This is a large, black and tan Alpine dog that has held many roles over the course of their history including pulling carts and wagons, herding and guarding.
The name Bernese Mountain Dog is a rough translation of the German "Berner Sennenhund," which means Bernese Alpine Herdsman's Dog. The breed's original name was 'Durrbachler', after an inn where these dogs were traded. The modern breed was developed from dogs found in the countryside around Bern, Switzerland and is just one of several Swiss breeds. The original Berner Sennenhund was an all-around farm and general working dog, used to guard the farm, drive the cows to and from the mountains, and pull loaded carts and small wagons. Modern Bernese Mountain Dogs retain some, although not necessarily all, of these instincts.
The breed was rescued from near extinction by a Professor Albert Heim in the late 1800's. In 1948 there was a significant amount of crossbreeding to Newfoundland dogs, which resulted in overall improvements to grounding its temperament and increasing it in size.
Average size to the withers: Females are between 23-26 inches with males between 25-28 inches.
Average weight: 40-55kg for both males and females with males usually being substantially heavier than females.
The overall most significant physical traits of this breed are its heavy frame and tricolour black, white and tan coat. A desired marking on its lustrous and shiny coat is called the 'Swiss Cross' which appears to the eye as a cross marking on the chest complete with a white 'horseshoe' shape around the nose. This breed is exceptionally heavy set and muscled, with a deep barrel chest and strong legs both hind and fore. The thick neck supports a large head which always has deep brown eyes which are full of expression with dropped ears.
The gentle nature of this dog is almost as large as its frame. Big hearted and warm, this dog is described by its own breed standards as 'never being aggressive, anxious or shy'. Indeed, this is a dog that wants to please its owner and will do anything for you. Given its large size, it is prudent to make sure it has good firm but gentle training to avoid mishaps that could occur out of nothing more than clumsiness, such as knocking over small children and adults. Their loyalty is legendary and they enjoy the company of people. They are outdoor working dogs, and while they do not have the stamina of many smaller framed working dogs, they are capable of considerable bursts of speed on occasion! They require at least 2 good walks per day to keep them in tip top condition and will enjoy long family walks readily. They can become couch potatoes if left however; this is not good for them, especially as their large frames will find it hard to bear excess weight.
They are good with children and other animals and can live quite happily with both, especially when early socialisation is given. Bernese Mountain Dogs can take up quite a lot of room in the house - and your heart, given the chance to do so.
As with many large dogs, the Bernese has a reduced lifespan of around 8-9 years if healthy. Due to their large bodies and weight, they are prone to injuries to muscles and bones, especially to the cruciate ligament and jumping in an extended position, for example in the air after balls etc, should be avoided. They are also prone to hip dysplasia. Hip Dysplasia (HD) can affect all breeds of dog but is more prevalent in some breeds than others. It is caused by the abnormal formation of the hip ball and socket joint. Normally the ball would form a pivot point in the socket; however, some dogs are born with a genetic predisposition for HD. This means that at birth their hips are normal but as they grow, the hip joint does not grow correctly and as a result the ball no longer fits as it should. After the age of a year or so, the owner can opt to have their dog 'hip scored'. Hip scoring is a method used by vets to determine the degree of HD in dogs and involves the vet assessing a number of criteria during a diagnostic examination. If the dog is then found to have a high probability of HD, remedial action can be taken.
As well as the increased costs own owning a larger dog (more food, bigger bowls and beds, larger vets bills and insurance), the Bernese will take up a considerable amount of your time with exercise and grooming. These time investments are well worth it though, as you will be rewarded with a loyal and trustworthy companion with which to share your life and home.