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What Were Bernese Mountain Dogs Bred For? (History and Facts)

Bernese Mountain Dog standing on water

Bernese Mountain Dogs are large, gentle dogs that make loving comanions. Today, this dog is a popular choice for a family dog because they are good with children and other pets in the home. This laidback dog has a sweet demeanor, playful personality, and affinity for affection.

It’s natural for people to wonder about the origin of this breed and what these dogs were originally bred to do. They’re good-natured family dogs today, but where did they come from?

The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of four types of Swiss Mountain Dog. They get their name from the city of Berne in Switzerland, where they originated.

divider-pawBernese Mountain Dog History

The Bernese Mountain Dog breed evolved from mixes of Roman Mastiffs and guard dog breeds. The Romans brought the Bernese Mountain Dog to Switzerland 2,000 years ago. Other Swiss Mountain Dogs at the time included the Appenzeller Sennenhund, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and the Entlebucher Sennenhund. All these dogs closely resemble each other in coloring and body type. The Bernese Mountain Dog is easily distinguished from the others because they have a longer, silkier coat.

The dogs were originally bred to be working farm dogs. From the early to mid-1800s, Bernese Mountain Dogs pulled carts, herded cattle, and served as guard dogs on farms. Swiss farmers didn’t have enough money to own horses, so the large and strong Bernese Mountain Dogs were used instead. Farmers had them working as delivery dogs, transporting milk, cheese, and produce. They were known as the “cheese dogs” during the 1850s because of this.

Bernese Mountain Dog lying on sand
Image Credit: ArtTower, Pixabay

The Breed Faced Possible Extinction

In the mid-1800s, other working dog breeds were being imported to Switzerland. This, combined with the introduction of machines to do the farm work instead, led to a decline in the breeding of the Bernese Mountain Dog.

With the breed not being actively produced, it nearly faced extinction. In 1892, a Swiss innkeeper took an interest in preserving the dogs and searched for the best dogs in the country to revive the population. This renewed the dogs’ popularity, and in 1907, a breed club for the dogs was officially founded in Switzerland.

Since their need for work on farms was no longer necessary, the dogs became companion animals and show dogs.

Popularity in the United States

Bernese Mountain Dogs started to gain popularity throughout the world. The breed was known to be a companion, helper, worker, and protector. There is varying information on when the dogs first arrived in America. Some say that it was in 1926, but a photo of a Bernese Mountain Dog was taken in Michigan in 1905.

In 1936, Bernese Mountain Dogs were imported to England, and the country welcomed its first litter of the dogs. World War II temporarily halted interest in breeding and preserving the dogs, but after 1945, the interest renewed.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the breed in 1937. In 1968, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America was formed. This club became a member of the AKC in 1981. The breed standard for the dog was officially stated in 1990.

Bernese Mountain Dog lying on the ground
Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

The Bernese Mountain Dog Today

Bernese Mountain Dogs are valued family companions today. They enjoy plenty of space to run and play. Their working dog roots keep their energy levels high, despite being such large dogs. This breed needs a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise each day.

This dog does not do well in the heat. They prefer cold weather and playing in the snow. They should not exercise excessively when it’s hot outside. Keep them as cool as you can during the day. Their long coats and dark coloring make them susceptible to heatstroke if they get too hot.

Breeding Today

Since the Bernese Mountain Dog is a popular choice for a family pet, some people have started breeding the dogs just to sell puppies. This means that unsuspecting buyers are getting puppies with hereditary health issues because the dogs were not bred responsibly.

The breed is prone to certain health issues that are made worse by improper breeding practices. If you’re interested in a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, make sure to either adopt a dog from a local rescue group or shelter or research breeders to find one who is responsible and has a good reputation for producing healthy dogs.

divider-pawFinal Thoughts

The Bernese Mountain Dog was originally bred to be a working farm dog, and it’s easy to see why. Their size, obedient nature, and intelligence make them ideal candidates for the job.

Today, the dogs are loving, affectionate family companions that fit in well in homes with children and other animals. If you’re interested in welcoming this dog into your home, be sure to only purchase a puppy from a responsible breeder.


Featured Image Credit: Hebi B., Pixabay

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