The Bernese Mountain Dog, affectionately called the Berner (and known as the Berner Sennenhund in his Swiss homeland), is instantly recognizable with his flashy, tricolor coat and white “Swiss cross” on his chest. Underneath that beautiful coat is a sturdy dog well suited for heavy work: These beautiful, gentle dogs have been traditionally used in Switzerland as herders and draft dogs.
The Berner was originally a vital part of farm life, serving to drive cattle, protect his family, and pull carts loaded with goods to sell at nearby villages. Although he’s a good-mannered, hard worker, he nearly became extinct in the early 20th century, when other means of transportation became accessible to farmers. Fortunately, a handful of fanciers sought to preserve the breed.
In addition to being strikingly good-looking, the Berner has a wonderful temperament. He is known for being loyal, affectionate, eager to please, and intelligent. He’s easy to train, if you allow him time to analyze what you want him to do. Most of all, he has a happy-go-lucky attitude about life.
The Berner is calm but gregarious, and sometimes even a little goofy when he plays with his family. He does well with children of all ages and with adults, but he isn’t a good choice for people who live in apartments or don’t have a large, fenced yard for him to play in. The Berner needs to live with his family, rather than be relegated to an outdoor kennel. He’s happiest when he can participate in all family activities.
Since he was bred to be a working dog, the Berner likes to learn and can be easily trained. Since he is very large — about 100 pounds — when mature, early obedience training and socialization are recommended. Prospective owners should know that the Berner is slow to mature, both physically and mentally; he may remain puppyish for some time. Additionally, the Berner is known to have a “soft” personality; his feelings are easily hurt and he doesn’t respond well to harsh corrections.
Despite his beauty and excellent temperament — or perhaps because of these qualities — Berners are struggling to survive today. The breed has a small gene pool, which has resulted in numerous health problems related to inbreeding. As more people find out about the breed, many dogs with health problems are being bred with little or no regard to the effect this has on the breed as a whole. Those considering a Bernese Mountain Dog must be very careful to buy a puppy only from a reputable breeder.
Berners have numerous health problems due to their small genetic foundation, and perhaps due to other reasons yet undiscovered. Currently, the life span of a Bernese Mountain Dog is comparatively short, about six to eight years.
Because of the Berner’s popularity, some people have bred dogs of lesser quality in order to sell the puppies to unsuspecting buyers. Be especially careful about importing dogs from foreign countries that have few laws governing kennel conditions. Often these dogs are bought at auction and little is known about their health history.
Veterinary care can be costly because of the health problems in the breed.
Berners shed profusely, especially in the spring and fall. If shedding drives you crazy, this may not be the right breed for you.
The Berner likes to be with his family. He’s likely to develop annoying behavior problems, such as barking, digging, or chewing, if he’s isolated from people and their activities.
When Berners are mature, they are large dogs who like to have a job to do. For those reasons, it’s wise — and fun — to begin obedience training early.
Although they’re very gentle with children, Berners sometimes accidentally knock over a small child or toddler.
To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.