Bernese Mountain Dog
Dürrbäch Dog (Dürrbächler), Yellow Cheeks (Gelbbäckler), Four Eyes (Vieräugler)? The former farm dog from the Bernese Oberland goes by many names and nowadays enjoys worldwide popularity as a family dog. Bernese Mountain Dogs treat their families with great warmness, although they would rather be in the great outdoors amongst the cold and snow.
The Bernese Mountain Dog's docile and friendly nature has made it one of the most popular farm dogs across the globe. As a family dog, it shows lifelong loyalty to its loved ones and proves thoroughly loyal and affectionate. Thanks to its high tolerance level, it reacts in a very calm manner to environmental stimuli. Aggressive behaviour is totally alien to this friend of humans.
Despite its innate protective instinct, there's no need to fear attacks from a Bernese Mountain Dog. Indeed, some members of the breed at times even greet intruders with a wag of the tail. The Bernese Mountain Dog is much more popular as a family dog able to interact calmly with small children too. Screaming or rampaging toddlers don't perturb these gentle giants. In fact, they enjoy playing with children and experiencing their loving devotion. Only with males can there sometimes be the possibility of conflict with other male dogs if they feel threatened in their own territory. It can be said that Bernese Mountain Dogs show a certain stubbornness in particular areas, for instance, when refusing to follow commands that make little sense in the dog's view. After all, the Bernese Mountain Dog has great self-confidence and significant intelligence that allows it to challenge some orders. However, temperamental puppies can also easily be taught – with lots of love and a few treats – to be well-trained family dogs that can be motivated to carry out a wide variety of tasks with enthusiasm. Draught dog sports, rescue dog work, tracking searches or training to be therapy dogs are suitable options for these harmonious but tenacious Swiss canines. After a successful basic training and socialisation period, Bernese Mountain Dogs often enjoy more privileges than other pedigree breeds due to their calm, friendly character. They can be taken everywhere without any problems and are also allowed to be let off the leash to run free, since they show no tendencies to hunt or run astray.
Along with their nature, their graceful appearance makes Bernese Mountain Dogs popular and attractive guests. Their tricolour fur is a defining characteristic. Black is the most prominent colour and covers the torso, throat, head and tail like a cloak. The symmetrical white blaze is located on the forehead and extends down to the snout, reaching the corner of the lips at the furthest point. In addition, the white cross on the chest and white paws and tip of the tail are particularly striking. The reddish-brown markings on the cheeks (Yellow Cheeks), legs and at the side of the chest hair offer appealing accents and complement the attractive tricolour fur. The reddish-brown spots under the eyes which lend the Bernese Mountain Dog the name “Four Eyes” are typical of the breed.
In contrast to the other three Swiss Mountain Dog breeds, like the Appenzeller, Great Swiss and Entlebucher, the Bernese Mountain Dog is the only one with long fur, which is generally simple, flat and can be slightly wavy. The abundant fur is soft and shiny and offers these farm dogs reliable protection from snow and the cold. In contrast, this hairy pedigree breed doesn't tolerate the heat well. In midsummer, they should be able to retreat to shady resting places. Strenuous physical activity in the midday sun should be avoided at all costs by these heat-sensitive dogs.
With males ranging from 64 to 70cm in height and females 58 to 66cm, Bernese Mountain Dogs are undoubtedly large-breed dogs. Unfortunately, as family dogs they frequently tend to be overweight due to insufficient exercise and the wrong diet. As with us humans, obesity amongst dogs can also often lead to joint problems and other illnesses. Hence, a slim and healthy male Bernese Mountain Dog should not weigh over 55kg, whilst 45kg is the limit for slightly smaller females.
The bulky body needs to be strong and muscular, without being obese or portly. This appearance describes the ancestors of the Bernese Mountain Dog, which was originally kept as a farm dog in the surroundings of Bern in Switzerland and proved suitable both for towing vehicles and herding cattle. It's unclear from exactly which dogs the tricolour farm dogs originate. It's suspected that Molossers and Mastiffs are amongst their ancestors, which were brought to the Alps by the Romans.
In more precise terms, the story of the Bernese Mountain Dog only commenced at the start of the 20th century and is closely linked to an area called Dürrbach and its local tavern. The guest house's courtyard acted as a meeting point for villagers, travellers and merchants and was the home of these large, tricolour dogs. The earlier name “Dürrbächler” can also be traced back to this region in the canton of Bern, where this pedigree dog was widespread in its infancy. Upon the advice of a Bernese innkeeper, the Dürrbäch Dogs were shown at a canine exhibition for the first time in 1902. Here and at the following exhibitions, interest in these attractive dogs hitherto only known to a few people in Switzerland grew rapidly. In 1907, the Swiss Dürrbach Club was founded in order to lead the pedigree breeding process. Swiss geologist and cynologist Prof. Dr. Albert Heim, who worked on drafting the first breed standard, was behind the suggestion to rename the Dürrbächler as the Bernese Mountain Dog. The reason was supposedly that the new name was catchier and also stressed the relationship with Swiss Mountain Dogs. Thanks to its good physical and social qualities and attractive appearance, the Bernese Mountain Dog soon also enjoyed great popularity beyond Switzerland.
Health and Breeding
As farm and utility dogs that were mainly deployed as draught dogs for itinerant tradesman, as well as guarding farms and herding cattle, characteristics such as will to work, alertness, strength and robust health were initially of utmost importance. When utility dogs gradually ended up out of work due to industrialisation, many were quick to recognise these good-natured and harmonious canines as perfect family dogs. Breeders gave ever greater priority to maintaining benevolent social characteristics and initially bred focusing on aesthetic appeal too. For a short time, these attractive pedigree dogs were considered so-called “fashion dogs”. The consequence came in the form of character faults and hereditary defects caused by uncontrolled mass breeding by irresponsible hobby breeders, who wanted to make a quick buck out of selling attractive family dogs. Thankfully, fans of the original breed type put an end to this period. Health and longevity are once again the determining factors of today's breeding selection. Rules for breeding Bernese Mountain Dogs are strict. In order to reduce hereditary diseases and improve the breed's state of health, breeding values are consulted that take into consideration the parent animals, siblings and other relatives. Nevertheless, Bernese Mountain Dogs still have a low life expectancy of 7 to 10 years. Joint problems (HD and ED), renal diseases and cancer are the most common complaints this pedigree breed has to contend with.
In order to obtain the healthiest possible puppy that will bring you and your family joy for a long time, you as a buyer should definitely go to a serious breeder who gives more importance to the health of their puppies than a “quick buck”. A good breeder will dedicate their heart and soul to their dogs and certainly won't be in it for the money. Diligent breeding pedigree dogs doesn't just take up a lot of time, but also generally costs more than is recouped through selling the puppies.
Luckily there are many Berner Mountain Dog fans that breed these special dogs with passion and consideration. There's no need to worry if you're interested in a puppy, because it's not at all difficult to find good, responsible breeders for this specific breed. They generally breed as part of a registered association and can be contacted through this means. Take your time when choosing a breeder – it's best to visit them and their dogs several times in order to gain an overall impression of their selection. If the first impression holds true and you have a good instinct regarding the site, its cleanliness and family contact, you can go into further detail. It's important that dogs used for breeding are vaccinated and have undergone all recommended health check-ups. What's more, a good breeder will never tout a puppy to you. On the contrary, they will provide you with comprehensive information over the course of Bernese Mountain Dog's life and will get an idea of how their charge will live with you. If they don't think the required conditions to make a success of living together are adequate, they will even advise you against purchasing this pedigree dog if need be.
There are lots of dog accessories to buy before a puppy can move in with you – and an awful lot to think about too. Your dog's diet is something you should definitely give thought to beforehand. Your breeder will be on hand to provide advice and can give you a comprehensive nutrition plan for the first few weeks the puppy lives with you. You should definitely continue to provide the breeder's food they are accustomed to for a while, since it is ideally adapted to the needs of young Mountain Dogs. After all, puppies have different nutrient requirements to adult dogs. When you eventually wish to change the food, you should phase out the standard food very slowly and gradually so that your dog's stomach can get used to the new food.
In order to avoid your Bernese Mountain Dog from becoming overweight and to prevent health problems, you should ensure it follows a balanced and species-appropriate diet, as well as undertaking sufficient exercise. The most suitable food is high in meat content and mixed with lots of fruit and vegetables. You can opt for either dry or wet food. The BARF method has now been established as an alternative to manufactured products and is limited exclusively to raw foods. Proponents of the BARF method emphasise above all the valuable ingredients that still feature in raw meat and vegetables, but which are lost when boiled. If you are unsure which form of nutrition is suitable for your Bernese Mountain Dog, it's best to approach your breeder or vet, who can devise an individual diet plan for your dog. After all, there are many factors that determine what a dog needs. The right diet isn't just affected by breed and sex, but also by weight, age and activity level.
Care and Housing
Along with nutrition, you primarily need to consider how to house your dog in a species-appropriate manner. First of all, large Bernese Mountain Dogs need lots of space, so a house with a garden or even a farm is ideal. These freedom-loving dogs are definitely not suitable for living in city apartments. Consider too that puppies aren't allowed to climb the stairs during the first few months after they are born in order to protect their legs, which are still not fully grown. As a result, an apartment without a lift is entirely out of the question. A ground-level entrance to your home can also be a great advantage at a later date, when your fully-grown dog reaches old age and is longer able to climb the stairs but is too heavy for you to carry.
Bernese Mountain Dogs need lots of exercise and activity. As a owner, you should have the inclination and above all the time to do exercise with your pet. This Swiss pedigree breed really enjoys both long walks with its loved ones and challenging mental activity too. Intelligence toys and training for draught dog sports, rescue or tracking work are good options for these smart canines. However, Bernese Mountain Dogs can only take part in a limited range of dog sports. Sports focusing on speed with abrupt movements, such as agility, are too challenging and unnecessarily taxing for these large, heavy dogs.
Sufficient grooming also contributes to the wellbeing of your Bernese Mountain Dog. The long, smooth fur should be brushed at least two to three times a week in order to avoid felting and maintain shine. During the moulting period, it's best to tackle the fur on a daily basis. In addition, the eyes, ears, claws, pads, skin and teeth should be checked once a day and cleaned if necessary. With these short routine checks, you can also recognise at an early stage potential changes or abscesses that could be a sign of cancer and treat accordingly. Species-appropriate housing and comprehensive grooming don't just make an important contribution to health and wellbeing, but also ensure that you and your Bernese Mountain Dog will have a long, happy life together.