If you like big, goofy dogs that are more likely to drown you in slobber than maul you to death, then the Bernese Mountain Dog may just be the pooch for you. These giant puppies are total lovers, and they have no idea that they are, in fact, giant puppies, so clear a spot on your lap for them, please.
22 – 29 inches
70 – 125 pounds
6 – 8 years
Tricolor (black, rust, and white)
Big dog lovers, those looking for an intimidating yet gentle companion
Easygoing, affectionate, sensitive, devoted, reserved, codependent
Owning a Berner isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. They have one of the shortest lifespans of any dog breed, and they’re prone to a whole host of diseases and afflictions.
If you’re considering adding one of these big babies to your pack, this guide will fill you in on everything that you need to know about these wonderful dogs.
Bernese Mountain Dog Characteristics
Bernese Mountain Dog Puppies
If there’s one thing that could potentially deter someone from owning a dog, it’s the knowledge that someday, you’ll have to say goodbye. It’s never easy and it always comes way too soon. Unfortunately, with Bernese Mountain Dogs, the end comes much sooner than it does with most other breeds. They only live 6 to 8 years on average, and it’s not uncommon for them to pass away as young as 4 years old.
The problem is that generations of inbreeding have left these dogs highly susceptible to cancer, which is the top killer of the breed. They’re especially prone to one specific type of aggressive cancer called histiocytic sarcoma, which is more prevalent in dogs with joint conditions, and these dogs are prone to hip dysplasia as well.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t adopt a Bernese Mountain Dog, though — far from it. They’re popular for a reason, as they’re big, adorable, and incredibly lovable. That just makes it all the harder to let them go, however.
Temperament & Intelligence of the Bernese Mountain Dog
Berners are extremely sweet dogs and in fact, can be quite codependent. Despite their massive size, they’re rarely prone to aggression and instead, prefer to snuggle with their humans as much as possible.
That’s not to say that they can’t make great guard dogs, though. If their imposing physicality doesn’t give evildoers second thoughts, these dogs are quite capable of turning ferocious if their homes or families are threatened.
However, you should never just blindly trust that your dog will grow up to be sweet and sociable, and that goes double if you have concerns about their lives before they got to you. Training and socialization are essential, especially for massive dogs like these.
Like most dogs designed to perform a variety of important tasks, Berners are quite intelligent and easy to train. However, they also tend to mature slowly and stay “puppy-like” for several years. This can lead them to be more concerned with having fun than listening to your commands.
Once they’ve grown up, though, these dogs will happily perform whatever task you set before them.
Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪
Berners may well be the perfect family dog. Despite their size, they can be affectionate and careful around small children, and they make eager and exuberant playmates for older kids.
They’ll also adopt your children as their own, making them perfectly willing to put their own lives on the line to protect your kids. Despite this, they’re not overly protective, so you don’t have to worry about them flipping out when you have company over.
None of this means that you should leave your children unattended with a Berner — or any other dog — as you never know what an animal is capable of (and kids have a knack for provoking them). You should also train both your kids and dog so there aren’t any mishaps.
It’s also important to understand that while Berners aren’t likely to bite children, they’re still huge pups that sometimes get over-excited. It would be easy for them to injure a small child quite by accident, so watch carefully to make sure your little ones don’t get trampled mid-zoomie.
While these dogs will likely do best in a home with a large yard, they can make excellent apartment dogs. Just be prepared to whisk them outside the minute that they decide it’s time to set a new track speed record inside your living room.
Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets?
Berners are usually laidback animals, and that can extend to dogs and other pets. Ultimately, though, it will depend on how well the dog has been socialized.
They usually welcome other canine playmates, but male Berners — especially unaltered male Berners — can be aggressive toward other males. It’s best to introduce new dogs to each other slowly and preferably in a place that serves as neutral ground to both animals.
As far as other pets are concerned, it’s something of a mixed bag. Some Berners have a strong prey drive, while others couldn’t care less if a cat walked over their face. There’s no way to tell ahead of time, so it’s best to expose them to other pets in a controlled environment before making your decision.
It definitely helps if the Berner has been raised with the other pets since they were a puppy. They’re more likely to tolerate smaller furry creatures that they’ve known their entire lives than ones that were just recently brought home.
Things to Know When Owning a Bernese Mountain Dog
Many people have owned dogs. Many people have owned big dogs. But unless you’ve owned a huge dog — and a Bernese Mountain Dog is most certainly a huge dog — you might not have any idea what you’re getting yourself into.
Here, we walk you through what to expect when you bring one of these massive mutts home.
Food & Diet Requirements 🦴
There’s no getting around it: Berners like to eat. They can easily go through a bag of food or two each month.
That doesn’t mean you should let them eat to their heart’s content, though. You need to be strict with portion control, as obesity can cause a ton of other health issues (and Berners don’t need any more of those).
You should also be careful to feed them a high-quality kibble. We recommend one that’s high in protein, as that will give them plenty of long-lasting, muscle-building energy but won’t fatten them up the same way that a high-carb food might.
Avoid problematic ingredients like corn, wheat, soy, and animal by-products. Manufacturers use these to keep their costs down, but they contribute little in the way of nutrition, and many dogs have trouble processing them.
You should also investigate giving your dog supplements, like omega fatty acids or glucosamine, in order to prevent or reduce the effects of certain illnesses. It may not work but it’s not likely to hurt either.
Berners need a fair amount of exercise. They’re not as demanding as many other breeds, but just because they won’t pester you for a walk doesn’t mean you can skimp on your parental duties.
Not only will frequent exercise keep them healthy and well-behaved, but it can also keep them from getting chubby. Obesity is a major problem with these dogs, and while diet is more important in terms of keeping the weight off, exercise shouldn’t be overlooked.
Long walks are always good, and these dogs enjoy all sorts of games, like fetch and hide and seek, or just running around the backyard like banshees. Not only will this improve their health, but it will also strengthen the bond between animal and owner.
Be careful to remember that they’re big dogs, and like most big dogs, they’re prone to joint problems. That means not pushing them to do high-impact activities like jumping, climbing stairs, or running on hard surfaces.
Berners are great natural athletes, but this vulnerability to high-impact exercise makes them a poor fit for agility training and other demanding hobbies.
If you’ve ever been dragged down the street by a giant, unruly dog, then you already know the importance of proper obedience training. The fact of the matter is that Berners need to be well-trained because they can be nearly impossible to control otherwise.
Luckily, they’re smart and eager to please, so training should be fun and easy for both of you. Be sure to use positive reinforcement techniques, though, as these sensitive pups will become sullen and withdrawn if punished harshly.
While we recommend rewarding them for good behavior, you don’t necessarily need to use treats to do it, as that can fatten them up. They’ll be just as happy — and motivated — by praise and affection.
They do occasionally show flashes of stubbornness, but not as much as many other breeds. As long as you have a firm, confident hand, those flashes should come and go without much difficulty.
Don’t just focus on training, however. Socialization is also critically important, so try to introduce your dog to as many new situations and people as you can, so they’ll be confident and secure in just about any environment.
It’s important to remember that these dogs were raised to live and work in the Alps, and it gets mighty cold there. That means they have a thick, double coat designed to keep them warm in frigid temperatures.
Once the mercury starts to rise, though, they won’t need all that fur, and it’ll end up everywhere.
You’ll need to brush your Berner at least several times a week to keep shedding under control and maybe even more than that during the summer months. You should also try to keep them out of the sun as much as possible, as they’re prone to overheating.
They don’t need to be bathed often, so you can probably wait until they’re visibly dirty to wrestle them into the tub. You’ll want to keep their ears dry as well, as they can be prone to infections if they get wet.
Otherwise, it’s mostly a matter of brushing their teeth every day and trimming their nails as needed.
Health and Conditions 🏥
Berners are not the healthiest of dog breeds. In addition to having criminally short lifespans, they’re also prone to a variety of health conditions.
Many of the illnesses listed here can be prevented — or at least mitigated —with proper care and a healthy diet. If you’re going to adopt one of these dogs, the least you can do is try to ensure that they enjoy as long a life as you can give them.
Other issues, though, are beyond your control. Owning a Berner means rolling the dice on their health, and sooner or later, your luck is going to run out. It’s just the way it is.
You can expect to pay a small fortune in medical bills for these dogs, especially as they get older. That’s doubly true if you plan on treating any cancer that they might come down with.
These dogs aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny that you’re willing to drop on them.
Male vs Female
Male Berners tend to be a bit larger than their female counterparts, but that’s a bit like saying one aircraft carrier is bigger than another. You’re going to have a huge dog on your hands, regardless of sex.
Females tend to mature a bit faster, but again, that’s a matter of perspective. These dogs tend to stay puppies until they’re 3 or 4 years old, so that’s not much of a difference.
Males are often known for being more affectionate and clingier, and females have a reputation for stubbornness. That can vary from individual to individual as well.
It’s also worth noting that many of these issues can be mitigated by having your Berner fixed at the appropriate time (and that may also help extend their lifespan, so it’s a double bonus).
3 Little-Known Facts About the Bernese Mountain Dog
1. Berners Were Bred to Be All-Purpose Farm Dogs
These dogs were used by farmers in alpine locations to do just about everything, including guard flocks and pull carts laden with goods to market.
This versatility is still in evidence today, as these dogs can be used as guard dogs, working dogs, or just fantastic pets. There’s little that a Berner can’t do.
This is why if you watch dog shows, you’ll always see Bernese Mountain Dogs included in the working group. That classification is often curious for owners of Berners who have rarely witnessed them doing anything remotely close to working.
2. They Have Manageable Energy Levels
Most working dogs, like Golden Retrievers and Border Collies, have high energy levels. They were bred to work demanding jobs all day, after all, and you can’t just turn off that programming overnight. That can make them holy terrors to live with. Unless you have hours to devote to tuckering them out every day, they can frustrate you with their need for exercise and stimulation. You may feel like you need to be a triathlete just to keep up with the demands of your pet.
Despite their working background, Berners are much more relaxed than many of their counterparts. They do need a moderate amount of exercise, but by and large, these dogs are happy to lounge around with (or on) you all day long.
3. The Breed Standard Has Particular Markings
All purebred Bernese Mountain Dogs are tricolored, with black, white, and rust shades on their coat. However, to meet the breed standard, those markings have to be arranged in a particular way.
For one thing, the white around their noses should form a horseshoe pattern, culminating in a perfectly black nose. The white on their chests, meanwhile, should look like a Swiss cross when seen from the front.
Finally, they should have white around their necks and throats, but this should not go all the way around. Rather, it should stop midway around the neck, and there should be just a dollop of white on the back of their necks — the trademark “Swiss kiss.”
There are few dogs as loving, loyal, and affectionate as the Bernese Mountain Dog. These gentle giants will happily invade your space and lavish you with kisses, but they’ll also give potential burglars serious second thoughts.
These dogs are nearly perfect, in fact — except for one major drawback. They simply don’t live that long, and their short lives are often marred by all manner of health issues.
Fortunately, many breeders are working to correct these flaws, so hopefully, the coming years will see Bernese Mountain Dogs living longer, healthier lives. Until then, though, you just have to enjoy their wonderful companionship while it lasts, all the while knowing that it won’t last nearly long enough.
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Featured Image Credit: david muscroft, Shutterstock