Copyright 1994, Philip Shaffer, last update May 8, 1998, email@example.com.
The name Bernese Mountain Dog is a rough translation of the German "Berner Sennenhund," which literally means Bernese Alpine Herdsman's Dog. The breed's original name was Durrbachler, after an inn where these farm dogs were bought and sold. The modern breed was developed from dogs found in the countryside around Bern, Switzerland and is only one of several Swiss breeds. The original Berner Sennenhund was an all-around farm dog, used to guard the farm, drive the cows to and from their mountain pastures, and pull carts loaded with milk cans to the dairy; modern Berners retain some, although not necessarily all, of these instincts. The breed was rescued from near extinction by Professor Albert Heim around the turn of the century and has developed slowly since then. In 1948 there was a significant outcrossing to a Newfoundland dog, with a resulting improvement in temperament and increase in size.
Berners are known to have first come to America in 1926, and possibly even earlier, but the breed was not recognized by the AKC even after intervention by the Swiss Kennel Club. A decade later, two more were imported from Switzerland; these dogs became the first of the breed to be registered with the AKC, in 1937. By the 1960s, a small group of loyal Berner owners and breeders was developing in the United States. During 1994 there were 1594 Berners registered with the AKC, making the breed the 68th most popular out of 137 AKC-recognized breeds. The breed's popularity has been rising steadily and is now at the point where "backyard breeding" is a problem.
Hip and elbow dysplasias are common conditions in Bernese Mountain Dogs. These are structural defects in the joints that can cause mild to crippling arthritis.
Cancers are a serious problem in the Bernese. An ongoing study of these diseases in the breed, sponsored by the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America, indicates the following:
A tumor registry has been established which is continuing to collect and analyze tissue samples from affected dogs. It is hoped that additional data will enable researchers to reach further conclusions about the incidence and heritability of other types of cancer in the Bernese Mountain Dog. In addition The (GDC) has established a registry for histiocytosis and mastocytoma since these are known to be inherited.
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a hereditary eye disease that causes blindness. PRA is a relatively new problem for Bernese and a cause of great concern among breeders and owners. The BMDCA established a PRA task force in 1997 to guide the club's efforts in eliminating this disease. For now only the contentious efforts of knowledgeable breeders can PRA from spreading throughout the population. The following facts are known:
Coming from a working background, Berners enjoy the challenges of learning new things. Most Berners are eager to please their owners and can be trained quite readily in a variety of areas. Because of the breed's eventual large size, it is to the owner's advantage to begin obedience training (household manners and basic obedience commands) at a young age. However, since Berners as a breed are slow to mature, both physically and mentally, owners should not push puppies in training too rapidly; these dogs are definitely not obedience "child prodigies." The training of a Berner puppy requires firmness, consistency, and lots of patience, and is most successfully accomplished with many brief, fun training sessions. Despite their large size, the majority of Berners are "soft" dogs and do not do well with harsh corrections. To avoid the possibility of orthopedic injury, a Berner should not be asked to jump or pull loads before the age of two.
A hundred years ago, Bernese Mountain Dogs worked at guarding the farm, herding cattle, and hauling milk cans to the dairy. The guarding ability is greatly diminished these days (although Berners still make good watch dogs), but the herding instinct and draft capabilities remain intact in many dogs. Although at this time Berners are not permitted to compete in AKC herding events, the majority of Bernese will pass a herding instinct certification test, and some owners actively train their dogs in this area. Berners are eligible to compete in trials offered by the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) and the American Herding Breed Association. However, it is draft work that receives the most attention The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America, the national breed club, offers two titles in draft work: NDD (Novice Draft Dog) and DD (Draft Dog). The trials for these titles require a dog to demonstrate both control of the cart and strength and endurance to pull a load. Many Berners participate in AKC obedience and tracking tests, as well as agility competition. They have also been quite successful as therapy dogs and, to a limited extent, as search and rescue dogs.
The national breed club in the United States is the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA). There are also clubs in Canada, many European nations, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other countries. On the local level, there are over 20 regional breed clubs located in various parts of the United States. These clubs sponsor a variety of social and educational activities for Berner fanciers. New Berner owners, as well as people considering the purchase of a Berner, are welcome to attend these events. See the clubs page for a list.
There are currently four informative breed books available in English. The Cochrane and Simonds books focus on the breed in England; the Russ and Rogers book along with the Smith book deal primarily with the breed in the United States. The Ludwig book provides a brief introduction to all four of the Swiss mountain dogs. The German language book is the most complete reference available. For those interested in draft work the Powell book is excellent. Many dog books and videos are available from the Direct Book Service at P.O. Box 2778 Wenatchee, WA 98807-2778, 800-776-2665, firstname.lastname@example.org
Baertschi, M.& Spengler, H: Hunde sehen, zuechten, erleben - Das Buch vom Berner Sennenhund, Haupt, Bern und Stuttgart, 1992
Cochrane, Diana. The Bernese Mountain Dog, Diana Cochrane, Westgrove House, Haselor Hill Nr. Alcester, Warwickshire B49 6ND, Great Britain (1987)
Ludwig, Gerd. The Bernese and Other Mountain Dogs, Barrons (1995)
Powell, Consie. Newfoundland Draft Work - a Guide for Training. Consie and Roger Powell, Ottawa Newfoundlands, 5208 Olive Road, Raleigh, NC 27606
Russ, Diane, and Rogers, Shirle. The Beautiful Bernese Mountain Dogs, Alpine Publications, P.O. Box 7027, Loveland, CO 80537 (1993)
Simonds, Jude. The Complete Bernese Mountain Dog, Howell Book House, 866 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022 (1989)
Smith, Sharon. The New Bernese Mountain Dog, Howell Book House, 866 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022 (1995)
The Alpenhorn and The Bulletin are each published six times a year, in alternate months, by the BMDCA The Alpenhorn is a magazine containing articles on all aspects of the breed: showing, breeding, training, health issues, etc. The Bulletin is a companion newsletter to the The Alpenhorn containing national and regional club news reports, correspondence, recent titles earned, club minutes, etc.
The Illustrated Standard of the Bernese Mountain Dog. This version of the official standard includes pictures, illustrations and commentary to help both novice and expert better understand and interpret the AKC standard. It is available from the BMDCA.
The Bernese Mountain Dog video is part of the AKC video series. Like the illustrated standard it includes graphics and commentary to make the standard more understandable. It is available from the AKC store.
Deciding that you want a Berner and have what it takes to be a responsible owner is only the first step in a lifelong commitment. Finding a good pup is hard work and can take many months or even years, however, the effort is worth it when you find a healthy, sound , good natured dog. Link to the Purchasing a Berner page for more detailed information on what to look for and how to go about your search.
For every breed recognized by the AKC, there is a breed standard which defines the ideal dog of that breed, physically and temperamentally. The standard is written by the parent club for the breed - in this case, the BMDCA. Because the breed club in each country where Berners are recognized--Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, etc.-- formulates its own standard, there may be some minor difference between the AKC standard and the standard in other countries.