Bergamasco Sheepdog

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bergamasco sheepdog portrait
Meet the Bergamasco Sheepdog, a breed that'll have you doing a double-take! With their distinctive, mop-like appearance, these lovable dogs are truly one of a kind. But don't let their funky hairdo fool you - beneath that tangled web of fur lies an intelligent, loyal, and gentle soul.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is an ideal match for those who appreciate a loving, low-maintenance furry friend. While they’re adaptable to various living situations, they do best in homes with ample outdoor space to roam and explore.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEBergamasco Sheepdog
OTHER NAMESBergamasco, Bergamasco Shepherd, Cane da pastore Bergamasco
ORIGINItaly
BREED GROUPHerding Group
BREED SIZELarge
HEIGHT20-24 inches
WEIGHT57-84 lbs
LIFESPAN13-15 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERLow
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSLow
EXERCISE NEEDSModerate
TRAINABILITYHigh
BARKING TENDENCYLow
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELLow
POPULARITY RANK179th
bergamasco sheepdog standing on grass
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Appearance

The Bergamasco Sheepdog boasts a truly unique and captivating appearance. This medium to large-sized breed typically stands between 22 and 24 inches tall at the shoulder for males, while females measure around 20 to 22 inches. Males usually weigh between 70 and 84 pounds, and females tend to be slightly lighter, ranging from 57 to 71 pounds.

The Bergamasco’s body is strong and well-proportioned, with a sturdy build that reflects its original purpose as a herding dog. Their powerful legs provide excellent agility and endurance, while their broad chest ensures ample lung capacity for sustained effort.

The Bergamasco’s tail is set low, thick at the base, and tapers toward the tip. It hangs down when the dog is relaxed but may rise in a slight curve when the dog is alert or excited.

One of the most striking features of the Bergamasco Sheepdog is its head, which is large and somewhat dome-shaped. The breed’s expressive, almond-shaped eyes convey an intelligent and gentle gaze, while its triangular ears are set high on the head and hang down to the sides. The Bergamasco’s muzzle is strong and slightly tapering, giving it a distinctive profile.

Without a doubt, the most remarkable aspect of the Bergamasco Sheepdog’s appearance is its extraordinary coat. Composed of three different types of hair, the coat forms characteristic “flocks” or loose mats that cover the dog’s entire body. These flocks can be flat or irregularly shaped, and they provide excellent protection against the elements and potential predators.

The Bergamasco’s coat is typically gray or silver-gray, but it can also be found in shades of brown and black. Despite its heavy appearance, the coat is surprisingly lightweight and allows the dog to move freely.

The Bergamasco’s unique coat begins to form flocks when the dog is around 8 to 12 months old, and they continue to grow throughout its life. The flocks can reach floor length, giving the Bergamasco a charmingly unkempt appearance that sets it apart from other breeds. While the Bergamasco’s coat may seem high-maintenance, it actually requires minimal grooming and is practically odor-free.

Overall, the Bergamasco Sheepdog’s distinctive appearance is a result of its well-built body, expressive eyes, unique coat, and overall shaggy charm. This breed’s unmistakable look is not only visually striking but also serves as a testament to its hardworking heritage and adaptability in various environments.

Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Temperament

Alright, let’s dive into the temperament of the Bergamasco Sheepdog. This breed is like your favorite philosophy professor – calm, patient, and incredibly intelligent.

Bergamascos have this Zen-like calm about them. They’re those cool cucumbers who don’t get ruffled easily. But don’t be fooled, behind that tranquility is a dog that’s always alert, always tuned in to what’s happening around them. It’s like they’ve got this sixth sense, making them excellent watchdogs.

When it comes to intelligence, these dogs are off the charts. They’re the problem solvers, the thinkers. Centuries of herding sheep in the Italian Alps have turned them into independent thinkers. And yet, they’re not stubborn. They love pleasing their owners and are always ready to learn new things.

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is fiercely loyal, the kind of dog that forms a strong bond with its family. They’re like that loyal friend who always has your back, no matter what. And despite their size and protective nature, they’re incredibly gentle, especially with kids. They’re the gentle giants of the dog world.

One thing that’s truly endearing about the Bergamasco Sheepdog is their intuitive nature. It’s like they have a built-in emotion detector, always in sync with how you’re feeling. Had a tough day at work? Your Bergamasco will be there to offer silent comfort. In the mood for some fun? They’re ready for action.

As for strangers, well, let’s just say Bergamascos aren’t the kind to throw a party for someone they’ve just met. They can be a bit reserved at first. But give them some time, and they’ll warm up to you. They’re like that introverted friend who might seem shy at first but turns out to be the life of the party once you get to know them.

So, if you’re looking for a companion that’s calm yet alert, clever but not stubborn, and loyal yet gentle, look no further than the Bergamasco Sheepdog. They’re not just pets; they’re friends, philosophers, and guides all rolled into one unique, matted package.

two bergamasco sheepdogs playing
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Ideal Environment

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is a versatile and adaptable breed that can thrive in various environments, provided that their physical, mental, and social needs are met. While they can adjust to different living situations, there are certain factors to consider when creating an ideal environment for these unique dogs.

Physical Environment

In terms of physical environment, Bergamascos do best in homes with ample outdoor space for them to roam, explore, and exercise.

A house with a securely fenced yard is perfect for these dogs, as it allows them to indulge their natural herding instincts and curiosity while staying safe. However, they can also adapt to apartment living, provided they receive regular exercise and mental stimulation through walks, playtime, and training sessions.

Climate Adaptability

Regarding climate adaptability, the Bergamasco Sheepdog’s unique coat provides excellent insulation, making them well-suited for colder climates. The flocks of hair protect them from harsh weather conditions, such as snow and rain.

However, in hotter climates, extra care must be taken to ensure their comfort and safety. Provide ample shade, fresh water, and air-conditioned indoor spaces to help them stay cool during hot weather. Avoid excessive exercise or outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day, and always monitor them for signs of heatstroke or discomfort.

Ideal Owner

When it comes to pet parents, the Bergamasco Sheepdog is well-suited for individuals or families who have the time, patience, and commitment to provide consistent training, socialization, and care. These dogs form strong bonds with their owners, so they need someone who is willing to invest in building a loving, trusting relationship.

First-time dog owners may find success with this breed, given its intelligence and eagerness to learn, but they must be prepared to dedicate time and effort to proper training and socialization.

Other Pets

As for other pets, Bergamascos generally coexist peacefully with fellow furry companions, particularly if raised together from a young age.

They can be good playmates for other dogs and may even tolerate smaller pets, such as cats or rabbits. However, due to their herding instincts, supervision and gradual introductions are advised when introducing new animals to ensure a harmonious household.

bergamasco sheepdog sitting on a rock
Photo: michelangeloop/Getty Images

Grooming

Despite their seemingly high-maintenance appearance, the Bergamasco Sheepdog’s grooming needs are surprisingly minimal. In fact, their unique coat is designed to be low-maintenance and requires less attention than many other breeds. However, it’s essential to understand the specific grooming requirements of the Bergamasco to ensure their comfort and overall well-being.

Coat Care

The most distinguishing feature of the Bergamasco Sheepdog is its coat, which consists of three types of hair: the undercoat, the “goat hair,” and the outer woolly coat. These hair types intertwine to form characteristic flocks or loose mats that protect the dog from harsh weather conditions and potential predators.

Unlike other breeds, the Bergamasco’s coat does not need frequent brushing or combing. In fact, excessive brushing can damage the flocks and interfere with their natural formation.

When your Bergamasco is a puppy, their coat will be soft and fluffy. The flocks begin to develop when the dog is around 8 to 12 months old. During this period, you’ll need to help separate the forming flocks by hand to prevent them from becoming too large or dense.

This process involves gently pulling apart the flocks along their natural dividing lines, ensuring they remain relatively flat and even in size. Once the flocks are established, they require little maintenance, and additional separation is typically needed only once or twice a year.

Bergamascos do not need frequent bathing, as their coat is naturally dirt-resistant and virtually odor-free. Bathing them too often can strip their coat of essential oils and disrupt the flocking process.

When bathing becomes necessary, use a gentle dog shampoo and ensure that the coat is thoroughly rinsed and dried to prevent moisture from being trapped within the flocks, which could lead to skin issues.

Dental Care

Like all dog breeds, the Bergamasco Sheepdog requires regular dental care to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Brushing their teeth daily with a dog-specific toothpaste is ideal, but if that’s not feasible, aim for at least two to three times per week.

Regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings with your veterinarian are also essential to prevent dental issues such as tartar buildup, gum disease, and bad breath.

Nail Trimming

The Bergamasco’s nails should be trimmed every three to four weeks, or when you hear them clicking on hard surfaces. Regular nail trimming prevents overgrown nails from causing discomfort or affecting the dog’s gait.

Use a high-quality dog nail clipper or grinder, and be cautious when trimming to avoid cutting the quick, which can cause pain and bleeding.

Ear Care

Check the Bergamasco’s ears weekly for signs of dirt, redness, or foul odor, which could indicate an infection. Clean their ears gently using a cotton ball and a veterinarian-approved ear-cleaning solution. Avoid using cotton swabs or inserting anything deep into the ear canal, as this can cause damage.

bergamasco sheepdog in the garden
Photo: CaptureLight/Getty Images

Exercise

The Bergamasco Sheepdog, with its strong herding instincts and working dog heritage, requires regular exercise to maintain its physical and mental well-being. While they are not as high-energy as some other herding breeds, they still need daily physical activity and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy.

Exercise Amount & Types

A daily walk of 30-60 minutes is generally sufficient to meet the Bergamasco’s exercise needs. These walks not only provide physical exercise but also offer valuable opportunities for socialization and exposure to new sights, sounds, and smells.

Make sure to vary your walking routes and introduce new environments to keep your Bergamasco engaged and stimulated.

In addition to walks, you can engage your Bergamasco in various activities to cater to its natural instincts and abilities. Herding exercises, for instance, can be an excellent way to tap into their innate drive to work and control livestock. Even without access to livestock, you can enroll your dog in herding trials or classes that simulate the experience and teach valuable skills.

Interactive play sessions with toys like balls or frisbees can also be a fun and engaging way to keep your Bergamasco active. Playtime in a securely fenced yard allows them to run, explore, and unleash their herding instincts while bonding with you.

Mental stimulation is just as important as physical activity for this intelligent breed. Incorporate puzzle toys, hide-and-seek games, or training sessions to challenge their minds and prevent boredom, which could lead to unwanted behaviors.

Dog Sports

Bergamascos can also excel in dog sports such as agility, obedience, rally, and tracking. Participating in these activities not only provides an outlet for their energy and intelligence but also strengthens the bond between you and your dog through teamwork and cooperation.

Exercise Precautions

Remember to adjust the intensity and duration of exercise according to your Bergamasco’s age, health, and individual needs. Puppies and senior dogs may require shorter, less strenuous activities, while younger, more energetic dogs might need more extended exercise sessions.

bergamasco sheepdog in a dog show
Photo: DvcDvd84/Getty Images

Training

Training a Bergamasco Sheepdog can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, thanks to their intelligence, eagerness to learn, and strong desire to please their owners. However, as with any breed, there are certain aspects to consider when training this unique herding dog to ensure the best possible results.

What to Expect

Bergamascos are highly intelligent and possess excellent problem-solving skills. These traits enable them to pick up new commands and concepts relatively quickly.

However, their intelligence also comes with a tendency towards independence and occasional stubbornness, which may present challenges during training sessions. They may test boundaries or try to outwit their trainers, so it’s crucial to establish yourself as a consistent and patient leader.

Since Bergamascos were bred to be herding dogs, they have a natural instinct to work and perform tasks. Channeling this drive into obedience training, agility, or other dog sports can be a great way to harness their abilities and provide both physical and mental stimulation.

Positive Reinforcement

To keep your Bergamasco engaged and motivated, use positive reinforcement techniques like praise, treats, and playtime as rewards for good behavior. This approach not only encourages them to repeat desired behaviors but also fosters a strong bond between you and your dog.

Avoid harsh or punitive methods, as they can damage the trust and rapport you’re building with your Bergamasco.

Socialization

Early socialization is essential for the well-rounded development of a Bergamasco Sheepdog. Expose them to a variety of people, animals, environments, and situations from a young age to help them become confident and well-adjusted adults. Enrolling in puppy socialization classes can be an excellent way to kickstart this process.

Additional Training Tips

Keep training sessions short, fun, and varied to maintain your Bergamasco’s interest and enthusiasm. Incorporate new challenges and gradually increase the difficulty level as your dog masters basic commands and skills.

Lastly, remember that patience and consistency are key when training a Bergamasco Sheepdog. They may display some stubbornness or independent thinking, but with perseverance and a positive approach, they can become well-trained and obedient companions.

bergamasco sheepdog in a meadow
Photo: Immagini di Michelangelo Oprandi

Diet & Nutrition 

A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for maintaining the overall health and well-being of your Bergamasco Sheepdog. When choosing the right food for your dog, it’s important to consider factors such as age, weight, activity level, and any specific dietary needs.

What to Feed & How Much

Look for high-quality dry, wet, or raw dog food that follows the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These products have been formulated to provide the appropriate balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals required for your dog’s optimal health.

Always consult with your veterinarian before making any significant changes to your dog’s diet, especially if they have specific health concerns or allergies.

The amount of food your Bergamasco requires will depend on their age, size, and activity level. Puppies generally need more frequent meals, often fed three to four times a day, to support their rapid growth and development. As they mature into adulthood, you can gradually transition them to two meals per day.

An adult Bergamasco typically consumes between 2.5 to 3.5 cups of dry food per day, divided into two meals. However, this is just a general guideline, and individual dogs may require more or less food based on their unique needs. Monitor your dog’s weight and body condition regularly, and adjust their portion sizes accordingly to prevent overfeeding or underfeeding.

Treats

Treats can be a useful tool for training and rewarding your Bergamasco, but they should be given in moderation, as excessive treats can contribute to unhealthy weight gain. Opt for healthy, low-calorie treats, and remember to account for these additional calories in your dog’s overall daily intake.

Water

Fresh water should always be available for your Bergamasco Sheepdog. Ensure they have access to clean drinking water at all times, and change the water regularly to keep it fresh and free of debris.

bergamasco sheepdog playing with a tennis ball
Photo: Javier Ballester/Getty Images

Health

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is generally a healthy and robust breed, with a life expectancy of 13 to 15 years. However, like all dog breeds, they can be prone to certain health issues. It’s essential to be aware of these potential risks and provide regular veterinary care, including routine check-ups and vaccinations, to ensure your Bergamasco stays in good health throughout its life.

Here are common health issues associated with the Bergamasco Sheepdog:

Hip Dysplasia: This genetic condition occurs when the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain as the dog ages. Regular check-ups and maintaining a healthy weight can help manage this condition. Responsible breeding practices, including screening for hip dysplasia in breeding dogs, can reduce the risk of this issue in future generations.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is an inherited eye disease that causes the gradual degeneration of the retina, eventually leading to blindness. It’s essential to have your Bergamasco’s eyes checked regularly by a veterinarian specializing in ophthalmology to detect any signs of PRA and manage the condition accordingly.

Bloat (Gastric Torsion): This life-threatening condition occurs when the stomach fills with gas or air and twists on itself, cutting off blood supply. Large, deep-chested breeds like the Bergamasco are more prone to bloat. Signs include a distended abdomen, restlessness, and unproductive attempts to vomit. Immediate veterinary attention is necessary if you suspect your dog is experiencing bloat.

Allergies: Bergamascos can be prone to various allergies, including food, environmental, and contact allergies. Symptoms may include itching, redness, and inflammation of the skin. Consult your veterinarian to determine the cause of the allergy and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Ear Infections: Due to their floppy ears, Bergamascos may be more susceptible to ear infections. Regular ear cleaning and check-ups can help prevent and detect infections early.

bergamasco sheepdog standing in a park
Photo: volofin/Getty Images

History

The Bergamasco Sheepdog, also known as the Bergamasco Shepherd or Cane da Pastore Bergamasco, is an ancient herding breed with a rich and fascinating history. Originating in the Italian Alps, this distinctive dog has been a devoted shepherd and loyal companion for thousands of years.

While the exact origins of the Bergamasco Sheepdog are somewhat unclear, it is believed that the breed dates back to around 2000 years ago. The ancestors of the Bergamasco were likely brought to Italy by nomadic shepherds from Persia during their migration across Europe. These early herding dogs interbred with local breeds, eventually giving rise to the Bergamasco we know today.

The Bergamasco’s primary role was to guide and protect flocks of sheep in the rugged, mountainous terrain of the Italian Alps. Their unique coat, which forms characteristic flocks or loose mats, provided insulation against harsh weather conditions and also served as a barrier against potential predators.

In addition to their herding duties, Bergamascos were also employed as livestock guardians, ensuring the safety of their flocks from both human and animal threats.

The Bergamasco’s intelligence, adaptability, and strong work ethic made them indispensable to the shepherds who relied on them. Over time, the breed became closely associated with the region of Bergamo in northern Italy, from which they derive their name.

Despite their long history, the Bergamasco Sheepdog remained relatively unknown outside its native region for much of its existence. However, following World War II, the breed faced the threat of extinction as the traditional shepherding way of life began to decline. A few dedicated enthusiasts, such as Dr. Maria Andreoli, an Italian breeder and geneticist, worked tirelessly to preserve and promote the breed.

Through their efforts, the Bergamasco gradually gained recognition and appreciation beyond the Italian borders. The American Kennel Club (AKC) first recognized the Bergamasco Sheepdog as a member of the Herding Group in 2015.

Today, the Bergamasco Sheepdog continues to be a versatile and adaptable breed, capable of excelling in various roles, from herding and livestock guardianship to family companionship and participation in dog sports. While they remain a relatively uncommon breed, the Bergamasco’s unique charm and storied history continue to captivate those who encounter these remarkable dogs.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Bergamasco Sheepdog in the United States is the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America (BSCA). Founded in 1996, the BSCA is dedicated to preserving, promoting, and protecting the Bergamasco Sheepdog breed.

The club serves as a valuable resource for breed information, education, and support for Bergamasco enthusiasts, breeders, and owners. Visit their webpage to learn more about the club and its resources.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. 

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

Check out the Bergamasco Sheepdog’s breed standard as set by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

bergamasco sheepdog running in the snow
Photo: Immagini di Michelangelo Oprandi

Acquiring

Considering bringing a Bergamasco Sheepdog into your home? Start by preparing a warm bed, wholesome food, engaging toys, grooming supplies for their unique coat, and finding a good vet.

If you’re leaning towards buying, it’s key to select a reputable breeder to ensure a healthy, well-socialized puppy. But have you thought about rescue? Many Bergamascos in shelters are waiting to share their intelligent, patient nature with a new family. The American Kennel Club and the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America can guide you through this rewarding experience.

Whether you adopt or buy, you’re gaining more than a pet. You’re inviting a calm, sociable companion into your life. With a Bergamasco Sheepdog, every day is an adventure filled with companionship, love, and the joy of having a dog that’s as protective as it is gentle!

FAQs

Are Bergamasco Sheepdogs good guard dogs?

Yes, Bergamasco Sheepdogs have a natural instinct to protect their home and family. They are highly alert and possess a strong sense of loyalty, making them effective watchdogs. However, they are generally not aggressive and tend to be reserved with strangers rather than confrontational.

Are Bergamasco Sheepdogs rare?

While the Bergamasco Sheepdog is not as common as some other breeds, dedicated breeders and enthusiasts have worked to preserve and promote the breed, ensuring its continued existence. They remain relatively rare, especially outside of their native Italy.

Do Bergamasco Sheepdogs have dreadlocks?

The Bergamasco Sheepdog’s coat forms unique flocks or loose mats, which are often compared to dreadlocks. These flocks develop naturally as the dog matures and provide protection against harsh weather conditions and potential predators.

Are Bergamasco Sheepdogs hypoallergenic?

No dog breed is truly hypoallergenic, but the Bergamasco Sheepdog’s unique coat may be less likely to trigger allergies in some individuals. Their flocked coat helps to minimize shedding and dander, which can be beneficial for people with mild allergies. However, it’s essential to spend time around a Bergamasco before committing to ownership if you have concerns about allergies.

How much grooming do Bergamasco Sheepdogs require?

Despite their distinctive coat, Bergamasco Sheepdogs have relatively low grooming requirements. Regularly removing debris and checking for matting is important, but their flocks generally require little intervention. Bathing should be done infrequently, as it can take a long time for their coat to dry completely.

Are Bergamasco Sheepdogs good with children?

Bergamasco Sheepdogs are typically gentle, patient, and affectionate with children, making them a good choice for families. Their protective instincts and strong bond with their human family members allow them to be loyal and watchful companions for children. As with any breed, it’s important to supervise interactions between dogs and young children and teach both parties how to interact safely and respectfully.

How much exercise do Bergamasco Sheepdogs need?

Bergamasco Sheepdogs require regular daily exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. A daily walk of 30-60 minutes, along with interactive play sessions and mental stimulation, is generally sufficient to meet their exercise needs. They can also excel in dog sports such as herding, agility, obedience, and rally.

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