#29 The Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dogs

Although the Bernese Mountain Dog was developed in the Swiss Alps, it is likely a Molosser dog, meaning its origins can be traced to the ancient Roman dog Molossus. It is widely believed that the Romans brought these giant-breed dogs with them to Switzerland approximately 2,000 years ago, where they were used to guard troops and drive herds of cattle.  More recently, Bernese Mountain Dogs have been used as a general working dog on Swiss farms, used for both guarding property and driving dairy cattle to alpine pastures.  The breed became especially popular in the early 1900’s when breed enthusiasts began to show fine specimens at dog shows.  The first breed club was developed in Germany in 1907, and the American Kennel Club recognized the Bernese Mountain Dog in 1937.  The breed is still highly popular in Germany, ranking 11th in most live births, while in the United States it is the 29th most popular dog per registrations.

Like most giant-breed dogs, Bernese Mountain Dogs have gentle personalities and are described as strong, yet calm. They are rarely aggressive, especially when socialized properly, and are highly affectionate with children.  They are patient and loving, yet also tend to be one-owner dogs.  With strangers they may come off as aloof.  Since Bernese Mountain Dogs were developed as a working breed they require plenty of exercise.  Medium-length walks are recommended, as they are energetic but lack endurance.  If not properly exercised they can easily become bored and develop bad habits, such as excessive barking.

Bernese Mountain Dogs have a distinct appearance with few variations in their coloring. They are tall dogs, standing 24 – 28 inches tall at the shoulder for males and 22 – 26 inches for females, weighing 80 – 120 lbs or 70 – 110 lbs, respectively.  They are solidly built, muscular animals that have a tri-colored coat of black, white, and rust coloring.  The chest should be white and rust colored markings should be present above the eyes, on the sides of the mouth, on the front of the legs, and around the white markings on the chest.  Ideally the white markings on the chest should form a “Swiss cross,” and a “Swiss kiss” of a white marking behind the neck should be visible.

Routine veterinary visits for Bernese Mountain Dogs are extremely important, preferably with yearly blood work due to their high mortality rate from cancer. A recent survey of Bernese Mountain Dogs in the United States and Canada showed that 50% of all dogs from the breed die as a result of cancer, particularly malignant histiocytosis, mast cell tumors, fibrosarcoma, lymphosarcoma, and osteosarcoma.  In general, the rate of cancer in the rest of the canine population is approximately 27%.  As with all large dogs, hereditary eye disease is common, including progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts.  Due to their large frame and weight, muscular/skeletal diseases are also common, such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, and cruciate ligament rupture.  Bernese Mountain Dogs may develop joint and muscular problems at an earlier age than other dog breeds, so owners should be prepared to cope with this possibility.  The average life span of this breed is 7 – 8 years.

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