Which dog breed is thought of as the long-haired beauty of the Swiss Alpine Regions? The Bernese Mountain Dog.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a beautiful and lovable, large mountain dog from Switzerland. It has an adorable soft and gentle face with a long-haired, tri-colored silky coat. This is a versatile working dog that is obedient, eager to please, and calm; but with a high energy level.
This purebred dog breed is referred to by many different names:
- The Berner,
- Berner Sennenhund,
- Swiss Mastiff,
- Swiss Berner,
- The big hairy Swiss Mountain dog,
- Swiss Cheese Dog,
- or simply ‘Big Berner’
Bernese mountain dogs are strong and reliable and were bred as farm dogs to work Swiss farmlands; herding cattle and as draft dogs pulling heavy milk carts.
The big Berner, as it is affectionately known, with obedience training and socialization will be easy-going and friendly around children. Bernese mountain dog puppies are simply adorable and make great family dogs.
A Brief History of the Bernese Mountain Dog breed
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a purebred dog.
This large breed dog originated in the canton of Bern in Switzerland, and was an adaptable working dog; suitable for herding and working in alpine terrain.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of four breeds of Sennenhund, each named after the area they came from:
- The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund)
- The Bernese Mountain Dog (Berner Sennenhund)
- The Entlebucher Mountain Dog (Entlebucher Sennenhund)
- The Appenzeller Mountain Dog (Appenzeller Sennenhund)
Each one of the four Swiss mountain dog breeds has the classic mountain dog tricolored coat coloring: Black, White, and Rust. The Bernese Mountain Dog is the only one with a long-haired double coat.
FACT: Sennenhunds are types of Swiss mountain dogs or Swiss cattle dogs. The name comes from the words:
‘Senne’ – meaning alpine pasture
’Senn people’ – refers to the type of people from that specific Swiss Alpine area, who worked as herdsmen or dairymen
‘Hund’ meaning dog or hound
When and why did they arrive in Switzerland?
Berner Sennenhunds are believed to have been brought to Switzerland over 2000 years ago, by the Romans, with roots from the ancient Molosser breeds (which were often used as draft dogs).
Berners are skilled drafting dogs.
Draft dogs (also spelled draught dogs) were traditionally bred as farm dogs for pulling working carts or sleds, in the Swiss Alps. Any dog bred for this type of work will have a strong and sturdy build. This breed came from crossing Mastiffs (another Molosser type breed) and other guarding-type dogs to produce the Bernese Mountain dog we have today; sometimes referred to as the Swiss Mastiff.
FACT: Mastiff-type dogs rank as some of the largest dogs in the world. They are known for their strength and occasionally fierce character. They are sometimes placed on dangerous dog lists.
In the late 1800s, Bernese Mountain Dogs started to become less popular as different transportation options became available and the breed number reduced considerably. Then Professor Albert Heim, a prominent Geologist and Berner fancier, and an expert on the Swiss Alps, created a Swiss breed club, to protect this native breed.
FACT: a ‘fancier’ is a person who has a hobby involving the appreciation, promotion or breeding of dogs or other domestic animals; as well as dog showing and participation I dog competitions.
In 1902, the Swiss Kennel Club recognized the Bernese Mountain dog breed.
The Bernese Mountain dog was introduced into England in 1936.
When did they make it to the United States?
In 1926, the Bernese Mountain Dog breed arrived in the United States of America where they quickly became popular. The Bernese Mountain dog was recognized as a purebred dog breed, by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1937, and classified as a working dog; currently ranked the 23rd most popular dog breed in the United States.
In 1968 the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America was founded.
The Bernese Mountain Dog was recognized as a purebred dog breed by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI).
FACT: The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) is the World Canine Organization. It is an international federation comprising a number of national kennel clubs for dogs across the world.
What does a Bernese Mountain dog look like?
The Berner is beautiful and a lovable gentle giant. It’s a large dog, with a flat head, a moderate stop (forehead), medium-sized triangular-shaped ears, rounded at the top and set high on its head, and scissor bite teeth.
A Berner is larger than the other Swiss Mountain dogs with a longer-than-tall, sturdy and muscular body, and a wide back. It has a big bushy tail, that is not carried high, and big blue eyes, or sometimes a ‘ground’ color. Black eye color is not a breed standard.
The Bernese Mountain Dog has a long-haired double coat color in the classic Swiss Mountain dog coloring: Black and Tan and white; this tricolor coat is breed standard.
The Berner appears to have the markings of the White Swiss Cross on its chest. It has a double coat; the outer coat is long-haired and the undercoat is woolly, both protect it from harsh weather.
This dog breed sheds a lot and will need ongoing grooming.
What are the main characteristics of a Bernese Mountain Dog?
Berners are friendly and calm dogs that were originally bred to work on alpine farms. They will be obedient with proper socialization and behavior training and will make a wonderful family pet.
They are cute as little puppies but don’t be fooled, but they grow into large dogs that are sturdy and very energetic; so not suitable for apartment living. These dogs are an intelligent dog breed and easy to train and are good at following orders, as they like to please their master and family.
Their strength is suited to working on farmland and they make an expert draft dog; famous for transporting cheese, milk, and harvest products in carts in the Swiss Alps.
The cute little Bernese Mountain puppy will not grow up to become a lap dog. It would however make a good family or farm watchdog or guard dog, as it will bark a lot and loudly if it senses intruders or sees anything unusual.
Loyalty and companionship:
This breed originated as a working dog and companion for farmers and land workers. It is obedient and very intelligent and will love to please its master and just keep them company. It’s sociable and determined to get the job done.
The Bernese Mountain breed does not have a reputation as an aggressive dog. It is a large dog with incredible strength and a strong working mentality.
A Berner is a barker, making it a good watchdog; as a family pet or if working on farmland. However, it is extremely friendly and calm, with children and even strangers. So it may bark if uncertain about strangers, but it’s not considered a dangerous breed dog as some other Mastiff type dogs are. Its bark is definitely worse than its bite!
FACT: it is important to treat any dog with respect, especially one with great strength and prey drive instincts, otherwise it might feel challenged and react in a negative or aggressive way.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a much loved big dog and ranks as the 23rd most popular dog breed in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).
This will become a large and sturdy dog that will love to play and the rougher the better. It’s robust and will not get hurt easily but it may not realize just how strong it is when playing with young children or other family pets.
This big strong dog will need a dog owner that can manage its physique and strength. It, therefore, needs to be trained as a puppy regardless if it is to be used as a working farm dog or kept as a family pet.
The trainability of a Berner dog should be easy as it’s a good tracker and herder and learns quickly. It is also fairly easy-going and likes to please the dog owner.
A Bernese Mountain dog matures slowly. It can be silly and loves to play. It’s boisterous and clumsy so it will need careful socialization and discipline training and not allowed to romp about the house unsupervised.
Berners are not suited for a novice owner or anyone who cannot manage its bulk and give it enough exercise and stimulation. Leash training is strongly recommended as this dog is strong and may just run off to play with another dog. Leash walking will teach it control and road safety awareness.
Harsh training tactics are not recommended for any mastiff-type dog as it might rebel and snap, bark, or simply refuse to cooperate. This dog is soft-hearted and if treated harshly will get upset. Positive reinforcement with little food-based treats will work best.
This dog needs a big fenced living space to run around in as it has a working instinct and will get bored easily and may bark.
Power and intelligence:
Berners are smart, muscular, and self-assured.
They do not have a high endurance level but can raise the energy they need in bursts and even go hiking with their dog owner or family.
They are solidly built and were used as carting dogs, and lifting heavy objects with their scissor type bite.
The Bernese Mountain Dog will inherit typical working dog instincts and want to be kept active with a job to do. This dog is docile and placid, and although it may not have a high energy level, it is not a couch potato!
A Berner is loyal, good-natured, and will bond with one owner, or family, and do everything it can to be close to them and act as their guardian.
A Berner doesn’t like to be left alone for long periods of time otherwise they may bark and become mischievous.
A Bernese Mountain Dog is affectionate and friendly with children, small animals and even strangers when socialized.
A Berner will inherit a strong working ethic and be ready to watch, guard, and help.
It needs to be socialized and have obedience training early as they are big powerful and heavy dogs.
It would make a reliable family pet as it is good with children and will look after them but, remember, it is a big strong dog that likes to romp about and may not realize its own strength.
The Bernese Mountain dog is generally tolerant, patient, and fairly calm. However it can be very playful and takes a long time to mature, so it may be goofy and overly boisterous at playtime.
It is a working breed so will need to be kept stimulated with enough exercise and tasks provided to keep it busy.
This breed will suit a family that has time to play and go for walks. It will need outdoor needs space, not apartment living. Its yard needs to be fenced or it might go exploring the local land. It may be cautious in new situations or circumstances and may bark, making them a good watchdog for any home or farm.
Physical Characteristics of a Bernese Mountain dog
The Berner is an affectionate and silly, big purebred dog with a mind of its own; it’s agile, with a muscular build, and a big bushy tail that is certainly never docked.
Size: Large dog breed
Height: Up to 25-27” (64-70cm) for Male and 23-26” (58-66cm) for Female
Weight: Around 80-115lb (35-50kg) for Male and 70-95lb (30-45kg) for Female
Lifespan: 7-8 years expectancy
Litter size: 5-7 puppies/litter
Coat: A long-haired, silky double coat; the undercoat is soft for warmth.
Color: The breed standard allows for Black and Tan and white. There are no other breed standard colors for the Bernese Mountain dog.
Eyes: Big blue eyes, but sometimes they can be an earth color. Black color eyes or any other color are not breed standard, rimmed with Black color; with a loving and kind stare.
Ears: Medium-sized triangular-shaped, set high on the head and rounded at the top.
Temperament: it can be silly and playful when socialized properly. It likes company and will want to be around its loved ones but can be aloof and standoffish with other dogs and smaller animals.
It will be caring and protective of children. It, therefore, needs to be supervised around young active children and other smaller animals, not because it is aggressive but simply because of its size and strength.
It can be gentle and affectionate with all those around it in its family. However, it may be tempted to chase smaller animals, in play, if given the chance.
How should you train a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy?
A Berger puppy is an incredibly cute little ball of fluff that still needs to be trained, despite its cuteness, if it is to be able to go out in public and know how to behave. It needs to be trained early in the puppy years as it is smart and can be independent and is an outdoor dog.
The Berger puppy will cooperate best with ongoing positive reinforcement and praise for good behavior. It should only be given gentle reprimands for not behaving, but not harsh treatment as this big dog is soft on the inside and willing to cooperate.
There are various types of recommended training: obedience, discipline, agility, and socialization.
So, if you are not going to use a professional dog trainer:
1) Develop your basic command words: Find keywords such as Stop, Sit, and Wait, etc. and be consistent each time you use them.
2) Crate – Buy a crate and get this big, boisterous, and energetic puppy used to going into it. This will eventually become its nest and it will sleep there. You will have to lock the cage in the early days so it knows it has to sleep there and it’s useful to experience for bladder control and when transporting this breed.
3) Potty training – It will become a creature of habit quickly. However, should you need help there are products available, such as mats and odor sprays to attract the puppy to use the same spot each time.
4) Walking on a leash – Voice commands and road safety awareness is a must as this puppy bores easily and has a strong working instinct and it might just dash off. This will keep the puppy safe.
Health problems and health issues
Any purebred dog breed, especially the Berner with its small gene pool, can inherit certain genetic health problems. This breed has a relative short estimated lifespan, usually only 7-8 years:
Cancer – Berners have a high incidence of cancer, mainly in the bones, lymph, and muscles. It’s therefore important to check for lumps and bumps.
Hip Dysplasia (and Elbow Dysplasia) – an abnormality where the ball and socket of the hip joint are not a neat fit. Excessive movement can lead to further damage to the limbs, extreme pain possible bone disease such as arthritis. Dogs with known Hip Dysplasia should not be bred.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy – a genetic condition where the retina in the eye degenerates and it can lead to loss of vision if not treated early.
Cataracts – another eye condition, where a jelly-like growth forms on the eye and affects vision
Von Willebrand’s Disease – a blood disorder that affects the clotting process, symptoms include nosebleeds and bleeding gums,
Bloat – a build-up of gas from eating too much or drinking too quickly, can be fatal.
Other conditions include: muscular and skeletal problems
Caring for your Bernese Mountain dog – what’s needed?
A Berner is an outdoor dog with a high energy level needing at least one hour of exercise a day; combining playtime with mental and physical stimulation. They need fenced space to run around in.
Feed as a large-sized dog, with 4-6 cups of good quality dry dog food (Kibble) per day, over two meals, to prevent Bloat (gas); the exact amount depends on their size, build, metabolism, and activity level.
The Bernese Mountain dog as a typical double-coated dog, with long hair, so it is a big shedder and two annual seasonal big sheds. It will need weekly brushing, more during the shedding season.
This breed is not hypoallergenic.
This long-haired outdoor dog only needs to be bathed when necessary, not too often though as its natural coat oil can be stripped with over-bathing.
Certain dog formulated shampoos have a double effect of cleaning the dog coat and protecting it against fleas and insect bites.
Cleaning teeth, nails, and ears
Check teeth to prevent a build-up of plaque and avoid gum disease. Nails need to be trimmed regularly and ears checked for dirt that can lead to infection.
Positives and Negatives of owning a Berger
- Friendly, playful, loyal and a good companion
- Beautiful, cute and extremely lovable
- Intelligent and loyal
- Adaptable, non- aggressive
- Good watchdog as it will bark
- Child friendly when trained and socialized
- Obedient and willing
- Large dog outdoor needs stimulation and exercise
- Big strong dog, not for an inexperienced or inactive owner
- Can be aloof and standoffish with strangers and other dogs
- Likes to keep busy, will find its own fun, chewing or digging
- Must be leash walked, could suddenly race off
- Not hypoallergenic
- Wanderlust tendencies
- Needs regular grooming, more twice yearly with seasonal shedding
Commonly Asked Questions:
Q. How much does a Bernese Mountain dog puppy cost?
A. Budget approximately $800-2000 (or much more if breeding stock!), from a reputable breeder, or consider adopting one, costs around $350-550. Do your research carefully and beware of special price offers, appearing too good to be true!
Costs should include full vaccinations, chip and passport, and name registration. This all adds to the overall cost.
Q. What other costs should I expect?