip dysplasiad) cruciate ligament rupture
Common Inherited Problems:
a) Progressive Retinal Atrophy – an inherited disease causing blindnessb) cataractsc) hypomyelinogenesisd) hypoadrenocorticism-decreased secretion of specific hormones which is a chronic problem regarded as autoimmune disease
Bernese Mountain Dogs have an expected lifespan of 7 or 8 years, which is one of the shortest for breeds similar in size.
The Bernese have long, heavy coats which, due to the thickness, need daily brushing. Weekly brushing is the minimum recommendation as they shed around the year, andheavily when the seasons change. They do need regular bathing. Dry shampoo is an option.
Caring for Bernese Mountain Dog Puppies
Compared to other dog breeds, Berners live short lives, but they also mature more slowly. Puppies tend to take longer for their bones, joints and bodies to be ready for learning to do simple things such as jumping, rolling, or other dog tricks. Training for these activities must wait until the puppy is two years old, or even three. Otherwise, the puppy could become injured in a way that might become a problem for growing and developing abilities later on. Their genetic tendencies toward hip problems make it necessary to allow them time to strengthen properly.
Swiss herders have a traditional proverb about Berners. They say “Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, three years an old dog.” This is due to the Berners’ slow progress to mental maturity. These dogs are very loyal for a very short time before they begin to show signs of illness and decline into old dogs. It is not possible to train these puppies until they are about two years old. They typically do not have energy for long active periods, and they are unenthusiastic at best when it comes to learning new behaviors. Puppies do best training for very short times, many times. They cannot sustain attention for extended training periods.
Berners are so agreeable when puppies that behaviors are not normally a problem. They love their owners and enjoy being with children so much that they are willing to do whatever is asked of them. The best path is to feed them properly, make sure they have plenty of water for their typically dry mouths, brush them and love them until they are old enough to handle heavy training in short sessions daily.
Before Taking Your New Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy Home
- Plan to take time locating the breeder that has just the right puppy for you
- Choose the breeder that will help you find your best companion dog, providing ongoing support
- Discuss your home situation clearly and honestly with your favorite breeder
- Share the expectations you have for your new puppy; companion, worker, show dog or breeding dog
- Be prepared to discuss with the breeder your plans for training, socializing and caring for the puppy
- Organize your finances to prepare for the cost of buying a puppy: they range from $1200 to $2000, and can be more.
- Create a budget for routine veterinary care, mandatory licenses, food and treats, toys, a crate, dishes, collar and leash, and pet insurance.
- Reserve dog training and obedience classes to start when the puppy is about eight to 10 months old.
- Keep in mind that the costs for the first year of raising your puppy may very well equal the cost you initially paid for its purchase.
When You Bring Your Puppy Home
Berner puppies need more time to develop than other breeds.They will need to have three meals of vet recommended food daily.They also need to be close to their new family for several days, as they will miss their littermates.
- Provide a crate for sleeping and place it in the bedroom of its primary companion.
- Do not isolate the puppy away from the family
- Give the puppy a collar and leash to teach simple commands such as “sit”, “stay”, and “down”
- Use the leash to show the puppy where it will potty train
- Give the puppy plenty of time to rest, as these large dogs need more than the average amount
- Reward desired behavior with treats• Avoid scolding for bad behaviors as Berners become disinterested very quickly
- Take the puppy to the veterinarian within the first few days to establish a care schedule
- Give the Berner plenty of love and attention, as it adores and needs to be with people
Bernese Mountain Dog Types
There are four regional types of Swiss Mountain Dogs, named Sennen after the herders; “Senner” or “Senn”, from the Swiss Alpine area:
- Berner Sennenhund – the Bernese, from the area of Berne; the midland regions of Switzerland
- Appenzeller Sennenhund- the Appenzeller Cattle or Mountain Dog
- Entlebucher Sennenhund- the Entlebucher Mountain Dog is named for a region of the canton of Lucerne, Switzerland and is the smallest Sennenhund
- Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund- the Greater Swiss is the largest and oldest of the four breeds
Other names for the breed include:
- SennenhundBerner indicates the canton of Berne. “Senn” or “Sennen” means people or herders.
- “Hund” means hound.
The Bernese Mountain Dog was officially recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1937.
The official AKC breed club is the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America.
The Berner-Garde Foundation is devoted to supporting scientific research concerning the general health and causes and cures for genetic diseases of the Bernese Mountain Dog.
Other recognitions are:
American Canine Association Inc. (ACA)American Canine Registry (ACR)American Pet Registry, Inc. (APRI)Canadian Canine Registry (CCR)Canadian Kennel Club (CKC)Continental Kennel Club (CKC)Dog Registry of America, Inc. (DRA)Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI)Kennel Club of Great Britain (KCGB)National Kennel Club (NKC)New Zealand Kennel Club (NZKC)North American Purebred Registry, Inc (NAPR)United Kennel Club (UKC)
Additional Bernese Mountain Dog Photos