Information about the Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain Dog, called in German the Berner Sennenhund, is a large breed of dog, one of the four breeds of Sennenhund-type dogs from the Swiss Alps. The name Sennenhund is derived from the German “Senne” (alpine pasture) and “hund” (dog), as they accompanied the alpine herders and dairymen called Senn. Berner (or Bernese in English) refers to the area of the breed’s origin, in the Canton of Bern in Switzerland. This mountain dog was originally kept as a general farm dog. Large Sennenhunds in the past were also used as draft animals, pulling carts. The breed was officially established in 1907. In 1937, the American Kennel Club recognised it as a member of the Working Group

Like the other Sennenhunds, the Bernese Mountain Dog is a large, heavy dog with a distinctive tricolored coat, black with white chest and rust colored markings above eyes, sides of mouth, front of legs, and a small amount around the white chest. An ideal of a perfectly-marked individual gives the impression of a white horse shoe shape around the nose and a white “Swiss cross” on the chest, when viewed from the front. A Swiss Kiss is a white mark located typically behind the neck, but may be a part of the neck. A full ring would not meet type standard. Both males and females have a broad head with smallish, v-shaped drooping ears. Height at the withers is 23-27.5 in (58-70 cm). The standard does not mention weight. On average, one must expect 40-55 kg (88-120 lb). Females are slightly smaller than males. The AKC breed standard lists, as disqualifications, Blue eye color, and any ground color other than black.

The four breeds of Sennenhund, with the original breed name followed by the most popular English version of the breed name.

  • Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
  • Berner Sennenhund, Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Appenzeller Sennenhund, Appenzeller
  • Entlebucher Sennenhund, Entlebucher Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain Dog, like every dog, is descended from the wolf. Historically, in some locales at least, the breed was called a Dürrbachhunde.

The breed was used as an all purpose farm dog for guarding property and to drive dairy cattle long distances from the farm to the alpine pastures. The type was originally called the Dürrbächler, for a small town (Dürrbach) where the large dogs were especially frequent. In the early 1900s, fanciers exhibited the few examples of the large dogs at shows in Berne, and in 1907 a few breeders from the Burgdorf region founded the first breed club, the “Schweizerische Dürrbach-Klub”, and wrote the first Standard which defined the dogs as a separate breed. By 1910, there were already 107 registered members of the breed. There is a photo of a working Bernese Mountain Dog, dated 1905 at the Fumee Fall rest area in Quinnesec, MI.

Owners of Bernese Mountain Dogs are nearly three times as likely as owners of other breeds to report musculoskeletal problems in their dogs. The most commonly reported musculoskeletal issues are cruciate ligament rupture, arthritis (especially in shoulders and elbows), hip dysplasia, and osteochondritis. The age at onset for musculoskeletal problems is also unusually low. For example, in the U.S./Canada study, 11% of living dogs had arthritis at an average age of 4.3 years. Most other common, non-musculoskeletal morbidity issues strike Berners at rates similar to other breeds.

In short, prospective Bernese Mountain Dog owners should be prepared to cope with a large dog that may have mobility problems at a young age. Options to help mobility-impaired dogs may include ramps for car or house access, lifting harnesses and slings, and dog wheelchairs (ex: Walkin` Wheels). Comfortable bedding may help alleviate joint pain.

The Bernese calm temperament makes them a natural for pulling small carts or wagons, a task they originally performed in Switzerland. With proper training they enjoy giving children rides in a cart or participating in a parade. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America offers drafting trials open to all breeds; dogs can earn eight different titles, four as individual dogs (Novice Draft Dog, Advanced Novice Draft Dog, Draft Dog, and Master Draft Dog) and four brace titles, in which two dogs work one cart together. Regional Bernese clubs often offer carting workshops.

On July 1, 2010 the Bernese Mountain Dog became eligible to compete in AKC Herding Events. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive herding tests. Berners exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.

The Bernese coat is slightly rough in outline, but not at all harsh in texture. The undercoat is fairly dense; the coat is quite resistant to dirt and weather. A good brushing every week or two is sufficient to keep it in fine shape, except when the undercoat is being blown; then daily combing or brushing is in order for the duration of the shed. Regular use of a drag comb (it looks like a small rake), especially in the undercoat, is highly effective. See Dog grooming. Bernese Mountain Dogs shed year-round, and drifts of fur are to be expected.

The breed standard for the Bernese Mountain Dog states that dogs should not be “aggressive, anxious or distinctly shy,” but rather should be “good natured,” “self-assured,” “placid towards strangers,” and “docile.” Temperament of individual dogs may vary, and not all examples of the breed have been carefully bred to follow the Standard. All large dogs should be well socialized when young, and given regular training and activities throughout their lives.

Bernese are outdoor dogs at heart, though well-behaved in the house; they need activity and exercise, but do not have a great deal of endurance. They can move with amazing bursts of speed for their size when motivated. If they are sound (no problems with their hips, elbows, or other joints) they enjoy hiking and generally stick close to their people.