The Bergamasco is a large, intelligent and very personable dog that hails from the Alpine mountains of Italy and Switzerland, where they were used for many centuries as working herding dogs, to herd and guard livestock. Today, they are popular as pets both within Italy and much further afield, and they are fast gaining a keen following in the UK as well.
There are a lot of unique things about the Bergamasco dog that makes them appealing to people from all walks of life-they are friendly, loving and very good with children and other dogs, and they are also very lively, confident and outgoing, which combined with their strength, can make them rather a handful on the lead!
However, the most unique trait that the Bergamasco possesses is in fact its coat-and there is no other breed quite like it! Because the Bergamasco is not hugely common in the UK yet, the uninitiated dog lover that spots a Bergamasco dog out and about might first of all think that their coat is in terrible condition, because the adult Bergamasco’s coat falls into cords and mats, which at a glance look rather haphazard. However, a closer look reveals that there is some method in the madness, and most Bergamasco dog owners find themselves spending quite a lot of their time telling people all about it!
The Bergamasco is not the only dog whose coat will naturally form into mats, with the Puli and Komondor coats forming into cords and dreadlocks as they get older too-but the Bergamasco coat is rather different even from these dreadlocked dogs, and this is what we will talk about within this article.
Read on to learn more about the Bergamasco dog breed’s unique coat!
While both the Puli and the Komondor have cords or dreadlocks, the coat of the Bergamasco is different in that it consists of flocking. Flocking or flocks are wide, flat mats of hair that has felted, and that tend to get wider towards the ends, ranging from around an inch wide to over three inches wide.
Additionally, while most dogs have just one or two types of hair-such as a dense, soft undercoat and longer guard hairs-the Bergamasco has three types of hair growth, which are referred to as their undercoat, which is short, thick and oily to provide warmth and waterproofing, as well as a thick, woolly overcoat. However, between these two types of fur grows a third type, called “goat hair,” which is long, straight and very rough. The goat hair grows in patches and strands throughout the rest of the coat, and has a texture almost like Velcro, which grips and tangles the rest of the fur, turning it into the breed’s signature flocking or matting.
Within the dog’s working role, this unique coat type is what made the Bergamasco such a perfect fit for herding, livestock guarding and working outside in all weathers-their coats insulate them, repel water and keep the wind out. Additionally, if the Bergamasco ran into potential livestock predators such as foxes or wolves, their coats would provide vital protection from bites and scratches, allowing the Bergamasco to take on large opponents and live to tell the tale!
Additionally, this virtually impenetrable flocked coat helps to keep biting bugs at bay, and helps the dog stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer months.
Bergamasco puppies are not born with flocked hair, of course-they are born with fur that is short and surprisingly soft to the touch, as the undercoat is visible at this point. As the pup grows and the three different types of coat hair begin to grow longer and get established, the felting of the fur begins, usually by the time the dog has reached their first birthday.
This is when the hard work for the Bergamasco owner really stars in earnest-the coat needs a lot of maintenance and care at this point, as the mats that are forming need to be separated and formed into individual cords, until the weight of each mat begins to pull it down to grow naturally. This intensive process usually continues until the dog is eighteen months to two years old, when the weight of the flocks helps them to grow naturally in formation.
Additionally, unlike most breeds of dog, the Bergamasco’s coat does not stop growing when it reaches a certain length-their coats keep on growing for the remainder of their lives, and by the time the dog reaches four to six years of age, their flocking can potentially reach the floor.
While it is really important to maintain the coat and check and care for it daily during the dog’s first couple of years of life, after this they become very low maintenance, and require little attention other than a bath a couple of times a year to keep them clean and in good condition.
It is wise to check the dog over once a week or so throughout their lives, however, because very thick, heavy mats can pull and pinch the skin, which is of course uncomfortable for the dog. Splitting larger mats and so, reducing their weight will prevent this from happening.