Complete Guide To The Bernese Mountain Dog: Care, Grooming, Feeding and More

Bernese Mountain Dogs, or Berners, are one four Swiss Mountain Dogs and the only variety with a long coat. Sturdy and loyal, they epitomize the rugged regions they once worked and the generous nature of the people they served. You’ll find no worthier companion.

How Big Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Get?

Male25.5″- 27.5″ at the shoulder80-115 lbs
Female23″ – 26″ at the shoulder70-95 lbs

What Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Look Like?

Broad-backed with a powerful chest and muscular shoulders, they stand rugged and self-confident but with a tender expression guaranteed to melt your heart. Males and females have uniquely masculine or feminine features.

Their tri-colored coat is long and thick and straight or slightly waved. The primary color is black with symmetrical splashes of rust and white over their face, chest and lower legs. Oval eyes are dark brown with tight lids — a distinguishing characteristic that sets them apart from the larger, haw-eyed St. Bernard for which they’re often mistaken.

What Is The Personality Of a Bernese Mountain Dog?

Bernese Mountain Dogs have an easy-going temperament. Eager to please, they’re gentle, nurturing pets and affectionate family dogs sought after for their endless patience with children. Protective but not aggressive, they thrive on human companionship.

Exercise is a must for these dynamic dogs, but they’re not fussy. Bred to herd, they excel at tracking and enjoy games that stimulate their intelligence, but a brisk walk suits them just fine. Highly responsive to training, they love the outdoors but will be happy in any home as long as they get enough activity and attention.

What Are The Grooming Requirements For A Bernese Mountain Dog?

Resembling wooly mammoths, it’s not surprising that Bernese Mountain Dogs are champion shedders. Their thick, double coats drop hair year-round and seasonally — keep a vacuum handy in the spring and fall. But the good news is — regular grooming keeps it controlled, and it’s easy to do at home.

Daily brushing with a slicker is ideal for removing dead hair. Weekly grooming with a steel comb that reaches down to the skin thins the undercoat and discourages matting. Hair near the ears and tail is prone to tangles and needs special attention.

Bernese Mountain Dogs are heavy and hard on their feet — overgrown nails can cause discomfort and even joint pain over time. Activity wears them down naturally, but check them weekly and trim them with a clipper or an emery board.

Frequent baths aren’t necessary unless their coat is soiled — overbathing can cause dryness and worsen shedding. But an occasional trip to the tub can mitigate hair loss and make routine grooming less time-consuming.

What Are The Exercise Needs Of A Bernese Mountain Dog?

These are active, powerful dogs. They love to play and romp. Although they also enjoy a long cuddle at the end of the day, the Bernese Mountain Dog is a dog that has to be exercised vigorously.

Activities That I Recommend With This Breed:

  • Walking
  • Hiking (both walking and hiking can be done with your dog also wearing a weighted pack; the weight in the pack will help to tire your dog out faster; don’t do this if your dog has any orthopedic issues)
  • Swimming
  • Agility Training
  • Dog Parks

This is a breed that loves cold weather so exercising outside in winter is a must. Also, as this dog originated as a cart puller, you may want to look into how to incorporate this activity in your Berner’s life. The national breed club calls it Drafting and has a great overview of the sport here.

What Is The Best Food For A Bernese Mountain Dog?

Personally I believe that most foods are fine for most dogs. Some dogs may not do well on some foods. However, as a rule I don’t blanket-prohibit any dietary ingredient from any breed at this time.

Best Puppy Food For Bernese Mountain Dogs:

Best Adult Food For Bernese Mountain Dogs:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

How Long Do Bernese Mountain Dog Live?

7-10 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Conditions Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Have?

As beautiful and awesome Berners are, they have some very serious health risks that any potential owner should know about. Based on information from the Canine Health Information Center as well as my own personal experience, the following health conditions are the most common:

  • Cancer (and a wide variety of types)
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Arthritis in these joints as they get older
  • ACL Tears
  • Obesity
  • Hypothyroidism

I once attended a lecture where the Veterinary Oncologist that was speaking recommended that the Berner breeders import new dogs and start over with the breed. That’s how ingrained cancer was in the genetics of the current standard.

You can always question any breeder about potential issues with cancer in their lines, but I’d really emphasize the lines of the grandparent dogs for any particular litter. The parents may not be old enough to have developed any issues yet.

Not too long ago I had a client who bred her female Berner with a stud dog. The litter of 5, with the exception of one puppy who moved with his family to Texas, remained patients of ours with other families. When these dogs turned 5 years old, every single one of them developed some type of cancer within 6 months of each other. There were two osteosarcomas, one lymphoma, and one bladder cancer patient. Sadly all the puppies passed away within a few years and then after they were gone the mother dog developed hemangiosarcoma and died within a few months of diagnosis.

This cautionary tale isn’t shared to scare you away from the breed. Rather, you need to do some due diligence of the breeder to see the health of their lines, including older dogs who are no longer being bred. Also, check to see if any breeder you are talking to has diversified their breeding stock in recent years by bringing in new dogs from outside the United States.

Where Can I Find Out More About Bernese Mountain Dogs?

Bernese Dog Club of America

AKC Breed Page

There is a large network of regional breed clubs for the Berner to get more info about the dogs in your area.

Where Can I Find a Bernese Mountain Dog?

Breeder Referral From The Bernese Dog Club of America

AKC Puppy Marketplace

Looking for a Rescue? The national club keeps a list of regional rescues for Berners that you will want to start with.

Interesting Facts About Bernese Mountain Dogs

Bernese Mountain Dogs are less a familiar breed, so here are some fun facts to help you warm up to these endearing and enduring giants.

• You Can Thank Them For Chocolate and Cheese

Bernese Mountain Dogs were instrumental in the development of the Swiss chocolate and cheese industries, driving dairy cattle over the vast mountainous region.

Berners Ancestors Hail From Rome

Bernese Mountain Dogs are the result of Roman Mastiffs breeding with native Swiss herding dogs more than 2000 years ago when Rome invaded Switzerland.

The Sennun–who?

Americans know the name Bernese Mountain Dog, but in Europe, they’re called the Berner Sennenhund — senne, meaning “alpine pasture, and hund, meaning “hound.”

• They Were Almost Lost to Mechanized Farming

Bernese Mountain Dogs nearly disappeared in the late 1800s as technology usurped their role on farms and ranches. We can appreciate them today thanks to the efforts of Swiss geologist and dog-fancier, Professor Albert Heim, who started a club in 1907 dedicated to preserving the breed. They were recognized by the AKC in 1937 as a member of the Working Group.

• They Pull Their Own Weight and More

Bernese Mountain Dogs once worked as draft dogs, hauling cheese to local Swiss markets. Canine-drawn carts were a necessity in the Alps because of narrow roads and rough terrain. Berners can pull a thousand pounds — more than five times their average weight — a skill they use today on farms and in carting competitions.

• Berners Are Celebrity Favorites

Famous owners of the breed include actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, Star War’s star Mark Harmon, Friend’s Courtney Cox and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Irish President Michael Higgins owns two — Brod and Shadow.

• They Don’t Drool

Berners bear a passing resemblance to the St. Bernard, but that’s where the similarity ends. Bernese Mountain Dogs don’t have droopy eyelids, and you don’t have to follow them with a mop.

They Have a Need for Speed

Berners’ movements are often described as lumbering, but they can turn on a dime, and their strong legs can reach lightning speeds when they’re motivated. Although they find it hard to compete with more athletic breeds in agility trials, they love to try and are surprisingly capable.

Berners Are Catching On

Berners lagged in popularity in the US until the start of the 21rst century, ranking a dismal 32nd on the AKC’s list of most popular breed for 2013. But what a difference a decade makes. Bernese Mountain Dogs are now 22nd and climbing.

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