The Bernese Mountain Dog, called in German the Berner Sennenhund, is a large breed of dog, one of the four breeds of Sennenhund-type dogs from the Swiss Alps. The name Sennenhund is derived from the German Senne (“alpine pasture”) and Hund (“dog”), as they accompanied the alpine herders and dairymen called Senn. Berner (or Bernese in English) refers to the area of the breed’s origin, in the canton of Bern in Switzerland. This mountain dog was originally kept as a general farm dog. Large Sennenhunde in the past were also used as draft animals, pulling carts. The breed was officially established in 1907. In 1937, the American Kennel Club recognized it as a member of the Working Group.
Four breeds of Sennenhund The four breeds of Sennenhund, with the original breed name, followed by the most popular English version of the breed name: Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund, Greater Swiss mountain dog Berner Sennenhund, Bernese mountain dog Appenzeller Sennenhund, Appenzeller Entlebucher Sennenhund, Entlebucher mountain dog
Coloring Like the other Sennenhunde, the Bernese mountain dog is a large, heavy dog with a distinctive tri-colored coat, black with white chest and rust colored markings above eyes, sides of mouth, front of legs, and a small amount around the white chest. An ideal of a perfectly marked individual gives the impression of a white horseshoe shape around the nose and a white “Swiss cross” on the chest, when viewed from the front. A “Swiss kiss” is a white mark located typically behind the neck, but may be a part of the neck. A full ring would not meet type standard. The AKC breed standard lists, as disqualifications, blue eye color, and any ground color other than black.
Height and weight ranges Height at the withers is 25–27.5 in (64–70 cm) for males, while it is 23–26 in (58–66 cm) for females. Weight is 85–125 lb (39–57 kg) for males, while it is 80–120 lb (36–54 kg) for females.
Build and proportions The Bernese mountain dog is slightly longer than it is tall, and it is highly muscular.
Other physical traits The head of the Bernese mountain dog is flat on the top with a moderate stop, and the ears are medium sized, triangular, set high, and rounded at the top. The teeth have a scissors bite. The legs of the Bernese are straight and strong, with round, arched toes. The dewclaws of the Bernese are often removed. Its bushy tail is carried low.
The breed standard for the Bernese mountain dog states that dogs should not be “aggressive, anxious or distinctly shy”, but rather should be “good-natured”, “self-assured”, “placid towards strangers”, and “docile”. The temperament of individual dogs may vary, and not all examples of the breed have been bred carefully to follow the standard. All large breed dogs should be well socialized when they are puppies, and given regular training and activities throughout their lives. Bernese are outdoor dogs at heart, though well-behaved in the house; they need activity and exercise, but do not have a great deal of endurance. They can move with amazing bursts of speed for their size when motivated. If they are sound (no problems with their hips, elbows, or other joints), they enjoy hiking and generally stick close to their people. Not being given the adequate amount of exercise may lead to barking and harassing in the Bernese. Bernese mountain dogs are a breed that generally does well with children, as they are very affectionate. They are patient dogs that take well to children climbing over them. Though they have great energy, a Bernese will also be happy with a calm evening. Bernese work well with other pets and around strangers.
History Historically, in some locales at least, the breed was called a Dürrbachhund. The breed was used as an all purpose farm dog for guarding property and to drive dairy cattle long distances from the farm to the alpine pastures. The type was originally called the Dürrbächler, for a small town (Dürrbach) where the large dogs were especially frequent. In the early 1900s, fanciers exhibited the few examples of the large dogs at shows in Berne, and in 1907 a few breeders from the Burgdorf region founded the first breed club, the Schweizerische Dürrbach-Klub, and wrote the first Standard which defined the dogs as a separate breed. By 1910, there were already 107 registered members of the breed. There is a photo of a working Bernese Mountain Dog, dated 1905 at the Fumee Fall rest area in Quinnesec, MI. In the US, the Bernese Mountain Dog is growing in popularity, ranking in 32nd place by the American Kennel Club in 2013.
Cancer is the leading cause of death for dogs in general, but Bernese Mountain Dogs have a much higher rate of fatal cancer than other breeds; in both U.S./Canada and UK surveys, nearly half of Bernese Mountain Dogs die of cancer, compared to about 27% of all dogs. Bernese Mountain Dogs are killed by a multitude of different types of cancer, including malignant histiocytosis, mast cell tumor, lymphosarcoma, fibrosarcoma, and osteosarcoma. A four-year-old Bernese with lymphoma named Dylan was one of the first dogs to receive chemotherapy at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and it was successful. Bernese Mountain Dogs also have an unusually high mortality due to musculoskeletal causes. Arthritis, hip dysplasia, and cruciate ligament rupture were reported as the cause of death in 6% of Bernese Mountain Dogs in the UK study; for comparison, mortality due to musculoskeletal ailments was reported to be less than 2% for pure-bred dogs in general. Several inherited medical problems that a Bernese Mountain Dog may face are malignant histiocytosis, hypomyelinogenesis, progressive retinal atrophy, and possibly cataracts and hypoadrenocorticism. The breed is also prone to histiocytic sarcoma, a cancer of the muscle tissue that is very aggressive, and hereditary eye diseases are common among larger dogs.
Owners of Bernese Mountain Dogs are nearly three times as likely as owners of other breeds to report musculoskeletal problems in their dogs. The most commonly reported musculoskeletal issues are cruciate ligament rupture, arthritis (especially in shoulders and elbows), hip dysplasia, and osteochondritis. The age at onset for musculoskeletal problems is also unusually low. For example, in the U.S./Canada study, 11% of living dogs had arthritis at an average age of 4.3 years. Most other common, non-musculoskeletal morbidity issues strike Berners at rates similar to other breeds. In short, prospective Bernese Mountain Dog owners should be prepared to cope with a large dog that may have mobility problems at a young age. Options to help mobility-impaired dogs may include ramps for car or house access, lifting harnesses and slings, and dog wheelchairs (ex: Walkin` Wheels). Comfortable bedding may help alleviate joint pain.
Life expectancy Compared to breeds of similar size as well as purebred dogs in general, the Bernese is one of the short-lived dog breeds. The average life expectancy of a Bernese Mountain Dog in the United States used to be 10–12 years, but it has decreased significantly to 6–8 years, with the median being 7.2 years. Bernese Mountain Dogs also have a median longevity of around seven years in Denmark and Canada, while in the United Kingdom the median is eight. Most other breeds of a similar size have median longevities of 10–11 years. In a 2004 UK survey, the longest-lived of 394 deceased Bernese Mountain Dogs died at the age of 15.2 years.
The Bernese's calm temperament makes them a natural for pulling small carts or wagons, a task they originally performed in Switzerland. With proper training they enjoy giving children rides in a cart or participating in a parade, such as the Conway, New Hampshire holiday parade. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America offers drafting trials open to all breeds; dogs can earn eight different titles — four as individual dogs (Novice Draft Dog, Advanced Novice Draft Dog, Draft Dog, and Master Draft Dog) and four brace titles, in which two dogs work one cart together. Regional Bernese clubs often offer carting workshops. On July 1, 2010, the Bernese Mountain Dog became eligible to compete in AKC Herding Events. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive herding tests. Berners exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.
Bernese Mountain Dogs shed year-round, and the heaviest shedding is during seasonal changes. Usually the Bernese will only require a brushing once a week, with more in spring and fall, to keep its coat neat and reduce the amount of fur on the floor and furniture. The Bernese will only require a bath about once every couple of months or so, depending on how high its activity level is and how often it spends its time in the dirt. Special attention should be paid to the ears of the Bernese Mountain Dog, as they can trap bacteria, dirt, and liquid. The risk of an ear infection drops with weekly ear cleanings using a veterinarian-recommended cleanser.
Notable Bernese Mountain Dogs
Hercules is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's dog that he brought home from the Emmental region of Switzerland during a 2006 weeklong trip to discover his family's roots in the country. Sasha was a Bernese Mountain Dog that followed a goat off of a cliff and managed to survive the fall as well as three days on an ice shelf waiting for rescue. A Bernese Mountain Dog character named Shep was voiced by Carl Reiner in the 2003 movie Good Boy! The characters Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) in the 2012 TV series The New Normal own a Bernese Mountain Dog named "Smelly". Hola, the titular dog in Martin Kihn's memoir Bad Dog: A Love Story, is a Bernese Mountain Dog. Ohly was a Bernese Mountain Dog who achieved notoriety in Canada after disappearing and then being found on Mount Seymour in a dangerous area known as "Suicide Gulley." Members of North Shore Rescue, a local mountain rescue team, tracked, located and rescued Ohly. Benson was a Bernese Mountain Dog who features in the memoir, The Boy Who Got A Bernese Mountain Dog by Brook Ardon. Benson had a great temperament the breed is famous for, he lived near the beach in New Zealand. Quincey von Wiesmadern, has appeared in various videos with Hansi Hinterseer, an Austrian singer, entertainer and former member of the Austrian Ski Team. Hannah is the real-life inspiration for the protagonist of children's books such as A Beach Day for Hannah and A Snow Day for Hannah by Linda Petrie Bunch. Argus and Fiona were two Bernese mountain dogs that were shot and killed when they entered a neighbor's yard. The neighbor who shot the dogs admits that he was overreacting. A Pennsylvania state law states that humans are free to kill animals attacking domestic animals. The man feared a possible attack on his sheep, who were in their fenced off grazing area. Attacks on a neighbor's farm had taken place and resulted in the death of several animals sometime the previous year, although the type of dog who ruthlessly attacked those animals was not a Bernese. However, since no attack was in progress at the time of the shooting, the shooter was charged with two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of recklessly endangering another person, the latter a result of there being a house within the possible line of fire. There were no residents at home at the time of the shooting. On September 11, 2013, the shooter was convicted on two counts of animal cruelty. He faces up to five years in jail for each count. Various celebrities have owned Berners.