Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Information & Pictures

Highlights

Temperament: calm, good-natured, powerful

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

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

Life expectancy: 7 – 10 years

Breed group: Working

About the Bernese Mountain Dog Breed

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a good-natured, sturdy and large dog which can easily reach a height at the shoulder of 27 inches and a weight of up to 115 lbs. Its beautiful tri-colored long coat in white, black and rust colors along with the trademark patterns on the face and the coat make this also one of the most handsome dog breeds too.

This dog was bred to survive in harsh conditions and weather, and its intelligence along with its powerful build makes it one of the most versatile working dog breeds too.

The Berners are majestic and calm animals which are very gentle with children but tend to get attached strongly to a single person. They are quite impressive and strong canines which will protect you from strangers but only by being aloof rather than threatening to them.

Since they were originated to do a lot of work in Swiss farms, the Bernese Mountain Dogs they require exercise, and if possible a job to stay happy.

Nevertheless, the Berners are sweet and loyal companion dogs which will love hanging along with their human families, and pleasing them as well as they can.

The breed is one of the four different types of tri-colored Mountain dogs from Switzerland and is the only one with long hair. They were created to help the Swiss farmers by pulling carts, herding cows and cattle and being watchdogs, as well as to be faithful companions.

They have calm dispositions and are superb performers at various dog sports and competitions including obedience, conformation, herding, carting, and tracking.

Even though a growing number of fanciers are attracted to this calm and gorgeous dog breed, inexperienced dog owners should keep in mind that the high activity levels can make them difficult to handle.

Otherwise, Berners are intelligent and highly trainable dogs.

They will not feel completely happy stuck in a small apartment, so having a home with a backyard is recommended if you want to add a Bernese Mountain Dog to your family.

They have watchdog instincts and as such are pretty loud barkers. They also may be a bit rough when playing and have the urge to chase small animals, but when trained and socialized properly they turn into gentle and calm adult dogs.

Plus, their amazing long tri-colored coats do shed quite a bit, so the dogs from this breed require quite a lot of grooming as well as indoor cleaning after them.

Due to irresponsible breeding and the limited genetic pool of this dog breed, Berners are susceptible to various hereditary health conditions and problems which all future owners of dogs of this breed should be aware of.

Since they are loyal and loving family dogs, the Bernese Mountain Dog loves spending time with its family. If left alone for long, or if not added to the family activities, the dogs from this Swiss breed can develop separation anxiety which will manifest itself in loud and persistent barking, chewing on things as well as digging.

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a breed suitable for active and experienced owners who are ready to provide their pups with a lot of outdoor time, train and socialize them, and keep up with their regular grooming needs. Plus, they are working dogs which will expect to have a job to do, so obedience training along with socializing from puppyhood is a must.

In return, you will get the friendliest, most affectionate and loving four-legged companion who will adore you and will do anything to please you all life long.

One interesting fact about this gorgeous working dog breed is that it nearly became extinct in the early 20th century, with the advancement of technology, when farmers began using motorized transport to carry their produce to the market instead of using carts hauled by these dogs, and also because many people moved from working at farms to working in the developing industrial sector in the country.

The good news is that several fanciers dedicated their lives to preserve and continue the Bernese Mountain Dog breed, and thankfully they succeeded.

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

Apart from being one of the most gorgeous looking dogs, the Berner also has a wonderful personality. These large-sized working dogs are known to be very affectionate, loyal, smart and eager to please.

Thanks to their natural intelligence, the Bernese Mountain Dogs are easy to train if you are patient and consistent with the training sessions. They are happy animals, and can even be clownish and goofy when having fun with their humans.

They get along with adults and children both but will be completely happy if apart from a loving and affectionate family they have a fenced yard to play and run in. but, do not attempt to keep a Berner in a kennel alone all day and all night long, because these family dogs require time and attention from their families, and can become destructive and loud if they are isolated from family life.

So, to keep your dog happy and content, you will need to make sure that you include it in as many family activities as possible, and take the time to walk, exercise, train and play with your pup.

Although these Swiss Mountain Dogs can easily reach 100 lbs. they are pretty slow when it comes to reaching full maturity. So, future owners should know that they will have a lively and happy huge puppy for a bit longer than if caring for a dog from another breed.

They also are pretty soft, and can easily get hurt emotionally, which is why you shouldn’t use harsh punishments or treat them badly no matter what.

Due to their large size and the somewhat limited genetic pool of this breed, the Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to various health problems and have a relatively short lifespan of just up to 10 years.

But even though they don’t usually live to get to their teen years, they are amazing companion dogs and pets to have.

Their intelligence, alertness and affectionate temperament, and their calm, happy and gentle approach to people and life makes them perfect companion dogs and playmates for the children.

In order to end up with a well-rounded dog, you will need to start training your puppy to behave properly from an early age, and also to meet it up with other dogs and people so that you polish its social skills.

They will reach a large size before maturing mentally, so you will need to be consistent with the training and socializing.

They have watchdog instincts but are not threatening. The Berners can be shy and aloof with strangers, so if you want to avoid having a shy dog, make sure you meet it with as many people and animals as you can from early puppyhood.

When you are about to adopt a puppy, make sure you visit the breeder in order to meet the available pups. Spend some time with them, and choose one with a nice temperament which does not mind being handled and cuddled. It is also helpful to meet the mother or both parents as well as the dog’s siblings so that you can get a better idea about what to expect in the future.

No matter how nicely tempered your puppy is, like every other dog it requires proper socializing and exposure to different settings, situations, sounds, people and animals. You can enroll your puppy into a kindergarten class for pups, and invite guests to your home regularly in order to get the dog used to it from an early age. This will also help curb the natural shyness of this dog breed which if left untreated can lead to anxieties later on.

Nutrition

This large sized and energetic dog breed requires high-quality home-prepared or commercial dog food in portion sizes as recommended by your vet or a professional canine nutritionist according to age, size, exercise level and health of your dog. Choose age-appropriate foods for your dog to ensure that it is getting all nutrients, minerals, and vitamins it needs to be strong, healthy and happy.

Berners are prone to being overweight, so make sure you don’t overfeed your dog, and that you provide it with the exercise it needs to stay fit and away from the health problems associated with obesity.

Plus, being a large sized dog, the Berner is also prone to bloat which is a dangerous condition often caused by eating large volumes of food at once, and exercising and drinking a lot of water immediately after that. So, divide the daily portion for your dog into two separate meals, and keep it from starting to exercise vigorously right after eating.

Fresh water should always be available for your dog too.

Grooming

The gorgeous thick tri-colored coat of the Bernese Mountain Dog does require regular grooming and care. These dogs have double coats with long outer coats and wooly undercoats. Traditionally the coats of these beautiful dogs are tri-colored with jet black, bright white and rich rust coloring. They have specific white markings on the chests, on the tip of the tails as well as in between the eyes.

But all of this beauty comes with a downside – these dogs do shed quite a bit. The Berners shed moderately throughout the year and heavily in the spring and fall. You will need to brush the coat several times a week to remove the dead hair and to keep the coat free from tangling and clean. Also, this will help reduce the huge volumes of hairs you will have to clean from your home and clothes.

Bernese Mountain Dogs also require regular baths – once in every few months in order to keep them looking at their best.

If you want to prevent the build-up of tartar and to keep the teeth and gums of your dog clean, you should brush them several times a week or daily if possible.

In case your dog doesn’t wear down its nails naturally, you will need to trim them once a month to prevent tears and injuries which can be quite painful.

Keep in mind that dogs have blood vessels in their nails so always trim just a few millimeters at a time with dedicated dog nail clippers. You can ask your groomer or vet for advice on how to trim your dog’s nails properly and safely.

Also, it is a good idea to get the dog acquainted to nail trimming and other grooming procedures from an early age in order to avoid the hassle of dealing with a scared or unwilling giant dog later on.

You should also check the inside of the ears of your Berner for redness or a bad smell or irregular discharge. Wipe the ears with a cotton ball and dog ear cleaner, but abstain from sticking anything in the dog’s ear canal.

While grooming your Bernese Mountain Dog always make sure you look out for any sores, redness, inflammations or other signs of infections on the skin, eyes, mouth, eyes, and nose of the dog. This will help you spot any serious health problems early on and take action immediately, if necessary.

Exercise

Although the Bernese Mountain Dog will adore napping and cozying up with you at home, it is a large, energetic working dog which does require quite a lot of exercise or daily activity.

Keep in mind, that they were bred to live and work in the Swiss Alps, so they are definitely winter dogs. When the winter comes, make sure you allow your Berner to spend a lot of time outside frolicking in the snow or pulling your children around on a sled. Summers are more difficult on these dogs, so if you live in a hot climate, make sure the dog goes out when it is cooler – pre-dawn or in the evening, and that you keep it comfortable and cool indoors when the weather outside is scorching hot.

Overall, Bernese Mountain Dogs are not suitable for apartment living. They will thrive at homes which have an outdoor space where they can play and spend time staying active.

Overall, the average Bernese Mountain Dog will need at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day and additional time in a fenced backyard to stay happy and healthy. But your Berner will be more than happy to join you for a run, a hike or for any other outdoor activity as well.

Since they were bred to pull carts for farmers if possible ensure that your dog gets some drafting or carting exercise as well. This can be done by allowing it to pull the children or cargo around or by entering your dog into such dog competitions.

The other dog sports which your Bernese Mountain Dog will enjoy and excel at include herding, tracking, agility, rally, and obedience.

As puppies, you shouldn’t allow Berners to jump or exercise vigorously on concrete or other hard grounds, because this can cause bone and joint injuries. Also, abstain from letting your young Berner from pulling heavy weights as it is growing up. This is especially true for puppies aged 4 to 7 months when they are growing very rapidly.

Also, keep them on a low calorie and high-quality diet when they are young, to prevent rapid growth.

For a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy to be safe and happy, ensure that its walks and exercise and games are on grass or other soft surfaces, or sign it up to a puppy agility class where the jumps are restricted to 1 inch.

Training

The Bernese Mountain Dogs are suitable for experienced owners who can provide them with consistent and confident, and yet gentle training.

These dogs are sensitive to harsh punishments and their feelings can get hurt very easily, so always use positive reinforcement via yummy treats and kind and reassuring words.

Although they are highly intelligent dogs, Berners can be a tad stubborn at first. Be patient and use even keel in order to teach your dog to behave properly and respond to your commands.

In general, the Bernese Mountain Dogs are eager to please, so once you get them going you can teach them numerous tricks as well as agility.

Although they are incredibly gentle with children, these dogs are very large and strong, so make sure you supervise their interactions, especially when the children are small. Plus, you need to teach your children how to safely interact with the dog, and that they need to refrain from any potentially dangerous actions such as tail and ear pulling, or touching the dog while it is sleeping or eating.

With proper socializing and supervision, the Bernese Mountain Dog will learn how to live peacefully and well with other dogs and even with smaller pets too.

The earlier on you start socializing your puppy and with the obedience training – the better, because these dogs do have natural instincts to be protective and wary of strangers, as well as to herd and chase smaller animals.

Also, Berners tend to be shy and aloof with strangers, so you will need to invite people around and meet up your puppy with different friends and people in order to teach it to trust them, rather than feel anxious.

As mentioned earlier, these dogs love being part of family activities, so do not isolate your Bernese Mountain Dog by leaving it home alone for long hours every day, or by leaving it to live outside in a kennel. Separation anxiety can cause unhappiness for the dog as well as problems for you, because it will often manifest itself in loud barking, chewing or digging.

If you are a confident and patient trainer you can turn your Berner into an unmatched winner in all kinds of dog sports and competitions including obedience, tracking, carting, herding, rally, and agility.

Health

Due to the small and limited gene pool of this breed, Bernese Mountain Dogs are susceptible to numerous health problems, many of them hereditary or due to inbreeding.

The life span of these large-sized dogs used to be 6-8 years, but with the advance of medicine and with more responsible breeding, their lifespan has increased to about 10 years.

Unfortunately, there are irresponsible breeders who produce lesser quality dogs because of the increasing popularity of this breed. If you love the Bernese Mountain Dog breed, never support such irresponsible practices, and choose responsible breeders or adopt a dog from a shelter instead.

Even though not all Bernese Mountain Dogs will get any of these diseases, it is important to know which are the health problems which are more common among dogs of this breed in order to ask the breeder for health clearance, as well as your vet for checkups and advice.

Here are some of the more common health problems which Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to:

Hip dysplasia

This is a hereditary condition where the thigh bone of the dog does not fit into the hip joint properly. This can cause dogs to feel pain and become lame with one or both rear legs. Luckily, some dogs which have this condition do not exhibit any negative symptoms.

Hip dysplasia is diagnosed with an X-ray examination. The condition of the dog can worsen as it ages and it develops arthritis.

In general, dogs with hip dysplasia should never be bred, but make sure you ask the breeder for health clearance for this condition for both the dog’s parents just in case.

Elbow dysplasia

This is the same condition as hip dysplasia but it affects the front legs of the dog and its elbow joint. It is painful and can cause lameness, and its severity varies. Usually, the condition gets worse as the dog ages and arthritis appears, or can get worse if you allow the dog to become overweight or obese. This is another hereditary condition which is easily avoidable if breeders refrain from breeding dogs carrying this genetic mutation. Elbow dysplasia treatment can include weight management, medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, and surgery.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

PRA is a group of eye disease which causes the dog to start losing its eyesight. At first the dog will become night blind, but eventually, it will start losing its overall vision as the disease progresses. Thankfully, canines can easily adapt to partial or complete vision loss, and can actually cope pretty well, as long as you make sure that their surroundings, such as the furniture at home, remain the same.

Portosystemic Shunt

This is a condition where the blood vessels limit the access of the blood to the liver. This causes the blood to not be cleansed from the toxins properly. The first symptoms of PSS usually appear at an age of about 2 years old and can include urinary tract problems, low blood sugar, loss of appetite, drug intolerance, neurobehavioral abnormalities, and stunted growth. This condition is treated surgically.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

This condition can affect dogs and humans alike. It affects the clotting of the blood and can lead to symptoms such as bleeding gums, nose bleeds, prolonged bleeding after surgery or while in heat or after whelping, or blood in the stool.

Unfortunately, this disease is incurable, but it can be managed with transfusions during surgeries, suturing injuries as well as by avoidance of certain medications. It is usually diagnosed in canines at an age of 3-5 years.

Panosteitis

Pano affects young dogs and exhibits itself in lameness and limping on one leg and then on the other. There are no long term effects of this condition. The best treatments for a puppy with Pano is to let it rest, restrict its activity as well as feed it with high-quality food without too much calcium or protein.

Gastric Torsion

Also known as Bloat, this is a life-threatening condition which usually affects larger and larger chested dogs, including the Bernese Mountain Dogs. It is a condition when air or gas gets stuck in the stomach causing it to twist. This prevents the dog from being able to belch, vomit or release the gas naturally. Bloat can quickly cause a restriction of blood to the stomach, a drop in the blood pressure and shock. Always watch for worrying symptoms such as a distended abdomen, excessive salivation, retching without being able to vomit, lethargy, depression, weakness, restlessness, a rapid heart rate. Bloat requires immediate veterinary attention because it can quickly lead to a fatal end. Surgical treatment is required to treat this condition.

In order to lower the risk of bloat, don’t feed your dog only once with one large meal, but rather divide it into several or two smaller ones. Also, so not allow the dog to start running or playing vigorously right after eating as well as to drink too much water after that.

Cancer

Unfortunately, all dogs are at risk of developing some form of cancer at some point in their lives. Bernese Mountain Dogs are at a high risk of early death due to cancer. Examine your dog for any unusual or worrying symptoms such as sores, swelling, bumps, unusual bleeding, breathing or elimination difficulties and talk to your vet if you see any of these.

Like in humans, the earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of successful treatment. Treatment can include chemotherapy, surgery, medications or combinations of all.

But don’t be startled by these health risks, because Bernese Mountain Dogs are strong and generally healthy dogs if they are produced by responsible breeders because many of these health conditions are hereditary.

Ask the breeder for health clearance of the dog’s parents for hip and elbow dysplasia, for Von Willebrand’s Disease and for Eye health.

Conditions like bloat, unfortunately, are unpredictable, but you can take precautions to limit the risk of your dog suffering from bloat. Also, cancer is something which nobody can predict, so make sure you examine your dog closely for worrying signs on a regular basis.

History

The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of the four tri-colored Swiss mountain dogs known as Swiss Sennenhunds and is the only one with a long coat.

It is was bred to be a draft dog which means a cart pulling dog, but was also used for herding cattle, guarding the properties and livestock of the Swiss farmers, as well as a companion dog. The Berners were used by Swiss farmers to haul fresh milk, cheese, and other produce to the markets because they were too poor to afford horses.

It is believed that all four of the Swiss mountain dog breeds (the Appenzeller Sennenhund, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Entlebucher Sennenhund and the Bernese Mountain Dog) come from a mix between Swiss Alp farm dogs and Mastiff type Molosser dogs which the Romans brought with them during the Roman invasion in the region.

It is very likely that the ancestors of the Bernese Mountain Dog have been working on Swiss farms for over 2,000 years. They were traditionally used for herding livestock, pulling carts with produce, watching out for their owners, as well as being loyal and loving companions.

With the industrial revolution, by 1888, less than 40% of the people in Switzerland were still working in the agricultural sector. This is when the need for such a strong farm dog started dwindling. Thankfully a small number of fanciers were determined to preserve this beautiful dog breed, along with other 3 types of Swiss mountain dog breeds and a local dog club named Berna was founded in 1899.

The members of the club included breeders of all of these purebred Swiss Sennenhund dogs.

IN 1902 a dog show sponsored by the club drew the attention to the Swiss shepherd dogs, and namely to the mountain dog breeds.

It was then when the Berners got their name, and when the Swiss Kennel Club recognized them as Bernese Mountain Dogs.

During WWI, dog breeding and shows stopped due to the war, but after it was over, the first Berners were exported to other countries – first to Holland, and then to the USA. The breed wasn’t officially recognized by the American Kennel Club until 1937 in the Working breed group.

World War II again stopped the breeding and popularizing of these dogs in Europe and in the US, but after the war ended in 1945, the importation of Berners in the US resumed.

IN 1968 the Bernese Mountain Dog Club was founded in the USA. It was at that time when the breed was reintroduced back to Britain, where the breed had died off during the war.

In 1981 the AKC accepted the Bernese Mountain Dog Club as a member, and in 1990 it adopted the current standards for the Bernese Mountain Dog breed.