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Running with Bernese

The following article by Jennifer Zaayer first appeared in the Alpenhorn


Many people may not think of ‘running’ and Berners in the same sentence. In my experience, with the right dog, and the right circumstances Berners can make ideal running companions. Regular, consistent exercise is one of the most important factors in a long and healthy life.

Running with Berners
Hips & Elbows
Veterinary Glossary
Progressive Retinal Atrophy Report
Health Survey Report
Von Willebrand's Disease

I have been running with my Berner, Dash, who is now over four years old, since he was about 20 months old. We typically run between four and five miles, four to five days/week. My older Berner, Crombie, is still good for a mile or two, and could easily do three miles as a younger dog (he is over nine years old now). I started taking Dash out on short runs of about a mile, gradually working him up to our regular distance as his fitness improved. This process took about a month as he was already quite fit from agility class, playing with other dogs at the park, and swimming and retrieving at the beach. A good, conservative, rule to follow when building up distance, is to increase the distance by 10% per week. This applies equally to humans and dogs!

There are several key factors to running successfully with Berners. These include temperature, access to water and running surface. While I have run for years on pavement with my other dogs, I would not recommend running a Berner more than a mile on concrete or asphalt. With their heavy bone, I believe a hard running surface puts too much stress on their joints, and I’ve noticed that they tire more quickly when running on a harder surface. I run my Berners on the beach or on dirt horse trails. Another important consideration is temperature. While Berners can certainly adapt to a variety of climates, they can also overheat easily. I recommend running early in the morning, or in the cool of the evening most of the year. If the dog is fit and conditioned, they will be able to tolerate warmer temperatures while exercising, but caution should always be used. Since I live in San Diego, California, we rarely see temperatures lower than the mid 40’s, but I wouldn’t run with my dogs if it’s over 70 degrees or so. Alternatively, I will shorten the distance of a run in warmer weather. I always carry a folding nylon water bowl, and stop at the halfway point to give the dogs a good drink. Most of the time, we run at the beach, and Dash can run into the ocean, which keeps him cool for the rest of the run.

While each Berner is an individual, and some are more energetic than others, a regular exercise program will provide health benefits to almost every dog. An improved cardiovascular system will provide stamina in herding, draft, agility, tracking, obedience, even conformation, and is one factor in increased lifespan in both dogs and people. While attending a herding test last year in very hot and humid conditions, the tester commented on Dash’s stamina in working the sheep. I credit his running for this increased stamina. A sound adult Berner in good condition should be able to run a mile or two, at least, a few times a week without a problem. So, if you’re a runner, or are thinking about starting a running program for yourself, why not bring your Berner along? You’ll soon find that you can’t pick up your running shoes without ‘someone’ getting very excited!

Copyright 2001 Jennifer Zaayer
Philip Shaffer,
Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America