Bernese Mountain Dog, also known as the Berner Sennenhund, is one of four breeds under the umbrella known as the Swiss Mountain Dogs. The other breeds are the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Entlebucher Sennenhund, and the Appenzeller Sennenhund. All four share the distinctive tricolor markings, but the Bernese is the only one with a long coat. The Berner is an old breed in Switzerland—her ancestors were brought to the region by Roman soldiers 2,000 years ago—and throughout her history has been an all-purpose farm dog. These dogs drove cattle, both on the farm and to market, pulled wagons, protected the farm, and of course were family companions.
Bernese Mountain Dog is a large dog breed, with males standing 25 to 27 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing between 90 and 120 pounds. Females are slightly smaller. Dogs should give the impression of stockiness and power; they should appear able to work hard. The coat is moderately long, straight to slightly wavy, with a thick undercoat. The dog is black with copper/rust and white markings on the face, chest, all four legs, and under the tail. Her expression is alert and good-natured. The ears are folded and move with the dog’s expression. Grooming the Berner’s coat is not difficult but takes time. Brushing twice weekly is needed to keep the coat clean, but during shedding seasons, usually spring and fall, daily brushing will keep the loose hair in the house somewhat under control. Although Berners are shown in dog shows with a natural coat, many owners prefer to trim the long hairs on the feet and ears to help keep their dogs neat and clean.
As working farm dogs, Bernese Mountain Dogs need daily exercise. However, this breed is not designed for fast running; instead, this is a strong, powerful breed. A long, brisk walk followed by a game of tennis ball retrieve will keep most Berners happy. Other activities, such as trick training, agility, and carting, can help keep body and mind challenged. Although Berners can be a little cautious with strangers, they were not bred to be overly protective or watchful. As a whole, they are even-tempered, good-natured, and friendly. Socialization during puppyhood can make sure you’re taking full advantage of the breed’s wonderful temperament. Training should begin early with these large, powerful dogs. Training should be fair and fun and should continue even after a basic obedience class.
Bred to work, a bored Bernese Mountain Dog will get into trouble. However, a Bernese Mountain Dog who learns how to pull a cart, works as a therapy dog, or performs tricks will have a job to do and, as a result, will feel needed. Berners are wonderful with children, usually very patient and tolerant. Activities should be supervised, of course, as Berners are large dogs and sometimes don’t know their own strength. Berners are usually very tolerant of other pets. Familyoriented Berners do not like being isolated and should never be considered backyard dogs. Major health issues include hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat, von Willebrand disease (a bleeding disorder), eye disorders, and cancer.
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The Bernese Mountain Dog is steady-tempered and easygoing.
However, his calmness and willingness to laze about doesn’t mean he can be cooped up without exercise. Indeed, the Bernese loves getting out, especially in cool weather — with his thick black coat, he doesn’t do well in hot climates. Romping in the snow is a favorite form of recreation for this Alpine breed, and pulling carts and sleds is a wonderful source of exercise, especially if it involves children.
His attitude toward strangers varies from friendly to aloof, but a Bernese should remain poised and hold his ground. The most common temperament fault is excessive shyness, sometimes toward everyone, sometimes focused on one group of people, such as men with beards. A Bernese Mountain Dog puppy needs lots of socialization so that his natural caution does not become timidity.
Most Bernese Mountain Dogs are peaceful and sociable with other animals, but some Bernese males are aggressive toward other male dogs.
Responsive to obedience training in a slow, good-natured way, this sensitive breed should be handled kindly, with much praise and encouragement. However, they’re not complete pushovers to train — some can be a little bit hardheaded and dominant, especially males, and especially during adolescence.
There is great variability in size in this breed — some individuals are medium/large and quite athletic, while others are huge and ponderous (especially males).