Getting To Know You – Bernese Mountain Dog

According to the American Kennel Club, the Bernese Mountain Dog is “big, powerful, and built for hard work”, it is “also strikingly beautiful and blessed with a sweet, affectionate nature. Berners are generally placid but are always up for a romp with the owner, whom they live to please.”  Before you decide from this description that this is the perfect breed for you, there are other traits to consider; namely their large size.  Berner males stand at 25-27.5 inches and weigh between 80 and 115 pounds.  Berner females measure 23 to 26 inches and are 70 to 95 pounds.  That’s a lot of dog.

The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of four breeds hailing from the Swiss Alps.  Guard-type dogs were bred to Mastiffs, having roots in the Roman Molosser breeds, and Berners were created.  They were then brought to Switzerland by the Romans 2,000 years ago.  The name Bernese refers to the area of the breed’s origin, the canton of Bern.  Berners were originally kept as general farm dogs.  They were used to transport carts of milk and cheese.  They may have also been used to accompany cows to pasture, but not for long distances.  Most Swiss farmers had small numbers of cows, so the dogs were not required to manage large herds.

Like the other members of the four Swiss Alps breeds, Berners are heavy-boned dogs, sturdy and balanced.  They have distinctive tri-colored coats and are the only members of this group with a long coat.  The main color is black, with rust and white markings.  The markings should be symmetrical with rust appearing over both eyes, on the cheeks, on both sides of the chest, on all four legs and beneath the tail. 

Unfortunately, just like many large breeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs have a short life span.  Compared to other breeds of similar size, they are one of the short-lived dog breeds.  It is not uncommon for them to live only 7 to 8 years.  Their main health issue is cancer, with nearly 50% of them succumbing to this disease.  Their cancers include malignant histiocytosis, mast cell tumor, lymphosarcoma, fibrosarcoma and osteosarcoma.  They can also have some inherited medical problems, including cataracts, hypomyelinognesis, hypoadrenocorticism, progressive retinal atrophy, and a few other hereditary eye diseases.  They are also prone to musculoskeletal diseases, arthritis, hip dysplasia, osteochondritis, and cruciate ligament rupture.  

Bernese Mountain Dogs are intelligent dogs. Due to their eagerness to please and intelligence, they are usually easy to train.  Their affectionate nature and openheartedness leads to a breed whose feelings are easily hurt.  It would be unwise to train them with harsh training methods or too many corrections.  

The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America reminds us that “those fanciers who wish to have conformation dogs or obedience or draft or agility or tracking or herding dogs would be wise to heed the heritage of the breed and mind that this is not a breed of any one specific sport but is a Swiss farmer’s companion.”

For more information on this sweet and affectionate breed, to find a breeder or your nearest breed-specific rescue, visit the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America –