Bernese Mountain Dogs
Bernese Mountain Dogs were originally used on Swiss farms to herd livestock and to protect the homestead. Because of their cute appearance and friendly nature these dogs have also now become popular family dogs. Are you thinking about bringing a Bernese puppy into your home?
Here you can learn everything you need to know about this delightful dog breed.
The Bernese Mountain Dog’s Appearance
Bernese dogs were originally kept on farms, and this is not surprising because they are big dogs and could be used for many different tasks. Their main job was to herd cattle but they were also often used to pull a cart. Their imposing size was also useful in deterring unwanted visitors.
Adult male Bernese dogs stand between 60 and 70 cm at the shoulder, while females measure between 55 and 65 cm. On average, these dogs weigh between 45 and 65 kilograms. Clearly this breed is not suitable if you have a small home because they need enough space to move around.
The Bernese has a very thick coat with a natural glossy sheen. The breed owes its thick coat to the extreme cold conditions in the Swiss Alps - protection which they generally don’t need in the UK. We’ll discuss this further in the section on caring for Bernese dogs.
The Bernese’s coat is mainly black with white or rust coloured markings on their chest, legs, stomach, tail and face. One of the most distinctive features of this dog breed is the two brown stripes above their eyes which look like eyebrows. This gives the dog's face an amusing, slightly surprised expression.
Character traits of Bernese dogs
These dogs have a number of characteristic personality traits of which the main one is that they have a stubborn streak. The reason for this is that they often worked independently and, as a result, they developed a will of their own.
You should be aware of this from day one when you bring a Bernese puppy into your home. Big dogs, in particular, should learn to obey from a young age. A big disobedient dog could be downright unpleasant.
Furthermore, Bernese Mountain Dogs are known for being an intelligent breed. So their training is fairly easy but, on the other hand, they tend to get bored very quickly. Therefore, during training you should make sure that you provide them with enough rewards. Bernese puppies also need more than the usual amount of attention and distraction.
In addition to these significant character traits, Bernese dogs are also recognised as being very friendly and sociable. This makes them suitable for a family with young children, because the dog is always happy to play.
Keep in mind, though, that a Bernese Mountain Dog becomes so attached to the family that you can't leave them alone for too long. Before considering this breed, think carefully about how many hours in the day someone will be at home. Generally, you should not leave these dogs alone for more than three hours at a time.
The ideal environment for a Bernese Mountain Dog
Before you buy a Bernese, you should think carefully about whether your household is able to provide them with the ideal environment. In particular, you have enough time and be prepared to keep the dog occupied all the time.
This does not just mean that you need to walk them often. You also have to challenge them mentally by, for example, playing games. While walking, you can stimulate your dog by taking toys along and you also need to have a variety of different and challenging toys at home.
Most importantly, you need enough space at home - not only because your Bernese is a big dog but also because this breed needs a lot of freedom. By nature, they are used to being outdoors in the yard. So a house with a large garden is ideal. However, this does not mean that you can leave your dog outside all day. Because they are so sociable they want to be inside when the rest of the family is indoors.
While the breed gets along well with children, they can be quite domineering towards other dogs. Keep in mind that the Bernese likes to be the star of your household and could see other pets as competition. But if you really want several pets, it is possible to get a Bernese puppy used to living with a cat from an early age.
Raising a Bernese puppy
A Bernese Mountain Dog is a puppy up to the age of 1 year. Until then, you should not overdo their activities as they need their energy to grow. Preferably you should take them for short walks 6 to 8 times a day, for 10 minutes at a time.
Always keep an eye on your puppy's behaviour when you are out walking or playing. If they lie down it means that they have had enough. Don’t force them to do anything more at this point - let your dog rest until they decide to get up and going again.
Until the Bernese puppy is 1 year of age they should not be allowed to climb stairs or walk on the beach. Also be mindful of any slippery surfaces. Your dog's joints are not yet fully developed and unstable surfaces can lead to injuries or abnormal development.
We've already mentioned that it's important for Bernese dogs to learn obedience from a young age. Fortunately this isn't very difficult, as they are intelligent and eager to learn. As with any puppy it is much better to reward a Bernese for good behaviour than to punish them when they do something wrong. The reward does not always have to be a treat, dogs also respond well to a hug and praise.
Patience is very important during puppy training. Trying to do too much at once can have the opposite effect from what you are trying to achieve. Always be consistent in your training because this helps your puppy to understand exactly what you expect from them.
Grooming your Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese breed has a beautiful coat but you should take into account that they do shed a lot of hair. You can expect to find your clothes, sofa and curtains covered in hair in no time. You can manage this by brushing your dog well at least twice a week, but you will never be able to completely prevent dog hair throughout your home. Consider this before buying a Bernese puppy.
As with any long-haired dog, you should also give particular attention to brushing well in spots where the hair tends to get tangled. Think of the armpits, under their tail, their neck and chest. Also don’t forget to regularly trim the hair between your dog’s pads so that they can walk comfortably.
Your Bernese Mountain Dog can get very hot during summer because of their thick coat and will not always be able to cool down effectively. Comb their undercoat well when it’s hot and make sure that they have a cool spot where they can lie down - like a cold stone floor indoors or outside in the shade.
You should clean your dog’s ears at least once a week with a damp cloth. Bernese dogs are particularly prone to ear infections, which could be very painful.
You should also check regularly that their nails are not getting too long. When dogs walk on hard surfaces often, their nails wear down automatically. However, if they mostly walk on surfaces like grass and carpets their nails will need regular clipping.
Also check your dog’s eyes at least once a week and, if necessary, remove any dry debris with a clean cotton cloth or some tissue paper.
Feeding a Bernese Mountain Dog
Many people believe that big dogs also have to eat a lot, but this is not the case with Bernese dogs. This breed is prone to putting on too much weight and which could result in a number of health problems. Every excess kilo that the dog carries places stress on their joints. If you feel that your dog has gained too much weight, you should pay careful attention to how much they are being fed.
Bernese Mountain Dogs love to eat and they can be clever in trying to make you believe that they haven't had enough. It is better to offer several small meals during the day than to feed a single large meal once a day.
This breed also benefits from a fixed feeding schedule, where you feed them at the same times every day. This will help your dog to get used to when they will be fed and quickly put a stop to whining and begging.
When it comes to nutrition, always consider the amount of exercise your dog is getting. Obviously, a very active dog will need more food as they are burning more calories. The Yarrah website has nutritional advice on the product page for each type of Yarrah organic dog food. All you need to do is enter your dog’s activity level and weight. For example, a 50 kg active dog needs 819 grams of dry food daily.
Finally, make sure that your dog always has access to enough fresh drinking water. This is especially important for your Bernese as the breed is susceptible to kidney problems. Make water available in several places during the summer to ensure that your dog will have enough to drink and also doesn’t have to walk too far for a cooling drink.
General health and lifespan of Bernese dogs
The average lifespan of Bernese Mountain dogs is only 7 years, which is short even when compared to other big dog breeds. These dogs are prone to several cancers and about 25% of them will die from this condition. Visit your vet if you notice that your dog has lost their appetite, becomes very lethargic or suddenly loses a lot of weight.
Gastric torsion also has an above average incidence in this breed. In this condition, there is a kink in the intestines so that the food can no longer move along and becomes compacted. Eventually this could cause a rupture in the bowels. This is why you should not walk your dog straight after a meal. Wait for at least an hour, allowing your dog to lie down while digesting their meal.