Bernese Mountain Dog

The history of the Bernese Mountain Dog can be traced back 2000 years to when the Romans invaded the area we now know as Switzerland. These giant dogs were used to move cattle, guard livestock and pull carts loaded with products for sale at the local markets. Their strong constitution and thick coat helped them withstand the severe weather that was common in the Alps.

By the late 1800’s, the attention of dog lovers had had turned to other working breeds such as the St Bernard, and the Bernese Mountain Dog was nearly lost. Fortunately, there were enough people interested in preserving the breed, and the very first breed club was established in Switzerland in 1907.

This attractive and noble breed was imported into the United States in 1926, and registered with the AKC in 1937. It is affectionately known as the “Berner”.

Appearance

These large dogs look impressive, standing up to 28 inches (71cm) at the shoulder, and weighing a heavy 110 lbs (50kg). They are definitely not a lap dog!  They give the impression of strength and courage.

Their long lustrous black coat is soft with a thick undercoat which protected them from the cold mountain weather.  The black contrasts nicely with the rich reddish brown fur on their cheeks and legs, and the white blaze on their face.

Temperament

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a loyal, loving and happy breed. They are calm, intelligent and easy to train. Even though they are not aggressive by nature, the Berner makes a wonderful watchdog.

These dogs are slow to grow up mentally and can remain boisterous for quite a while. They often don’t mature until they are at least 2 years old. This can cause havoc – imagine being bounced on by a 100lb puppy! It’s important that you train your Berner when he is little, so he behaves nicely for you when he has grown up.

Bernese Mountain Dogs love company and are not happy if left alone for long periods of time. This can make them destructive and depressed. They may have a tendency to be shy, so early socialization is important.

Because of their intelligence, they need regular mental stimulation. They enjoy obedience training, and will happily pull a cart for their owner. Because of their size and conformation, they are not a suitable breed for dog sports such as agility.

Most Bernese Mountain Dogs are happy to share their home with other pets, especially if they are introduced to them when they are a puppy. However, they have been known to chase smaller creatures and should always be watched closely if they are interacting with other animals.

Health

Unfortunately, the Bernese Mountain Dog has several significant health issues that can have big impact on them and the family that loves them.

Statistics indicate that these dogs have a higher incidence of cancer than other dog breeds. One of the most common cancers is osteosarcoma, a malignant cancer of the bone that is more likely to occur in giant breeds.

Their deep chest makes them prone to bloat, where the stomach swells after a big meal. This can be fatal if not treated early. Small frequent meals, and avoiding exercise after dinner time can help to prevent it.

The Berner also has a high incidence of musculoskeletal problems – hip dysplasia, OCD (osteochondrosis dissecans – a disorder of the cartilage in growing joints), and cruciate ligament injury are common in the breed. Because of their size, these conditions make it hard for these big dogs to get around, and really affect their quality of life.

Screening for orthopedic diseases such as hip dysplasia can help to reduce the incidence of the disease in the breed. Careful feeding practices can also help – avoid overfeeding puppies while they are growing to help to prevent joint problems, and avoid excessive weight gain in adults.

Maintenance

Daily exercise is necessary for your Bernese Mountain Dog, but they don’t need as much as the more energetic breeds. They will enjoy a daily walk, but aren’t built for running or jogging. They feel the heat in warm weather, and will sacrifice your flowerbed if it is deemed to be the coolest place to dig a hole when they are hot.

Because these dogs shed excessively, they will require daily brushing in order to keep your home as hair free as possible. Be prepared to sweep your floor regularly, as when they are moulting, you’ll often sweep up enough hair to knit another dog! The hair between their footpads also needs to be trimmed on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Bernese Mountain Dogs are intelligent and easy to train, very confident, alert and good natured. They are wonderful companions for children as they are patient and gentle. This breed of dog needs to be with people, not confined only to a kennel or backyard. If you are out at work for long periods during the day, this might not be the right breed for you.

These dogs are not suitable for apartment living, not only because of their size, but because they love spending time outdoors. They don’t need a big back yard, because they aren’t an active breed, but you will need to walk them every day.

Anybody who is considering buying a Berner must be prepared to deal with potential orthopedic problems that can cause difficulty in getting around, even from a very young age. This can be very costly, and involve surgery, medication and even modification of their home and car to make life easier for their gentle giant. In general, large breeds cost more to maintain – big dogs need more food, and larger doses of worming treatments and parasite control. Make sure your budget can accommodate that.

Giant breeds usually have a shorter lifespan than smaller breeds, and the Bernese Mountain Dog is no exception. These beautiful animals will definitely win your heart, but will only share your life for around 7 years.

Bernese Mountain Dog
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