BERNESE MOUNTAIN DOG 101! Everything You Need To Know

BERNESE MOUNTAIN DOG 101! Everything You Need To Know

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Where does the Bernese Mountain Dog come from?

This intriguing, large-sized dog is one of the four Sennenhund-type breeds that originated in the Alps of Switzerland. Their origins reach back to the days when Roman armies crossed the Alps around 2,000 years ago: To drive the cattle needed to feed them, Roman soldiers brought large and powerful herding dogs with them – descendants of the legendary Molossus Hounds from the Greece of antiquity. These Roman livestock guardians were later crossed with local breeds. And the canine population arising from this formed the breeding stock for various modern breeds, such as the Rottweiler and the Swiss Sennenhund-type breeds.

Bernese Mountain Dogs were originally kept as livestock and farm guardians. Another traditional role for them was to pull small carts. Protected by their thick and lush coats, these hardy dogs would accompany cattle herders and their flock to the alpine pastures during the summer. Translated, their original name “Berner Sennenhund” translates to “Alpine Pasture’s Dog of Bern”, as the breed was developed in the Swiss canton of Bern. The Bernese Mountain Dog was officially registered as its own, autonomous breed in 1907.

Berners are stunningly beautiful dogs - strongly built, slightly longer than tall and, in many ways, resembling their distant cousin, the Rottweiler. However, they are more mellow and soft both in character and in outer appearance.

Their long, thick coat can be straight or slightly wavy – and it only comes in one colour, which is in essence a combination of three colours: black as the base with tan markings and white on the chest and face.

The Bernese Mountain Dog has a strong head with a medium stop, v-shaped ears hanging close to the head and a bushy tail that is carried low

Adult male Bernese Mountain Dogs measure between 25 and 28 inches, and weigh between 80 and 120 pounds. That is between 64 and 70 cm in height and between 35 and 55 kg kilos in weight. Females are slightly smaller and lighter than the males.

What is their temperament like?

In terms of temperament, Bernese Mountain Dogs are very even-tempered, calm and laid-back. Whilst they adore accompanying their people on outings and engaging in interactive play sessions, they are very quiet in the house. Not given to excessive barking, Bernese Mountain Dogs absolutely will alert their owners in the case of suspicious noises. And whilst they lack the natural aggression desirable in a designated guard dog - who can be trusted to strike, should the need occur -, they do make excellent watchdogs. Breed standards describe the Bernese Mountain Dogs’ temperament as "self-assured" and at the same time, "placid towards strangers", and even "docile".

In many ways, Bernese Mountain Dogs resemble the good-natured Newfoundland – both regarding their general calm disposition and regarding their natural love for children: They seem to be born with a big heart and lots of patience for children of all ages. Which of course makes them wonderful family companions – especially well-suited for families with an active social live who have lots of visitors coming to the house: With a Bernese Mountain Dog in your home, you will not have to worry that your dog might regard your visiting friends as a threat and attack them. Also, these naturally calm dogs are not prone to getting over-exited around people, so jumping up and bothering your guests will not be an issue.

How intelligent and trainable are Bernese Mountain Dogs?

The naturally cheerful Bernese Mountain Dog loves to please its owners, which makes the breed quite easy to train. And, whilst intelligent, they lack the sharp attention and keen prey drive of related breeds like the Rottweiler. Therefore, they are not ideal for high-level dog sports such as IPO, French Ring or Schutzhund training. However, because these dogs are so cooperative and eager to please, they are lots of fun to train – it just might take them a bit longer to get commands down than for example a German Shepherd or Boxer. Due to their gentle nature, training should be predominantly based on positive reinforcement.

Also, obedience drills are a great way to give your Bernese Mountain Dog valuable mental stimulation: Making your puppy – or adult dog - have to think tires them out more than just plain physical exercise. The same applies for teaching them new tricks and skills, like for example trotting next to a bicycle or pulling young children in a cart. To keep the Bernese Mountain Dog motivated during training sessions, a good amount of praise is usually sufficient – but it surely will not hurt to have tasty treats at the ready as rewards for your dog’s good work.

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs a healthy breed?

Bernese Mountain Dogs are not an amazingly healthy breed. They are susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia, arthritis, von Willebrand’s Disease (which is a serious genetic disorder that can cause life-threatening bleeding), cruciate ligament rupture, as well as various forms of cancer. In fact, this breed is three times more likely to develop dysplasia, arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems than any other breed – and even worse, these problems can set in at a very young age.

To maximize the chances for your Berner puppy being as healthy as possible, you want to choose a breeder who screens their breeding stock for hip and elbow dysplasia, certain types of cancers, blood disorders as well as progressive retinal atrophy. Also, feeding your dog a high-quality diet can go a long way to keeping it as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, Bernese Mountain Dogs have a comparatively short life expectancy - their average life span is between 7 and 10 years.

How much exercise does the Bernese Mountain Dog need?

Even though they have been bred as working dogs, Berners do not need lots of exercise to satisfy them: One hour of moderate playtimes, walks and runs per day is generally enough to keep them healthy and happy. However, that does not mean that they won’t enjoy outdoor activities like long walks, hikes and camping trips.

And even though Bernese Mountain Dogs are not the most keen and driven of all the working breeds, they can be trained to successfully participate in agility, herding and obedience competitions.

The rest of the time, Berners are quite content to occupy a comfortable place in the house or in the garden – as long as they are close to their people, these good-natured dogs are happy. To keep your Berner entertained whilst alone in the house for a few hours, you can provide them with smart toys that are specifically designed to keep canines occupied – for example treat-dispensing balls, Kongs filled with peanut butter or frozen meat pate, or puzzle toys.

What are their grooming requirements?

Because of their beautiful long and thick double-coats, Bernese Mountain Dogs need quite a lot of grooming. So much so that many owners take their dog to a professional groomer every 6 months. Berners shed quite a bit, and not only during shedding season in spring and autumn. Therefore, daily brushing is required to remove loose hair - and to keep the lush coat of this dog nice and shiny at all times. Tangles are worked out best with a metal comb or slicker brush.

Should your Bernese get itself seriously dusty or muddy, you might want to bathe it – however, make sure to only use a mild dog shampoo. Unfortunately, the ears of this breed are notorious for trapping moisture and dirt, which can easily lead to ear infections. To prevent this, you should clean your dog’s ears on a weekly basis with a dog-friendly product.

Overview

The beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog is an amazingly cheerful and easy-going breed. This friendliest of all “Sennenhund”-type breeds is wonderfully suited as family companion – also because the dog absolutely loves being around its favourite people. And despite their mellow nature, Berners are decent watchdogs who come with a natural intimidation factor because of their sheer size.