Affectionate, strong, intelligent—these are just a few words commonly used to describe the loving and playful Bernese Mountain Dog. Known for their striking features, such as the unique coloring pattern that makes them look like they have eyebrows, Bernese Mountain Dogs rank in the top 25 on the list of the most popular dog breeds in America.
But before you go out and purchase one, there are certain things you should know about taking care of one.
It’s no small task.
For one thing, they grow to be quite large and are prone to various medical conditions because of their size. They also require a lot of exercise and stimulation. So, this might not be the best dog for you, depending on your living situation.
Let’s dig in!
The Bernese Mountain Dog, whose name is derived from the Canton of Bern in Switzerland, has been around for 2,000 years.
These giant dogs hail from the Swiss Alps where they were used to pull carts holding anything from cheese to livestock due to their strong build. Some farmers also used them to help drive cattle and guard their property.
It wasn’t until 1926 when Bernese Mountain Dogs first came to the US. Around 11 years later, the American Kennel Club recognized them as an official breed.
In 1968, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America was formed. Since then, they’ve been used as companions and show dogs.
Are Bernese Mountain Dogs Good Family Dogs/Pets?
The Bernese Mountain dog makes a wonderful family companion and is great with kids!
They tend to be relaxed, easy-going, and eager to please their owners. Most are friendly around new humans and dogs.
However, some Berners can be a little shy.
Male Berners may even act aggressively toward other male dogs. But it all depends on the individual dog.
Keeping this in mind, these gentle giants can be good family dogs as long as they are trained and socialized properly.
With a breed as large as the Bernese Mountain Dog (they can weigh anywhere from 79 – 110 pounds), you have to be aware of the great care that must be taken with them.
Due to their weight and pre-disposition for certain health issues, they have an average lifespan of 6 – 8 years. :-(
And while their coats are soft and beautiful, they will shed a lot throughout the year. Exercise and proper training are also vital for keeping both you and your Berner happy.
To ensure that your Berner enjoys a long and healthy life, follow these tips below.
Just like any other living being, Bernese Mountain Dogs require a proper balance of nutrients in their diet.
Every Berner diet should include:
- Protein to supply him with the 10 essential amino acids that his body does not produce naturally, this can be chicken, lamb, beef, etc., as long as the ingredient isn’t a meat by-product and it is listed as the number one ingredient.
- Fats to support healthy skin and coat while providing energy.
- Carbohydrates that contain no more than 5% fiber to provide nutrients and energy – however, stay away from foods containing corn and soy.
Poor nutrition has a negative effect on your Berner’s physical and mental health.
Berners who shed an abnormal amount of hair or begin to act aggressive and nervous may be suffering from low-quality food in their diet.
Bernese Mountain Dogs shed.
A lot a lot.
They have a double coat that is comprised of a guard coat and an undercoat that need to be groomed every four to eight weeks. Grooming frequency should be increased during the fall and spring when they change coats.
However, they do not need to be shaved or trimmed. This can irritate the Berner’s skin and cause hotspots.
Don’t forget to monitor their eyes and ears as well, as they are prone to infection in those areas as well.
Be prepared to put aside plenty of exercise time for your energetic Bernese Mountain Dog: They need at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise every day.
Luckily, Bernese Mountain Dogs are fun and goofy animals who are always down for a fun game or walk with their family.
That being said, they do not to well in small apartments where they are unable to stretch their legs and fulfill their active needs.
They also do better in colder climates due to their thick coats, so playing outside during the summer months might not always be the best option for them, depending on how hot it is at the moment.
Start training your Berner while he is young, as it encourages him to develop proper habits early on.
When you begin your training, remember to focus on leashing training, getting him used to grooming, and training him to not jump on people.
No one wants to be knocked down by a 100-pound Bernese Mountain Dog, especially small children.
Positive reinforcement (never harsh punishment or negativity), are the most effective training methods for Bernese. This can come in the form of happy, excited verbal praise and delicious treats.
Avoid yelling or hitting your dog, as this will make him fearful and distrustful of you.
You also need to be patient with your Berner, as they can be a bit slower to train than other dogs.
Bernese Mountain Dog Health Issues
Bernese Mountain Dogs experience a higher rate of fatal cancer than other breeds. In fact, around 50% die from some form of cancer.
Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to a multitude of health issues, including:
- Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: leads to degeneration of the joints
- Gastric Dilation: also known as bloating, it causes the dog’s stomach to expand from gas, fluids, or food
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): affects the Berner’s eyes and impairs his vision
- Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD): a blood clotting disorder that causes excessive bleeding
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
They are also prone to musculoskeletal issues, such as hip dysplasia or arthritis, due to their large size.
Some of these conditions, such as von Willebrand’s disease and heart disease are inherited.
If you are purchasing a Berner from a breeder, make sure they can provide certificates proving that your puppy’s parents were tested and cleared for these diseases.
Things to Know About Bernese Mountain Dogs
1. They Love to Romp Around in the Snow
Bernese Mountain Dogs were designed to thrive in cold weather with their long coats.
It should come as no surprise that you will likely find them playing around in the snow during the winter time for hours on end.
That being said, they are still susceptible to life-threatening illnesses such as hypothermia or frostbite. Watch out for signs such as:
- Difficulty breathing
They may indicate that your dog is too cold to be outside.
2. They Love Sitting on Your Foot
Berners love showing affection toward their owners!
This may end up being expressed by their signature “lean” where they sit in front of you, sometimes on your feet, and literally, lean their bodies against you.
Most of the time they are simply trying to get as closely to you as possible, rather than attempt to establish dominance over you.
However, since they are heavy dogs, they may knock you over by accident (not to mention the copious amount of fur they might leave on your clothes).
That being said, if you don’t like the idea of a 100 pound dog leaning on you, you can train him to stop doing it.
If you think your Berner is leaning into because they are either anxious or attempting to establish dominance over you, it is recommended that you move out of his way whenever he attempts to lean. You must remain consistent with this method, as letting him lean on you just once is enough to allow him to re-establish this behavior.
3. They Can Be Pretty Stubborn When They Want to Be
They have a mind of their own and do not always like being told what to do. To prevent this, it is best to assert to them at an early age that you are their pack leader.
This stubbornness may lead your Berner to become aggressive to or attempt to establish dominance over other dogs. Early socialization is key to preventing this.
4. Romans Brought the Berner to the Swiss Alps 2,000 Years Ago
Most experts believe that the Romans first introduced Bernese Mountain Dogs to Switzerland with mastiff-like dogs that were eventually bred into the loveable Berner that we know today.
However, there isn’t much literature or artwork to confirm this.
Most artists painted hunting and lap dogs on canvases, rather than working dogs like Berners.
5. Bernese Mountain Dogs are Good Watch Dogs
Berners have a natural instinct to monitor the house and bark at any strangers who may come by.
This instinct traces back to their days as watchdogs for the Romans thousands of years ago.
But while they are good watchdogs, they are not necessarily good guard dogs as they are not as aggressive as other breeds traditionally known for guarding.
You can’t really train them to be more aggressive animals because they are naturally quite gentle.
6. They Have a Short Lifespan
Berners live an average of 6 to 8 years. In comparison, most breeds have median lifespans of around 10 to 11 years.
This is mainly due to the breed’s high risk of getting cancer and other life-shortening diseases.
However, breeders are working hard to help increase the average lifespan of Berners by reducing the number of dogs they breed who have a predisposition toward cancer.
7. Celebrities Love Bernese Mountain Dogs
Did you know that Chelsea Handler owns a Bernese Mountain Dog? His name is Gary!
Other Bernese-loving celebrities include:
- Hilary Duff
- Sarah Michelle Gellar
- Courtney Cox
- Ben Roethlisberger
- William H. Macy
8. They can be Shy Around Other Dogs and People Sometimes
Some Berners can be guarded around other animals and humans they are not familiar with.
However, this can be fixed through proper socialization and training, starting from a young age.
9. Their Paws are HUGE
Not only are their paws unbelievably large, but they are also extremely soft and smooth.
Their large paws are more noticeable during a Berner’s adolescent years when they are still growing into their body.
You can tell that they still have room to grow when the size of their paws don’t quite match up in proportion with the rest of their body!
10. They Used to Work as Delivery Dogs
During the 1850s, cheese plants began to spring up among the Alps. Owners of these plants needed a method for transferring these large shipments of food, so they turned to the Bernese Mountain Dog.
Producers would fill carts with dairy products and bread, which would be pulled by the Berners to different farms.
Sometimes, children would accompany them during these trips.
11. Some Berners Compete in Cart Pulling Competitions
Did you know that Berners can pull carts weighing anywhere from 1,000 to 2,200 pounds?
Even though they aren’t used for cart pulling on farms anymore, they still have an opportunity to show off their strength once in a while.
This is because every year, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America holds a carting competition for Berners.
12. The St. Bernard’s Popularity Almost Wiped Out the Berner
Bernese Mountain Dog breeding slowed during the mid-1800s when other working dogs began to be imported to Switzerland.
Then, going into the late-1800s, the St. Bernard began to gain popularity, even going so far as to become the “It” dog of Switzerland.
In fact, the Swiss Kennel Club chose to recognize only the St. Bernard instead of any of the Swiss mountain dogs.
This led to a decline in demand for the Berner. Only farmers in rural areas had any use for the dog.
Luckily, the breed was saved from being wiped out completely by Franz Schertenleib.
His love for the breed began when he heard stories of these gentle giants as a child. So, he helped popularize the breed by raising awareness and interest in it across Switzerland and the rest of Europe.
13. They Can be a Little Slow When it Comes to Training
While they enjoy learning new things, Bernese Mountain Dogs tend to be slow learners.
Their mental maturation is just slower than other dog breeds.
As a result, a lot of patience and consistency is required when it comes to training them.
14. Bernese Mountain Dogs Love Making Their Owners Laugh
Did you know that Berners will sometimes do certain things just to get a laugh out of their owners?
If they realize a certain action they do make their owners laugh, they’ll do it again to make them laugh some more!
15. They Are One of Four Other Swiss Mountain Breeds
They are actually one of four tri-colored varieties of Swiss Mountain Dogs, the other dogs being:
- Appenzeller Sennenhund
- Entlebucher Sennenhund
- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
But unlike the other breeds, the Bernese Mountain Dog has a long coat.
16. They Physically Mature Slower Than Other Dog Breeds
The puppy stage for Bernese Mountain Dogs lasts longer than other breeds. They do not reach their adult height and weight until they are around 2 or 3 years old.
Until then, they go through an awkward adolescent stage where they are still adjusting to their long limbs.
They might even go through a big growth spurt during this time!
17. They Like Lying Between Your Legs
Berners love doing this because it makes them feel safe.
They are extremely affectionate dogs who enjoy being around their owners, especially if it means extra petting time for them!
However, Berners may also do this if they are feeling nervous or a new human or dog is around them.
If you think your Berner may be suffering from social anxiety, you can train him and familiarize him with different social situations.
18. Berners Don’t Do Well in Hot Weather
It is important to note that Berners do not do well in warm weather for the same reason that they thrive in colder weather—their coats.
However, you should avoid shaving them.
Instead, remedies such as ice chips, a fan, and walks during the early morning or evening when it is not as warm out will be more helpful in keeping your Berner cool.
19. Some Bernese Mountain Dogs Have Made Headlines for Their Heroic Acts
While there are no films or TV shows featuring a Bernese Mountain Dog saving their loved ones—yet—there have been some Berners who made the news for saving their humans:
- Bernese Mountain Dog Bella saved her owner, Chris Larocque from a house fire in 2013.
- And in 2015, Nico saved two humans who got swept out into the ocean by a current.