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Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain Dog was originally bred in Switzerland as a draft dog and as a cattle herder by the local farmers in the canton of Bern.

It is a powerful and muscular large dog which can pull a weight which is several times heavier than its own. Its main use was to pull the heavy carts full of dairy products of the local farmers to the markets.

This hard-working and sturdy dog breed is instantly recognizable with its gorgeous tricolored coat adorned with a white Swiss cross across its chest.

Berners are gentle and beautiful pups, but do have pretty high energy levels, and can grow to a large size, which some new dog owners may not be prepared to handle.

But with proper training, and with sufficient exercise, these beautiful dogs can become gentle, affectionate, and fun-filled family companions.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about this Swiss dog breed.

Highlights

Temperament: calm, agreeable, strong

Height at the shoulder: 25-27.5 inches for males, and 23-26 inches for females

Weight: 80 to 115 lbs. for males, and 70 to 95 lbs. for females

Life expectancy: 6 – 10 years

Breed Group: Working dogs

About the Bernese Mountain Dog Breed

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a large working dog breed and one of the Sennenhund type breeds which come from the Swiss Alps. Berners are the single one of these dog breeds which have long hair.

The name Sennenhund comes from the German words “Senne” meaning Alpine pasture, and “Hund” meaning dog.

Berners can reach a height of up to 27.5 inches and a weight of up to 115 lbs. They have distinctive gorgeous coats with three colors – black, white and rust, and a trademark Swiss cross on the chests and patterns on the faces.

They were bred to work hard on farms in the Swiss Alps and to cope with harsh weather and terrains. They are muscular dogs, which were used for heavy lifting, cart pulling and for herding and guarding the farmers, their livestock, properties, and families in the Swiss Canton of Bern.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when farmers found newer transportation means, the breed nearly became extinct. Thankfully, there were still fanciers of the breed who dedicated their time and effort to continue the breed and popularize it.

Bernese Mountain Dogs are very intelligent animals, which are easy to train and eager to please. At the same time, they are used to working hard, so their activity level is very high.

This makes the dogs from this breed suitable for people who are more active and who have the time, energy and desire to spend more time running, hiking, cycling, walking and playing with their four-legged friends.

Their stunning coats shed a lot, and they are droolers, so you will need to brush and wipe your pup regularly.

Another feature new owners must be warned about is the fact that Bernese Mountain Dogs are superb watchdogs, but have loud barks and tend to bark quite a bit, which could be a problem if you live in an apartment building, and if the excessive barking isn’t placed under control in a timely manner.

These handsome dogs will be aloof of strangers and warn you about potential dangers but without being threatening, unlike other more aggressive guard dog breeds.

As puppies, Berners are pretty rumbustious, and will happily chase after small animals if allowed to. These dogs mature pretty slowly – both mentally and physically, so if you decide to add a Bernese Mountain Dog to your family, you can expect to be dealing with a puppy for longer than usual.

This makes the dogs from this Swiss Alps breed suitable for experienced dog owners, who have the time, energy and desire to keep up with their training, their grooming, as well as to provide them with a lot of action and playtime outdoors.

They are also better suited for living in homes with securely fenced backyards, instead of stuck in small-sized apartments. Then again, they thrive on spending time with their humans, so leaving a Berner to live in a kennel outdoors is definitely not advisable.

Leaving the dog alone for long, especially when its mental and physical stimulation requirements have not been met can lead to undesirable loud and destructive behavior.

Due to their high activity levels, and large size, as well as because they were bred to be hard-working dogs, owners should start socializing and training them from as early as possible. These dogs are soft and sensitive, so you should never use any harsh training methods or punish them unfairly.

When socialized, trained and cared for properly, Berners are calm and friendly pups which develop strong bonds with their owners and families. They also excel in different dog sports and events including obedience, herding, conformation, and carting.

Berners are great and very gentle with kids, and will even welcome your guests in a friendly manner when socialized properly.

In fact, the Bernese Mountain Dog is one of the friendliest large dog breeds. Their happy-go-lucky attitude makes them even more desirable family pets.

They are pretty calm but can be quite extroverted and sometimes clownish, especially when entertaining and playing with their families.

Unfortunately, these beautiful working dogs have a relatively short lifespan of just 6 to 10 years. Also, due to the small gene pool of the breed, and possibly to irresponsible breeding practices, they are prone to various health problems – inherited and others, which are mainly due to the interbreeding through the years.

This is why, you should never buy a puppy from a store, a puppy mill, or an irresponsible breeder who cannot provide health clearances for genetic conditions for both of the parents of the pup.

It is always a better idea to go to a responsible breeder who cares about the breed more than about the money. You can also go check at your local rescue shelter whether there are any Berners up for adoption too.

Overall, Berners are superb family pets, and today are in 22nd place in the AKC breed popularity list.

As a result, the Berners are among the top 25 most popular breeds in the US and worldwide.

In order to ensure that your Bernese Mountain Dog is safe from the various genetic diseases which plague the dogs from this breed, you should always choose a puppy from a responsible breeder who can provide you with health clearance documents for the parents of the dog, and stay away from puppy mills or pet stores. This, of course, goes for all dogs, cats and other pets you are planning to adopt or buy.

Personality

Not only is the Bernese Mountain Dog one of the most beautiful looking dog breeds in the world, but it typically has a wonderful personality.

Berners are known to be calm, loving, smart and alert pups.

They are very gentle and affectionate to their families and are always eager to please. This makes them want to participate in as many family activities as possible.

These dogs are naturally intelligent and will learn very quickly if you are consistent, firm, fair and show your love when you are training them.

Berner puppies mature quite slowly, so you can expect to have a puppy for much longer than with most other dog breeds if you have a pup of this breed at home.

Because they are so strong, large, and have admirable protective instincts as well as the fact that they will retain their puppy-like mentality, even after they have grown to their full size, it is essential to start socializing and obedience training your Bernese Mountain Dog from as early as possible.

This will help make the dog well behaved at home, around strangers, and when outdoors in public.

Although they are not aggressive, you should still meet your puppy with other dogs and people, and take it to different places when it is still young.

Keep in mind that positive reinforcement is the only way to go when training your Bernese Mountain Dog. By using praise and treats to reward your dog, you will quickly get the results you want. The breed is quite sensitive to harsh treatment, so do not attempt to mistreat or punish your pup with tough training methods.

The Berner becomes very closely attached to its owner and the entire family and is extremely loyal and very protective of it.

At the same time, the dogs from the Swiss working breed are very playful, and can even be goofy especially when playing with their favorite humans.

They thrive on living with and being around their families, so do not leave your dog outside in a kennel, or let alone chain it outdoors by itself.

Isolation can lead to destructive behavior and other problematic issues and is unhealthy for the Bernese Mountain Dog.

As mentioned previously, the breed was developed to perform hard work in harsh conditions, which resulted in a very strong and muscular dog with extremely high energy levels, and a need to work.

This means that owners should be ready to spend a lot of time ensuring that the dog has spent its excess energy and that its clever mind has been challenged enough to feel satisfied and happy.

Before buying a puppy, make sure you watch it interact with its siblings, and opt for one which will gladly come to you and allow you to pick it up, rather than a puppy which shies away or one which is constantly beating up its brothers and sisters.

Meeting the mother of the dog will also give you an idea of what the temperament of your dog will be when it matures.

Overall, it is essential to understand that the personality of every dog depends on its heritage, its socialization, its training and on how you care for it.

Nutrition

An adult Bernese Mountain Dog can reach a weight of up to 120 lbs. and most of this weight is muscle. This large dog breed needs a lot of calories to stay healthy, active and happy.

Bred to lift heavy cargo and to pull carts, Berners are among the strongest working dogs. This means they need top-quality dog food which can compensate for their high metabolism.

The recommended quantity of food for an average Berner is about 4 cups of premium quality dog food, or 2,000-3,000 calories a day. The food should be divided into two smaller meals – one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Smaller portions will minimize the risk of bloat which is one of the leading causes of death of dogs of this breed.

Then again, keep in mind that the exact amount of food you feed your dog depends on its age, its weight, its metabolism, its activity level, and also on the nutritional value and qualities of the food itself.

More active dogs need more calories, less active or senior dogs will do better with fewer calories.

Choosing a good quality commercial dog food or preparing a nutritious homemade dog food is essential for the health and wellbeing of your Bernese Mountain Dog.

Always choose meat or another protein as a number 1 ingredient. Food which is made up of 20% protein, 5% fat, and carbohydrates and fiber is an excellent choice for this breed.

There are many brands of commercial dog food which offer specialized food for active large breeds, which is perfect for a dog like the Berner.

The dogs from this Swiss breed are also prone to hip and elbow dysplasia which is why you may want to choose foods which contain chondroitin, which supports the joint health.

Always feed your pup with age-appropriate food, and refrain from feeding it with human food and table scraps which can be too fatty, too salty and even toxic for the dog.

You should also monitor the weight of your dog closely because excess weight and obesity can cause numerous health problems and early death as well.

If your dog needs to lose weight speak to your vet or a nutritionist and make adjustments to its diet, and exercise regimen. You can choose a lower caloric food too.

Also, be careful about the treats you give to your dog. Make sure they are low in calories and limited to no more than 20% of the entire recommended calorie intake for the day.

Grooming

The tricolored coat of the Bernese Mountain Dog is one of the most striking aspects of this breed. But this beautiful coat comes with a price. It sheds moderately all year round and heavily twice a year and requires regular brushing, as well as vacuuming and cleaning of the house.

To keep the shedding under control and to minimize the hair stuck on your furniture, you should brush the coat of your dog several times a week throughout the year, and daily when the shedding season comes.

Brushing the coat will not only remove the loose dead hair but will also prevent the coat from tangling or getting matted. It will also keep it clean and shiny, so your dog will look as gorgeous as ever.

In order to keep your pup in pristine condition, you should bathe it once in every 2-3 months.

Apart from the brushing of the coat, you should brush the teeth of your pet at least 2-3 times a week. This will help prevent the buildup of plaque and will remove any nasty bacteria from the dog’s mouth. Regular brushing of the teeth will help keep the dog’s teeth and gums healthy, and its breath fresh and odor-free.

If your Berner does not wear off its nails naturally, and you can hear clicking on the floor when it walks, you will also need to trim its nails once or twice a month.

Make sure you are very careful when you are clipping the nails, and avoid cutting through the quick of the nail which is a blood vessel that can cause bleeding and pain.

You should also inspect and clean the dog’s ears once a week. Use a cotton ball dampened in balanced ear cleaner for dogs and wipe off any dirt without attempting to insert anything inside the ear canal.

If you notice redness, too much ear wax or an unpleasant smell coming from the ear, this can be a sign of an ear infection, and you should contact your vet.

When you are grooming your dog, take the time to examine its body for any rashes, sores, bald spots, ticks, or other signs that something is wrong with it.

Examine its eyes for unusual discharge and redness, and its nose and mouth as well.

The earlier you are able to spot any signs of potential health problems – the bigger the chances of being able to treat them faster.

To get your pup accustomed to the grooming process, you should start training your dog to stand still and to not protest the grooming from an early age. This will make the task much easier for you, your groomer and your vet later on when the dog becomes large and strong.

Exercise

We cannot stress enough how much energy the Bernese Mountain Dog has. This working dog needs a lot of daily exercises – both physical and mental to stay well and happy.

The minimal exercise time recommended for an adult Berner is 30 minutes a day. This means vigorous exercising and not just a slow walk around the block.

You can take the dog running, hiking or cycling with you, or spend time playing with it outdoors.

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a breed which is suitable only for active families, and for people who have the energy, the desire and the time to provide the dog with the play and work it needs to stay healthy and to be happy.

Being bred as a farm dog in the Swiss Alps, the Berner will feel much better during the winter. When the winter comes, you can keep your pup engaged and active by letting it roam around your yard, or by making it pull the kids on a sled.

In the summer, you may want to limit the outdoor activities with the pup for the times of the day when it is cooler – like predawn, early morning, or after sunset, because hot weather can be difficult on these mountain dogs.

When the dog is still a puppy you should limit its running and jumping on hard surfaces to minimize the risk of bone and joint deformation and problems while the dog is still growing. This is especially dangerous when the puppy is between the ages of 4 and 7 months when its growth is incredibly rapid.

Instead, let your puppy roam around and play on the carpet or on the soft grass. You can also enroll it to puppy kindergarten and obedience classes where the jumps are low and safe.

An adult Berner will love engaging in sports and activities which are typical for the breed, including cart-pulling and drafting.

It will also enjoy training for and participating in different dog events and sports including agility, obedience, tracking herding and rally too.

Training

The Bernese Mountain Dog is very intelligent and is eager to please its owner, which makes the training of these dogs easy. At the same time, these dogs have strong prey and protective drives which need to be curbed and controlled for the safety of the dog, and for the safety of other dogs, and animals.

Like most other working dogs, the Berner needs a pack leader who will give it the directions it needs. This is why handlers must establish themselves are the leaders in the hierarchy from day one.

This should not be done forcefully, or with harsh training methods, because these Swiss dogs are highly sensitive, and can have their feelings hurt very easily.

Instead, you should use positive reinforcement and provide the dog with praises, treats, and love when it responds to your commands and behaves itself.

Since Berners mature mentally quite slowly, pretty soon after you bring your puppy home for the first time, it will become growing rapidly, and even when your pup reaches its adult size and weight, it may still remain very puppy-like.

Puppies are quite boisterous and rough, and given the size of the Bernese Mountain Dog, such uncontrolled behavior can be dangerous to you, your children and others.

This is why obedience training should start as soon as possible.

Teach your pup to respond to the basic commands such as come, sit, stay, down, quiet, bed and other simple commands. The earlier you teach your pup, the easier it will be to control it as it grows into a 100-120 pound dog.

It is essential to be consistent in your training, and be patient and firm with the dog because it is smart and can try to test you as it grows up.

Once your dog knows who the leader is, it will respect you and will wait for your directions to do what you expect from it.

Socializing the Berner puppy should also start early on. Make sure you invite guests to your home, meet it with friendly and healthy dogs, and take it different places, including the vet and groomer, or pet store where you will be taking it later on in life.

By being exposed to different people, dogs, sounds, and sights, your dog will learn to bypass its instincts to be wary of strangers, and also to chase or to herd other dogs and animals.

The Bernese Mountain Dog can live peacefully and happily under the same roof with other dogs, cats, and pets, but only if it has been socialized in a timely manner.

Once your dog trusts you as its leader, it will happily respond to your training, and you can go ahead and teach it some more complicated tricks, commands, and agility.

If you have children at home, it is very important to teach them not to mistreat the dog, as well as not to approach it when it is resting or eating.

Because these dogs are so large and can be quite rough and rumbustious when they are growing up and playing, you should be careful about allowing very young children to play with them, because of the risk of accidental injuries.

Bernese Mountain Dogs will enjoy spending as much time with their families as possible, and participating in all family activities, so if you travel frequently, or are not at home all day long, then a dog from this breed may not be suitable for you.

Left alone at home or outside, the Berner is prone to separation anxiety and boredom and can become destructive and loud.

These smart and versatile working dogs are one of the best performers at various dog sports and competitions such as obedience, agility, carting, herding, tracking, and rally.

Health

Unfortunately, mainly due to the limited gene pool of the Bernese Mountain Dog breed, the inbreeding, as well as because of irresponsible breeding practices, this beautiful dog is susceptible to numerous health problems – hereditary and acquired.

It also has a short lifespan of just 6-8 years, which in the latest years with the advancement of veterinary medicine, and with proper food and care, can reach to up to 10 years and more.

Even though many dogs will never be affected by any of these diseases and problems, it is a good idea for their owners to be warned about them, so they know what to look out for.

Here are the most common health conditions which affect the Bernese Mountain Dog breed:

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is hereditary and thus can be prevented if breeders test their animals and do not use dog with this condition for breeding.

Hip dysplasia causes the thigh bone not to be able to fit in the hip joint properly and securely. In some cases, it doesn’t affect the dog at all, but in others, it can cause discomfort, pain and lameness of the rear leg.

It is diagnosed via X-ray examinations and can be treated by giving the dog special supplements which support joint health, or with medications.

In severe cases, the dog may require a hip replacement to have the problem resolved completely.

The condition can worsen, especially if the dog becomes overweight, or as the dog ages.

Elbow dysplasia

Similarly to Hip dysplasia, Elbow dysplasia is a genetic condition which is passed down from the parent dog to the puppies. This is why, responsible breeders screen and test their dogs, and do not breed any dogs with Elbow dysplasia.

The condition causes an uncomfortable and in some cases painful misalignment of the bones of the front leg and the elbow joint.

Like with hip dysplasia, the condition can worsen if the young puppy grows too fast, suffers an injury from jumping on hard surfaces, or if the dog becomes obese.

Both types of dysplasia worsen as the dog ages and develops arthritis.

The treatment for Elbow dysplasia can include a diet, weight management, anti-inflammatory drugs, joint support supplements, or in severe cases – surgery.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy is the collective name for a group of diseases of the eye which can cause the pup to become blind.

The first stages of PRA are night blindness and partial vision loss. The disease is progressive and irreversible and will eventually cause blindness.

Blind dogs have an amazing ability to quickly adapt to their new situation, so they can live happily for the rest of their lives, as long as you take precautions not to change the settings at home, and move around your furniture.

PRA is another inherited disease caused by a genetic mutation, so make sure you get a puppy from a responsible breeder who has health clearance for the condition for both parents of the dog.

Portosystemic Shunt

Berners are one of the dog breeds which are more prone to this genetic disease, which causes an abnormal connection of the blood vessels and the liver. It can lead to the toxins, as well as some nutrients to bypass the liver and be sent directly to the circulating blood in the body.

The initial symptoms of PSS include low blood sugar levels, appetite-loss, urinary tract problems, slowed growth, neurobehavioral symptoms, and drug intolerance.

It usually is detected when the dog is about 2 years old.

The treatment for Portosystemic Shunt is surgical repair.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

This is a disorder of the blood which prevents the proper clotting of the blood.

Needless to say, it can be very dangerous especially if the dog is injured, has surgery, or is in heat or whelps.

It professes itself with nosebleeds, prolonged bleeding after surgery, after whelping or during a heat cycle, and blood in the stool.

It is usually diagnosed in dogs aged 3 to 5 years old.

Although there is no cure for Von Willebrand’s Disease, there are ways to prevent excessive bleeding via blood transfusions, suturing wounds, and avoidance of certain medicaments.

It is a genetic disorder, so dogs should be tested for it before being bred.

Panosteitis

Also known as Pano, this condition causes limping and lameness of one leg, and then of the other. It usually appears at the age of 12 months, and usually goes away by itself with no long-term effects.

In some cases, the affected dog may need to be restricted from activity for a certain period of time, to reduce the pain and discomfort.

Some studies suggest that Panosteitis is caused by eating too much protein and calcium. You can choose foods which do not contain too much of these ingredients and nutrients.

Gastric Torsion

This is a life-threatening condition which usually affects large and deep-chested canines, like the Bernese Mountain Dogs.

It is caused by air getting stuck in the pup’s stomach, causing the organ to twist around itself. This leads to a blockage of the normal blood flow to the stomach.

The symptoms of Bloat are excessive salivation, unsuccessful attempts for belching or vomiting, retching, a distended abdomen, low blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, lethargy, depression or collapse.

As soon as you notice any of these symptoms you should rush to your vet immediately, because left untreated, Gastric torsion can very quickly kill the dog.

The ways to prevent Bloat is to avoid feeding your dog with a single large meal at once, especially right after or before intensive exercise. Also, drinking large volumes of water after exercising can cause it.

Instead, divide your pup’s daily food into two or more smaller meals, and let the dog rest before and after eating.

Placing the food and water bowl on a stand also helps prevent the dog from having to bend down too much which is also believed to cause Gastric torsion.

Cancer

The leading cause of death in Bernese Mountain Dogs is cancer. Unfortunately, there is little you can do to prevent or predict the development of cancer. What you can do is regularly inspect your pup for any worrying or unusual signs such as lumps, swelling, elimination or breathing difficulties, bleeding and other symptoms.

The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chances that its treatment will be successful.

Like with humans, the treatment of cancer can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, medications, and others.

History

The Bernese Mountain Dog shares the same very distinctive coloring including black, rust, and white, as the other three Swiss mountain dogs, but it is the only one of the four with long and silky hair.

All four of these breeds are believed to have been developed by crossing the local farm dogs with the Molosser dogs which the Roman legions brought with them during their conquests.

The breed was developed in the canton of Bern, in Switzerland which is a vast agricultural region where the most famous Swiss product – cheese and chocolate are made.

Farmers used these strong dogs as much more affordable alternatives to horses to get their carts with dairy produce to the local markets.

Berners were developed by the local farmers and used for driving their cattle, for pulling their heavy carts, for protecting the livestock, them and their families, as well as for gentle and loving companion dogs.

Bernese Mountain Dogs were bred to be very muscular and incredibly strong. In fact, they are known to be able to pull carts and weight which weigh many times their own weight.

These dogs served their masters for over 2,000 years, until the development of mechanized farming and pulling machines. It was then, in the late 1800s, that these dogs lost their purpose of driving carts and driving the cattle.

As a result, the Berners almost became extinct.

But thankfully, several fanciers of the breed put all their efforts into restoring the breed and popularizing it once again.

In 1907, Professor Albert Heim founded the Swiss Breed Club which had a goal of reviving and preserving all of the Swiss Mountain Dog breeds.

Thanks to their efforts, the Bernese Mountain Dog persevered, as well as the other three Swiss breeds including the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog and the Appenzeller Sennenhund.

During World War I, the breeding efforts halted as people were preoccupied with the war, but once it was over, the breeding of all four Swiss Mountain dog breeds was resumed, and dogs began being exported to other countries in Europe and then to the USA.

The first Berners were brought to the US by a Kansas farmer in 1926. They quickly gained popularity, and the breed was first registered by the AKC in 1937 in the Working Breed group.

The Bernese Mountain Dog Club was established in 1968 in the USA, and it still sponsors various carting and drafting events which test the amazing abilities of these strong and beautiful dogs.

The breed was officially accepted as a member of the AKC in 1981, and in 1990, the standard for the breed in the USA was adopted.

Today, the Bernese Mountain Dog is the 22nd most popular dog breed in the USA according to the AKC registry.

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