Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Guide: History, Care Tips

by Richard Walther, DVM
Pawlicy Advisor
Pet Care Blog
Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Guide
Is a Bernese Mountain Dog the right choice for you and your family? Learn more about this breed, including physical traits, temperament, care requirements, history, and more.

Bernese Mountain Dogs, also known as Berners, originated in the Swiss Alps. They are easily recognized by their adorable gentle faces and a long-haired, tri-colored, silky coat. Originally bred as cold weather farm dogs, these smart and loyal pups love to spend time with their owners. Berners are hardworking and obedient dogs who are eager to please but they also show high energy levels.

Could this be the right dog for you? Learn more about living with a Bernese Mountain Dog to make the best decision for your family.

Table of Contents

Pro Tip: The Bernese Mountain Dog is a unique breed with a unique set of health needs. The best way to ensure your Berner gets the treatment necessary when it matters most is to sign up for pet insurance.

Bernese Mountain Dog breed history

The Bernese Mountain Dog originated in and around the city of Berne in Switzerland. Originally, it was bred as a general-purpose farm dog that acted as a property guard, watchdog, and carting dog.

The Berner is one of four related tricolored Swiss mountain dogs, along with the Appenzeller, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. All these breeds feature the same three colors, but only the Bernese has the signature long coat.

After World War I, the first Bernese Mountain Dogs were brought to the Netherlands and then to the United States shortly thereafter — although they were not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until 1981.

puppy bernese mountain dog

Bernese Mountain Dog characteristics

Physical appearance

Berners are large, strong, and sturdy to accomodate the work they were bred for. The average weight of a Bernese Mountain Dog is 50 to 70 pounds for males and 45 to 65 pounds for females. Males reach from 25 to 27.5 inches in height, or or between 23 and 26 inches for females. Both have muscular bodies and are usually longer than they are tall.

These dogs are known for their long, thick, tri-colored coats that are typically black with mark of brown and white.

Temperament and personality

The Bernese Mountain Dog’s temperament is steady and easygoing. According to the American Temperament Test Society (ATTS), 86.60% of the tested Bernese Mountain Dogs passed the Temperament Test.

These working dogs enjoy learning new things and love having a job to do. They are also alert and have natural instincts to guard, which makes them good watchdogs.

Berners are calm, gentle, and patient, which makes them a great pet for families. They can be protective of their owners and somewhat aloof with strangers but aren’t usually aggressive. Proper socialization from an early age will make sure that your Bernese is patient with other children and other pets.

Average lifespan

According to the AKC, the average lifespan of the Bernese Mountain Dog is between seven and 10 years, which is shorter than the average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. Although large dog breeds do not tend to live as long as smaller ones, Bernese Mountain Dogs have one of the shortest life expectancies among all breeds, along with Great Danes, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, and the shortest lifespan of any breed.

The best way to increase your Berner’s life expectancy, or at least improve the quality of the years you have with him, is with proper exercise, diet, and care.

Bernese Mountain Dog care tips

Training and exercise

Bernese Mountain Dogs are very intelligent and eager to please, so they’re easy to train. They are also affectionate and quite sensitive. It is very easy to hurt their feelings and, therefore, they will respond better to positive training and rewards rather than harsh corrections. Berners love spending time with their family. If left alone for long periods of time, they might develop undesirable behaviors.

Obedience training and early socialization are important for all breeds, but large dogs like the Bernese Mountain Dog, in particular, can really benefit from it. However, it should be noted that Berners are slow to mature both mentally and physically and shouldn’t be pushed into training too quickly.

These big dogs are rather low-energy but that doesn’t mean they should spend the entire day lazing around. Berners need at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day in order to stay fit and healthy. They love spending time outdoors and make great companions on hikes or long walks. Many members of the breed participate in carting and drafting competitions, as well as other canine sports such as rally, agility, obedience, tracking, and herding.

Diet and nutrition

As a general rule, a healthy Bernese dog will eat from three to six cups of good quality food per day, preferably divided into two meals.

Like all large breed puppies, Berners benefit from special diets that promote slow growth in order to prevent the development of joint issues. In addition, owners should keep an eye on their pet’s weight and ensure to feed measured meals at scheduled times. Free feeding should be avoided as it can contribute to hip dysplasia and other health problems such as diabetes.

Work with your vet to determine the best type and amount of food for your pet.

Grooming requirements

The coat of the Bernese is thick and long and requires weekly brushing in order to remain clean and prevent matting. Grooming is recommended every two weeks.

Most Berners shed moderately throughout the entire year, with more profuse shedding during the shedding season twice a year. During this time, daily brushing is recommended to remove loose hair from the outer coat and keep your pet looking their best.

Living with a Bernese Mountain Dog

Because of their thick coats, Bernese Mountain Dogs are best suited for colder climates. They also like having space to explore, so a securely fenced yard is recommended.

The Bernese Mountain Dog is ideal for experienced pet parents who can provide open space, match the dog’s energy, and dedicate time and effort to training. A well-trained Bernese makes a great companion that will adore the whole family. These lovable dogs thrive on human companionship and will be happiest as house dogs.

Berners, especially when they’re young, can assert themselves as being dominant or can be aggressive toward other male dogs.

Some members of the breed, those with massive heads and loose lips in particular, tend to drool especially after drinking and eating.

bernese mountain dog size

Common Bernese Mountain Dog health problems

Some health problems in dogs are more prevalent in certain breeds than others. Berners, with their small gene pool, are prone to inheriting certain genetic health issues, including:

  • Cancer. Bernese Mountain Dogs have a high incidence of cancer, which is the main cause for their short lifespan, The most common cancer types affecting the breed include bone, lymph, and muscle cancer.
  • Von Willebrand’s Disease. This is a blood disorder affecting the clotting process. Common symptoms include bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
  • Hip dysplasia is a condition that results in the loosening of the hip joint, causing pain and dysfunction. The breed is also prone to dysplasia of the elbow joint.
  • Bloating (gastric dilatation-volvulus complex) is a condition that happens when gas accumulates in the stomach, causing it to twist. Gastric torsion requires emergency surgery.
  • Eye diseases, including progressive retinal atrophy, where the retina degenerates and can result in loss of vision, and cataracts, where the lens of the eye clouds and affects vision.

Pro Tip: Choosing the right insurance provider for your dog’s unique needs is very important from the start. We make it easy to compare plans for Bernese Mountain Dog pet insurance so you can easily meet the health requirements of your pet without breaking your budget.

Adopting or buying a Bernese Mountain Dog

If you are looking to buy a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy from a breeder, consider getting in touch with the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA). The club will provide you with a list of reputable breeders or refer you to regional club rescue groups.

Remember that hundreds of great dogs need loving homes, including adorable Berners in shelters, so think about rescuing a Bernese Mountain Dog instead. If you are interested in similar breeds, check out the Saint Bernard, Newfoundland, and Great Pyrenees.

Key Takeaways

  • Bernese Mountain Dogs are beloved for their calm, gentle, easygoing temperament and their devotion to their owners, including children.
  • Because of the water-resistant double coat, Berners are best suited for colder climates. These pups are quiet but don’t thrive in an apartment environment. They love having space to explore and require regular walks. Bernese Mountain Dogs make perfect companions for outdoor activities and can even pull children around in carts. They also do well in activities such as herding, tracking, and agility.
  • Like other dog breeds, Berners are prone to certain health conditions, including cancer, hip dysplasia, bloating, cataracts, etc.

Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Petco

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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