Bernese Mountain Dog

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bernese mountain dog portrait
Are you ready to embark on a fluffy adventure that will warm your heart and leave you begging for more? Say hello to the Bernese Mountain Dog, the four-legged teddy bears of the canine world! With their striking tricolor coats, gentle temperament, and undeniable charm, these lovable pups have stolen the hearts of dog enthusiasts everywhere.

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 Bernese Mountain Dog is an ideal companion for those who appreciate a loyal, affectionate, and gentle-natured canine friend. However, due to their large size and shedding, they may not be suitable for small living spaces or for those with allergies.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEBernese Mountain Dog
OTHER NAMESBerner Sennenhund, Bernese Cattle Dog, Bouvier Bernois
ORIGINSwitzerland
BREED GROUPWorking Group
BREED SIZELarge
HEIGHT23-27.5 inches
WEIGHT70-115 lbs
LIFESPAN7-10 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERLow
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERHigh
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYModerate
SHEDDING LEVELHigh
POPULARITY RANK22nd
bernese mountain dog sitting in an open field
Photo: Photographer and Illustrator/Getty Images

Appearance

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a striking and majestic breed that boasts a robust and well-proportioned build. As a large-sized dog, males typically stand between 25 to 27.5 inches tall at the shoulder, while females measure 23 to 26 inches. Their weight can range from 70 to 115 pounds, with males generally being heavier than females.

The body of a Bernese Mountain Dog is sturdy and muscular, reflecting their strength and agility as working dogs. They possess a broad, deep chest that provides ample room for their lungs and a strong backbone with a slight arch over the loin area. Their powerful legs are well-built, with straight forelegs and well-angulated hindquarters, allowing them to move effortlessly and with purpose.

A signature feature of the Bernese Mountain Dog is their long, bushy tail, which they carry low when relaxed and slightly raised when alert or in motion. The tail is well-furred and often reaches the hocks, adding to their overall majestic appearance.

The head of a Bernese Mountain Dog is one of their most captivating features. They have a flat, broad skull with a well-defined stop between the eyes. Their muzzle is straight and strong, ending in a wide, black nose.

The ears are medium-sized, triangular, and set high on the head, hanging close to the cheeks when at rest. The eyes are dark brown, almond-shaped, and convey an intelligent and gentle expression.

The Bernese Mountain Dog’s coat is another standout characteristic. They have a thick double coat, with the topcoat being slightly wavy or straight and the undercoat soft and dense, providing excellent insulation in cold weather.

Their coat is characterized by a stunning tricolor pattern: jet black serves as the primary color, accompanied by rich rust and bright white markings. The rust typically appears above the eyes, on the cheeks, and on each side of the chest, while the white markings are found on the head, chest, and tip of the tail.

bernese mountain dog standing in the backyard
Photo: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

Temperament

The Bernese Mountain Dog is renowned for its exceptional temperament and endearing personality traits. They are known to be affectionate, loyal, and gentle, making them excellent companions for families and individuals alike. Their even-tempered nature and unwavering devotion to their loved ones have earned them a special place in the hearts of many dog enthusiasts.

One of the most striking features of the Bernese Mountain Dog’s temperament is their innate friendliness. They are generally good-natured and approachable, making them well-suited for social settings and interactions with other dogs and animals.

This sociable disposition means that they are not typically aggressive or overly suspicious of strangers, which makes them less suitable as guard dogs. However, their size and presence can still serve as a deterrent to potential intruders.

Bernese Mountain Dogs are known for their patience, particularly with children. They tend to form strong bonds with all members of the family, often displaying a calm and gentle demeanor around youngsters.

Their protective instincts and watchful nature make them dependable companions and caretakers for kids, ensuring their safety and well-being. It is important to note that, like all dogs, they should be supervised when interacting with young children to prevent any accidental injuries due to their size and strength.

Intelligence is another hallmark of the Bernese Mountain Dog’s temperament. They are highly trainable and eager to learn, which stems from their history as versatile working dogs in the Swiss Alps. This breed excels at various tasks, including herding, cart-pulling, and even search-and-rescue operations.

Despite their large size and working dog heritage, Bernese Mountain Dogs are known to be sensitive and emotionally attuned to their owners. They crave human companionship and thrive in environments where they can spend quality time with their families.

This sensitivity may also make them prone to separation anxiety if left alone for extended periods, so it’s essential to consider their emotional needs when integrating them into your household.

The Bernese Mountain Dog’s calm and balanced demeanor makes them excellent therapy dogs, as they have a natural ability to provide comfort and support to those in need. Their gentle presence and empathetic nature can bring solace to individuals experiencing stress, anxiety, or other emotional challenges.

Ideal Environment

Physical Environment

The ideal environment for a Bernese Mountain Dog is one that caters to their physical, social, and emotional needs. As a large and active breed, they require ample space to move around comfortably and stretch their legs.

A home with a securely fenced yard is preferable, allowing them the freedom to romp and play outdoors while still being safe. Due to their size, they may not be well-suited for apartment living or small living spaces.

Climate Adaptability

Bernese Mountain Dogs have a thick double coat that is well-adapted to cold climates, making them more comfortable in cooler temperatures. Their origin in the Swiss Alps means they are naturally suited for snowy environments, and they often enjoy playing in the snow. However, it’s essential to ensure they have access to shelter and warmth during extreme cold to protect them from frostbite and hypothermia.

On the other hand, this breed is less adaptable to hot climates due to their dense coat. In warmer regions, pet parents must take specific precautions to safeguard their Bernese Mountain Dog’s well-being.

Providing access to shade, cool water, and air-conditioned indoor spaces is crucial to prevent overheating. It’s also essential to avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day and to be vigilant for signs of heatstroke, such as excessive panting, drooling, or lethargy.

Ideal Owner

In terms of their social environment, Bernese Mountain Dogs thrive in households where they can enjoy regular interaction with their family members. They form strong attachments to their loved ones and are happiest when included in daily activities. Pet parents who can commit to spending quality time with their canine companion will be a perfect match for this affectionate and loyal breed.

Additionally, families with children or other pets can provide a stimulating and engaging environment for a Bernese Mountain Dog, as they generally get along well with kids and other animals, given proper socialization and supervision.

bernese mountain dog sitting among tall grass
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Grooming

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a breed that requires consistent grooming to maintain their striking appearance and overall well-being. Their thick double coat, consisting of a slightly wavy or straight topcoat and a dense undercoat, demands regular attention to keep it clean, healthy, and free from tangles.

Coat Care

Regular brushing is crucial for managing the Bernese Mountain Dog’s coat. This breed is known to shed moderately throughout the year, with heavier seasonal shedding during spring and fall. It is advisable to brush your dog’s coat at least two to three times per week to remove loose hair, prevent matting, and distribute natural oils evenly.

During periods of heavy shedding, daily brushing may be necessary to minimize the amount of hair around your home. A slicker brush, pin brush, or an undercoat rake can be helpful tools for effective grooming.

Bernese Mountain Dogs do not require frequent baths, as excessive bathing can strip their coat of natural oils and lead to dry skin. Generally, bathing your dog every two to three months or when they become dirty should suffice.

It’s important to use a gentle, dog-specific shampoo and to thoroughly rinse out any residue to avoid skin irritation. After bathing, ensure that your dog is completely dry, paying special attention to the areas where moisture can be trapped, such as under the tail and behind the ears.

Ear Care

Regular ear cleaning is essential to prevent infections and maintain your dog’s overall health. Check your Bernese Mountain Dog’s ears weekly for signs of dirt, redness, or unpleasant odor, which could indicate an infection. To clean their ears, use a dog ear cleaner and cotton balls or gauze to gently wipe the outer part of the ear canal. Avoid using cotton swabs, as they can damage the delicate inner ear structures.

Dental Care

Dental care is a vital aspect of your dog’s grooming routine. Bernese Mountain Dogs, like all breeds, are susceptible to dental issues such as plaque buildup, tartar, and gum disease. Brushing your dog’s teeth at least two to three times per week can help maintain their oral health and prevent bad breath.

Use dog-specific toothpaste and a soft-bristle toothbrush or finger brush for this purpose. In addition to brushing, offering dental chews and toys can also contribute to keeping your dog’s teeth clean and healthy.

Nail Care

Regular nail trimming is essential for your Bernese Mountain Dog’s comfort and well-being. Overgrown nails can cause pain, affect your dog’s gait, and potentially lead to injuries. It’s recommended to trim your dog’s nails every three to four weeks, depending on how quickly they grow.

Use a dog nail clipper or grinder to carefully trim the nails, being cautious not to cut the quick, which contains blood vessels and nerves. If you’re unsure about trimming your dog’s nails yourself, seek professional assistance from a groomer or veterinarian.

bernese mountain dog smiling
Photo: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

Exercise

The Bernese Mountain Dog is an active and energetic breed with a strong working dog heritage. To maintain their physical health and mental well-being, they require regular exercise tailored to their unique needs. Adequate exercise not only helps prevent obesity and associated health issues but also contributes to reducing undesirable behaviors stemming from boredom or restlessness.

Exercise Amount & Types

On average, a Bernese Mountain Dog needs about 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise daily. This can be divided into shorter sessions throughout the day, depending on your dog’s age, fitness level, and individual preferences. Exercise should include a combination of activities that engage both their body and mind.

Daily walks are essential for this breed, providing them with an opportunity to stretch their legs, explore their environment, and socialize with other dogs and people. It’s important to keep in mind that Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to joint issues, so walking on softer surfaces like grass or dirt trails can be beneficial for their joints and overall comfort.

In addition to walks, incorporating playtime into your dog’s exercise routine can be both fun and stimulating. Fetch, tug-of-war, and hide-and-seek are some games that can help channel their energy and provide mental stimulation. Interactive toys and puzzle feeders can also be used to challenge their minds and keep them engaged.

Dog Sports

Bernese Mountain Dogs excel in various dog sports and competitions, such as obedience trials, agility courses, herding events, and cart-pulling contests. Participating in these activities can offer an excellent way to bond with your canine companion, while also providing them with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Exercise Precautions

When exercising your Bernese Mountain Dog, it’s important to be mindful of their adaptability to different climates. In hot weather, avoid exercising during the warmest parts of the day, and always ensure they have access to shade and fresh water to prevent overheating.

In colder weather, they may enjoy playing in the snow, but it’s still essential to monitor them for signs of discomfort and provide a warm shelter when needed.

Training

Training a Bernese Mountain Dog can be a rewarding experience, as they are an intelligent and eager-to-please breed. Their natural affinity for learning and desire to make their owners happy make them highly trainable, though it’s essential to approach their training with patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement.

When training your Bernese Mountain Dog, it’s important to start early by introducing socialization and basic obedience commands as soon as they join your household. Early socialization helps expose your dog to different people, animals, and environments, ensuring they grow up to be well-adjusted and confident adults.

Puppy classes or obedience courses can be beneficial in providing a structured environment for learning and socialization.

Bernese Mountain Dogs respond best to positive reinforcement training methods, which involve rewarding desired behaviors with treats, praise, or playtime. This approach not only strengthens the bond between you and your dog but also encourages a strong foundation of trust and cooperation.

It’s crucial to avoid harsh training techniques, as these may lead to fear or anxiety and hinder the learning process.

Consistency is key when training a Bernese Mountain Dog. Ensure that all family members are on board with the training plan and use the same cues and rewards to avoid confusion. Establishing a regular training schedule and practicing commands daily will help reinforce learning and maintain your dog’s interest in training.

While Bernese Mountain Dogs are generally amiable and easygoing, they can sometimes display stubbornness or independence. In such cases, it’s essential to remain patient and persistent, gradually building on their skills and reinforcing positive behaviors. Offering a variety of training exercises and challenges can help keep your dog engaged and motivated to learn.

Bernese Mountain Dogs excel in various dog sports and activities, such as agility, herding, and cart-pulling. Training for these activities can provide both mental and physical stimulation, further enhancing their natural abilities and strengthening your bond with your canine companion.

four bernese mountain dogs sitting side by side in the nature
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Diet & Nutrition 

Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for the overall health and well-being of your Bernese Mountain Dog. As a large and active breed, they require a diet that meets their specific nutritional needs to support their growth, energy levels, and long-term health.

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting food for your Bernese Mountain Dog, it’s important to choose high-quality options that adhere to the guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

These guidelines ensure that the food contains the appropriate balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals required for your dog’s health. You can opt for dry kibble, wet food, or raw food, depending on your dog’s preferences and any specific dietary requirements.

The amount of food your Bernese Mountain Dog needs will depend on factors such as their age, weight, activity level, and metabolism. Puppies generally require more frequent meals to support their rapid growth and development. It’s recommended to feed puppies three to four times a day until they reach six months of age, after which you can transition to two meals per day.

For adult Bernese Mountain Dogs, feeding them twice a day is usually sufficient. The specific amount of food will vary based on the individual dog and the caloric content of the chosen food. Always consult the feeding guidelines provided by the pet food manufacturer and adjust the portions according to your dog’s unique needs.

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help monitor your dog’s weight and ensure their dietary needs are being met.

Treats

Treats can be a valuable tool for training and rewarding good behavior, but it’s essential to use them in moderation. Overfeeding treats can lead to obesity and other health issues. Opt for healthy treats, such as small pieces of lean meat, vegetables, or dog-specific treats with minimal additives.

Water

Water is a crucial aspect of your dog’s diet. Ensure that your Bernese Mountain Dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times to stay hydrated. This is especially important during hot weather or after exercise, as dehydration can lead to serious health complications.

Health

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a beautiful and loving breed, but like all dogs, they are prone to certain health issues. Their average life expectancy ranges from 7 to 10 years, which is relatively short compared to other breeds. Being aware of the potential health concerns and taking preventative measures can contribute to their overall well-being and longevity.

Some common health issues associated with Bernese Mountain Dogs include:

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain. Regular veterinary check-ups can help monitor for early signs of hip dysplasia, and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce stress on the joints.

Elbow Dysplasia: Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is a developmental abnormality in the elbow joint that can cause pain, lameness, and arthritis. Early detection and weight management can help minimize its impact on your dog’s quality of life.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is a degenerative eye disorder that can eventually lead to blindness. Responsible breeding practices and genetic testing can help reduce the prevalence of this condition in the breed.

Cancer: Unfortunately, Bernese Mountain Dogs have a higher incidence of cancer compared to other breeds. Regular veterinary screenings and early detection can improve treatment outcomes and prognosis.

Bloat (Gastric Torsion): Bloat is a life-threatening condition where the stomach fills with gas and twists on itself. Feeding smaller meals throughout the day, avoiding vigorous exercise after eating, and recognizing early symptoms can help prevent and manage this condition.

To keep your Bernese Mountain Dog as healthy as possible, it’s essential to provide them with a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. High-quality food that follows AAFCO guidelines can support their immune system, joint health, and overall well-being.

Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for monitoring your dog’s health and detecting any potential issues early. In addition to routine examinations, your veterinarian can recommend a vaccination schedule to protect your dog from common infectious diseases.

bernese mountain dog in the snow
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History

The Bernese Mountain Dog, also known as the Berner Sennenhund in its native Switzerland, has a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries. This beautiful and versatile working breed hails from the Swiss Alps, where they were originally bred to serve as farm dogs, livestock guardians, and draft animals.

The breed’s origins can be traced back to the Roman Empire, around 2,000 years ago. The ancient Romans brought large mastiff-type dogs with them when they invaded the Swiss region.

These dogs were then crossbred with local flock-guarding dogs, eventually giving rise to the ancestors of the modern Bernese Mountain Dog. The breed’s name is derived from the canton of Bern, where they were particularly popular among farmers.

For centuries, the Bernese Mountain Dog played a vital role in rural Swiss life. They were responsible for herding cattle, pulling carts laden with milk, cheese, and other goods to market, and protecting farms from predators and thieves. Their strength, intelligence, and gentle nature made them invaluable companions to Swiss farmers.

Despite their long history, the Bernese Mountain Dog remained relatively unknown outside of Switzerland until the early 20th century. The breed’s population had dwindled significantly due to the increasing popularity of other working breeds and the advent of modern transportation methods.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, efforts were made by Swiss breed enthusiasts to locate and document the remaining purebred Bernese Mountain Dogs. These efforts led to the breed’s formal recognition by the Swiss Kennel Club in 1907.

The breed first arrived in the United States in the 1920s, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Bernese Mountain Dog in 1937. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America was established shortly thereafter, in 1968, to promote and protect the breed in the United States.

In popular culture, the Bernese Mountain Dog has become more visible in recent years, thanks to their striking appearance and gentle disposition. They have made appearances in movies, television shows, and advertisements, often portraying loyal and affectionate family pets.

Social media has also contributed to the breed’s popularity, with many Bernese Mountain Dogs garnering large followings on platforms like Instagram.

Today, the Bernese Mountain Dog is cherished as a loving and devoted companion, both in their native Switzerland and around the world. While they are no longer primarily used as working dogs, many Bernese Mountain Dogs still participate in activities that showcase their strength and intelligence, such as cart-pulling competitions, agility courses, and herding trials.

Parent Club

The official breed club for the Bernese Mountain Dog in the United States is the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA). Established in 1968, the BMDCA is dedicated to promoting and protecting the breed, providing education and resources, and supporting responsible breeding practices.

The BMDCA is an invaluable resource for Bernese Mountain Dog enthusiasts, offering information on breed standards, health concerns, and upcoming events. To learn more about the BMDCA and their mission, visit their website here.

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.

You can check the Bernese Mountain Dog’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

bernese mountain dog puppy sitting by the stairs
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Acquiring

When considering acquiring a Bernese Mountain Dog, it’s essential to research and prepare for their unique needs, such as exercise, grooming, and potential health issues. One option is to rescue a Berner in need of a loving home rather than purchasing from a breeder. Rescuing not only provides a second chance for the dog but also helps reduce the demand for unethical breeding practices.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA) can help connect you with reputable rescues and adoption organizations. These organizations often have dogs of various ages and backgrounds, ensuring you find the perfect match for your family.

Before bringing your new Bernese Mountain Dog home, prepare your living space, gather necessary supplies like food, toys, and grooming tools, and create a routine for training, exercise, and socialization. With proper planning, you’ll be well-equipped to provide a loving and nurturing environment for your rescued Berner.

FAQs

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs good family dogs?

Yes, Bernese Mountain Dogs are known for being excellent family dogs. They have a gentle, affectionate nature and typically get along well with children and other pets. Their loyal and protective instincts make them great companions for families.

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs high-maintenance?

Bernese Mountain Dogs can be considered moderately high-maintenance due to their grooming needs and exercise requirements. They have a thick double coat that requires regular brushing to prevent matting and reduce shedding. Additionally, they need daily exercise and mental stimulation to stay healthy and happy.

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs expensive?

The initial cost of purchasing a Bernese Mountain Dog from a reputable breeder can be relatively high, ranging from $800 to $2,500. However, the overall cost of ownership, including food, grooming, and veterinary care, can add up over time. It’s essential to factor in these ongoing expenses before committing to owning a Berner.

Can Bernese Mountain Dogs live in an apartment?

While it’s possible for a Bernese Mountain Dog to live in an apartment, it’s not ideal due to their large size and exercise needs. They thrive in homes with access to a fenced yard or nearby parks where they can play and exercise. If living in an apartment, be prepared to provide ample daily exercise and mental stimulation to keep your Berner happy and healthy.

How much exercise do Bernese Mountain Dogs need?

Bernese Mountain Dogs require regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental health. Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of moderate activity daily, such as walks, playtime, or training sessions. Additionally, incorporating activities like cart-pulling or agility can provide both physical and mental stimulation.

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs prone to any specific health issues?

Yes, Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to certain health issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cancer, and bloat. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can help manage and prevent some of these health concerns.

How long do Bernese Mountain Dogs live?

The average life expectancy for a Bernese Mountain Dog is 7-10 years, which is relatively short compared to other breeds. Responsible breeding practices, proper healthcare, and a balanced diet can help ensure your Berner lives a healthy and happy life.

Fun Facts

  • Bernese Mountain Dogs are slow bloomers. They take a bit longer than some other breeds to reach adulthood, often maintaining their puppy-like demeanor until they are around 3 or 4 years old. So, you can enjoy their playful antics for a bit longer!
  • The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of the four breeds that make up the Swiss Sennenhund, a group of dog breeds developed in Switzerland. The other three breeds are the Appenzeller Sennenhund, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.

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