Brilliant Bernese Mountain Dog

by Petbond Veterinary Surgeon

Bernese Mountain Dog Breed traits

Bernese Mountain Dogs make wonderful family pets and companions thanks to their kind, sweet and docile natures
They are extremely loyal and patient
The Bernese is a good choice for first time dog owners
In the right hands and environment, the Bernese is easy to train
They are renowned for being excellent around children of all ages
Once they have been walked, a Bernese is happy to relax at home
They are never overly demanding
The Bernese Mountain Dog mature slowly and remain very puppy-like well into their senior years

Factors to Consider

The Bernese Mountain Dog has a relatively short life span
They shed copious amounts of their coat throughout the year and even more in the spring and autumn
They are high maintenance on the grooming front
They are quite expensive to feed
They can suffer from separation anxiety when left on their own for long periods of time
The Bernese matures slowly only fully maturing when they are anything from 2 to 3 years old

Background to the Bernese

The Bernese Mountain Dog hails from Switzerland where they are highly prized not only as companions and family pets, but as working dogs too. In their native land, they are classed as Sennenhunds and are known to be true gentle giants being especially good around children of all ages. Always eager to please, the BMD is known to be loyal and affectionate characters by nature and boast being among the most intelligent dogs on the planet which means they are easy to train. The Bernese is an extremely handsome dog with their lovely tricolour coats which is one of their defining physical traits.

They are a great choice for first time dog owners, but they do need to be given lots of daily exercise as well as mental stimulation to be truly happy, well-balanced characters. Then there’s the cost of keeping a Bernese Mountain Dog which works out more expensive than other breeds all thanks to their large size.

How far back do Bernese Mountain Dogs Go?

The Bernese Mountain Dog is thought to have an ancestry that dates to Roman times when this type of dog was used to herd cattle through the Alps as armies marched through the lands. They belong to a group of dogs called “Sennenhund” of which there are three other types in the group with the BMD being the second largest. As these dogs became popular in different regions of their native Switzerland, each community developed a specific type of dog to suit their needs. As such four types of Sennenhund were created which are the Entlebucher, the smallest dog of this type, the Appenzeller which is slightly bigger, the Bernese and lastly the Great Swiss Mountain Dog which is the largest of them all.

Early in the 20th century, Professor Heim a huge fan of the breed worked hard to promote and establish the dogs we see today stating that “the Bernese Mountain Dog is the loveliest dog to be found anywhere” all thanks to their loyalty, alertness and affectionate natures whether in a working or home environment. With this said, the Bernese as a breed, has its roots in the Berne canton which is the region of Switzerland where they were highly prized herding dogs used in high alpine pastures where large herds grazed. They were also used to pull milk carts and as rescue dogs when there were avalanches.

Today, the Bernese Mountain Dog is renowned not only for being a superb working dog in their native Switzerland, but they are also highly regarded as loyal, devoted companions and family pets throughout the world thanks to their sweet, kind, reliable and docile natures being especially tolerant with children and other animals.

Did you know…….

Is the Bernese Mountain Dog a vulnerable breed? No, they are among some of the more popular breeds in Ireland and elsewhere in the world.
They are the 2nd largest of the Swiss mountain dog breeds known as Sunnerhunds
The Bernese is often confused for the Pyrenean although they are two very distinct breeds
They mature slowly only reaching full maturity when they are around 2 to 3 years old, but they reach their full height when they about 15 months old
The Bernese Mountain Dog is renowned for being a good judge of character and love nothing more than to “people watch”

What should my Bernese Mountain Dog look like?

Height at withers: Males 64 – 70 cm, Females 58 – 66 cm

Average weight: Males 35 – 55 kg, Females 35 – 45 kg

Bernese Mountain Dogs are large, being the second biggest of the four Sunnerhunds working dogs. They are quite similar looking to a Golden Retriever only heavier and they boast a stockier build. They are attractive dogs with a personality that matches their sturdy good looks. However, it’s their lovely colouring that really makes these dogs stand out from the crowd.

These dogs boast striking features with a well-defined stop over a straight, strong muzzle. Their eyes are almond-shaped and dark brown in colour. Ears are medium in size and triangular and they are set high on a dog’s head. When relaxed their ears lie flat, but when alert or excited, dogs raise them slightly pointing forward.

A Bernese boasts a strong jaw line with a perfect scissor bite where they upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. Their necks are muscular and strong being medium in length. Forequarters boast being well-muscled, long with sloping shoulders which are at a very distinct angle. Their front legs are straight and well boned. These dogs are compact looking with shorter rather than longer bodies. They boast a broad chest and a nice deep brisket with well-defined ribcages and strong, powerful loins and a firm and level back going to a smooth, well-rounded rump.

Their hindquarters are strong and broad being well-muscled and their back legs are well developed. Their feet are compact, short and round. The Bernese boasts a bushy tail which they raise when working or alert, but which they never curl over their backs.

When it comes to their coat, Bernese Mountain Dogs boast a silky and soft coat that has a natural sheen. Their hair is long and slightly wavy showing no curl at all. As previously mentioned, the BMD boasts a smart and attractive coat which is jet black with dogs having reddish markings on their cheeks, over their eyes as well as on their chests and all four legs. They also have a very striking white blaze and white markings on their chests giving them a very distinguished look. Dogs also have white paws although some don’t which is also acceptable as a breed standard.

How should a Bernese Mountain Dog move?

When a Bernese Mountain Dog moves, they do so with a far reaching, easy stride. Each step they take being well balanced while covering a lot of ground at all paces.

What does the Kennel club look for?

The Kennel Club frowns on any exaggerations or departures from the breed standard and would judge the faults on how much they affect a dog’s overall health and wellbeing as well as their ability to perform.

Males should have both testicles fully descended into their scrotums and it is worth noting that a dog can be a little lighter or heavier as well as slightly taller or shorter than set out in the Kennel Club breed standard which is given as a guideline only.

Does the Bernese have a good Temperament?

The Bernese Mountain Dog is known to be a highly intelligent character and one that is a pleasure to be around. They are a good choice for first time owners providing people have the time to spend with their canine companions because they need a lot in the way of exercise, mental stimulation and grooming. Being such large dogs, the BMD also needs the space to move around and they do not tolerate being left on their own for long periods of time especially when still young which can lead to dogs suffering from separation anxiety.

With this said, once a Bernese has been walked, they are more than happy to relax when they get back home and are known to be wonderfully quiet loving nothing more than to spend a few hours dozing all the while keeping a close eye on what’s going on around them.

Bernese Mountain Dogs usually reach their adult height when they are around 15 months old, but they take a lot longer to reach full maturity which can take anything from 2 to 3 years. They are known to be fun-loving characters, but if not well socialised at a young age and trained correctly, they can become a little boisterous and unruly, behaviours that can be hard to correct further down the line.

However, when well-handled and correctly trained, these dogs boast calm, reliable and even temperaments showing a lot of loyalty and affection as well as patience towards their owners and more especially towards younger members of a family. They relish being part of the family and like nothing more than to be involved in everything that goes on in a household and are renowned for being “people watchers”.

Is the Bernese Mountain Dog a good choice for first time owners?

Because the Bernese boasts such a lovely stable temperament, they are a great choice for first time dog owners being especially good around children of all ages. They thrive in a home environment without ever being too demanding which makes these gentle giants so endearing to share a home with.

What about prey drive?

The Bernese is a very social character by nature and even though they were originally bred as herding dogs, they do not have a very high prey drive. However, this is not to say that a dog would not give chase to a smaller animal when the mood takes them and this includes squirrels and the cat from next door whenever the chance arises.

What about playfulness?

Bernese Mountain Dogs have a very playful side to their natures and love to entertain and be entertained. They enjoy playing interactive games with children and are especially patient and tolerant when the kids are around although playtime can get a bit boisterous more especially when a Bernese is still young.

What about adaptability?

A Bernese needs to have enough space to express themselves and are therefore better suited to living in a house with a secure back garden where they can roam whenever possible. As such they are not well suited to apartment living.

Does the Bernese Mountain dog suffer from separation anxiety?

The Bernese hates being left on their own for longer periods of time which is why they are better suited to families where at least one person stays at home when everyone else is out so they typically always have company. This is especially true of puppies and younger dogs, bearing in mind that a Bernese matures very slowly only really reaching full maturity when they are anything between 2 to 3 years old.

Will a Bernese Mountain Dog Bark A lot?

The Bernese Mountain Dog is not known to be a “barker”, but should any strangers or visitors arrive at the door, they are always quick to let an owner know about it before settling down again. In short, a Bernese only typically barks for good reason and not just for the sake of it.

Do Bernese Mountain Dogs like Swimming?

Some Bernese love swimming and will take to the water whenever they can more especially when the weather is hot whereas others do not like going in water at all. Anyone who owns a dog that does not like water should never force them to go in because it would just end up scaring them. With this said, care should always be taken when walking a Bernese Mountain Dog off the lead anywhere near more dangerous watercourses just in case a dog decides to leap in and then needs rescuing because they can’t get out of the water on their own.

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs good watchdogs?

The Bernese is a real “people watcher” and as previously mentioned they are renowned for being good judges of character. With this said, a Bernese would always be quick off the mark to let an owner know when something they don’t like is going on in their environment, but once satisfied that all is well, they soon settle down again. In short, the Bernese is a reliable watchdog and a breed that goes about their business without showing any sort of aggressive behaviour.

Is a Bernese easy to train?

The Bernese Mountain Dog is intelligent and they always like to please which makes them quite easy to train, but their education needs to start early because if left until a dog is older, it can result in a Bernese being a little too boisterous and unruly making it harder to handle such a large dog. Puppies must be well socialised from a young age too for them to grow up to be confident characters, bearing in mind that the Bernese Mountain Dog is a very sensitive character by nature and does not like being shouted at.

The key to successfully training a Bernese is to start their education early and to always be consistent. It’s best to keep training sessions interesting and short which helps keep a puppy or young dog focused on what is being asked of them. All Bernese puppies are incredibly cute which means it is all too easy to spoil them when they first arrive in their new homes. However, owners need to start out as they mean to go on and this means laying out rules and boundaries so that puppies understand what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. The first commands a Bernese puppy should be taught are as follows:

Come
Sit
Stay
Quiet
Leave it
Down
Bed

 Is a Bernese Safe For Children and Other Pets?

As previously mentioned, the Bernese Mountain Dog is known to be a real gentle giant, always calm and placid especially when children are around. They adore the company of people and this includes kids. However, because of their large size, it’s always best to make sure any interaction between a dog and children is supervised by an adult so that things don’t get too boisterous which could result in a toddler getting knocked over.

In general, the BMD tolerates other animals and is good around them, rarely do these dogs show any sort of aggressive behaviour. However, they do need to be well socialised from a young age to be truly well-rounded so they get on with cats and other small pets commonly kept in the home. As with any other breed, introductions to pets and other animals a Bernese does not already know should be done carefully so that things go smoothly.