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Bernese Mountain Dog

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The Bernese Mountain Dog has a history of being a strong and loyal working dog, driving livestock and pulling carts for hundreds of years for farmers in the Swiss Mountains. Today it is still very successful in show events including guarding, search and rescue, carting and herding as well as being a great family dog.

Here is the Bernese Mountain Dog at a Glance
Name Bernese Mountain Dog
Other Names Berner Sennenhund, Berner Sennen, Bernese Cattle Dog
Nicknames Berner, Bernese
Origin Switzerland
Average size Large to giant
Average weight 70 to 120 pounds
Average height 23 to 28 inches
Life span 7 to 9 years
Coat type Long, thick, soft, double coat
Hypoallergenic No
Color Tri-color – black, rust, white
Popularity 29th most popular dog according the AKC
Intelligence Quite intelligent
Tolerance to heat Low – not suited to hot climates
Tolerance to cold Excellent – best suited to cold climates
Shedding Very high – this dog will be leaving hair around the home all year
Drooling Fairly high – it is known to drool a fair amount
Obesity Fairly high – it needs food and physical activity to be monitored
Grooming/brushing Daily due to amount of shedding
Barking Occasionally – but has a loud bark
Exercise needs Fairly active – it needs a certain amount of exercise to stay healthy
Trainability Easy to train – it is intelligent and trains quickly
Friendliness Excellent – very approachable and friendly dog
Good first dog Moderate – best with owners with experience, particularly with large breeds
Good family pet Excellent – loving and affectionate with all
Good with children Excellent – gets on well with children but small ones need supervision in case they get bumped over by accident
Good with other dogs Good – needs socialization
Good with other pets Good – needs socialization and may chase small animals
Good with strangers Excellent – Sees them as a new friend
Good apartment dog Low – This dog is far too large too live comfortably in a small space
Handles alone time well Low – does not like to be left alone and can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues Sadly yes, it does have several health issues with cancer being the leading cause of death and why they have a short life span
Medical expenses $485 a year including basic medical needs and health insurance
Food expenses $275 a year for dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $640 a year for grooming, toys, license, training and other miscellaneous expenses
Average annual expense $1400 – other costs like kennels, a dog walker, additional medical needs not covered by the pet insurance may make it go up
Cost to purchase $1500
Biting Statistics Attacks doing bodily harm: 1 Maimings: 1 Child Victims: 0 Deaths: 0

The Bernese Mountain Dog’s Beginnings

The Bernese Mountain Dog's ancestors are a mix of Mastiffs (brought to Switzerland by the Romans) and local farm dogs. The two were bred together around 2000 years ago and eventually a breed was created that was smaller but still loyal, hardworking and trustworthy. There are four breeds of Swiss Mountain Dog, the Bernese being the only long haired dog out of them. It was used in the Alps to pull carts, give companionship, drive livestock and guard property and was originally called Durrbachler after a small town where they were popular.

When the agricultural age led into the industrial one and only little more than a third of the Swiss were now working agriculture, there was less use for the Berner. To prevent the breed from dying out a breeding program was established. In the 1900s they were shown at a dog show in Berne and the first breed club was founded in 1907. They were recognized as a breed by the Swiss Kennel Club and it was then that they were first called Bernese.

New Lease on Life

While it was a popular dog through some of Europe the first world war slowed breeding efforts down. After the war things got better again and it went to other European countries. In the 1930s the Bernese Mountain Dog came to the U.S. In 1936 British breeders also took an interest and started breeding their own Berners. In 1937 it was recognized by the English Kennel Club.

World War II saw its progress interrupted again and in England the breed died out, but after 1945 its popularity in the US really took off and it was reintroduced to England. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America was started in 1968 and it has become a popular dog for families now ranking 29th by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a large to giant sized breed weighing 70 to 120 pounds and measuring 23 to 28 inches tall. It has a thick double coat with a short and soft under layer and a longer outer one. It is wavy and common colors are tri-color (black, rust, white). Its head is flat on top and it has medium sized triangular ears that are set high and rounded. It carries its tail low and it is bushy. It has a strong and sturdy body but is still an agile dog.

The Inner Bernese Mountain Dog


The Berner is a great family dog. It is a dog that can be relied on, it is loyal and not only is it a great companion it is also a great protector. It does form close attachments to one owner but it is still affectionate to the rest of the family. It likes to please, has a placid nature and can be shy of strangers until it has adjusted. Early socialization will help Berners who are more shy.

Indoors it is not overly active which is good considering its size. It is intelligent and calm and is at its happiest when it is with its family and at the center of activity. It is slow to mature so will be adult size for a while with a younger mental age. It is a happy dog that gets on well with everyone else. While primarily kept as a family dog now it can still be used as a work dog too.


Living with a Bernese Mountain Dog

What will training look like?

This dog is easy to train, it is intelligent, eager to please and will probably need less repetition than other dogs so it will train quicker. It is important to give it early socialization and obedience training so that it is the best dog it can be. Socialization involves exposing it to different experiences, places, people and animals so that it reacts better as it grows. This will help with its shyness too. Early training will ensure it is more controllable when it is needed as its size means it can try to use physical size and strength to get its own way.

It is a sensitive dog so training needs to be firm but gentle and positive. Use rewards, treats and praise to get results rather than negative methods like punishment or scolding. Make sure though that you are established as the alpha and that you provide rules and structure for it.

How active is the Bernese Mountain Dog?

Indoors it is a calm dog but when it gets outside it enjoys being active. It is a fairly active dog and comes from a history of activity and work. It is not suited to living in an apartment which is too small for it and should have access to a yard it can play in. Two good brisk 30 minute walks a day plus some play time would be suitable along with regular trips to a dog park where it can run free, socialize and play with you. It may be a large dog but it can be agile and can have bursts of speed though it does not have a lot of endurance.

It is well adapted to cold climates and is happy to walk in the snow but in warmer or hot climates it needs to be watched more carefully so it does not overheat. When it is a puppy it should not walk or play on hard surfaces and should also not start pulling heavy loads yet. Either activity can damage its still growing bones and joints.

Caring for the Bernese Mountain Dog

Grooming needs

With its thick double coat the Bernese is not always easy to groom and it does shed a lot all year. That shedding gets even worse during shedding season around Spring and Fall. Brush it daily to try and keep up with the loose hair and to remove burs and other debris. You can expect loose hair around the home and on clothing. Bathe it just when it is especially dirty as bathing too often can damage the natural oils in its skin which can lead to skin problems. If there is not room in your bathroom for a large dog taking a bath there is the option of a hose in the yard or taking it to a professional groomer that has bathing stations you could use.

Since it is at risk of ear infection it will need weekly ear checks for infection signs like redness, irritation or discharge and then they should be cleaned. Use a damp cloth or ear cleanser with a cotton ball but do not insert anything into the actual ear.

It should also have its teeth brushed at least two to three times week to prevent bad breath and bacteria. Nails should be trimmed when they grow too long if it does not already wear them down naturally. If you do not know anything about dog nails have a groomer do this for you. With its long coat it will need some professional grooming anyway.

Feeding Time

Between the age of four and seven months a Berner puppy grows more quickly which can mean they are more vulnerable to injuries and bone disorders. At this time they should be kept on a low calorie diet but fed very good quality food that is more nutrient rich.

When it is grown it will need 4 to 5 cups of good quality dry dog food a day, divided into two or three meals. How much a dog eats can vary though depending in its size, metabolism, age and levels of activity.

How they get on with children and other animals

The Bernese is very good with children, it is affectionate and patient, gentle and playful. Keep in mind it is a large dog and so when around small children it may bump them over accidentally. Therefore supervision may be a good idea. Always teach children how important it is to take care around dogs, how to touch them and be kind and not hurt them. It also does well with other pets and dogs though socialization helps that too.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

As with most large breeds it does not have a long life span, the average is just 7 to 9 years. It is prone to eye problems, joint dysplasia, bloat, cancer and obesity. Other health issues include PSS, Von Willebrand's and Pano.

The leading cause of death in Berners is cancer and they have a fatality rate that is much higher than other dogs. Almost 50% of Berners die from cancer compared to a little over 25% for other dogs. There are several kinds of cancer that can be the cause including mast cell tumor, malignant histiocytosis, osteosarcoma, lymphosarcoma and fibrosarcoma.

Biting Statistics


When looking at 34 years of reports on dogs attacking people the Bernese Mountain Dog can be found to have been involved in one attack. This was a maiming which means limbs were lost, disfigurement occurred or permanent scarring. The victim was a child. Considering this is 34 years of data one attack in all that time means the Berner is not a dangerous dog.

It is important to consider what dog you want with care making sure you get one you have room for, you can feed and give enough physical and mental stimulation, one you can socialize and train. Any dog if mistreated and not raised well can become aggressive.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

The Bernese Mountain Dog will cost about $1500. You can pay less if you go to a backyard breeder or puppy mill but then you are supporting poor breeding practices and people who mistreat their animals plus you do not know the background to it like its parent's health. Alternatively you can rescue one from a shelter which can cost $50 to $200 but in all probability you will only be able to find adults that need re-homing. Should you buy from a top breeder, like the ones who breed show dogs you could see price go up to several thousand dollars.

There are initial costs to pay for too. There will be some non-medical basics to get like a collar, leash and crate. These will cost around $160. There are also medical procedures to be done like deworming, blood tests, a check up, vaccinations, neutering or spaying and micro chipping. These will cost around $290.

Yearly costs for basic medical needs like shots, check ups and flea prevention will start at $260. Health insurance or emergency medical savings will start at $225. Yearly food costs including treats come to $275. Miscellaneous costs each year that include toys, license, training and grooming start at $640.

Altogether annual costs to owning this dog start at $1400.


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The Bernese Mountain Dog comes from a rich history of farm work and companionship. It is the epitome of a gentle giant, calm, patient and kind. Some can suffer from shyness which socialization will help with and its size means it needs a large enough home to handle that with a yard it can use. It will thrive with an owner who gives it the training and socialization it needs along with the right balance of diet and exercise.

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