The Bergamasco, from Italy, is a sheepdog with a corded or matted coat. He is a large dog, weighing 59 to 82 pounds, and his heavily matted coat comes in all shades of gray and, rarely, solid black. These days, the Bergamasco is primarily a family companion or show dog, although some still have plenty of herding instinct and will use it if given the opportunity. He has many good qualities, but because of his independent nature and coat care requirements, he is not the easiest dog to live with. If you want the smart, energetic dog that is the Bergamasco at his best, be prepared to do a lot of homework to find him and put in plenty of effort training and socializing him.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Bergamasco is gentle with his family, but never forget that his first job is to protect his flock --in this case his family. He is alert, always ready to bark an alarm or to step in and protect you if he feels it's necessary. These are great qualities, but it's essential to teach him from puppyhood when it's okay to exercise his protective nature and when to let you take charge. Early socialization and training are a necessary part of his upbringing to prevent him from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different.

Purchase a Bergamasco puppy 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, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Bergamasco throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses. Flock-guarding breeds tend to be suspicious of anyone or anything new or different, so it's important for them to have many types of experiences and to meet a variety of people so they don't become fearful or aggressive when they encounter something unusual.

Begin training as soon as you bring your Bergamasco puppy home. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards, and be patient. The Bergamasco will respond to kind, firm, consistent training, but he can be independent and self-sufficient. If you want a dog that will always obey you without question, the Bergamasco is probably not the right choice.

The Bergamasco will accept strangers once he has been introduced to them. He is a kind and protective companion for children but should always be supervised when kids are playing around him. If he is raised with them, he gets along well with other pets.

Like any dog, Bergamasco puppies are inveterate chewers. Don't give them the run of the house until they've reached trustworthy maturity. And keep your Bergamasco puppy busy with training, play and socialization experiences; a bored puppy is a destructive puppy.

If you have a yard, do not rely on an underground electronic fence to keep a Bergamasco contained. The shock it provides is nothing to this tough dog, and he won't let it deter him from leaving the yard if that's what he wants to do.

A Bergamasco needs daily exercise in the form of a moderate to long walk or active play time. He can be a good competitor in dog sports such as agility, obedience and rally.

While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Bergamascos are devoted to their people. They should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, the Bergamasco should be with them.

Caring for the Bergamasco's coat is not necessarily difficult, but it does call for some specific techniques. Ask the breeder to show you how to care for the coat. Trimming the hair around the mouth and cleaning the dog's face after meals is one way to help reduce odor. Clean the ears and trim the nails as needed, and brush the teeth to prevent periodontal disease.

Health Issues Common to Bergamasco

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.

That said, Bergamascos have a reputation for being healthy in general. No specific diseases are said to be associated with them. Because they are so rare, popularity and overbreeding have yet to take a toll on their health, but it's a good idea to ask breeders about the incidence of hip dysplasia, eye problems and gastric torsion, or bloat.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Very Low $1,500-$6,000
Bloat Very Low $1,500-$7,500

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Bergamasco Puppy

Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. A list of breeders can be found on the websites of the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Bergamascos aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Bergamasco can live to be 13 to 15 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Bergamasco 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.

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.

Pet Insurance for Bergamascos

Pet insurance for Bergamascos costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Bergamascos are slightly more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat. Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are preexisting) to which Bergamascos are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Bergamasco 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.