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Breed Series

Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog breed portrait

Introduction

Nestled in the cantons of Switzerland, Bernese Mountain Dogs have lived lives of early-rising work dogs, helping to herd cattle, drag carts along, work as watchdogs, and provide loving companionship to their owners.

Bernese mountain dog resting on mountain

As far as their name, where exactly does that come from? Hailing originally from Bern, Switzerland, and given that they’re mountain dogs, they’ve earned the straight-forward name of “Bernese Mountain Dog”. That's also to say that "Burmese" Mountain Dog isn't quite right, even though it's a popular way to err this breed's name.

While Bernies are truly lovable furballs, any prospective pup owners should remember that this breed was meant to work on mountain slopes from dawn until dusk, meaning they have boundless energy. Also, Bernies shed and bark, so it’s important to realize your Bernese Mountain Dog will need some care and training. With that being said, it’s certainly possible to welcome a Bernese Mountain Dog into your family with some love & effort.

History

Tracing back the history of Bernese Mountain Dogs, the tape may have to rewind by 2,000 years; possibly descending from ancient breeds like the Molosser, Swiss breeds like the Appenzeller or Sennenhound, and other breeds which the Romans may have introduced upon invading  the Alps in the 1st century B.C.E., modern day “Berners” are most likely a cross between all of the above.

Since then, Berners have been nobly tilling the soil of Swiss farms, safeguarding other animals, and providing love to their owners. 

2 bernese mountain dogs pulling cart in swiss farm

During the 1800s & 1900s, a shift took shape from rural to urban living, in Switzerland; in fact, by 1888, only 36% of Swiss people worked on the farm. Of course, with Bernies being the ultimate Swiss farmhand, suddenly it looked like they were “out of work” – what were they to do if they weren’t so needed on the farm?

Despite the fact there was less and less need for Bernies to work the farm, in 1899 a dog club called “Berna” was founded in Switzerland, aiming to preserve the country’s rich diversity of great dog breeds. By 1904, an international dog show in Bern featured a category for mountain dogs, showing a growing interest in the country’s working breeds. By no coincidence, that same year the Swiss Kennel Club officially recognized the Bernese Mountain Dog breed.

In an odd twist of fate, the Bernese Mountain Dog’s popularity began to take root with the help of both World Wars. After WWI, Bernies began making their way to Holland and even England; then, after WWII, many Bernies were imported to the United States to loving homes.

bernese mountain dog winner at dog show

Finally, in 1981, the American Kennel Club welcomed Bernese Mountain Dogs into their club of recognized dog breeds.

Size

Bernese Mountain Dogs are the epitome of gentle giants; despite weighing between 80 to 115 pounds for males, and 70 to 95 pounds for females, Bernies are extremely gentle and great with kids. 

bernese mountain dog breeds - male and female

As far as height, males tend to range between 25 and 28 inches, while females are usually between 23 and 26 inches tall.

Personality

With an intelligence that you’d imagine would come from thousands of years of pondering atop Swiss mountains, Bernese Mountain Dogs are extremely trainable & smart. Equalling their intelligence, Bernies are well-known for their huge hearts, which welcome any family members big or small.

training a berny dog

Fortunately, around strangers, Bernies aren’t known to be aggressive, but they can be slightly stand-offish and nervous during a first encounter. For that reason, it’s extremely helpful to socialize your Berny early on with lots of different people, animals, and circumstances.

With that being the case, if you’re curious about the real temperament of a Berny which you might parent, then know that their personality will depend heavily on how you socialize and raise your dog. Apart from that, you can also observe your pup’s parents & siblings as a hint of their future personality. 

bernese mountain dogs puppies for adoption

Lots of options are available to socialize your Berny; you can visit urban dog parks, enroll your Berny in puppy kindergarten, or regularly introduce your dog to friends and family. By investing that quality time into raising your Berny, you’ll have a wonderful mixture of friendly nature and nurture.

Health

Like all pure breeds, there’s a chance that your Berny could face some health issues if the breeding wasn’t done perfectly. Similar to WebMD, this list of health concerns is by no means anything to panic over, but it’s just good to know as a parent.

Cancer

Telltale signs of pup cancer can be odd bumps, sores which don’t heal, or unusual swelling. Similar to humans, treatment can include chemotherapy, surgery, or other medications.

Hip Dysplasia

This is a condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit very well into your dog’s hip joint. Over the short term, this can cause discomfort in your pup’s rear legs, and over the longer haul this can cause some arthritis. The best way to diagnose hip dysplasia is via an X-ray.

Elbow Dysplasia

Very much like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is a condition in which the elbow joint can deteriorate over time, possibly causing arthritis in later years. Various solutions exist, such as losing weight, taking certain anti-inflammatory treatments, or surgery.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

It’s not uncommon for dogs to lose some of their vision later in their lives. Sometimes this can be in the form of PRA, where the retinas of the eyes gradually wear out. At first, this can cause night-blindness, but can spread to day-time vision as well.

Gastric Torsion

In layman's terms, gastric torsion is a dangerous condition in which a dog’s stomach actually twists, much like when balloons are twisted for balloon art. Gastric Torsion is mainly a risk when the stomach is filled, perhaps after lots of exercise. Once twisted, it’s almost impossible for the dog to burp or vomit, which can cause a host of medical issues. Signs of gastric torsion include a distended abdomen, excessive drooling, or lethargic behavior with a high heart rate.

Care

Keep in mind that, in their hearts, Bernese Mountain Dogs long for the open ranges of their mountainous, Swiss cantons. With that being the case, a 500 square foot apartment probably won’t work for a Berny who isn’t a puppy; it would be best to have lots of floor-space with a yard.

As a good rule of thumb, you can imagine that about 1 hour of exercise (plus time outside in the backyard) will suffice for a Berny. You could potentially split that hour twice per day to keep your Berny’s energy balanced.

bernese mountain dog in a backyard with friend

Similarly, since Bernies were bred to be all-weather mountain dogs in the Alps, they’ve got thick, furry coats which tend to overheat in the summertime. To prevent heat stroke, you’ll want to make sure your Berny doesn’t get carried away with summertime play too much. Conversely, the crisp morning air or even snowy fields are perfect for Bernies. 

A lot like human teenagers, Berny puppies sometimes don’t realize how quickly they’re growing, and can damage their joints when playing on hard or dangerous terrain. For that reason, don’t hesitate to be a stricter pup parent if it means your dog could avoid an injury.

Feeding

Knowing that your Berny could eventually sprout to being 80 or even over 100 pounds, you’ll have to satisfy a voracious appetite with healthy meals.

bernese mountain dog waiting patiently for food

It’s best to speak directly with your veterinarian about what your Berny should eat, since their feeding regime could change between being a puppy, an adult, and a senior.

Coat Color & Grooming

No winter jacket, Canada Goose included, comes close to the gorgeous mountain coats of Bernese Mountain Dogs. Their outer coat is distinctively jet black, alongside a white underbelly, and a brown transitional color. Interestingly, much like polar bears, Bernese Mountain Dogs actually have a second under-coat, for added insulation.

To best maintain their manes of hair, it’s good to know that Bernies shed throughout the year, though most of their coats shed during the spring and fall. For that reason, keeping a consistent routine of daily brushing and periodic bathing will do wonders for your Berny’s good looks.

bernese mountain dog being groomed by professional groomer

Teeth are a notorious gripe with dogs, and it’s most ideal to brush your dog’s teeth once per day, if not at least a few times per week. If your Berny mostly eats dry kibble, you won’t have as much to fear about tartar and plaque, but it’s a good idea to be proactive about your pup’s oral health.

In addition to regular brushing of the hair and the teeth, you’ll want to trim your Berny’s nails, and inspect your pup’s body and feet for stuck thistles, sores, or other areas of sensitivity. 

Conclusion

You’ve climbed this Swiss mountain of an article, learning more about these majestic dogs of the Alps. As a Bernese Mountain Dog parent, you’ll welcome a highly intelligent & loving furrball to your family, joining plenty of other happy Bernies owners around the world.