Bernese Mountain Dog Temperament and Personality
Potential dog owners looking for a large but family friendly dog should take a good look at the Bernese Mountain Dog. Originating from the Swiss farms, this dog has a strong historical foundation with an unmistakable zest for life and intelligence that allows for easy training.
Known as “Berners”, the Bernese Mountain Dog is a good breed for novice dog owners who enjoy an active lifestyle. They’re intelligent dogs who love being part of a family. They adapt well to children, as well as other pets, although their large size means that supervision is necessary during the first few months of their introduction to the family. Note that this breed can be quite talkative – they like to bark and howl as a way to communicate to their owners.
Berners also thrive best in the company of others. If you are thinking of getting a Berner, it’s important that you are able to spend a large portion of the time by their side. This is why Berners are often family dogs – so that they’ll always have someone by their side during the day. However, the breed will do well with another dog or pet as their companion, making sure that proper introduction and training has been done to keep the pets friendly with each other.
Classified as a working dog, the male Bernese stands around 25 to 28 inches on average. Measurement starts from the paws up to the shoulders. Females, on the other hand, measure around 23 to 26 inches.
As for weight, the male Bernese can be anywhere from 80 to 115 pounds. The female is around 70 to 95 pounds.
Generally, large dog breeds have a shorter life span than small dog breeds. In the case of the Bernese Mountain dog, this breed usually lives around 6 to 8 years. With proper care, these dogs will remain happy and moderately active through their latter years.
Intelligent and alert, the Bernese Mountain Dog is a family-friendly breed. They’re calm and tolerant, often affectionate and gentle to little children. Although not aggressive, it’s important for owners to train them early so that they’ll learn proper behavior. Note that while the breed grows up quickly in size, it takes some time for their mental maturity to catch up.
Generally shy, the Bernese Mountain won’t immediately take up to strangers. Instead, they will prefer to stick close to family members, sometimes even displaying protective tendencies towards their charges. Owners who intend to bring their dog to public events should expose the dog to others as early as possible. Socialization should begin as soon as the puppy has had all his shots and therefore, protected from the preventable health risks for canines.
The Bernese Mountain Dog was originally bred for farm work, making exercise an important part of its routine. They’re used to daily exercises spanning at least 30 minutes each day. These dogs will enjoy the outdoors and can easily be brought to camping, hiking, and backpacking activities. In the farm, they once had the job of pulling carts full of produce. Nowadays, the Bernese Mountain will happily pull carts with children in tow – or perhaps a cart full of groceries. In dog shows and sports, the breed often participates in drafting and carting competitions. They also do well in herding and agility competitions because of their background in the farming industry.
The breed matches best with active owners who will take them out for long walks and exercises. However, they still make great indoor dogs because when given enough workouts in the day, the Bernese Mountain is content to sit back and spend the rest of the time lounging indoors. The breed can be prone to weight gain and misbehavior if not enough exercise is given.
Berners are intelligent, but can be a bit stubborn. It’s important for owners to train them as early as possible, especially when it comes to obedience and socialization. Since they grow quickly into big dogs, they need to be taught immediately how to be gentle, and how to play with other animals or children that are much smaller than them. Toilet training is fairly easy for the puppy, especially with the use of positive reinforcement. They can also learn tricks quickly if a clicker is used together with moderate amounts of treats.
As with all dogs, training for the Berner should be done in short, quick bursts instead of prolonged minutes. As puppies, their attention span is very short, so training for 5 minutes multiple times a day will yield the best results. Note that when training Berners, it is best to do so after they’ve had their exercise, so as to make them more receptive instead of playfully energetic.
The Bernese Mountain dog hails from the Swiss farms, developing as crosses of several farm dog breeds in the Swiss Alps. There are actually four Swiss Sennehund breeds, the Berner Sennehund being one of them. They played an important role in farming communities, working to pull carts, stand watch, and accompany livestock across the plains for more than 2,000 years.
As the Swiss population switched to industrial pursuits around the year 1888, the need for farm dogs like the Berner dwindled. Fortunately, interest began anew around the year 1899 with the foundation of the dog club called Berna. However, it was a few years later in 1902 that an international dog show introduced the different kinds of “shepherd dog” to the public. This was the first time that these mountain dogs were called “Bernese” which later on evolved into Bernese Mountain dogs. During the same year, the Swiss Kennel Club recognized this breed, and added it to their roster of known dog breeds.
It took some time, but the breed was eventually imported in England and then in the United States. While there was a slight interruption because of World War II, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America was founded in 1968. The Club became a member of the American Kennel Club in 1981 and in 1990, the AKC adopted Bernese Mountain Dog standards that are still being used today.
Bernese Mountain Health Problems
Irresponsible breeding can sometimes lead to health problems in Berners. People contemplating getting this breed will need to be aware of possible complications as well as how to minimize or prevent them from occurring in the dog. Here are some of the likely health issues with this breed:
Hip or Elbow Dysplasia
This is a genetic condition that can become worse as the dog ages. While it can happen to all dogs – the active nature of the Bernese Mountain Dog can contribute to this health problem. Dysplasia occurs when the bone doesn’t fit well into the joint socket. Combined with arthritis, dysplasia can be seen through an x-ray of the dog. Lameness and evident pain when walking are some of the external symptoms of this condition. Note though that some dogs may not show obvious signs of the problem. A good diet, moderate amounts of exercise, and routine checks can help prevent or minimize the negative impact of this health problem. Once it occurs, other treatments include the use of different drugs, weight management, surgery, and medical management.
Digestive Issues – Bloat
More specifically, the Bernese Mountain Dog can suffer from Gastric Torsion or what is more commonly called as “bloat”. This is a health problem that’s common in large and deep-chested dogs like the Bernese Mountain. The condition usually occurs due to a number of factors. For example, the dog may be fed a large meal, made to drink lots of water afterwards, and then made to exercise heavily. When all of these things occur within a small space of time, the stomach becomes distended with air. This interrupts the flow of blood to the heart, thereby causing blood pressure to drop rapidly. Common symptoms of bloat are:
- Retching without being able to vomit anything
- Rapid heart rate
- Excessive saliva production
Bloat is a serious condition that can cause death in dogs. Hence, it’s important to bring the pooch to the vet as soon as possible when these symptoms occur.
Since the dog is so large, most owners think they also need to be fed constantly. Unfortunately, this should not be the case. Bernese Mountain dogs need a high-protein but low-calorie diet because they are prone to being overweight. They also grow quickly, thereby making it important to have control over their portion sizes. Dog owners should take care to ensure that the breed maintains a healthy weight at all times, especially since they can also be prone to joint problems. As with humans, being overweight can worsen joint problems, and lead to early on-set arthritis.
Berners can also be prone to allergies, often due to pollen, dust, mold, or certain types of food. In dogs however, allergies do not cause them to sneeze. Instead, they exhibit skin problems that can lead to excessive itchiness. Symptoms include constant feet licking and washing of the face. The ears, feet, and belly are often the first parts of the body that show signs of allergies. Fortunately, there are medications that can be taken to help with this problem.
All dogs can suffer from cancer, and Bernese Mountain dogs are no exception. Cancer in this breed usually occurs with symptoms such as abnormal swelling, sores that don’t heal, difficulty with breathing, problems eliminating, and bleeding from body openings. As with humans, treatment for cancer includes chemotherapy, surgery, and some medications.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
This is a health problem that affects the eyes. Dogs with this problem gradually lose their vision, starting with some night blindness before extending to daytime vision loss. Unfortunately, this is a degenerative disease, and no treatment really helps once it sets in. Fortunately, dogs rely mainly on their sense of smell when navigating their environment. Hence, the gradual decrease of eyesight actually works well in their favor as they get used to their surroundings.
Von Willebrand’s Disease
This is a genetic problem that occurs in both dogs and humans. It is characterized by a blood disorder that makes clotting difficult. Common symptoms of the condition are:
- Bleeding gums
- Prolonged bleeding of wounds
- Prolonged bleeding after whelping
- Prolonged bleeding during heat cycles
- Blood in the stool
While the condition has no cure, there are treatments that can help dog owners manage the disease better. Blood transfusion, suturing injuries, and avoiding specific medications can help limit the impact of this disease. Decreasing the likelihood of surgeries and wounds can also prevent the possibility of excessive blood loss. Bernese Mountain dogs will start to exhibit the symptoms around 3 to 5 years of age.
This is a condition characterized by an abnormality in the blood vessels leading to the liver. In essence, the blood does not pass through the liver, which is the organ responsible for cleaning the blood. Hence, no detoxification happens – leaving the pooch vulnerable to multiple day to day problems. Symptoms include low blood sugar, lack of appetite, neurobehavioral abnormalities, urinary tract problems, stunted growth, gastrointestinal issues, and drug intolerance. The best way to solve this issue is by undergoing surgery.
Also known as “Pano”, this condition shows up around 5 to 12 months of the dog’s age. It is characterized by lameness wherein the dog may limp first on one leg, then on the other one. The limp will be on and off, leaving dogs owners confused about the cause of the condition. If you see the dog doing this often and they seem to live an active lifestyle, then the limping itself may be triggered by some injury during a vigorous run.
In either case, the best treatment for this condition is to simply keep the dog fed with healthy food. Limiting the calcium and protein in their diet can also help. Note that Panosteitis cannot be self-diagnosed since limiting protein intake for dogs without this condition could be dangerous. Hence, make sure to seek veterinary help for the problem first.
Bernese Mountain dogs can also suffer from genetic epilepsy, which results to frequent seizures. If your dog has this condition, the first symptoms will usually occur between 6 months to 3 years of age. Medication is often given to treat the condition, which needs to be taken during the dog’s lifetime. Dog owners are advised to pay close attention to the frequency of the seizure and the length of each one. When it comes to dogs, owners are discouraged from controlling their mouth or tongue during an episode as this can lead to a pretty nasty bite. Instead, bring the dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
How to Care for Bernese Mountain
Bernese Mountain dogs are energetic dogs that would thrive well in homes that have sufficient running space to drain their energy. As much as possible, these dogs should not live an apartment or condo lifestyle as they will need sufficient time and space to burn off their excess energy. Of course, if their owners give them enough time each day for exercise – such as a 30-minute walk outdoors – then Berners can happily settle in an apartment or condo life.
Thanks to their thick coat, Berners have no problem living in cold weather. In fact, this breed enjoys the snow and can play on it for hours without feeling the cold. During the hot weather however, it’s important to be vigilant when brushing or grooming the dog so as to prevent matting. This will help the dog maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the summer months. Heat stroke is a possibility for this breed, so keep their workouts contained during the cooler time of the day. This could be in the early morning or just before nighttime. When indoors, the dog will feel best when in front of a fan or air conditioning.
While this dog was bred for farm life, they should not be made to do strenuous activities until they’re at least two years of age. Coercing the pup to jump high areas or pull heavy loads can hamper the development of their joints. This will make the dog more prone to arthritis as his age advances.
Nutrition and Feeding for Bernese Mountain
Large and active breeds, the Berner needs high quality dog food with lots of protein in proper portion sizes. If you are using commercial dog food, make sure to offer it in the suggested portion. Ideally, Berner food bowls should also be specially configured to prevent them from inhaling their food or eating it too quickly. This is crucial because Berners are prone to bloat. Never feed a Berner right before a vigorous exercise as this can increase the chances of bloat in the dog. If you intend to feed them homemade food, make sure to consult the veterinarian with respect to ingredients and portion sizes.
Treats are an important part of the training process, but make sure to offer it in moderate amounts. With their big appetite, these dogs can easily gain weight – especially if there is insufficient exercise. Hence, it’s important to maintain portion control for their meals and occasional treats.
Since the breed is sensitive to heat, it’s important to always have fresh water for the dog. Give them easy access to a water bowl at all times of the day. When taking the dog out for a walk, it’s important that dog owners also have ready water to give them, especially during the summer months.
Coat Color and Grooming
The breed has a wooly undercoat and a long overcoat, allowing them to maintain a comfortable temperature during the winter and summer months. Heavy shedding occurs twice a year, but be prepared to have moderate amounts of shedding throughout the year. Brushing the Berner’s hair twice or three times a week should help maintain their coat while preventing the accumulation of fur on different parts of the house. Consistent shedding should also remove any dirt or grime that can stick on their coat. The breed should be given a bath once every few months or when it becomes necessary. As with other dogs – giving them a bath too often can actually damage the skin.
The Bernese Mountain coat is best handled with a metal comb or a slicker brush in smooth and measured strokes. Regular nail trimming is encouraged to prevent injury such as pulled nails or damaged skin. Almost all dog breeds are wary of having someone clip their nails – which is why it’s important to train them as early as possible. Dog nails have nerve endings on them, which can bleed if the nails are clipped too close.
Bernese Mountain dogs typically have a tricolored coat composed of black, white, and rusty colored shade. The markings are more or less standard with the dog having a white patch of coat on the chest area that looks like an upside down cross. You will also notice a strip of white bisecting the eyes and the tip of the tail.
Keeping the teeth clean is also important, especially if you feed the breed wet dog food. Tartar can build up along the teeth, making it more prone to damage. Regular brushes – at least two times a week, should help remove the buildup and keep the dog’s teeth clean. There are also dog toys today that can help keep canine teeth clean.
The ears and eyes also deserve attention from owners of Bernese Mountain dogs. The ears can be cleaned with a q-tip, focusing primarily on the outside of the ears. Owners are discouraged from poking the inside of the dog’s ears as this may cause damage to the inner ear. Tear stains may also appear on the dog. This can be easily removed with a wet cloth. Do not let the tear stains harden on the coat as it would be difficult to remove.
Children and Other Pets
The Bernese Mountain is a family dog, easily adaptable to households with children and others pets. They’re gentle and affectionate, but it’s important to note that the size difference can be a problem during playtime. Berners have to be taught on how to play gently with other pets and children since a single bump can already be painful for small children.
On the other hand, children should also be taught how to properly handle a Berner, making sure that there are no coats pulled or skin pinched. Keep in mind that any breed will bite if they are threatened or hurt in any way. Hence, adults should always be present when children and Berners are playing together so as to assure that neither one can hurt the other. Children should also be taught NOT to approach dogs while they are eating or sleeping.
Bernese Mountain dogs are wonderfully attractive, which is why many people would like to own one. Unfortunately, very few know exactly what it entails to be responsible for this large and active canine. If you are thinking about owning a Berner, it’s crucial to first understand the many needs of the breed. There are also groups today dedicated towards rescuing Bernese Mountain dogs, fostering them, and eventually delivering them to owners who are more prepared to care for them. Currently, there are many Berners available for adoption through the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America.
The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America is the premiere breed organization associated with the Berners. In there, you can find out more about the breed and the people who protect, adopt, train, and foster them.
More About This Breed
Please keep in mind that each dog has their own unique personality. Thus, some Bernese Mountain Dogs may have characteristics that are unique to them. For more information about this breed, contact other Berner dog owners or organizations that keep the breed protected.