BERNESE MOUNTAIN DOG HISTORY DEEPDIVE
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The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of four mountain breeds that was developed in the Bern region of Switzerland. Of the four breeds though, they are the only one to have a luxuriously silky and long coat. The ancestor for the Bernese Mountain Dog, like so many other European breeds, was brought to the area by Roman armies. Once the armies moved on and the empire fell, locals were able to selectively breed and adapt the old war dogs and give them new life and capable farming dogs.
The primary role of the Bernese Mountain Dog was as a livestock shepherd and guardian, primarily for cattle. More specifically, they watched over the herds of Swiss dairy cows in the region. It was these herds of cows that they guarded and drove to market that were responsible for the production of two of Switzerland's major exports; cheese and chocolate. When they weren't in guarding or working the livestock the Bernese Mountain Dog was a quiet and steadfast farm companion and guardian.
In the days before modern industrial railways and transportation, the Berner was also a drafting dog. This means that they were able to be fitted with a harness and pull, or draft, a cart behind them like a horse would thanks to their large muscular bodies. The Bernese Mountain Dog is considered a large breed and they are typically in the range of 70-115 pounds depending on gender. They can be very imposing dogs because of their size and loud, deep bark, but they are not known to be aggressive or threatening. They are actually very mellow and sweet tempered making them excellent companions for young children and families.
With the spread of railcars in the late 1800s the Berner nearly went extinct until the few loyal fans of the breed brought them back from the brink. Prof. Albert Heim was one such fan and founded the first Bernese Mountain Dog Cub in 1907. It's largely thanks to him and the club members that the breed was rebuilt with such careful attention to the breed standards. 20 years after the founding of the club, a farmer in the Kansas region of the US imported a breeding pair of Berner’s and they very quickly became a popular farm dog in the US as well which helps to further resurrect the breed.
Despite the solid rebuilding of the breed, the Bernese Mountain Dog we know today has a very small genetic pool which can lead to some health problems in the breed. As others around the world pick up the mantle of rebuilding the Berner to its former glory, the gene pool is expanding, but it's something to consider if you're looking to have this breed to your home.
The AKC added the breed to its registry in 1937 and it has been a mildly popular breed in both the US and Europe over the years. It could be due to its thick double coat, and thus higher grooming requirements, or it’s sheer size that the Bernese Mountain Dog hasn’t gotten the widespread acceptance that it needs and deserves. Though modern fans of the breed are doing a fantastic job showcasing how amazing the Berner does in family life and on the small farms that are becoming popular.
Berner’s are known for being very gentle with children and getting along with the whole family. They are a calm and regal presence that is friendly, but still watchful of strangers. These traits are part of what made the Berner such an effective working dog and guardian in their ancestral farmlands. That, and their size make them an impressive deterrent and force of nature when their family is threatened. Thanks to their unique heritage as a cart pulling canine they have powerful shoulders and haunches.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is an excellent farm dog and family guardian, though they aren’t typically thought of as a guard dog. Their size and close bond to their family, along with their gentle nature around children, allow them to be one of the best large family dogs out there. More responsible breeders are needed to keep expanding the genetic pool and ensure that this amazing canine doesn’t disappear so easily again. And next time you see one of these absolutely beautiful dogs, be sure to thank them for helping to get our favorite treats around the world.