Bernese Mountain Dog

 

A large and powerful working breed native to Switzerland, the Bernese Mountain Dog  was bred to perform a number of tasks for Swiss farmers.  Of the four closely related breeds of Swiss Mountain Dogs, the Bernese Mountain Dog is the most common and well-known. The others being the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund), the Appenzeller Mountain Dog (Appenzeller Sennenhund), and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog (Entlebucher Sennenhund).  Famous for its large size and striking tri-color coat, the Bernese Mountain Dog is also known for its good nature and devotion to its family.  The Bernese Mountain Dog is also known as the Bernese Cattle Dog, the Bernese Cart Dog, the Berner Sennenhund, the Berner, the Bernie, the Durrbachhunde, and the Durrbachler.

 

Breed Information

Breed Basics

Country of Origin: 
Size: 
X-Large 55-90 lb
XX-Large 90-120 lb+
LifeSpan: 
6 to 8 Years
Trainability: 
Very Easy To Train
Energy Level: 
Medium Energy
Grooming: 
A Couple Times a Week
Brushing Once a Week or Less
Protective Ability: 
Good Watchdog
Hypoallergenic Breed: 
No
Space Requirements: 
House with Yard
Compatibility With Other Pets: 
Generally Good With Other Dogs
May Have Issues With Other Dogs
May Have Problems With Non-Canine Pets
Not Recommended For Homes With Small Animals
Litter Size: 
6-10 Puppies
Names: 
Bernese Cattle Dog, Bernese Cart Dog, Berner Sennenhund, Berner, Bernie, Durrbachhunde, Durrbachler

Height/Weight

Males: 
85-110 lbs, 25-27½ inches
Females: 
80-105 lbs, 23-26 inches

Kennel Clubs and Recognition

American Kennel Club: 
ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council): 
CKC(Canadian Kennel Club): 
FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale): 
KC (The Kennel Club): 
NZKC (New Zealand Kennel Club): 
UKC (United Kennel Club): 
History: 

 

It is difficult to decipher the true origins of the Bernese Mountain Dog as this is an old breed that was developed in a time well before written records of dog breeding were kept. Adding further complexity to compiling and accurate history is that this breed in particular was the working dog of farmers in geographically isolated areas.  However, some of the breed’s ancestry can be extrapolated.  It is known that this breed was created in Switzerland, primarily in the area around Durrbach and Bern and that it is most likely descended from the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.  The Bernese Mountain Dog is closely related to three other Swiss breeds, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Appenzeller Mountain Dog, and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog.  These four breeds are collectively known as either the Sennenhunds or the Swiss Mountain Dogs.  Sometimes the closely related Saint Bernard is also included in the family as well.  There is substantial disagreement among dog experts as to which breeds the Sennenhunds are most closely related.  Some place them in the Mastiff/Molosser family, others in the Lupomolossoid family, and still others in the Pinscher/Schnauzer family.  In actuality, these breeds likely share a relationship with all three families.

 

Although the exact details are highly disputed, the domestication of the dog was probably complete by 14,000 years ago, making the dog the first species ever domesticated by man.  These first dogs, probably very similar to the Dingo, were used as hunting aides and camp guardians.  As the agricultural life replaced that of a hunter gatherer, humans in the Middle East would begin to domesticate other animals such as sheep, goats, and cattle.  These herds would need protection from predators such as wolves and bears. In response to this need, dogs would also be adapted into very large livestock guardian breeds. It is thought that these original herding or livestock protection dogs were primarily white in color.  As the centuries progressed agriculture would spread from the Fertile Crescent into the whole of Europe and Asia and with it, so did livestock guarding breeds.  These dogs would spread across Europe where their descendents likely became the primary protectors of livestock until Roman times.  The Romans would introduce new breeds such as the Molossus which would largely replace, but not eliminate these older breeds, as many would survive in remote areas, remaining unchanged for centuries.  These dogs have been called Lupomolossoids to distinguish them from Mastiff-type dogs.  Those breeds most commonly classified as Lupomolossoids include the Great Pyrenees, the Maremma Sheepdog, the Kuvasz, and the Tatra Mountain Sheepdog.  Because the Sennenhunds share a number of similarities with these breeds, some experts place them with this family.  However, if the modern Sennenhunds are descended from Lupomolossoids, they have certainly been crossed extensively with other breeds.

 

The Molossus was the primary war dog of the Roman army and is known to have accompanied the legions throughout the Empire;  eventually becoming adapted for sheepherding, livestock guarding, and personal protection.  Most experts believe that the Molossus was a Mastiff, but others think it was more like a sheepdog or even a sighthound.  The Molossus has given its name to an entire family of dogs, which are today known as Mastiffs or Dogues.  Members of this family include the English Mastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux, and the American Bulldog.  Between 35 and 6 B.C. the Roman army conquered most of the Alps and records from the time indicate that more than 40 separate tribes had to be pacified in the process.  The Romans would bring the Molossus with them, as well as possibly another breed known as the Roman Droving Dog.  It is claimed (with good reason) that the Romans crossed their dogs with the existing livestock guarding breeds of the Alps.  This is the most widely accepted theory for the origin of the Bernese Mountain Dog, and is in fact the most likely.  However, the four Sennenhunds are substantially different than most members of the Mastiff/Molosser family and likely have been crossed with other dogs as well.

 

The Pinschers and Schnauzers are a family of dogs which have been kept by German-speaking farmers since time immemorial.  These breeds were primarily tasked with vermin eradication but also served as property guardians and cattle drovers.  Although little to nothing is known of their origins, these dogs were found throughout German-speaking lands and likely accompanied the Germanic tribes on their migrations across Europe.  As the Roman Empire weakened, Germanic tribes invaded and settled large territories that were previously controlled by Rome.  The area known as Switzerland was one such region, and still has a large German-speaking population.  It is very likely that German settlers brought their farm dogs with them when they entered Switzerland and crossed them with existing farm dogs of the region.  As a result, the Sennenhunds probably share some amount of Pinscher/Schnauzer ancestry, and this may be why they have tri-color coats.

 

However the Swiss Mountain Dogs developed, they were the indispensable aides to Swiss farmers for many centuries.  These dogs became known as Sennenhunds, which loosely translates to Farmer’s Dogs.  Because the Alps are so remote, the Sennenhunds were bred largely in isolation.  Initially, all Sennenhunds were probably very similar in type.  Most agree that the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is the original form of the Sennenhund from which all others descend.  The original purpose for this breed was probably livestock protection, but as the centuries passed predators became increasingly scarce.  Swiss farmers also needed a large dog to drive their cattle to market.  These dogs excelled at this task.  However, the farmers could not afford to keep such a large animal if it would only be used on rare occasions.  These farmers did have one area of great need, a draft animal.  Horses fair poorly in the Alps.  They are not fleet-footed enough for the region’s mountainous terrain and have difficulty finding enough food especially during the winter.  Large dogs are much more suited to life in the Alps and they became the primary draft animals of the region, especially for small farmers.  The Sennenhunds pulled carts and wagons for the farmers helping them in numerous ways.  The Sennenhunds were bred to be strong and powerful enough to drive cattle and pull heavy load, but also adaptable and confident enough to travel to new places without difficulty.

 

Many of Switzerland’s valleys are quite isolated from each other, especially in an era before modern transportation was developed.  As a result, many distinct varieties of Sennenhund developed.  All were fairly similar and were used for similar purposes, but were slightly different based on the needs and preferences of the residents of a particular area.  At one point there were probably dozens of identifiable types of Sennenhund, although few were given unique names.  Some types of Sennenhund were localized, but others were found across the country, most notably the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.

 

Technological advancement came somewhat slowly to the Swiss.  Sennenhunds remained the only affordable means of transporting cargo over much of Switzerland until at least the 1870’s.  Eventually, the advancements or the Industrial Revolution and Modern Era came to even the remotest of Switzerland’s valleys.  New technology began to make the draft dog obsolete.  Unlike in some other European countries, Switzerland did not have many major canine organizations to protect its native breeds.  The first Swiss breed club was not founded until 1884, and that was to protect the Saint Bernard.  The Swiss Kennel Club was founded later that year but initially did not show much interest in the Sennenhunds.  By the beginning of the 1900’s, most types of Swiss Mountain Dog were already extinct.  For several years, it was believed that only three had survived, those that became known as the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Appenzeller Mountain Dog, and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog (the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was later rediscovered). 

 

The most common surviving type of Sennenhund was one which was especially prevalent in areas around the capital city of Bern.  This type was large, relatively long-coated, and possessed a tri-color coat pattern.  As this type had long been especially prevalent in the region of Durrbach, they were known as Durrbachhunds or Durrbachlers.  Around the year 1900, several Swiss Dog fanciers began to realize that unless they took action, an important part of Swiss history would disappear forever.  Two of the most prominent of them were breeder Franz Shertenlieb and famed geologist Albert Heim.  These fanciers began to collect the remaining Durrbachlers from the valleys around the city of Bern.  They first exhibited the breed in Swiss dog shows in 1902, 1904, and 1907.  In 1907, several fanciers founded the Schweizerische Durrbach-Klub.  The main goal of the club was to keep breeding records and promote the pure breeding of the few Durrbachlers that remained.  Another major goal was to promote the breed and increase the interest among Swiss dog fanciers.

 

Interest in the Durrbachler increased slowly but steadily in Switzerland.  By 1910, there were 107 registered animals.  A few years after the Schweizerische Durrbach-Klub was founded the breed’s name was officially changed to the Berner Sennenhund.  The change was made to follow the naming conventions of other Swiss breeds, but also to highlight the breed’s connection with the Swiss capital.  The Berner Sennenhund became the most popular of the four Sennenhund breed’s in Switzerland, and was also the first to become well-established outside of its native country.  In retrospect, the efforts of the Schweizerische Durrbach-Klub and later on the Swiss Kennel Club almost certainly saved the Berner Sennenhund and the other three Sennenhund breeds from extinction.  Between animal rights legislation, the introduction of new technology, and the ravages of World War I, the four Sennenhunds were essentially the only European draft dog breeds to survive past the 1920’s.  The first records of Bernese Mountain Dogs (as the breed became known in English) in America come from 1926, when a Kansas farmer named Isaac Scheiss imported a pair.  Scheiss attempted to register his dogs with the American Kennel Club (AKC) but failed.  The Swiss Kennel Club apparently attempted to aid Mr. Scheiss in his efforts, likely because they wanted to establish and promote their breed abroad.  In 1936, Glen Shadow of Louisiana imported a pair of his own, Fridy V. Haslenbach and Quell v. Tiergarten.  Led by Mr. Shadow, a group of Bernese Mountain Dog fanciers again petitioned the AKC for recognition, and the breed was granted full recognition as a member of the Working Group in 1937.  Quell v. Tiergarten became the first Bernese Mountain Dog registered with the AKC.  Breed numbers increased very slowly in the United States until 1941, when the World War II caused a disruption in imports.  As Switzerland remained neutral in World War II, breed numbers continued to grow in that country.  After 1945, importations resumed and the breed’s number began to grow at a greater pace.  In 1948, the United Kennel Club (UKC) followed the AKC’s lead and granted full recognition to the Bernese Mountain Dog as a member of the Guardian Dog Group.

 

By 1968, the population of Bernese Mountain Dogs in America had grown to the point that several breeders banded together to form the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA).  The BMDCA was meant to promote and protect the breed, as well as organize breed specific events.  In 1973, the BMDCA became the AKC’s official parent club of the breed.  As the decades wore on, the Bernese Mountain Dog continued to grow in popularity.  Unlike other breeds which became popular as a result of a movie appearance or a celebrity owner, the Bernese Mountain Dog earned most of its fanciers as a result of word of mouth and personal contact.  Wherever these dogs went they caught the eyes of new admirers, most of whom became very fond of their personalities as well.  By the end of the 1990’s, the breed was well-established and on the verge of becoming even more popular.  The 2000’s saw an interesting paradox; there was a tremendous boom in the popularity of both tiny and giant breeds.  Many giant dogs such as the Great Dane and Mastiff saw their numbers soar throughout the decade.  The Bernese Mountain Dog was a breed that also experienced a massive rise in numbers.  In 2010, the breed ranked 39th out of 167 total breeds, after ranking 58th a decade earlier.

 

The rise in popularity of the Bernese Mountain Dog has caused some problems for the breed.  Many newer breeders are less experienced with dog breeding in general and less familiar with the Bernese Mountain Dog in particular.  Such breeders generally produce lower quality dogs, and often unknowingly breed dogs with health problems.  Although the tremendous size of the breed means that it has not a popular choice with commercial dog breeders and puppy mills, some breeders do care more for potential profit than the quality of the dogs they produce.  Many fanciers are concerned that the overall quality of the Bernese Mountain Dog breed is being compromised, and the life expectancy for this breed has dropped by four or five years over the past decade.  It is very important that prospective owners of Bernese Mountain Dogs carefully select a breeder, one who can document health tests performed on their breeding stock.  Another major problem is that an increasing number of Bernese Mountain Dogs are being acquired by people who are either incapable of or unwilling to provide this breed with the care that it requires.  As a result, more and more breed members are ending up in animal shelters or rescue groups.

 

The Bernese Mountain Dog was bred for centuries as a multi-purpose working dog, and is still quite capable of pulling tremendous weights.  Recently, weight pulling and draft competitions are becoming popular, both for the Bernese Mountain Dog specifically and multiple breeds.  This breed has also competed very successfully at agility and obedience competitions.  Recently, the Bernese Mountain Dog has become known as one of the most popular therapy dogs because they are both quite beautiful and extremely gentle.  For similar reasons, this breed also excels in the conformation show ring.  However, the vast majority of Bernese Mountain Dogs in the United States and Europe are primarily companion dogs, a task at which this breed is very well-suited.

 

Appearance: 

 

The Bernese Mountain Dog is very similar in appearance to the other four breeds of Sennenhund, although it is longer coated.  Although not yet especially common or well known, to those who have seen this beautiful and large dog rarely forget it.  The Bernese Mountain Dog is a very large breed.  Males typically stand between 25 and 27½ inches tall at the shoulder and females typically stand between 23 and 26 inches tall at the shoulder.  Although breed standards do not call for an ideal weight, most males weigh between 85 and 110 pounds and most females weigh between 80 and 105 pounds.  This breed is very sturdy and thick, but is not especially stocky.  The fur of this dog makes it appear somewhat heavier than it actually is.  This breed appears squarely proportioned, but most breed members are actually slightly longer than they are tall.  Bernese Mountain dogs should have a flat back with little slope.  This breed is very powerful and is quite muscular, although the musculature is largely obscured underneath the fur.  The tail of the Bernese Mountain Dog is quite long and thick.  The tail tapers towards the end and is held as straight from the back as is possible.

 

The head and facial features of a Bernese Mountain Dog are similar to those of other large breeds, especially breeds such as the Great Pyrenees.  The head of the Bernese Mountain Dog sits at the end of a very thick and powerful neck.  The head itself is not overly large but is extremely powerful.  The head is fairly flat.  The medium-length muzzle of a Bernese Mountain Dog is somewhat distinct, but still merges relatively smoothly into the rest of the head.  The lips of a Bernese Mountain Dog are mainly tight-fitting, and this is a dry-mouthed breed.  The eyes of a Bernese Mountain Dog are brown in color and almond shaped.  The ears of this breed are triangular in shape and medium in size.  They hang down close to the cheeks when the dog is at rest and are brought forward when it is at attention.  The overall expression of a Bernese Mountain Dog is gentle and intelligent.

 

The coat of the Bernese Mountain Dog is what primarily separates the breed from other giant breeds in general and the other Sennenhunds in particular.  This breed is single coated, with a bright, natural sheen.  The coat may either be straight, wavy, or somewhere in between.  The coat is fairly long, but most experts would consider this a medium-coated breed.  The hair is generally uniform in length over the whole body, but is shorter on the head, face, and fronts of the legs.  The tail of this breed is especially bushy.  Bernese Mountain Dogs only come in one acceptable color pattern, tri-color.  The base coat should always be jet black, with rust red and white markings.  These markings should be clearly distinguished and symmetrical.  Rust red markings should be found over each eye, on the cheeks reaching to at least the corner of the mouth, on each side of the chest, on each leg, and under the tail.  There should a white blaze, muzzle band, inverted cross on the chest, and tail tip.  White feet are desirable but not required.  Only those Bernese Mountain Dogs with that color pattern are eligible to be shown.  However, the breed is occasionally born with other colors, mainly tri-color dogs with a blue base coat and tan and white markings.

 

Temperament: 

 

The temperament of the Bernese Mountain Dog has more to do with the breed’s recent rise in popularity than anything else.  Temperament is more important to Bernese Mountain Dog standards than is common with other breeds, and responsible breeders put a premium on good-tempered dogs.  Most Bernese Mountain Dog owners absolutely treasure their pets, and most who meet the breed come away with a good impression.  Well-bred Bernese Mountain Dogs are very stable and predictable when it comes to temperament, poorly bred dogs are somewhat more variable.  The average Bernese Mountain Dog is very even tempered and steady; this breed rarely experiences sudden mood swings.  The term gentle giant is probably the most accurate description of the Bernese Mountain Dog.

 

This breed is known for its intense loyalty and devotion.  Bernese Mountain Dogs definitely know who their masters are and become exceptionally close to them.  Many owners say that the bond that they share with a Bernese Mountain Dog is the closest they have ever had with a dog.  Most breed members will have one family member to whom they are especially close, but this is certainly not a one person dog and will form intense bonds with an entire family.  Many Bernese Mountain Dogs come to believe they are lap dogs, which can be somewhat uncomfortable for their owners.  Unlike many other close-bonding breeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs are also generally good with strangers.  As a cart dog, they had to be able to go to market and deal with many people and loud noises without problems.  Once properly socialized, a well-bred Bernese Mountain Dog should be quite friendly with strangers and also very polite.  Bernese Mountain Dogs that have not been properly socialized have a tendency to become shy and nervous around new people, but are very rarely aggressive.  Shy or timid dogs are highly undesirable to breeders who want the breed to be confident and calm in all situations. 

 

This alert breed makes an excellent watchdog, and their loud barks should be enough to deter those unfamiliar with the dog.  Although this breed is extremely physically imposing, it makes a poor guard dog as most Bernese Mountain Dogs would welcome an intruder rather than show them aggression.  However, it is extremely unlikely that a Bernese Mountain Dog would ever allow physical harm to come to a family member or friend.  Bernese Mountain Dogs have a well-deserved reputation of being excellent with children.  This breed is both especially fond of and incredibly gentle with children, even one that are quite young.  Breed members form very close attachments to children, and often become their best friends.  If you are looking for a dog that will be adaptable and friendly in a wide variety of social situations but still form an exceptionally close bond with its family, the Bernese Mountain Dog may be a fit.

 

Bernese Mountain Dogs are generally good with other animals.  Most Bernese Mountain Dogs are quite peaceful with other dogs, and greatly enjoy their company.  This breed is not known for having dominance, territorial, or possessiveness issues.  Because these dogs are so gentle, they can live with dogs of almost any size.  However, as is the case with all dogs, socialization from a young age is very important to ensure that a Bernese Mountain Dog becomes comfortable with other dogs.  As is the case with all breeds, some male Bernese Mountain Dogs, especially intact ones, may develop dog aggression issues, especially with other male dogs.  While this is not a breed trait, any dog aggression is very serious with Bernese Mountain Dogs due to their great size and power.  Bernese Mountain Dogs tend to have a very low prey drive, and are mostly very tolerant of other creatures.  Although all dogs will chase and potentially attack animals with which they are unfamiliar, Bernese Mountain Dogs can be socialized much better than most breeds.  When trained properly, this breed gets along very well with small animals and especially cats.  Their gentle nature means that they are much less likely to harass cats into play, which is greatly appreciated by felines.  Once again, socialization is extremely important as a dog this big and powerful could seriously injure or kill another creature with little effort or even on accident.

 

This breed is considered quite intelligent and very trainable.  Bernese Mountain Dogs have competed with great success at agility and obedience trials.  This dog also excels at pulling competitions.  In recent years, the Bernese Mountain Dog has also developed a reputation as an excellent therapy dog.  For the most part, Bernese Mountain Dogs are quite willing to please.  This breed willingly learns and obeys commands.  Owners who know what they are doing are likely to have a very well-trained Bernese Mountain Dog and for those willing to put in some extra time and effort can have a fabulously trained one.  The Bernese Mountain Dog probably has a somewhat lower training ceiling than breeds such as a German Shepherd or Labrador Retriever though this would probably only be noticeable to those who wants to compete in certain dog events.  Although generally trainable, the Bernese Mountain Dog is poorly suited to many canine events which require great athleticism and speed such as flyball or Frisbee.  Bernese Mountain Dogs generally provide fewer training difficulties than the average dog, but this breed is much more likely to respond to an owner who is fully in charge than one who is not.  Bernese Mountain Dogs respond to a leader, and if an owner is not a leader they will respond considerably less well.  However, this breed is generally submissive and will not actively challenge an owner’s dominance on a regular basis.  Most breed members tend to be sensitive and respond poorly to harsh training methods.  Training regimens involving positive reinforcement and treating work much better with this breed.

 

Although very large in size, the Bernese Mountain Dog has considerably lower exercise requirements than many smaller breeds.  This dog is certainly no couch potato, but is definitely not overly active either.  A family with an average amount of time who is committed to provided regularly exercise for their dog should be able to meet the needs of a Bernese Mountain Dog without much difficulty.  This breed is one that absolutely needs a long daily walk, but will probably be satisfied with one.  Bernese Mountain Dogs, especially puppies, do have bursts of intense energy and can run surprisingly fast for a short distance.  However, this dog does not have great stamina and tends to tire quickly.  When structurally sound, Bernese Mountain Dogs make excellent hiking companions and can walk great distances.  However, they cannot run for very long.  This breed loves to have a yard to play in, but can adapt surprisingly well to apartment life with enough exercise.  Although it is not particularly difficult for owners to get a Bernese Mountain Dog the daily workout it requires, it is very important that they do.  All dogs have an urge to walk, especially the Bernese Mountain Dog.  When this urge is not satisfied, they find other ways to release their energy. 

 

Although the Bernese Mountain Dog does not have a reputation for being destructive, they certainly can be when bored, and a breed this large and powerful can become extremely destructive.  The Bernese Mountain Dog greatly enjoys mental stimulation as well as working for a leader.  This breed loves to perform such activities as running through an agility course or completing obedience training, but especially enjoys pulling carts and weights.  Bernese Mountain Dogs can be extremely playful, especially with children.  Although they will not continue to play for very long, most breed members enjoy brief games of fetch and other canine games.  As one would expect from a breed native to the Swiss Alps, the preferred way for a Bernese Mountain Dog to play is in the snow.

 

Special caution must be taken when allowing a Bernese Mountain Dog to exercise.  Like most deep-chested breeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs are vulnerable to bloat and should not be exercised immediately after eating.  Just as much caution must be taken with young Bernese Mountain Dogs.  Bernese Mountain Dogs take longer to mature than most other breeds, both physically and mentally.  Owners can expect a Bernese Mountain Dog to stay a puppy for at least two and a half years.  This can mean an extra long period of bounciness and rambunctiousness.  What is of most concern is that this breed’s bones develop slowly and too much exercise at too young of an age can result in lifelong disabilities.  Owners of Bernese Mountain Dog puppies must carefully regulate the amount and type of exercise their dogs receive.

 

Grooming Requirements: 

 

Bernese Mountain Dogs require a fair amount of grooming, but not an excessive amount.  This breed needs to have its coat thoroughly groomed several times a week.  This process can take awhile to complete thoroughly due to the size of the dog.  However, unless owners want to shave their dogs to keep them cooler, this breed should never require professional grooming.  Baths are only needed occasionally, but can be quite time consuming.  Although their coats require relatively little maintenance, they do require a great deal of clean up.

 

Bernese Mountain Dogs are very heavy shedders.  This breed will cover your furniture, carpets, and clothes with long hair.  Globs of hair will frequently fall off of them.  More frequent grooming will help reduce shedding, but not necessarily by a noticeable amount.  When the seasons change, the Bernese Mountain Dog will shed even more.  Twice a year, Bernese Mountain Dogs shed a tremendous amount, and will leave a film of hair wherever they go.  If you or a family member suffers from allergies, this is definitely not the ideal breed.  This breed may even be worse suited to neat freaks or those who hate the thought of constantly cleaning up dog hair.

 

Bernese Mountain Dogs should be regularly and carefully exposed to regular dog maintenance activities such as bathing, ear cleaning, teeth brushing, and nail clipping from a very young age.  This is very important.  Although generally easy going and gentle, when a Bernese Mountain Dog is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with something they can be quite difficult to handle.  It is much easier to introduce a 20 pound puppy to nail clipping than it is to hold down a nervous 110 pound adult.

 

Health Issues: 

 

The Bernese Mountain Dog is regarded as a relatively unhealthy breed.  These dogs have a very short life expectancy, and many experience serious health problems before they pass.  Many of these health problems are the result of poor breeding as the dog has become more popular.  Over the past decade, the average life expectancy of a Bernese Mountain Dog in the United States has fallen from 10 to 12 years to 6 to 7.  Health surveys conducted in the United States, Canada, and Denmark have indicated that the breed lives to an average age of 7, while studies in the United Kingdom indicated 8.  Bernese Mountain Dogs from respectable breeders tend to live longer, but still usually pass long before other breeds.  While all giant breeds have shorter lifespans, Bernese Mountain Dogs live an average of one to four years less than other similarly sized dogs.  This breed is exceptionally good-natured and sweet, but owners who acquire one can expect expensive medical bills and a short life span.

 

The biggest problem experienced by Bernese Mountain Dogs is cancer.  This breed suffers from many different forms of cancer.  Cancer is the leading cause of death for almost all dog breeds and for mixed breed dogs as well.  However, cancer is much more prevalent in Bernese Mountain Dogs.  Health studies in the United States and Canada found that more than 50% of breed members died of cancer, compared with 27% of dogs in general.  The BMDCA and many dedicated breeders are working hard with veterinarians to determine the causes of these many cancers but have not yet been successful.  Different types of cancer require different treatments, but most are very costly.  While some cancers can be cured, many are fatal.  As is the case with humans, cancer in dogs is generally a disease of old age.  Unfortunately, this is not the case for the Bernese Mountain Dog.  This breed frequently dies of cancer before the age of eight, often passes by four, and occasionally does not even make it to the age of two.  While Bernese Mountain Dogs suffer from many different types of cancer, some of the most common in the breed include malignant histiocytosis, mast cell tumors, lymphosarcoma, fibrosarcoma, and osteosarcoma.

 

Bernese Mountain Dogs also suffer from a number of skeletal problems.  It has been estimated that this breed is more than three times as likely to develop skeletal problems as the average dog.  Hip and elbow dysplasia are distressingly common among Bernese Mountain Dogs, as is arthritis.  Of even greater concern are growth issues that can be exacerbated by too much exercise at too young of an age.  Most skeletal issues are incurable and can only be treated.  Most of these treatments are time consuming and costly.  As is the case with cancer, skeletal problems strike Bernese Mountain Dogs at much younger ages than is common with other breeds.  Health studies of American and Canadian dogs showed that 11% of Bernese Mountain Dogs developed arthritis before the age of 4½.

 

Major areas of concern for Bernese Mountain Dog owners include:

 

Gastric Torsion/Bloat

Malignant Histiocytosis

Mast Cell Tumors

Lymphosarcoma

Fibrosarcoma

Osteosarcoma

Many Other Forms of Cancer

Hip Dysplasia

Elbow Dysplasia

Arthritis

Skeletal Growth Issues

Rapid Bone Growth

Cruciate Ligament Rupture

Osteochondritis

 

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