Last update: 2/12/2009
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An Ancient Breed for the New Millennium
Nearly 2000 years ago, Rome invaded Switzerland. The dogs they brought with them interbred with native dogs, and eventually developed into the breeds known collectively as Berner Sennenhund, commonplace working farm dogs on Swiss farms in the Bern region.
Valued for their loyalty, gentleness and intelligence, they are still used to drive dairy cows to and from pasture, pull milk wagons into village dairies, announce the arrival of visitors to their farms and watch over the farmers' families. Little was done to protect the integrity of the breed until the late 1800's, when steps were taken to ensure that the characteristics the Swiss loved in Berners would breed true. Swiss and American dog owners began breeding and showing the Bernese Mountain Dog, and, in 1937, the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the breed.

Among the physical characteristics breeders now cherish are the BMD's distinctive markings: a white blaze and muzzle-band, chest, feet and tail tip, auburn eyebrows and cheeks and a soft, shining black coat. Bernese can grow up to 27.5 inches at the shoulder and can weigh up to 125 pounds; females are usually smaller.

Bernese usually prefer the company of humans over that of other dogs, although most Berner people will say, "You can't have just one." When hormones are not a factor, Berners get along remarkably well. We've seen more than fifty Berners at the BMDCA Club of the Rockies Bernerfest relate freely with no incidents. As adults, most are intinctively gentle with children and other animals, but the pups are as playful and rough as any normal child that still needs to learn discipline and self-control. (See Dog Safety)
Aara & Millie
Peregrin & His Boy
Bernese generally are not enthusiastic about water, but there are exceptions . . .
Bilbo Baggins taking Elaine for a ride
Click here for Rufio's Surfin' Sister
and here too!!
Veterinary Care: As with any large breed, hip and elbow dysplasia are concerns to Berner owners. Various forms of cancer are a concern as well. Additionally, some lines may also be more prone to eye, skin, allergy and autoimmune conditions. Most breeds have some of these conditions, and some Berners will never have any of these problems, but as one who may share in the suffering of your Berner, you should be aware of the risks, both emotionally and financially. Even if a Berner is basically sound, you can count on routine medical expenses to range from $50 to hundred$ per month.
This range covers exams for injuries, removal of porcupine quills, medication for growing pains and diagnosing digestive upsets caused by eating an astounding array of household items such as socks, shoes, light bulbs, cassette tapes, telephones, assorted trash, remote controls, books, etc. as well as all the grossest things they can find in the woods.

(For more health info, see Berner-Garde and other sites in "Links")

Time: These dogs require more personal attention than many breeds. They are "heart" dogs and need much more than a couple of hours of human interaction each day for them to be happy and well-adjusted.
Exercise: BMDs need exercise in which they can freely initiate bursts of speed and turns. If given the opportunity, your Berner will become overweight and out-of-shape, making him vulnerable to a host of physical and psychological problems. Leisurely walks are good, but a healthy BMD needs the kind of exercise he gets from bursts of running. You'll share in your Berner's joy when you see him charging full speed down a path on his way to "bring the cows home" or steadily trotting, nose to the ground, methodically sweeping "his territory" for intruders.

At Lorien Dell, in our fenced backyard, our adult dogs run because they have us and each other to play chase and keep-away games, with Luthien leading as the retriever and keep-away champ. In addition to this, we carry on a daily ritual of releasing them from the backyard one at a time to run in the forest, a large fenced acreage very stimulating with its winter snow and summer animal smells.

There we observe our dogs' bursts of running, their "greeting" barks at the neighbor dogs' fence, rejoining us on the path, stopping for a few sniffs and pets, and off to gallop again, sweeping the woods for signs of creatures, to finally rejoin us on the path back to the house.

Injury prevention: The right kind of exercise is also important to a growing puppy. We discourage Berner pups from running unsupervised with other large dogs. The bump and tackle games many Berners play can be very hard on their bones and joints, particularly when growing, uncoordinated pups play with agile, stronger, and heavier dogs.

We humans are prone to overestimate our Berners' self-awareness in everything from safe heights to jump, limits in play, to putting things in their mouth and stomach! Remember, in many ways, they are like eternal (human) 2-year olds! They can be rather fragile as youngsters as they surpass their bodies' limitations in competition among themselves and rather clueless as adults in encounters with creatures like skunks and porcupines.

Never force a puppy to exercise when he's tired! When tired, they are more susceptible to being hurt. Be vigilant for dangerous surfaces and obstacles. We've learned the hard way that rough play, unsupervised running on unreliable surfaces (like frozen snow), hard-to-see obstacles like single-strand wire fences and not so hard-to-see obstacles like trees and low-hanging branches can result in soft tissue injuries that require periods of confinement and restricted exercise on a leash.

Grooming: A Berner's coat naturally repels dirt; regular brushing but only occasional bathing is required to keep them looking and feeling good. It takes about two hours to do a regular grooming, which should happen at least one a month; in addition, they need to be brushed at least weekly so their coats don't mat. Bernese shed at least twice a year. Grooming every other day will reduce the flying hair and help keep their coats healthy; even so, you can still expect to routinely be taking hair from rugs, furniture, and clothes and, (!!) of course, your food.

Patience: Some dogs seem to thrive on rough handling; but as a breed, Bernese have "soft" temperaments, needing gentleness and positive reinforcement as their primary training and handling mode. They are very sensitive and emotionally complex; if you are negative toward them consistently, they may become depressed. If you treat them harshly, their brains turn to jello!

Life Style: A Berner will alter your life habits as much as a human child will. Just as with a child, you'll have to "puppy-proof" wherever your puppy can be. Everything chewable is fair game: wastebasket contents, furniture, carpet edges, cell phones, slippers, shoes, and remote controls in the house, and bushes, small trees and wooden steps outside! Berners don't do well left to their own devices -- when they're bored they'll chew and dig. Just as with a child, they need toys and lots of human contact. So if leaving your dog outside a lot is part of your picture of having a dog, there are other dog breeds who like to spend a lot of time outdoors.

But if you do decide to adopt a Berner, you'll find that he will evidence a consistent and an intense desire to connect and communicate with his human family. This is why Berner families call their breed "special."
Life Expectancy: The Bernese life span is described by a Swiss expression: "Three years a young dog, three years a good dog and three years an old dog.
All else is a gift from God."
When you open your heart to your Berner and the love from that unique relationship, and the community of Berner-lovers, you'll never be the same again.

Bernerfest at Lorien Dell 1997

Please see Great Links for much more information on the greatest Breed on earth!

Recommended reading All Things Dog!
  • Your Purebred Puppy, A Buyer's Guide - by Michele Lowell
  • The Beautiful Bernese Mountain Dogs - by Russ & Rogers
  • Good Owners, Great Dogs - by Brian Killcommons
  • The New Bernese Mountain Dog - by Sharon Chestnutt Smith