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Side view of a Berner dog in a yellow field

Bernese Mountain Dog History: Berner Dog Breed Facts

The Bernese Mountain Dog is named for the glorious Alpine mountains and valleys of the Swiss Canton of Bern, where the breed lived for centuries as an indispensable farm dog, watchdog, and family guardian. Big and strong enough to move herds of cattle up steep mountainsides to their summer pastures and gentle enough to enjoy a quiet evening at home, the affectionate "Berner" breed remains the perfect companion for many families today.

The more people know these dogs, the more they love them, and the Bernese Mountain Dog is gaining popularity. You can recognize one by its great size, sturdy frame, shaggy black coat, rust-colored eyebrows and cheeks, and soft white shirt that ideally forms a "Swiss Cross" resembling the one on Switzerland's national flag.

Big Dog Bliss

Although their build and coloring slightly resemble the German Rottweiler, Bernese Mountain Dogs are gentle giants whose temperaments more closely resemble their distant cousin, Saint Bernard dogs. They are kind to their friends and polite to strangers. As born shepherds, however, they make effective guard dogs, and their size and big bark provide powerful deterrents against intruders.

Historical Roles Of The Bernese Mountain Dog

You may think of Bernese Mountain Dogs as adorable, lovable pooches (especially since they're also charming as puppies!). However, they're much more than just your average friendly family pet. They have a long history of being hardworking and versatile farm dogs.

Herding - These large dogs were initially bred to herd cattle, sheep, and other livestock in the Swiss mountains. This means these four-legged friends are known to be intelligent and naturally herding animals.

Carting - Bernese Mountain Dogs were also used to pull carts full of goods or people along roads or fields. Some Bernese Mountain Dogs even went so far as to pull carts full of wounded soldiers during World War I!

Guarding - Not only did the Bernese Mountain Dog carry things around, but they also fulfilled an essential role as guardians of the flock. They would stay alert and alert the farmer of intruders while the livestock grazed peacefully nearby.

So the next time you find yourself cuddling up with a Bernese Mountain Dog, remember that this pup has quite a history behind it!

Dog Breed History

panting Berner dog in green field

Berners are one of four breeds in a group called Swiss Mountain Dogs, or Sennenhund. All four have a history of Alpine herding and have the same handsome black fur and tri-colored markings, though the Bernese has the longest coat.

The Swiss Mountain Dog breeds trace their ancestry back to Molossers, a group of dog breeds that, according to legend, are descended from Zeus's great dog Laelaps, who lives in the sky forever as the constellation Canis Major.

Back From The Brink Of Extinction

The industrial revolution, new farming techniques, and improved transportation in the mid-19th century opened the hidden valleys of Switzerland to imports that included other dog breeds and took away their livelihood.

By the end of the century, their numbers were so depleted that it took a determined search to locate the last breed found in Durrbach, in the Swiss Canton of Bern. These first-generation dogs were called Durrbachlers until Dr. Albert Heim of Zurich gave them their current name.

Arrival In America

The Bernese Mountain Dog breed first arrived in the US with a Kansas farmer named Isaac Scheiss in 1926, but the breed wasn't recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until 1937.

Since then, the breed standards, rankings, and other official facts have changed slightly. However, they are now proudly listed on the AKC website as "aristocratic in appearance and ancient in lineage."

Best In Show

The AKC ranks the Bernese Mountain Dog as the 22nd most popular breed from its long list of recognized dog breeds. In their Bernese Mountain Dog facts list, these beautiful dogs are described as calm, good-natured, and strong.

Bernese Mountain Heroes

Generations of protecting cattle in the Swiss Alps have made these dogs a natural for saving anyone in trouble. When a California couple was caught in a riptide in 2015, a Bernese Mountain Dog named Nico, who'd recently been rescued from a shelter, jumped into the dangerous water to bring them back to shore. 

Make Mine A Draft...

In their native Switzerland, Bernese Mountain Dogs were often used to pull carts of milk cans, farm produce, or even passengers, and this skill is remembered in the many draft competitions and workshops hosted by the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA). Parade teams can be found worldwide, where these dogs pull beautifully decorated carts full of flowers and flags to celebrate their heritage.

...And Make It Strong

One of the more amazing Bernese Mountain Dog facts is that these 100-pound dogs can pull a whopping 1,000 pounds. That's ten times their weight. That's also strong enough to pull you out of your burning home: ask Canadian Berner named Bella. She's now in Toronto's Purina Animal Hall of Fame.

Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Bark Too Much?

Berner dog fetching stick in park

While their intelligence makes them great companions, it can also leave them prone to boredom if they're not given enough to do with regular playtimes, training, and long walks. Barking and chewing can become problems if they're left alone too long or bored. Their size and strength make those barking and chewing problems a real challenge if left unchecked. 

Good Things Come In Threes

Bernese Mountain Dog puppies are slow to mature and don't truly reach adulthood until they're almost four years old. If you take one home, be prepared for an extra year or two of high-energy exuberance, goofiness, and hardcore chewing.

Due to their long puppyhood and short lifespans, the Swiss have a saying about the most heartbreaking fact of this working dog breed's life: "Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, and three years an old dog...all else is a gift from God."

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Why do Bernese Mountain Dogs have a short lifespan?

Due to their large breed size and double coat, this dog breed is prone to joint issues, cancer, and other medical conditions that can decrease their lifespan. Keeping up with regular veterinary visits can help prevent many of these issues from becoming a problem.

What are Bernese Mountain Dogs known for?

Their loyalty and intelligence make this breed perfect family pets and reliable working companions. Bernese Mountain Dogs are also well-known for being great therapy dogs, with an innate ability to calm you down during stress or illness.

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs good apartment dogs?

Bernese Mountain Dogs need plenty of outdoor space to stretch their legs and release energy. For this reason, they are best suited to larger homes or acreage where they can romp in the backyard or go on regular walks with the family.

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