Bernese Mountain Dog
Other names: Berne's cowboy, Dürrbächler, Berner Sennenhund
Wamiz's Top Breed
The Bernese Mountain Dog, of Swiss origin, is a large dog with a spectacular appearance. As gentle as he is powerful, he is a teddy-bear dog that will delight the young and old in everyday life. This is a good guard dog who is very suited for a rural way of life, with moderate exercise needs which must be met daily.
Key facts about the Bernese Mountain Dog
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Origins and history
This dog of Swiss origin (near Bern hence his name) comes, like all dogs of the molosser category, from the Tibetan Mastiffs adopted by ancient Rome before spreading through Europe following the Roman legions. From this dog followed the Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund, the Appenzeller Sennenhund, the Entlebucher Sennenhund and of course, the Berner Sennenhund. The different types vary according to their geographical region.
Originally, the Bernese was used for his guarding and herding qualities; now he is mainly considered a family dog, although he is still occasionally employed in mountain rescue scenarios.
FCI breed nomenclature
Group 2 - Pinscher and Schnauzer - Molossoid and Swiss Mountain and Cattledogs
Section 3 : Swiss Mountain and Cattledogs
Physical characteristics of the Bernese Mountain Dog
Female : Between 23 and 26 in
Male : Between 25 and 28 in
Female : Between 88 and 99 lb
Male : Between 110 and 132 lb
The Bernese’s coat is tricolour with:
- Black overall
- Rust-coloured markings on the cheeks, above the eyes, on the four limbs and on the chest
- White blaze on the forehead, white marks on the neck, chest and ideally on the feet and the tip of the tail
Type of coat
The fur is long. The coat is shiny, smooth or wavy.
The eyes are dark brown.
The Bernese is a large and well-balanced working dog. His remarkable appearance is very harmonious and his body is powerful, flexible and well-proportioned.
Good to know
Michael D. Higgins, the President of Ireland, is the proud owner of two Bernese Mountain Dogs: Bród and Síoda. He loves them so much that he brings them along when he attends official events!
This big Swiss teddy bear is very affectionate, loves his family and can even be somewhat clingy with his social group.
This dog loves playing with children (but keep an eye on him).
The Bernese Mountain Dog remains immature for a very long time, so playing is a nice way to externalise all his energy, and also to learn in a fun way, as long as games are both entertaining and educational.
“The calm force” perfectly describes this big teddy. Calm, measured, balanced and kind, he is a perfect companion for the young and old.
Be careful though, the Bernese Mountain Dog will need daily physical and mental stimulation to remain calm indoors.
Like many sheepdogs and herding dogs, his intelligence is remarkable. He will quickly understand what is expected of him, but his late maturity may slow down the full grasp of certain lessons.
The Bernese Mountain Dog’s hunting instinct is very restricted, which makes him a rather sociable dog in regards to other domestic animals.
Fearful / wary of strangers
The Bernese Mountain Dog has a pronounced guarding instinct so he can be suspicious of strangers. However, if he does not have to act as a guardian, he is kind to everyone.
Even though he is very suspicious, the Bernese Mountain Dog will never attack, as he will prefer to remain passive while being dissuasive if necessary.
This teddy dog may be a rural type, but he does not appreciate being separated from his master. This makes him a dependent dog, even clingy to his social group. Since he is very protective and faithful, he needs interaction and tenderness.
Behaviour of the Bernese Mountain Dog
The faithful fidelity that this Swiss dog has towards his social group means he’s a dog who does not appreciate loneliness. He needs to be surrounded by people that give him all the affection he seeks.
Easy to train / obedience
Like many sheepdogs, this Swiss Mountain dog has a great ability to concentrate and listen to his master.
However, he matures very slowly (it usually takes 2 to 3 years longer than other dog breeds for the Bernese to reach maturity), so it is necessary to be patient and to repeat training exercises many times so that he can completely acquire them.
Education needs to start early in this dog breed, especially given its large size: up to 60 kg in males!
Therefore, it will be essential to offer the Bernese Mountain Dog puppy a firm but gentle education based on positive reinforcement training and on the dog's personal learning rhythm.
Teaching him to walk on a lead without pulling should be one of the earliest lessons to work on in order to enjoy safe walks.
The Bernese Mountain Dog has a pronounced bark which he will not hesitate to demonstrate in case of intrusion into his family’s territory. However, this is not his favourite communication tool.
Tendency to run away
He is very close to his social group and he has a rather limited predatory instinct, so he is unlikely to run away. He prefers to stay with members of his social group.
The Bernese Mountain Dog does not like solitude very much; he is not made to stay alone all day without doing anything. In fact, he can be destructive when feeling impatient and bored.
Greedy / Gluttony
The greed of this dog will be most notable through his inclination towards training based on motivational treats. However, be careful to avoid excess.
Berners are used for multiple tasks, from herding to cart-pulling.
While it is now rare to see a Bernese Mountain Dog as a herding dog, Berners are still commonly used to deter intruders due to their strong guarding instincts.
Despite his luxurious appearance, this imposing dog knows how to scare any stranger that enters the property of his social group. However, he will remain a passive guardian.
The calmness, sweetness and affection of the Bernese Mountain Dog are perfectly compatible with a first dog adoption. Nevertheless, you must not neglect his early education if you want to avoid extreme behaviour and to control his immense need for energy expenditure.
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Bernese Mountain Dog in a flat
Even if this big dog is able to adapt to city life (only if the apartment is big enough to host him comfortably), he will certainly prefer life in the great outdoors. Confined places do not really suit him.
His thick coat gives him good protection and allows him to live outdoors as comfortably as indoors. But beware, the Bernese Mountain Dog mustn’t be excluded from his social group. He needs a warm place among his masters.
If he lives in an apartment, several long walks of at least 30 minutes are necessary along with games to keep him busy and active during the day.
Need for exercise / Sporty
Since he was originally a working dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog has the desire and need to be physically stimulated on a daily basis.
He will happily accompany an active master when he jogs; and in terms of agility, he can also show great flexibility.
Like many working dogs, it is very important to offer the Bernese Mountain Dog daily exercise, like physical exercise (long walks, pulling, agility), mental exercise (learning tricks, obedience) or olfactory exercise (tracking).
Travelling / easy to transport
Unfortunately, the size of this Swiss giant does not allow him to travel easily.
But nothing is impossible, especially if the Bernese Mountain Dog is well-trained and is accustomed, from a young age, to travelling with his masters.
Bernese Mountain Dog and cats
He is not a predator, so the Bernese Mountain Dog will be able to get along with cats if he is used to their presence from a very young age.
Some socialisation training is needed but cohabitation is possible.
Bernese Mountain Dog and dogs
Since he is not aggressive at all, rather passive in nature, this big teddy will never seek confrontation with his peers, even with the most reckless of dogs. He will remain impervious to provocation from peers.
Nevertheless, given the large size of this dog, socialisation is very important to avoid incidents and also to keep him under control.
Bernese Mountain Dog and children
Since he is particularly sweet and friendly, this dog will be the perfect companion for a family with children.
If the children's behaviour annoys him, he will naturally retreat.
However, certain safety rules will need to be put in place to ensure that the cohabitation is healthy and harmonious.
Bernese Mountain Dog and the elderly
The Bernese Mountain Dog’s character could be compatible with dynamic and active elderly people. On the other hand, his great need for energy expenditure and his incredible power cannot be handled by sedentary elderly people.
On average, it takes £1100 to buy a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy registered with the Kennel Club. The price will vary depending on the dog's origins, age and gender.
In terms of monthly budget, you need around £70 to provide good quality food and all the necessary care to keep this great Swiss mountain dog healthy.
Despite his long and thick coat, weekly brushing will be enough to keep his coat healthy.
Further attention is needed to take care of his ears, which may suffer from infections due to their loose shape.
The Bernese Mountain Dog’s shedding is quite impressive, especially during the two periods of biannual shedding: in the fall and spring.
Nutrition of the Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese Mountain Dog is pretty greedy, so he will not be a difficult dog to feed. However, this does not mean that you should not provide a quality diet with all the necessary nutritional benefits.
His meal should be adapted to his weight, his size, and also to his physical condition, especially if he engages in his master’s sports activities.
Food can be dry (kibble) or raw (e.g. homemade) but should always be of good quality.
In addition, the growth of the Bernese Mountain Dog is particularly fast and impressive (1kg/week in the first few months), so you need to meet his nutritional benefits to maintain his morphology and ensure healthy development, which can take up to 18 months for a female and 3 years for a male.
Finally, to avoid any digestive problems the meal should be given in a raised bowl, so the dog should not have to bend down to eat.
Health of the Bernese Mountain Dog
The lifespan of the Bernese Mountain Dog is between 8 to 10 years.
Strong / robust
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a rustic dog. Although robust enough by nature, he is affected by several diseases. And, like many large dogs, he will be predisposed to certain physical problems, especially if his masters are not careful about his growth and his morphology when he is performing certain physical activities (e.g. pulling, agility).
The heat will not be a problem as long as the Bernese has access to continuous fresh water and a spot in the shade to rest.
His thick coat and his great courage make this dog very resistant to bad and sometimes extreme weather conditions.
Tendency to put on weight
The Bernese Mountain Dog is very greedy and if he does not get enough exercise, he could quickly gain weight.
Therefore, it is important to give him daily rations adapted to his physical condition. Avoid giving him food between meals but make sure to meet his need for energy expenditure.
Frequently asked questions
Why do Bernese Mountain Dogs have a short lifespan?
Bernese Mountain Dog puppies grow very fast, and so, like many giant breeds, can suffer from issues relating to their joints and bones, which can affect their mobility. However, the main reason for their short lifespan is their predisposition to cancer, particularly Malignant histiocytosis (MH), which affects the organs and is always fatal.
Learn how to spot the signs that your dog is dying of cancer.
Why do Bernese Mountain Dogs drool?
Not all Berners drool systematically, but some will drool more than others. This mainly has to do with the shape of their jowls. The looser their lips, the more likely drool is to drop out of their mouths when they salivate. If you've got a drooler at home, you may want to keep a drool rag handy.
Find out everything you need to know about drooling in dogs.
Are Bernese Mountain Dogs high maintenance?
Overall, yes, this is a high-maintenance breed. They need company to be happy, which means you'll need to spend a lot of time with them. They shed a lot and need regular grooming to avoid matting. They're also large, meaning they need space and proper training so handling isn't a problem. Finally, their poor health also means you could be spending a lot of money at the vet's. But for the right family, they are wonderful, affectionate dogs!
Take our breed test to find out which breed is right for you!