The Bernese Mountain Dog: History and Appearance
The Bernese Mountain Dog hails from Switzerland, where it has a long history as a mountain dog. This breed hails from the farms of Berne, Switzerland, and for a time was only known in that region. It is one of four mountain breeds, and while all share similar coloring and physicality; the Bernese is the only one to have a long, luxurious coat. In fact, the Bernese Mountain Dog was often featured in paintings that date all the way back to the mid 1600’s.
The ancestors of the Bernese Mountain Dog worked hard as farm dogs, and the breed continued that tradition by working as farm dogs, drovers, draft dogs, and watch dogs. For a time in the late 1800’s, there remained only a few Bernese scattered throughout Switzerland, and it appeared that the breed was on the brink of extinction.
A gentleman named Franz Schertenleib sought to re-populate the breed, and sought out excellent specimens for breeding. While the search was long, it eventually paid off, and the breed began to make a comeback. The rehabilitation of the breed was overseen by Professor Albert Heim, a geologist, canine enthusiast, and judge. The Bernese Mountain Dog was first exhibited in 1907, after a specialty club for the breed was formed. They were soon developed as companion dogs by the Swiss, though their role as a working farm dog continued.
The Bernese Mountain Dog was introduced to the United States in 1926. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1937. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America was formed in 1968, and began sponsoring drafting and carting competitions for the breed.
Berner-Garde, was established in 1989 as a means to protect the breed’s health. It is an open health registry that all breeders of the Bernese Mountain Dog are encouraged to use. As the desire for the Bernese Mountain Dog grew, so did concerns about its health and longevity. Because the breed existed for so long in only a few parts of Switzerland, and the population was small, the genetic line remained pure and subject to inbreeding. The breed’s history, sudden popularity among professional breeders, and quick increase in population has led to certain health problems, including a shortened lifespan and a genetic predisposition for cancer. The modern Bernese only lives for 6-8 years, and must have regular vet care in order to prevent health issues.
In spite of its shorter lifespan, the Bernese Mountain dog is valued as a companion animal, show dog, and even still works as a farm dog.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a large dog featuring a tri-colored coat and a striking appearance. The males reach up to 28 inches, while the females grow to 27 inches. Males weigh in at 110 lbs. at the most, while the female’s maximum weight is 105 lbs.
The Bernese are sturdy dogs, with a hardy and balanced presence. They have an animated and gentle expression, with dark brown oval shaped eyes. They feature triangular ears that are set high on the head and brought forward. They possess a strong, straight muzzle, and a black nose. The lips are usually clean and the teeth meet in a scissors bite.
Bernese have powerful, sturdy necks, a deep chest, and broad backs. The breed has full, straight, bushy tails that are carried low when resting. Legs are straight boned with muscular thighs. The feet are compact with arched toes. Rear dewclaws should always be removed.
Bernese Mountain Dogs have extremely thick coats. The fur is wavy or straight and long, except on the head, muzzle, and ears. The hair should have a bright shine to it. Trimming or shaving is highly discouraged.
Bernese are tri-colored, featuring hues of black, white, and rust. The ground, or base, color is black. Markings are bright white and rust. The dog has a white blaze and white muzzle, as well a white marking on the chest. The tip of the tail is usually white, and slight markings on the feet that do not extend up the leg are considered acceptable. Rust markings begin with a splash over each eye, on the cheeks, on all four legs, under the tail, and on each side of the chest.
Showing a Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dogs, with their beautiful appearance and silky fur, make excellent show dogs. Their appearance is held to a high standard of criteria, however, and even slight flaws can cost points or lead to disqualification. For example, if the breed features any base color other than black, it is grounds for disqualification. Blue eyes will also lead to disqualification. White legs, white collars, and inverted eyelids are considered serious faults. The tail should not be bent or curled. Teeth should not be overshot or undershot in bite, and the chest should not be barrel shaped. It is expected that the rear dewclaws are removed. The feet are expected to be straight, and should not turn in or out. The Bernese is not to be trimmed and should be exhibited in its natural coat. The coat should not be dull or overly curly. In show, the Bernese is expected to have a slow trot. It should be able to demonstrate agility and speed used in drafting work.
The Bernese Today
Brought back from the brink of extinction, this breed has faced specific challenges in regards to health and longevity. There is understanding among reputable breeders that it is important that the Bernese Mountain Dog’s legacy as one of the oldest working breeds is preserved. The Bernese dates back centuries, and with careful breeding, health records, and oversight, it will hopefully live on for centuries more.
The Bernese Mountain Dog makes for a wonderful family pet, show dog, or working dog. With a gentle demeanor and affectionate personality, these beautiful dogs are worth owning. While their lifespan may not be as long as other breeds, their friendly, loyal nature makes it time well spent.