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Origins of the Breed
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.