The Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dogs (BMD) are working dogs with origins in the farm areas of Switzerland and named for the Canton of Bern. Historically, BMD were used as general purpose farm dogs for their large, hardy frames and their calm-natured, people-oriented temperaments made them ideal for driving cattle, pulling carts to market, watching the farm and being farmers companions.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a striking, tri-coloured, large dog. The ground colour is jet black. The markings are rich rust and clear white. Symmetry of markings is desired. Rust appears over each eye, on the cheeks reaching to at least the comer of the mouth, on each side of the chest, on all four legs, and under the tail. There is a white blaze and muzzle band. A white marking on the chest typically forms an inverted cross. The tip of the tail is white. White on the feet is desired but is not essential and must not extend higher than the pasterns. The eyes are dark brown and slightly oval in shape with close fitting eyelids. The nose is always black. Measured at the withers, dogs are 63–70cm. Bitches are 58–66cm. The breed should be dry mouthed but not all BMD are.
BMD are a highly versatile breed. Dogs and their human companions enjoy competing in conformation, obedience, agility, tracking, herding and carting. BMD also make wonderful therapy dogs bringing cheer to others. Individual dogs will be serviceable for these various activities depending on their aptitude, structure, character and temperament. Not every BMD will perform well in every event.
Shedding is considerable. BMD cast off their coats seasonally with the exception of intact females that cast coat in conjunction with heat cycles. If hair in the home is a problem or you are allergy-prone, this breed is not for you. A BMD’s coat is relatively easy to maintain. A periodic bath and blow dry along with regular brushing will maintain a neat appearance. For those keeping a meticulous house, daily sweeping or vacuuming may be necessary during much of the year. And yes, you may find hair in your food!
Basic training is a necessity for all dogs and especially large breeds such as the Bernese, your cute fluffy puppy can quickly become an obnoxious 45kg adolescent if training does not begin early. It is recommended that youngsters attend a puppy kindergarten/socialisation class between four and six months of age. This should be followed by a first level obedience program before the dog reaches one. All training should utilize positive techniques. A well-mannered dog is a pleasure and the owner’s responsibility. I find that obedience training is a great way to socialise and bond with your dog. Puppy pre school is NOT enough, our dogs are what we make of them, help them to be their very best.
BMD need to live where you are and should be inside with the family. They do not do well as kennel dogs and should never be tied outside and left. Behaviour problems are likely to develop when deprived of considerable interaction with people. BMD are farm dogs by heritage and as such need exercise to stay fit mentally and physically. Small fenced yards should be viewed as a place of convenience and safety but not as a place for adequate exercise for this moderately active breed. A minimum of 30 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise daily plus several trips outside daily are adequate for some BMD. To remain fit and pleasant to live with others require three times that amount of exercise. Their size and heavy black coats make these dogs susceptible to heat stroke. BMD do best in a climate-controlled environment during hot weather especially if not acclimatised to warm temperatures. Activities during the hotter months should be confined to the coolest times of day. With respect to fencing, generally BMD are not jumpers or climbers but do require a sturdy four or five foot fence to keep them safely on your premises. Some BMD do like to dig!
By nature BMD are alert and affectionate dogs. With training essential for ownership of a large working breed, BMD are generally gentle, easygoing and tolerant. They are also usually excellent with children, however a Bernese is not a ‘no-brainer’ choice of breed for a family with small children. Many BMD puppies go through a ‘mouthy’ stage that can be unwittingly encouraged by young children. Many BMD’s bodies grow faster than their ‘brains’, which can be a challenge to the inexperienced dog owner. They are not prone to excessive barking unless left unattended for too long. Any large dog, even a BMD, should never be left alone unsupervised with small children or children unknown to the dog. The breed is protective but should not be aggressive unless provoked or threatened and may be aloof to strangers. BMD should not be shy. Due to temperament concerns it is very important to expose Bernese to a wide variety of people, places and other animals, especially in their first year of life. Take your pup to the shops, to the beach, out for coffee, to friends houses, to the local footy, TO OBEDIENCE... the more places the better to get them used to different noises, sights, smells and situations.
Bernese generally like to please their people when they respect them. Some dogs are challenging and it takes more work to develop their desire to please. BMD are smart enough to manipulate their owners. Generally, most BMD are very sensitive, impressionable dogs. Some may be “soft”. Bad or scary experiences are hard to overcome and are best anticipated and avoided. Only positive training techniques should be used. These dogs have lots of heart and their owners need to understand their dogs’ unique, psychological make-up.
Longevity & Health Issues
Sadly, every breed has its health issues and BMD are no different. The 'average' life of a BMD is slightly more than seven years although some individuals are still going strong at ten and beyond. 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." It is important for buyers to be aware of the potential problems and heartbreaks for they have both financial and emotional implications. Health issues impacting the breed include hip and elbow dysplasia, cancer, bloat, von Willebrands disease, autoimmune diseases, skin and coat problems, thyroid disorders and eye disorders (PRA, cataracts, ectropion and entropion).
As well as the significant cost of purchasing a puppy, ongoing maintenance costs include routine vet care, food, training, crate, toys, grooming tools and supplies and more. If a dog becomes critically ill or requires surgery, expenses for treatment and hospitalisation can be substantial — many times the purchase price of the dog. Pet health insurance is available and should be considered. Additionally, home or yard improvements may be required, such as a fence. All of these factors must be taken into consideration when evaluating the economic suitability of this breed.
Locating a BMD
Never buy a purebred puppy from a pet store (or any puppy for that matter!!)!
Do your homework and be an informed buyer.
Both breeder and buyers alike have an obligation to ensure that a sound, healthy animal is placed in the right home.
A responsible breeder will:
Deciding to buy a Bernese Mountain Dog, or any dog for that matter, should never be a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Bernese Mountain Dogs are an enchanting breed, if you decide that they are the breed for you BEWARE......one is never enough : )