Bernese Mountain Dog

November 7, 2022 - 10 min read
Bernese

Vital stats

  • Breed type: Working
  • Size: 22 - 30 inches
  • Weight: 66 - 119 pounds
  • Lifespan: 6 - 10 years

Personality

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  • Trainability

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  • Exercise needs

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  • Good with kids

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  • Levels of shedding

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  • Good for new owners

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Combining a sweet and affectionate nature with a powerful, hard-working ethic, the Bernese Mountain Dog is always eager to please and loves the challenge of learning new things. Originally bred to herd cattle, pull carts to transport woven goods, and be watchdogs, the breed can be traced back 2,000 years to when the Romans invaded Switzerland. These Roman Mastiff dogs were then likely bred with flock-guarding dogs who could withstand the severe weather in the Alps, producing the Bernese breed that we know and love today. Their history in the US began in 1937, when they were first recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club.

There aren’t many breeds with a greater predisposition for friendliness, so they’re sure to get on well with their family, other dogs, and even strangers!

Find out everything there is to know about this working breed with our in-depth guide.

Bernese Mountain Dog popularity

Bernese Mountain Dogs’ kind temperament has made them a hit amongst many famous celebrities, with stars like Courtney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Hilary Duff choosing them as loyal companions.

These gentle giants aren’t only popular amongst Hollywood’s stars; in a 2021 survey by The American Kennel Club, Bernese Mountain Dogs came in as the 20th most popular breed out of the recognized 197.

With their insulating coats and origins as outdoor dogs, they are easily suited to farm and rural areas and cooler states in America.

Bernese Mountain Dog training

Bernese Mountain Dogs — also known as Berners — live to please their owners. With their keen learning ability, intelligence and gentle temperament, they’re one of the easier breeds to train; however, they can be sensitive, especially to harsh corrections or teaching methods, so positive reinforcement training is best for a Berner.

When properly introduced, Berners are great with other pets and farm animals due to their working background in Switzerland. However, one exception to this is chickens. From puppies, Berners should be taught that chickens aren’t prey if they’re going to be living and working on a farm.

Breed bad habits

Berners are naturally cautious, which can sometimes result in excessive shyness. While this isn’t so much of an issue, they can sometimes focus this shyness on certain types of people, such as tall women or men with beards. To prevent shyness in your Berner, they need lots of socialization as a puppy, so their cautiousness doesn’t result in timidness.

Bernese Mountain Dogs also need a great deal of attention and companionship and don’t like to be left alone for more than a few hours. If they’re unhappy, they’ll tend to express this through destructive chewing and can develop separation anxiety from their owner. If you’re going out of the house for work every day, then a Berner might not be the best breed for you.

Two Bernese Mountain puppies

Bernese Mountain Dog gender differences

Female Bernese Mountain Dogs

Female Bernese Mountain Dogs are sweet and loving; however, they can be prone to more reactivity than males. While these episodes don’t necessarily lead to aggression, they often mean that females can be less predictable and aren’t as laid back. They’re also notably more independent but enjoy spending time with their owners, albeit not as much as a male Berner.

In terms of training, female Berners are easier to train simply because they mature faster. This maturity means they can learn tricks and commands much quicker than males; however, their independent streak can get in the way of obeying instructions. Just because she knows the commands doesn’t mean she’ll listen to them!

Female

  • Height: 23-26 inches

  • Weight: 68-99 pounds

  • Size: Large

Male Bernese Mountain Dogs

Male Berners are always eager to please and are quite caring and affectionate toward their family. Males are considerably more sensitive than females, sometimes leading to challenges during training if harsh commands or training methods are used. Because of this, males react especially well to positive reinforcement using treats and toys.

While they do have a gentle nature, males can be defensive if they feel threatened by other animals. This behavior can be eliminated by proper socialization and training from an early age.

Male

  • Height: 24-27 inches

  • Weight: 88-119 pounds

  • Size: Large

Bernese Mountain Dog breed health

As with most dogs, Berners should be taken to the vet regularly to ensure they’re as healthy as possible.

Life expectancy

Despite their large stature, the Bernese Mountain Dog has one of the shortest life spans. On average, both female and male Berners live to around 6-8 years old — which is less than most larger dog breeds.

Common health problems

The Bernese Mountain Dog tends to be a healthy breed; however, there are certain conditions — some being genetic — that the breed can suffer from.

  • Canine Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) — This common hereditary disorder means the body doesn't produce enough proteins, called von Willebrand Factor, which helps the platelets stick together and form a blood clot. Without these proteins, this results in excessive bleeding, which could be life-threatening for some dogs. There are three different forms of vWD; Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3, with Type 1 being less severe and Type 3 being the most. Luckily, the Bernese Mountain Dog falls into Type 1, meaning that the necessary proteins are present, but just at low levels. Unfortunately, no medications or alternative therapies can permanently boost a dog's vWF, but there are precautions that can be taken prior to surgeries if needed.

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) — This inherited eye disease is where the retina gradually degenerates over time. Most dogs suffer impaired vision, leading to blindness. Unfortunately, there is no cure for PRA, and dogs will usually become blind within a year of diagnosis; however, it is a painless condition. When you get your Berner from a reputable breeder, ask for the health certificates of your pup’s parents to prove they don’t have PRA.

  • Hip Dysplasia — This condition is where the hip joint doesn't develop properly, causing the head of the femur bone to meet with the hip socket incorrectly. This can eventually lead to degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis, which can cause pain, limping and difficulty standing in most dogs it affects. Mild cases can be managed medically, and in some more severe cases, surgery can be an option.

  • Histiocytosis — Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to a form of cancer known as Histiocytosis. This is where the histiocytes, a type of white blood cell, reproduce rapidly and invade tissue. There are two forms of Histiocytosis; malignant and systemic. The malignant version is extraordinarily aggressive and produces multiple cancerous tumors within the body (such as inside the lungs or liver), which is typically fatal within several months. The systemic version is body-wide and has a fluctuating course with lumps affecting the skin, nasal tissue, eyes, etc. This form will also eventually progress.

  • Gastric Torsion — Also known as bloat, gastric torsion is a severe condition where a dog's stomach will fill with gas, food or fluid, making it expand. If it stretches too far, the blood circulation to the heart and stomach can be cut off, resulting in the stomach tissue dying. Because of the enlarged abdomen, it can also put pressure on the lungs, resulting in difficulty breathing. Symptoms can include an enlarged abdomen, attempting to “vomit” but nothing comes up (non-productive retching), coughing, excessive drooling, inability to settle, and pale gums. In some cases this may also progress to gastric dilatation and volvulus, where the stomach twists on its axis. This condition is a true medical emergency for pets. If you think your dog is showing signs of bloat, you’ll need to take them to your vet immediately.

Vet tips

“Bernese Mountain Dog health is a crucial subject with many areas of discussion, and, despite their size, it can be surprising to know that the breed has a generally shorter expected lifespan than their other large breed counterparts. It’s helpful for owners to be familiar with some of the common conditions we see in Berners,” says Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS.

“That being said, Berners are one of the sweetest and most fun breeds I’ve worked with over the years. Their personalities are so genuinely unique. Bernese owners tend to match their pups' energetic and kind nature. They want to be proactive when it comes to their pups' health. I make sure to briefly review conditions like gastric bloat and Histiocytosis with them, so they know what to be on the lookout for if a problem does arise!”

Bernese Mountain Dog colors and variants

Colors and breed variants

The Bernese is a large dog breed, one of four breeds of the Sennenhund dog from Bern in Switzerland and the Swiss Alps. The three other breeds are the following:

  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

  • Appenzeller Mountain Dog

  • Entlebucher Mountain Dog

According to the American Kennel Club, there are only two breed-specific standard colors of the Berner, which are:

  • Black, rust and white

  • Black, tan and white

However, there are several markings they can have, including:

  • White head

  • White chest

  • White paws

  • White tip to tail

Caring for a Bernese Mountain Dog

Known for their energetic and puppy-like behavior, Bernese Mountain Dogs do well in daily active households even into their senior years.

Exercise

Because they’re outdoor dogs at heart, Berners love spending as much time as they can outside, although they don’t have a great deal of endurance.

As working dogs, Berners can be pretty active for the first two years, or they can go in the opposite direction and become couch potatoes. They need at least an hour of exercise a day, and this can be split up into two walks with some off-leash time in a secure area. On top of this, Berners will also need plenty of playtime and training. They are also considered one of the slower breeds, having a top speed of 15 miles per hour.

Berners tend to enjoy cold weather, so take advantage of this when the temperatures start to dip! Their thick coat means that they can withstand weather as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit, making them well suited for life in states like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

As they were originally bred in the snowy Swiss Alps, they don’t tolerate warmer climates and hotter summer temperatures in some southern states can cause problems for Berners. They will struggle on days when temperatures reach over 75 degrees Fahrenheit – for example, in states like California, Louisiana and Florida which exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months – and are at greater risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

To reduce the chances of overheating, it’s recommended to take them out for exercise during the cooler times of day before the sun has fully risen or after it has set.

Feeding

The right amount of food for your Berner will depend on various factors, including how active they are, their dietary requirements and any health restrictions. To ensure they’re getting the right amount of nutrients needed, it’s best to consult your vet.

However, a well-balanced diet that will support the health of your Berner’s joints is extremely important when it comes to large dog breeds.

Sleep

Like all large dog breeds, Berners need a lot of sleep. Most Bernese Mountain Dogs will sleep for around 12-14 hours per day, although some can sleep for as long as 18!

Puppies can be particularly awkward, as even a few minutes of play can make them tired. But there’s no need to be alarmed as this is completely normal behavior. So, if they take a snooze after playing, there’s nothing to be worried about!

A good night's sleep is important for all dogs, especially Berners, because of their size and weight. Because they’re big and have a thick coat, they can often have trouble cooling down at night. If you notice that your Berner is having trouble winding down, talk to your vet about ways to help them rest.

Healthcare tips

“Berners are active dogs who love nothing more than being outside and spending time with their owners. Make sure that you’re giving them the right amount of mental and physical stimulation to support them and their development,” says Dr. Kirsten.

“Lots of outdoor play and early positive socialization with other people, animals and environments is key to helping your Berner become a well-adjusted dog in the long run.”

Bernese Mountain Dog temperament

Berners are good-natured dogs who love to be included in all aspects of family life. Despite their large size, they’re gentle giants at heart who love nothing more than giving — and receiving — plenty of affection!

How good are Bernese Mountain Dogs with kids?

Bernese Mountain Dogs are great with kids, thanks to their calm spirit and willingness to play. Since they’re both patient and responsive, Berners have been dubbed as “nanny dogs” due to their gentle disposition.

As with all dogs, it’s best to socialize them properly with children of all ages, particularly young kids who may not be able to properly read or understand a dog's body language and respond appropriately. This is also essential solely due to a Berner’s large size.

How affectionate are Bernese Mountain Dogs?

Famed for being one of the least aggressive breeds toward humans, Berners are extremely affectionate and love being a part of anything their family or owner does.

They love to cuddle and show their affection by leaning against you, maintaining eye contact, play bowing, and more.

How territorial are Bernese Mountain Dogs?

Since they were originally bred as watchdogs, the Bernese Mountain Dog is very protective of their family and territory because they’re fiercely loyal to the people who care for them.

They will usually bark to alert you of potential intruders, but don’t tend to be aggressive.

How friendly are Bernese Mountain Dogs with other dogs?

Most Berners are peaceful and sociable with other dogs; however, you must make sure that they’ve been socialized from a young age to make sure they don’t show any signs of aggression.

How much will Bernese Mountain Dogs tolerate other pets?

A well-socialized Bernese mountain Dog should get along fine with other pets, especially if they’re introduced at the same time.

How much attention do Bernese Mountain Dogs need?

Berners can be extremely sensitive, and, given the chance, they’d prefer to be by their owner's side every day.

Because of how devoted they are to their family, the breed is also prone to separation anxiety. If they’re left alone for long periods of time and not given the proper care and attention they need, they may turn toward destructive behaviors such as excessive chewing.

Bernese Mountain Dog coat and grooming

Bernese Mountain Dogs require a bit of grooming but are relatively easy dogs to take care of.

Coat type

Berners have a silky, double coat consisting of a longer outer coat and a woolly undercoat that can be either straight or slightly wavy.

Since they’re naturally fit for colder climates, they can be prone to heat stroke should they get too hot, so it’s always essential to ensure that your furry friend doesn’t exercise too strenuously during warmer weather.

Shedding levels

Prepare yourself for shedding season! Berners shed a fair amount, even more so during spring and autumn when adjusting to changing weather conditions.

A Berner's shedding can be excessive, especially if they haven’t been groomed frequently. It’s important to bathe your Berner at the start of shedding season and use a powerful dryer to pull out their dead coat.

How often do I need to groom a Bernese Mountain Dog?

Berners need weekly brushing to remove any excess fur and avoid matting. Long nails can cause pain and affect how your dog walks, so make sure to trim them yourself or enlist the help of a reputable groomer.

Berners that are moderately active can have a bath every six to eight weeks, but bathing puppies too frequently can dry out their skin. If your dog enters the water, dry their coat thoroughly to prevent hot spots and staph infections.

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs hypoallergenic?

No, the Bernese Mountain Dog is not hypoallergenic and isn’t suitable for people with allergies.

Bernese Mountain Dog bark sound

The Bernese Mountain Dog has a deep and loud bark and can be considered a vocal breed.

Barking habits

The Berner's watchdog heritage means they love to communicate. Their deep bark can be either that of warning, play or alert; however, this means that they do tend to bark loudly.

During their senior years, you may notice that their bark becomes deeper.

Bernese Mountain popularity

Frequently asked questions about Bernese Mountain Dogs

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs lazy?

Though they need regular exercise, the Bernese Mountain Dog can be pretty lazy. If left to their own devices, some senior Berners may choose to do no exercise at all, so it’s important to make sure they’re getting enough exercise a day, so they aren’t overweight.

When do Bernese Mountain Dogs stop growing?

Most Berners will reach their full adult height and weight when they’re between 2-3 years old.