Traits and Characteristics
The Bernese Mountain Dog is slightly longer than tall, though appearing square. This breed is a sturdy, large, hardy dog with a combination of strength, speed, and agility. The Bernese’s natural working gait is a slow trot, but with good reach and drive. The thick coat is moderately long, and slightly wavy or straight, providing insulation from the cold. The expression is gentle, and the color is striking.
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Friendliness to Dogs
Friendliness to Other Pets
Friendliness to Strangers
Ease of Training
Disclaimer: While the characteristics mentioned here may frequently represent this breed, dogs are individuals whose personalities and appearances will vary. Please consult the adoption organization for details on a specific pet.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is an easygoing, calm family companion (that is, after the adolescent stage). This dog is sensitive, loyal, extremely devoted, gentle with children, and often reserved with strangers. The Bernese generally gets along well with other dogs and pets. They do not do well isolated from family activities.
The Bernese enjoys the outdoors, especially in cold weather. This dog needs daily but moderate exercise, either a good hike or walk on leash. The coat needs brushing one or two times weekly, much more often when shedding. The Bernese life span is described by a Swiss expression: “Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, and three years an old dog. All else is a gift from God.”
- Major concerns: CHD, elbow dysplasia, mast cell tumor, gastric torsion
- Minor concerns: cataract, entropion, ectropion, SAS
- Occasionally seen: hypomyelination, allergies, vWD, hepatocerebellar degeneration, hypothyroidism, PRA
- Suggested tests: hip, elbow, eye, cardiac, DNA for vWD
- Life span: 6–9 years
- Note: Extra care must be taken to avoid heat stroke.
The most well known of the Sennehunde, or Swiss mountain dogs, the Bernese is distinguished by being the only one to have a fairly long, silky coat. The origin of the breed is speculative at best. Some experts believe this breed’s history traces to the Roman invasion of Switzerland, when the Roman mastiffs were crossed with native flock-guarding dogs. This cross produced a strong dog that was able to withstand the Alpine weather and that could serve as draft dog, flock guard, drover, herder, and general farm dog.
Despite their utility, little attempt was made to perpetuate them as a breed purposefully. By the late 1800s, the breed was in danger of being lost. At that time, Professor Albert Heim initiated a study of Swiss dogs that led to the identification of the Bernese Mountain Dog as one of the existing types. These dogs were found only in the valleys of the lower Alps. Through Dr. Heim’s efforts, these dogs were promoted throughout Switzerland and even Europe. The finest specimens came to be found in the Durrbach area, at one time giving the breed the name Durrbachler. With the breed’s spread, the name was changed to Bernese Mountain Dog. The first Bernese came to America in 1926; official AKC recognition was granted in 1937.