Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Bergamasco
Average Cost to keep/care for a Bergamasco
The Bergamasco is native to northern Italy where they were originally bred to herd and guard livestock, a job they are highly skilled at doing. The Bergamasco is a distinct looking dog with an extraordinary coat that forms loose mats and cords all of which hang down from a dog's topline.
They are powerful looking dogs and they are not the ideal choice for first time owners because they need to be well trained and handled correctly from a young age to be truly well-rounded confident dogs, but even then they are known to be quite cautious characters by nature. However, for people who are familiar with this type of dog and who spend lots of time in the great outdoors, the Bergamasco would be a perfect pet and companion dog.
In their native Italy, the Bergamasco was highly prized by shepherds for their herding and guarding abilities. The breed can trace its origins back seven thousand years to a country that is now known as Iran. Shepherds formed strong bonds with their dogs and they worked closely together on a one-to-one basis in challenging climates and mountainous terrains. Unlike other shepherding dogs, the Bergamasco was bred to be an independent thinker which in short, meant they were more than capable of working flocks on their own without the need of being given commands from their shepherds. These dogs are real problem solvers and quite independent characters which is why they need to be trained and given the right direction from a young age and then throughout their lives.
Shepherds wanted to develop a robust dog and the result is an extremely distinctive looking working dog that boasts a felted coat. The dense cords offer these dogs a tremendous amount of protection from the elements, but they also offered a lot of protection from attacks from bears, wolves and other predators that attacked livestock these dogs were herding and guarding.
For many years, the breed was protected by local shepherds which meant that bloodlines remained pure. However, as time passed and with the demise of sheepherding in northern Italy, shepherds and breeders started selling dogs to people outside of the country who were more than eager to own one of these magnificent and curious looking characters.
The Bergamasco was crossed with other herding dogs and this led to a decline in the number of "true" bloodlines which resulted in the breed almost vanishing off the face of the earth. Luckily, enthusiasts of the breed in their native Italy pulled the Bergamasco back from the brink of extinction and over the years the number of extraordinary dogs has risen not only in Italy but in other countries of the world including here in the UK.
Height at the withers: Males 60 cm, Females 56 cm at the withers
Average weight: Males 32 - 38 kg, Females 26 - 32 kg
Bergamascos are medium sized dogs that boast a powerful, compact look about them. Their most distinguishing trait being their superbly dense, matted coats. Their heads are well proportioned with muzzles being the same length as a dog's broad skull which is slightly convex between their ears. However, their foreheads are nicely rounded and their ears are set high on a dog's head.
Their nose tapers to the tip without being pointed and they boast a very strong under jaw with nicely pigmented lips. A Bergamasco's eyes are oval in shape and a nice dark chestnut colour. However, the colour of a dog's eyes depends on their coat colour. These dogs have a very calm look about their eyes, but they also give the impression of being extremely attentive. Their eyes are black rimmed with distinctive long eyelashes.
As previously mentioned, their ears are set high on a dog's head and they drop down over their brow. However, when excited and alert, the Bergamasco holds their ears upright. Ears are triangular in shape and wider at the base with tips being slightly rounded and they are covered in slightly wavy, soft hair which forms a fringe at the very tip.
The Bergamasco has a perfect scissor bite and their lips are well-split. Necks are strong and well-arched being medium in length and covered in dense matts. Their shoulders are well angled and laid well back and these dogs boasts straight, powerful front legs. Their body is compact and well-defined with a well sprung rib cage and nice straight topline with a slightly sloping croup.
Their hindquarters are powerful and these dogs have well-muscled upper thighs and strong back legs. Feet are oval in shape with closed, well arched toes with pigmented nails and their paw pads are dark in colour. Their tails are strong and thicker at the root tapering to the tip. Dogs hold their tails slightly curved and upright when they are working or alert, but never over their backs.
When it comes to a Bergamasco's coat, there is a lot of it with long mats that fall loosely from a dog's topline down their flanks which are hard in texture on their forequarters yet softer on a dog's legs and head. They have a shorter and denser undercoat and a Bergamasco's coat is greasy to the touch which is perfectly normal.
Accepted coat colours include the following:
Dogs are allowed to have white patches on their bodies, but these must not cover more than a fifth of their total coat colour.
The Bergamasco is essentially a working dog and therefore they are always vigilant, alert and protective by nature. They are definitely not the best choice of dog for a first-time owner because they need the right sort of socialisation, training and handling from a very young age or these dogs may become too much of a handful.
They are highly intelligent dogs that boast a cautious side to their natures. They are very patient which is why they are so highly prized as shepherding dogs. With this said, they were bred to be "independent" thinkers which in short means they do not need to be told what to do when they are working. This trait is deeply embedded in the breed which is why a Bergamasco needs to be kept busy and given lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation for them to be truly happy, well-rounded, relaxed dogs.
These dogs have incredible hearing which means they are quick to alert owners if anyone or anything is approaching their territory. This is another trait that is deeply embedded in their nature. They tend to be quite wary of strangers and people they have never seen or met before which is another trait deeply embedded in their natures.
The Bergamasco is an intelligent dog and although they have an independent side to their nature, in the right hands they are easy to train. The key to successfully training one of these dogs is to start their education early and to always be consistent, fair yet firm.
Puppies must be well socialised from a young age for them to be truly well rounded, obedient dogs later in their lives. Without all the right sort of contact with other dogs, animals and different situations, a Bergamasco might become wilful and unruly, making them harder to handle.
Bergamascos are known to be lively, intelligent and friendly dogs that boast a natural desire to protect. They form extremely strong bonds with their owners and members of a family. In general, they are also known to be tolerant of children although adult supervision is always advisable when dogs interact with the kids to make sure things stay nice and calm.
If a Bergamasco grows up with other pets in a household, they are generally quite tolerant when they are around them. However, if they have never met a cat or other small pet before it is best to avoid leaving them alone together.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of a Bergamasco is between 13 - 15 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
These dogs are known to be robust and healthy characters, but it's important to contact a reputable, well established breeder if you are thinking about getting a Bergamasco puppy because they would have done their utmost to breed healthy puppies and dogs. Another thing to bear in mind is that Bergamascos have real trouble keeping cool in hotter weather so it's important to keep an eye on them during the warmer summer months.
As with any other breed, the Bergamasco needs to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition and this is especially true in younger dogs when their mats are still forming. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and to prevent them from putting on too much weight. On top of this, these dogs need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
The Bergamasco boasts an incredible coat that is made up of dog hair, goat hair and wool which it what gives it such a unique texture. A dog’s mats eventually reach the ground once they are around 6 years old. You would be forgiven for thinking that their coat is high maintenance, but in actual fact the reverse is true because once the cords have developed and formed, they take care of themselves. However, it's important to keep an eye on any excessive matting which can pull at a dog's skin making the area sore and painful. If this happens the offending mats need to be gently and carefully separated before dividing them into smaller flocks all of which has to be done by hand.
As a dog matures, the flocks around their saddle area may become wider and their coat will generally thicken. The natural oils in the coat means that Bergamascos are very clean dogs that only need bathing 1 to 3 times a year, but 'spot' bathing may be required in particular areas when the need arises. It’s also important to check a dog's ears regularly because moisture tends to build up in their ear canals providing the perfect environment for a yeast infection to take hold which can be notoriously difficult to clear up. Their coats should never be shaved or clipped.
Bergamascos need to be given a lot of exercise on a daily basis, but they also need a tremendous amount of stimulation to be truly happy, well-rounded dogs. A good hour's walk is essential and ideally this needs to be split into two sessions, one half hour walk in the morning and the same again in the afternoon. However, these dogs also benefit from being allowed to run around in a secure garden as often as possible so they get to let off a lot of "steam" during the day.
If you get a Bergamasco puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule for your new pet and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same type of puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upset and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change their diet again.
If you are looking to buy a Bergamasco, you would need to pay anything from £700 to over £1000 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a 3-year-old Bergamasco in northern England would be £27.89 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £81.21 a month (quote as of March 2016). When insurance companies calculate pet insurance, they factor in several things and this includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether or not they have been spayed or neutered.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £40 - £50 a month. On top of all of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with a Bergamasco which includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and then their annual health check visits, all of which could quickly add up to well over a £1000 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for a Bergamasco would be between £90 to £140 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a pedigree Bergamasco puppy.
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