Bernese Mountain Dogs
This good-looking Swiss farm dog takes his name from the canton of Bern. Berners helped farmers by pulling carts, driving livestock to fields or market, and serving as watchdogs. These days, the Berner is primarily a family companion or show dog, beloved for his calm and patient temperament.
He has many good qualities, but the number of potentially serious health problems that can affect the breed as well as his heartbreakingly short lifespan may give you pause. If you want a Bernese Mountain Dog, be prepared to do a lot of homework to find him and put in plenty of effort training and socializing him once you bring him home.
Is the Bernese Mountain Dog the Right Dog for You?
When he has been appropriately socialized and trained, the adult Bernese Mountain Dog is easygoing and tolerant. He doesn’t reach maturity until he’s 3 or 4 years old, though, and his long puppyhood definitely has its trying moments. Puppies are highly active, mouthy and rambunctious, so adopting an adult Bernese may be a better decision for a family with young children. Berners are likely to get along with other pets if they are brought up with them, but some members of the breed have a stronger prey drive than others.
Because of their heritage as a working breed, Bernese Mountain Dogs tend to be cautious, and that caution can tip over into shyness. Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent them from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Bernese puppy only from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people. Continue socializing your Berner by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.
This is a large breed. A Berner puppy certainly looks snuggly and manageable, but he will quickly reach his adult weight of 70 to 120 pounds. Begin training as soon as you bring your Bernese puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. The Berner wants to please his family—if he respects them. Teach your puppy to look to you for guidance, and be patient. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards.
Like any dog, Berner puppies are inveterate chewers and because of their size can do a whole lot of damage. They are prone to ingesting items such as socks and dish towels, resulting in veterinary visits or even surgery for intestinal blockages.
The Berner has moderate exercise needs. In general, plan to give him a walk of at least a half hour daily, plus several shorter trips outdoors throughout the day. Berners are individuals, so the amount of exercise they desire can vary.
To keep your Bernese Mountain Dog’s mind and body active and healthy, involve him in dog sports. Depending on the individual dog’s build and temperament, Berners can excel in activities such as agility, drafting (pulling a cart or wagon), herding, competitive obedience, rally or tracking.
Organized sports not your thing? Take your Berner hiking. He can carry his own water and treats in a canine backpack. Bernese also make excellent therapy dogs, having a gentle, mellow temperament as well as the perfect height for standing at a bedside.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Bernese Mountain Dogs love their families, especially children, and will pine without human companionship. They should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, the Berner should be with them.
Bernese Mountain Dogs have a thick, moderately long double coat that can be straight or slightly wavy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this coat sheds heavily, but frequent brushing will help to keep loose hair under control. Clean the ears and trim the nails as needed, and bathe the Berner when he’s dirty to keep his tricolor coat gleaming.
Most Berners are considered to have a dry mouth, meaning they don’t drool, but that’s not true of all of them. A Berner with tight, or close-fitting, lips is less likely to drool than one with loose or hanging lips.
Because the puppies are extremely appealing, be on the lookout for puppy millers and irresponsible breeders. They'll be very happy to cash your check or run your charge card, but not so happy to answer your questions about health testing and temperament in their dogs. Buying a Berner from a reputable breeder can take several months or even a year or more, but the wait is well worth it to get a happy, healthy specimen of this breed.
5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy
- Start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America, which maintains a referral list of breeders. Choose one who follows the club's code of conduct, which outline the responsibilities of its member breeders to the dogs they produce and the people who buy them.
- Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Bernese Mountain Dogs aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an adult dog, most of them can be ruled out. Be aware that the typical Bernese life span is only seven years, although a few live to be 10 or older.
- Puppy or adult, take your Berner to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, and in particular to watch out for the early signs of diabetes and skin problems, including ear infections.
- Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you’ll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
- Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Health Issues Common to Bernese Mountain Dogs
All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Bernese Mountain Dogs have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, eye diseases and heart disease. Not every Berner will get all or even any of these conditions, but knowing about them beforehand will help you in your search for a breeder.
Ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have hip and elbow scores of Excellent, Good or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or OVC or PennHIP scores; an OFA cardiac clearance; certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy; and an AKC DNA profile.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Unfortunately, there is no genetic testing for the cancers that claim many of these dogs, often as young as 4 years of age. No line of Berner is exempt from this sadness, and any owner of a Bernese Mountain Dog is urged to take every sign of illness and every lump, bump and lameness seriously. Early veterinary intervention can extend a high-quality life for these dogs.
Pet Insurance for Bernese Mountain Dogs
Pet insurance for Bernese Mountain Dogs costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Bernese Mountain Dogs are slightly more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are preexisting) to which Bernese Mountain Dogs are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Bernese Mountain Dogs is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.