Known as the Berner or Bernese, this large, strong and beautiful working dog is a delight to own. Not only are they good-natured, calm and friendly, but they are easy to train, intelligent and loyal. They may not be suitable for apartments, they may drool and shed heavily and have bundles of energy, which could tire you out, but this multi-talented pooch makes a wonderful family dog.
Easily recognised by its tri-colour coat of black, white and rust with distinctive markings, the Bernese Mountain Dog will amuse you with its goofy character and will follow you around lovingly, eager to please. Read on for 10 facts to uncover whether you’ll want to share your home with one.
1. They’re from the Alps
As far as we know, Bernese Mountain Dogs were bred as a cross between farm dogs from the Swiss Alps and the Molosser or Mastiff-like dogs brought to Switzerland by the Romans 2,000 years ago.
Named after the canton of Bern in Switzerland, they are one of four types of Swiss mountain dog or Sennenhund (derived from the German words “Senne” for alpine pasture and “hund” for dog). These include the Appenzeller, Entlebucher Mountain Dog and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, although only the Berner has long hair.
2. They’re versatile working dogs
This is one multi-talented breed and, perhaps, one of the best all-rounders. Bernese Mountain Dogs originated as farm dogs in Switzerland because of their strong stocky bodies and legs that were suited to mountainous terrain.
They were used to herd and drive dairy cattle from the farms to the alpine pastures and to protect the farmers’ property and land, but they also made excellent companions thanks to their friendly, alert and confident nature.
3. They love the outdoors
If you enjoy backpacking, camping, hiking or snowy adventures, this is the dog for you. Bernese Mountain Dogs are not only cold weather dogs, but they love the outdoors, getting lots of exercise and being active – especially in the snow. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re outdoor dogs.
The Berner will want to live inside and cosy up with its family in the evenings. Just make sure you give them enough exercise during the day as otherwise they may become mischievous and show bad behaviors such as chewing, barking or digging up the garden.
4. They were once used as delivery dogs
Known as “cheese dogs”, with the opening of cheese plants during the 1850s, Bernese Mountain Dogs were used to pull carts filled with dairy products such as milk and cheese. The breed is strong and can cart up to 1,000 pounds – 10 times its own weight. It’s not only an excellent cart-puller, but a strong competitor in dog sports such as agility and obedience training.
While carting started in Switzerland, it soon reached other countries. While today the Berner is no longer used for pulling carts, carting has become a sport. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America still holds a carting competition where the dogs can show off their skills.
5. The breed was at risk because of the St Bernard
During the 1800s the St Bernard grew in popularity in Switzerland, which put the Bernese Mountain Dog at risk. The Industrial Revolution also meant that farmers were using more and more machinery and Bernese Mountain Dogs were needed less, which almost led to their demise.
Fortunately, Swiss fancier Franz Schertenleib, who had fond memories of being told stories of the Swiss mountain dog as a child, devoted his time to promoting the breed across Europe and making it popular again.
6. They make great babysitters
This breed will make a great friend for your child. They are not only gentle and affectionate with kids, but because they were bred as guard dogs, they’ll keep an eye out for them too.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a natural protector so while they may be a bit big for smaller children, they make wonderful babysitters and even better guard dogs. Just make sure they’re trained and socialised early on. This breed is imposing but not threatening. They’re not a fan of strangers, however, so they’ll warn off burglars by barking loudly.
7. You’ll have a pup for longer
The Bernese Mountain Dog makes an adorable, cuddly and fluffy puppy and what’s more you’ll have a puppy for longer with this breed. However, we’re not talking about its size.
While it will grow bigger as it gets older, the Berner matures more slowly than other dogs so you’ll have a fun-loving pet who is young at heart for longer. Of course, this also means it could get up to mischief so make sure you are consistent and patient when training them.
8. You’ll need a vacuum
If you don’t like to vacuum and you suffer from allergies, this may not be the breed for you. The Bernese Mountain Dog sheds heavily throughout the year, but more so in spring and autumn. Its long-haired, double coat can be wavy or straight, but it’s always thick and shiny.
To keep it looking luscious, you’ll need to brush its coat once or twice a week and, depending on how dirty it gets, it should be bathed about once a month.
9. Cancer is their enemy
Unfortunately Bernese Mountain Dogs suffer from a number of health issues including hip dysplasia, gastric torsion and tumours. Half of all Bernese Mountain Dogs pass away because of cancer. It is the leading cause of death for this breed. To make matters worse the Berner has a short lifespan.
They only tend to live for six to eight years. It’s important to know this when you decide to bring one home. Make sure you find a responsible breeder and be prepared by doing your research.
10. They are doggy heroes
There are more than a few examples of this breed performing heroic feats. In 2013, Bernese Mountain Dog Bella from Canada saved owner Chris Lacoque from a house fire.
In 2015, Berner Nico rescued two people from a rip current pulling them out to sea in California. And in 2017, Bernese Izzy survived roaring wildfires in California. It’s no surprise that these dogs make great heroes. They’re not only strong and intelligent, but they love their humans.
The chuckle effect
The Bernese Mountain Dog’s sense of humor is known as the “Berner chuckle.” This is one breed that likes to make its owner laugh and when you do, they’ll keep repeating the action that made you chuckle. On top of everything you’ve learned about this adorable breed, how could you resist a dog that more than anything wants to make you happy?
Former editor of World of Animals magazine, Zara is a freelance writer with a passion for wildlife. Born in South Africa, she developed a love of animals from an early age. She is currently looking for a bigger house just so she can get a cat and a dog.
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