Bernese Mountain Dog
(aka: Berner Sennenhund, Bernese Cattle Dog, Berner)
One of four varieties of Swiss Mountain Dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog is the only variety that possesses a long, silky coat. A hardy dog that thrives in cold weather, the "Berner’s" intelligence, strength and agility helped him perform the drafting and droving work in the mountainous region where he originated. Today, this versatile breed participates in conformation, obedience, carting, agility, tracking, herding and therapy work. Like the other Swiss breeds, they are tri-colored, with patches of black, rust and white.
According to breed standards, the Bernese has a well defined stop and a flat skull. The ears are medium sized and triangular in shape with rounded tips. They hang down close to the head. The tail should be bushy and carried low, the feet are round. The Bernese Mountain dog should NOT have blue eyes or any primary color other than black.
These dogs are one of the oldest working dogs recognized by the AKC. They were first recognized in 1937, and belong to the Working Group.
Bernese Mountain Dog Temperament
If there's only one word to describe the Bernese Mountain Dog, it's "loyal". The chief goal of the Bernese Mountain Dog's life, however brief it may be compared to some other breeds, is to be a loyal, helpful companion to you and your family.
This has its advantages and its disadvantages, of course. The chief advantage of the Bernese Mountain Dog's friendly temperament is the ability the dogs have to integrate themselves into virtually any kind of family environment. Children or other household animals are not a problem whatsoever for the Bernese Mountain Dog (though of course the earlier it gets to know its fellow housemates, the better it will deal with them in adult life.) The Bernese Mountain Dog's herding instincts make it a natural with animals (or children) that it perceives as "lower" than itself in the pack hierarchy, and the dogs will serve as ideal watchdogs and protectors for even the most recalcitrant of children or the most vicious of cats.
The chief disadvantage of the Bernese Mountain Dog's temperament, however, is its neediness. The Bernese Mountain Dog has a powerful, genetically-rooted need to please its humans--which means that you'll have to devote a great deal of attention to this dog in order to keep it happy and to keep it out of trouble. Training is also more difficult for the Bernese Mountain Dog than for some breeds--although the Bernese Mountain Dog will try assiduously to please you, it doesn't have some of the cunning other breeds exhibit, which allow them to learn the rules quickly (and even sometimes to use the rules to manipulate you.) So training a Bernese Mountain Dog will require a great deal of patience, however good the dog's basic intentions and will are.
Another major quality of the Bernese Mountain Dog is its laziness. The Bernese Mountain Dog is only willing to exert large amounts of energy for fairly short periods of time, preferring to simply be with its humans or to engage in short bursts of work followed by rest. This can be a negative quality if you prefer your dogs to be active companions, but it can be an extremely positive quality if you're used to dogs whose abundance of energy leads to destructive behavior if you leave them alone for more than an hour or two.
Daily to weekly brushing of the long thick coat is important, with extra care needed when the coat is shedding. Bathe or dry shampoo as necessary. The Bernese is a seasonal, heavy shedder.
The Bernese Mountain Dog has had a long history in Switzerland, with images of the dog (incorporated into allegorical religious paintings) appearing as early as the mid-17th century. The dog began to appear in written descriptions of the area somewhere in the mid-19th century, described as a traditional farm and herding dog used throughout the Alps.
The dogs became increasingly popular as the popularity of professional dog breeding and showing rose throughout the start of the twentieth century, and the Bernese Mountain Dogs were one of the earlier breeds recognized by many kennel clubs around the world--thanks to the efforts of a number of Swiss "Sennenhund" enthusiasts, of course. Yet the longevity, purity, and early popularity of the dogs for professional breeders (with the exception of the AKC) has led to dramatic problems for the Bernese Mountain Dog in recent years--problems related to heredity and inbreeding, including a genetically induced propensity for cancer, have conspired to shorten the life span of this once-hardy breed.
These dogs mature a bit slower than many other breeds, both physically and mentally, so this presents some slightly different problems than you may find with other breeds. If you push them too hard too young (especially different tricks), you increase the chance of injury. Their slow mental development usually means a shorter attention span.
The key to training a Bernese Mountain Dog, is to train them when they're slightly older than the average dog, starting heavy training at around two years is best, and to train them for short bursts every day rather than marathon obedience sessions, focusing on positive rewards whenever possible and varying activities so as to keep training interesting. If followed consistently without overtaxing (or endangering) your Bernese Mountain Dog, you can have a healthy dog throughout his prime without too much trouble, and the overall health you've helped to preserve in your dog may add years to his life.
Bernese Mountain Dogs have a much higher rate of fatal cancer than other breeds. In recent years, the Bernese Mountain Dog's average life span has plummeted from around 10-12 years to a scant 6-8 years, and much of that is attributed to cancer. It's important to get your Bernese Mountain Dog checked as frequently as possible by a qualified vet for signs of cancer in order to reduce the risks of your pet dying from this terrible disease.
Other problems to watch out for are musculoskeletal diseases, such as arthritis and hip dysplasia.