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Bernese Mountain Dog

 Photo of Bernese Mountain Dog
Photo: Ch Carlacot Fido, courtesy of Julie Vaughan

Bernese Mountain Dog Books

Group: Pastoral || Breed Standard


The Bernese Mountain Dog comes from Switzerland. Excavations dating back to the Bronze and Iron age, have unearthed skulls of large dogs, possibly the forerunners of the Bernese. It is suggested that the origins of the breed can go back no more than to about 800-1000AD. Breed types were developing during the 14th century onwards and Swiss breed types might have been in existence from this time. Local farmers kept different kinds of dog in varying sizes, according to the objective desired, as well as their financial standing (large dogs being expensive to keep). There was likely to be Roman influence in the period 300 - 100 BC and a German influence from the Alemannen from 400 to 700 AD. Culturally the peoples of the Bernese region are a mixture of Celt, Roman and German influences, so why not the dogs? Swiss farmers developed dogs that would have been used to herd cattle as well as to protect the farms from thieves and brigands. Such dogs would also have been useful in discouraging wolves and bears which still existed in mainland Europe. The Swiss Kennel Club was formed in 1883, and a Bernese breed club was formed in 1907. Originally a draft dog, it became used for the transportation of milk etc., by pulling carts. This is still a policy in Switzerland. Pulling carts on the highway is illegal in Britain, but carting on private land at shows and other events is undertaken in most BMD countries. In Britain carting groups meet at game fairs and other events raising money for charities. The first imports to Great Britain were made in 1936, but the advent of World War Two put a stop to breeding activities and the breed died out in Britain. It was in 1969 that the breed was re-introduced into this country, quite by accident, although a Swiss lady had brought a male from Switzerland to Britain in that same year; sadly he was never registered with the Kennel Club. The first litter was born in 1970 and CCs were first awarded (at Crufts) in 1977.


Height: dogs: 64-70 cms (25-27½ ins); bitches: 58-66 cms (23-26 ins).

Bernese are above middle size and should be strong and sturdy with a steady, calm, laid-back nature. They should have a benign expression, yet should be alert and interested in their surroundings. They should not be hyperactive and highly strung in temperament. The breed should be biddable. The head is strong with a flat skull, slight furrow and well defined stop. The muzzle is straight and strong and the dark brown eyes are almond shaped. The ears are set high, of medium size and triangular in shape. They lie flat, but when alert are raised at the base and brought forward slightly. The neck is of medium length, strong and muscular. Long, sloping shoulders are strong with the well muscled upper arm forming a distinct angle and lying flat. The compact body has a broad chest with a deep brisket, strong loins and a firm straight back. The broad hindquarters are strong and well muscled, with well bent stifles and strong hocks. Dewclaws are usually removed. The compact feet are short and round. When moving or alert, the long, bushy tail is raised, but never carried curled or over the back. Their movement is a balanced stride which reaches out well in the front. Their soft and silky coat has a bright natural sheen and is long and slightly wavy. The colour is jet black with rich reddish-brown markings on the cheeks, above the eyes, on the chest and all legs. A symmetrical white blaze and chest markings are essential. White is also desired on the paws and tail tip.


They make ideal companions and are usually very good with children and other animals. They love to be centre stage but training should start from day one when the puppy comes home. Some are more intelligent than others and some more attentive than others. Careful, gentle training and plenty of socialisation are the keys to a happy well balanced puppy. They may bark when visitors come to the house and they should be friendly and interested, showing no fear or aggression. Some Bernese are very enthusiastic to greet new people whilst others are less so, it depends on how they have been brought up! A dog may be less than enthusiastic greeting strangers yet have an excellent character. His biggest problem with character is more likely to be nervousness than aggression but the ideal BMD character is steady, reliable, unafraid and a joy to live with. They make excellent companions, happy to live with the family, involving themselves in all activities and loving to be the centre of attention. They love attention, can be inclined to be stubborn and should any individual show them undivided attention they love it. They are very affectionate and, if given the opportunity, will climb onto chairs, beds and try to get anywhere they feel will be advantageous to them. Although they may be very close to one member of the family they are not a one man dog and rehomed BMD are often easy to adjust to the changed circumstances and a new home, more so than some other breeds.

Breed Health

The growing period can be troublesome as they can be clumsy, and some females can be a little wary of things around their first season. Some males can develop "junior limp" from about 5 months up to a year old. Bernese are no more nor less healthy than any other type of dog for their size. Like humans, dogs are bound to have health problems at some time during their life. They can get hip dysplasia, foreleg lameness and cancer. They tend to have good hips (mean score around 16) but they are one of the worst breeds for elbow dysplasia, and 40% of the breed eventually die of cancer. These include lymphomas, osteosarcomas and histiocytosis. Sensible breeders hip and elbow score before breeding. Eye problems (other than a little entropion) are rare. Life span based on over 700 animals is around 7 years, and this is seen in other countries, however individual dogs do reach the teens.

Breed Care

Grooming is something that should be done on a regular basis. About twice a week, comb through the coat and trimming of the feet should be done weekly. Ears need inspection weekly. Bitches moult twice a year, dogs once. The hair is always around but is easy to pick up with a good vaccum cleaner.


Bernese are happy to be with you all day pottering about in the garden, in and out of the house but if you decide to go for a mile or two walk, they would be happy to accompany you. They are not demanding for exercise, their nature is very laid back in that respect.

They do not require miles and miles of walking. Puppies particularly need very little exercise in the first year, sufficient to say being in the garden and around the home should suffice without over doing it.


They are not the most intelligent of breeds, but they are eager to please. With determination and kindness they can be trained for obedience and one bitch at present is competing in working trials. They just love to please! Some of the breed are quite clever and they have a sense of humour. Training should start early and be consistent. Training sessions should be short and interesting and the puppy should be happy to do what is asked of him/her. No tricks are needed to train them just perseverence. See our books on training

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