Bergamasco - Italian Working Dog from the Alps

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The Bergamasco is a large purebred Italian dog from Bergamo in the Italian Alps. It was once a cattle dog and herding dog and is still used as such by a few, but more often kept as a show dog or companion. It does well at flyball, obedience, agility, showmanship and tracking events as well as in herding.

The Bergamasco at A Glance
Name Bergamasco
Other names Bergamasco Shepherd Dog and Bergermaschi, Cane da Pastore Bergamasco, Bergamo Shepherd Dog
Nicknames Bergamese Shepherd
Origin Italy
Average size Large
Average weight 55 to 85 pounds
Average height 21 to 24 inches
Life span 13 to 15 years
Coat type Fine, dense, harsh, long water repellant
Hypoallergenic Yes
Color Grey, silver, white, black, brown
Popularity Not popular – ranked 179th by the AKC
Intelligence Quite intelligent – certainly above average
Tolerance to heat Moderate to good – can handle warm climates but nothing too hot
Tolerance to cold Very good to excellent – can handle very cold climates
Shedding Low – not going to leave a lot of hair around the home
Drooling Low – not prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Average – could gain weight if under exercised and allowed to over eat but not especially prone
Grooming/brushing Moderate to high maintenance
Barking Occasional – there will be some barking but not constant
Exercise needs Fairly active – daily physical and mental stimulation is important
Trainability Moderate – experience helps
Friendliness Excellent with socialization
Good first dog Good but experience helps with the training and stubbornness
Good family pet Very good to excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Good but needs socialization
Good with other pets Good with socialization – may chase strange small animals
Good with strangers Moderate to good – socialization is important
Good apartment dog Good but best in a home with a large yard
Handles alone time well Good – can handle short periods
Health issues Quite a hardy breed but can be prone to hip dysplasia, eye problems and bloat
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic medical needs and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for treats and a good quality dry dog food
Miscellaneous expenses $655 a year for grooming, basic training, toys, miscellaneous items and license
Average annual expenses $1410 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,200
Rescue organizations Several including the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America
Biting Statistics None reported
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The Bergamasco's Beginnings

The Bergamasco is an ancient breed believed to have been around in some form for over two thousand years. The ancestors of the modern Bergamasco were spread across different places in the Alps and came there from Persia it is believed brought by traders and by nomads. It was used as a cattle dog, sheepdog and farm dog for many years. Its name comes from one of the regions it was found in and it has a lot in common with other European sheepdogs found in central Europe.

When out working with cattle and sheep the dog was allowed to work completely independently with no human guidance. It learned how to get through problems to reach its goals and became very intelligent. Its coat developed the way it did to offer it protection outside and from predators. With the second world war when there was a shortage of wool, the breed almost became extinct. After the war there was a lot less need for sheepdogs and shepherds.

New Lease on Life

With help from people like Dr. Maria Andreoli an Italian breeder, the breed was saved by the 1960s. With her care and the kennel she started a bloodline that was reliable was re-started. While it is still today a rare breed it can be found in small numbers around the world today. It was recognized by the AKC in 2015 and is ranked 179th most popular dog by them.

The Dog You See Today

The Bergamasco is a large breed weighing 55 to 85 pounds and standing 21 to 24 inches tall. It is a heavy bones, strong and muscled breed. It is a compact dog and is a little longer than it is tall. It has a tail that is thick and hangs down but curls a little at the end. Its coat is its unique feature, made up of three hair types which weave together creating mats starting at the spine and hanging down, or flocks that grow longer each year to create a very shaggy and different appearance. Those three types are an oily, dense but fine under coat, long hair that is harsh similar to a goat's and then a wooly top coat. The coat is water-repellant and common colors are grey, silver, black, white and brown. The colors and patterns developed to offer the breed camouflage in the mountains. It has a large head and the hair hands over its eyes, giving it protection from the sun reflecting off the white snow.

The Inner Bergamasco

Temperament

The Bergamasco is an alert and intelligent dog and is a great watchdog who will alert you of any intruders. It also does have some protective instincts so some may act to defend you and the family and your home. Apart from barking to alert you of people approaching it does bark occasionally but not constantly. It bonds very closely with its owner and should not be overly shy or aggressive – if you have a dog like that it could indicate poor breeding or poor socialization and training.

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It is a brave dog but well balanced, used to working independently in the mountains, it has its own ideas and can be stubborn. It is reserved around strangers – socialization is important so that this does not turn into suspicion and aggression, or fear and aggression. This is not a suitable breed for just anyone, and is best with experienced people rather than first time owners. It needs a firm hand and to know it is not the boss, you are. With the family and you it wants attention and is very aware at all times of what is going on, even when it appears to be napping.

Bergamascos do get bored easily as they have a history of being a working breed. If you are not keeping it as working dog, just as a companion, you need to make sure it has plenty to do physically and mentally otherwise that boredom can make it turn to being destructive. This is a breed for experienced dog owners who like a dog that can think for itself and can offer it a great deal of companionship and attention. Saying that it can handle time alone, it was once used to it on the Alps, but nowadays in short periods.

Living with a Bergamasco

What will training look like?

In terms of how easy they are to train, the Bergamasco will do best with a trainer who has experience, is firm, fair, consistent and clear. It can be difficult if you are not able to get past its independent and free thinking mind. Make it think the training is its idea, keep it positive and engaging with short sessions and it will go better. Use a light hand offering it praise, encouragement and treats to motivate it rather than harsh tones. Together you can teach it to follow you and it will allow you to guide it, but it well never be a blindly obedient dog. Early socialization is very important too. Without it the breed may become too fearful or aggressive. It also means you can trust how it will react to different people and situations. Dogs that are socialized and given basic training are a lot happier and a lot more trustworthy.

How active is the Bergamasco?

Living in an apartment is not the best living conditions for this breed as it will do better in a home with a yard. It is a fairly active breed so will need daily exercise in the form of at least two long walks, along with opportunities for off leash time and play time. A dog park is one place where it could be taken regularly, and is also a place it can socialize. It would do especially well on a farm or in a home with land but also needs mental stimulation and puzzles to solve to keep its mind engaged and prevent it from becoming bored.

Caring for the Bergamasco

Grooming needs

Its unique coat does require some care but surprisingly it is not a high maintenance dog. It does not need stripping but will need an occasional trip to a professional groomer. It does not shed much so is fine for people with allergies and for people who do not want hair around the home. The coat does go through some phases as the dog matures, as a puppy it is not yet flocked, it is just fluffy and there is a little more shedding at this point. Some brushing will be needed and occasional baths. Around 9 months to a year the flocking starts and will carry on till it is two to three years old. Then it will be fully flocked and they will grow in length creating layers of them and becoming long enough to touch the ground by the times it was 5 years old. It is important that this coat is not clipped or shaved as the hair will stop weaving and the coat will just be a mess of tangles.

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The skin of this dog generates a lot of natural oil which keeps the long cords of hair lubricated, free of the doggy smell and clean. If you want the coat shorter have it trimmed to 4 or 5 inches in length so that those natural oils are still able to do their thing. Only give this dog a bath when it really needs one and ideally do it when the weather is warm as it can take a whole day for it to dry. Just a heads up, when its coat is wet it smells very like wet wool which is not pleasant! You may need to do some regular trimming around the face and clean it after it eats.

Other general care includes trimming its nails when they get too long, if it does not wear them down naturally. Take care not to cut down too low as that can cause bleeding and pain as there are nerves and blood vessels there. Check its ears once a week for infection and give them a wipe clean making sure not to insert anything inside the ear. Also make sure its teeth are brushed at least two to three times a week.

Feeding Time

If feeding your dog a dry dog food make sure it is a good quality as it is a lot better for them. Your dog will need around 3 to 4 cups a day, split into at least two meals. The exact amount can vary as it depends on its level of activity, metabolism, size, age and health.

How is the Bergamasco with children and other animals?

When around children the Bergamasco is affectionate, playful, energetic and happy. It is great as a therapy dog visiting sick children and with socialization and especially when raised with children they are gentle and loving. It can also be protective but its herding instincts can be strong in some dogs and if not well trained and socialized that can mean it tries to herd the kids. As good as this breed is with children it needs more strict supervision with other dogs. While it is not aggressive unless provoked it should still be watched and socialization is really essential especially if taking it to dog parks. Other pets can accepted when it is raised with them in the home, but other animals out in its yard or running away from it are likely to trigger its prey instincts.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

Living for 13 to 15 years this is a healthy breed in general. There are a few problems it might run into such as hip dysplasia, eye problems, obesity and bloat. Part of the reason the breed remains healthy is that it has not become overly popular which for other breeds has led to over breeding and ignorant breeding.

Biting Statistics

Looking at reports from the US and Canada on dogs attacking people and doing bodily harm over the last 35 years, there is no mention of the Bergamasco. This is not a common dog in the US and Canada anyway but is still not likely to be a dog that starts being aggressive against a person. However keep in mind that without good socialization and training it can be aggressive if under duress, and any dog, regardless of size or breed can have a bad day and snap. Make sure you are giving your dog what it needs in terms of love, attention, socialization, training, food and stimulation and it less likely to have an off day.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Bergamasco puppy averages at about $1200, because it is rare. This would get you just a companion, not a show dog, and it would be from a decent breeder. For something from a top breeder that is show quality you are looking at several thousand dollars as a starting figure. Shelters and rescues are not likely to have a rare breed like this with them but it is possible. For $50 to $500 you could give a Bergamasco a new home, but it is likely to be an adolescent or adult dog not a puppy. Do not be tempted to speed things along and go to backyard breeder, puppy mill or pet store. The quality of the dog will be very questionable, some of those places do terrible things to their dogs and it is not something most decent people want to be a part of.

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For the medical concerns you need to deal with when you have your dog, like shots, an examination, blood tests, micro chipping, deworming, spaying or neutering the costs will be about $290. For initial costs on items you might need like a crate, collar and leash, bowls and such the price will be around $200.

Annual costs are another consideration when looking at dogs that you might want to own. Feeding this one will cost about $270 for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats. Medical basics like flea and tick prevention, vaccinations, check ups and medical insurance will come to about $485 a year. Other costs like basic training, license, grooming, toys and miscellaneous items come to about $655 a year. That gives a total starting figure annual cost of $1410.

Names

Looking for a Bergamasco Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

Male and Female Bergamasco Names

The Bergamasco is a patient, quiet, alert and kind dog but needs attention, socialization, training and entertainment. It does not do well if it is under exercised and allowed to become bored. It is a hard working dog, intelligent and able to be independent and think for itself. Its coat is unusual but once you understand it does not require that much extra care than other dogs. It is devoted to its family, gets on well with children and could be a great family dog.

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