I fell in love with the look of a Bernese Mountain Dog – a large, sturdy dog with a thick, moderately long coat with distinctive tricolor markings; a dog of gentle appearance, many with a soft but intelligent expression. But it was the Berner temperament that sealed the deal. This is a breed who loves to be with its people – whether just hanging out together, going on walks or learning new tricks. A Berner wants to be a major part of its family – not “just a dog,”
Most adult Berners are moderately active. Due to their substantial build, Bernese Mountain Dogs may not make the best jogging partners but they can be conditioned to enjoy long hikes. Puppies can be much more hyper – but also need to be exercised with care. Young dogs need shorter walks – the stress of long walks can be hard on their growing joints, and since they want to please you, they will do their best to keep up.
As long as you don’t mind frequent vacuuming, Berners are very easy to live with! Yes, they do shed – in fact, it may seem like they are always shedding! But then, you will learn the difference between “blowing coat” and every day shedding… “blowing coat” is shedding on steroids! To look and feel their best, regular grooming is a must. I recommend a full bath/blow-dry every 2-3 months or more often if needed. My show dogs are often bathed weekly – and their coats look and feel amazing! It is very important to blow dry the coat, instead of bathing and letting the coat air dry. Fortunately, there are many “do-it-yourself” dog wash facilities available; they also provide blow dryers (you don’t really want to use a hair dryer intended for people). Or, you can have your dog professionally groomed. Most show dog owners buy their own grooming equipment, including tubs and high-powered blow dryers. If you give your Bernese Mountain Dog a bath/blow-dry at least 4 times a year, you will prevent the undercoat from matting, and minimize the trauma of “blowing coat."
There is a tendency to think of Bernese Mountain Dogs as “big Golden Retrievers in a tricolor suit.” This is not a fair representation of the breed. For one, most Berners are definitely not natural retrievers (as those of us who compete in AKC obedience are painfully aware of). More importantly, most Berners are simply not “everyone’s friend” – many need some time to warm up to strangers. Many Berners also will have a favorite person; a few will simply tolerate the other family members, many are more willing to spread the love but you will still know who their favorite is. So I hesitate to describe the BMD as the “perfect family dog” although I think most Berners can be trained and socialized to be fine members of a large human family.
Please note that most Bernese Mountain Dogs benefit from continued, structured socialization activities for the first 2 years of their lives. Socialization means exposing your dog to different people, different environments, different situations, different dogs…on a regular basis, until they are mature adult dogs. It means showing your dog that all these new experiences are nothing to fear. If your Berner only lives in your house and your backyard, and only interacts with your family, it can easily be intimidated when it goes outside of that familiar world. This breed does have some “guardian” tendencies – which will translate to being suspicious of the unknown. So it is your job to teach your Berner to be less suspicious – you teach your dog to trust your instincts.
Many years ago I decided I would rather spend 7 years with a Bernese Mountain Dog than 15 years with a different breed of dog. The sad fact is that the average lifespan of a Bernese Mountain Dog is 7-8 years old. We celebrate when they reach double digits – because so many never reach their 10th birthday. So before you proceed with more research on the breed, consider if you can live with this risk. Some Berners do make it to 10 and beyond. We are always optimistic – it is hard to predict longevity, as I have owned long-lived Berners from short-lived parents, and sadly the offspring of two long-lived parents may not live as long as expected. My Berners have taught me to celebrate every day.
The above are some of my personal observations and opinions about the Bernese Mountain Dog breed. Below, I will direct you to other important sources of information on Bernese Mountain Dogs. With so many wonderful sources of information available, there is no reason for me to reinvent the wheel.
In Colorado, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of the Rockies is an excellent source of information and also holds meetings (often combined with educational presentations), a regional specialty show, and draft tests. BMDCR also has a Rescue Committee, and does Breeder Referral. Please check out the website www.bmdcr.org. If you own a BMD and live in this area, please consider joining the BMDCR. Pet owners are welcome!!! We have several fun annual social activities, such as Berner Noel in December and Berner Fiesta in the summer (open to non-members, as are all club meetings).
The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America has an amazing website www.bmdca.org with just about everything you would want to know about this breed. This website is a true labor of love created by dedicated fanciers of the breed. It is a statement about how much the dedicated Berner community cares about this breed. For those new to the breed, there is a link at the top of the home page – About Bernese – click on this, and then check out the Info Series, Health, Puppies, Breed Standard, etc. There is also a great list of books on the breed.
The Berner-Garde database www.bernergarde.org is another major source of information. Click here for my brief Berner-Garde tutorial to get you started. Berner-Garde is an amazing resource. You can look up a Bernese Mountain Dog breeder name, for example, and find out how dedicated they are to the future of the breed - breeders who don't enter their litters in Berner-Garde are not demonstrating much dedication.
Related to Berner-Garde, but not BMD-specific, are the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website www.offa.org and the associated Canine Health Information Center. Both of these links provide information on recommended health testing. Check out the recommended health screening for BMDs at this CHIC link. Starting with my Kiva (born in 2005) all of my personal Bernese Mountain Dogs have obtained their CHIC numbers, whether they were bred or not - still working on the requirements for my two youngest. It is important to remember that CHIC is not about normalcy, it is about encouraging health testing and open sharing of all results, to improve canine health and reduce incidence of genetic disease. Click here to see an example of a CHIC listing for one of my dogs.
Pat Long has never bred a litter, but she has owned Bernese Mountain Dogs and has been a dedicated supporter of the breed since the 1980’s. Her website is a must for the puppy buyer: www.bmdinfo.org