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Robust, rustic and rough haired seem to be the words which are usually used to describe this unusual breed of dog. The Bergamasco is a distinct looking dog breed which has its roots firmly embedded in the Italian Alps.
Exceptionally skilled and prized as a herder and guardian, the Bergamasco is a native dog of Italy, which it was primarily found in the deep Alpine valleys of the country, where sheep herding was the primary industry before the tourist boom in the Victorian era and then again after World War II. The Bergamasco was developed with its distinctive looking felted coat to protect it from both the elements and attacks from wolves, bears and other wildlife that tried to attack and kill its flock. A courageous and brave dog, the Bergamasco breed was fiercely protected from intrusion from the outside world by local shepherds and farmers and the lines were kept pure, until economics and a downturn in sheep herding made the prospect of selling this dog to the eager, outside world became too tempting. As a result, the Bergamasco was interbred with other herding dogs and this led to its partial decline in popularity as the lines were blurred with other breeds. Sadly, this dog breed almost became extinct but a group of enthusiastic breeders managed to pull them back from the brink of obscurity within Italy and from there, throughout the world.
Average height to withers: Makes and females up to 23 inches, but females are usually substantially smaller.
Average weight: Females 26-32 kg, with makes heavier between 32-36kg.
The stand out feature of this dog breed is of course it's unusual, felted or flocked coat similar to that of the Puli and Komondor. As a pup, Bergamasco's are born with smooth, short hair with the characteristic coat developing as the dog matures. The coat itself comes in tomes of grey, from light through to slate. Black and fawn colours are also found and white patches may account for up to one fifth of the area of the coat itself. The actual hair itself is made up of 3 distinct hair types. The undercoat is fine and oily but in abundance making it look and feel very thick. The 'goat' hair as the middle layer is often called, is smooth and lies close to the outer layer which is fine and woolly. The distribution of the hair types will differ in all dogs, and there is no typical pattern to it. The mats and felts of hair start at the spine and fun for the full length of the hair. They will grow continuously through the life of the dog but by the age of 3 years, the felted coat is usually fully developed.
Under this thick blanket, it is hard to make out the body shape, but the Bergamasco typically has dark, oval eyes, with a dark nose. The skull is rounded and the ears fall in triangles and are quite short. The ribs are well sprung but not barrel in shape and the even top line tapers away from a thick root into a thinner tip, which is of course well covered with hair.
Due to its working heritage the Bergamasco, like many others herding breeds, will respect and work with a strong human 'pack' leader and function within well a well defined family structure. Attentive, alert and friendly, this breed can be a true family dog who is both devoted and protective, making an excellent watch dog and guardian which remaining even tempered and almost never aggressive. Sometime called 'nanny' dogs, the Bergamasco is attentive and tolerant towards children especially when bought up alongside them. While no dog should be left unattended with children, this breed is steady and trustful. When coupled with its calm temperament, it makes it a good choice for an active family.
Responsive to training, this dog excels at obedience, agility and trailing being intelligent and easy to train. The stubborn side of the Bergamasco may show itself if negative or harsher training methods are used, but when positively reinforced training is used, this dog is a pleasure to work with and be around. The owner needs to keep in mind that a certain level of activity should be expected to keep this breed healthy both in body and in mind and as such regular walks and exercise are required.
On average, this dog can live a long and healthy life of up to 15 years of age. Very little research has been done specifically related to this breed, so no particular health issues are associated with it and it is considered to be a relatively hardy type of dog.
Many people think that the coat of this breed will require very particular attention; however, nothing could be further from the truth! The flocked coat is relatively low maintenance and can take care of itself with little input from the owner. When the dog is a pup, the owner needs to keep the coat as tangle free as possible, however at around 8-12 months the owner will notice the sprouting of the 'goat' hair which is thicker and at this stage the flocking or felting will start to occur. At this stage, most owners can keep on top of this matting process simply by combing through with fingers as the hair mats in a way as so not to stretch the skin making them evenly spaced as a rule. Once the flocks are developed around 2-3 years, minimal grooming is required but the owner should keep an eye open for excessive matting which can pull the skin and separate them into smaller flocks by hand. As the dog matures, the flocks around the saddle area may become wider and the coat will generally thicken. The natural oils in the coat make this a very clean dog and bathing is required only 1-3 times per year, but 'spot' bathing may be required in particular areas when the need arises.
The Bergamaso will require at least 1-2 daily walks as it is an energetic breed who likes to play and interact with its pack.