Bergamasco Sheepdog: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

bergamasco dog

 

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A happy and healthy breed, the Bergamasco Sheepdog is a patient, intelligent family dog that's devoted to his work--herding—and boasts a one-of-a-kind coat that's much more low-maintenance than it looks. Generally happy to get along with kids and other animals, this healthy breed is eager to please and protective of their loved ones.

Breed Overview

Group: Herding

Weight: 57 to 84 pounds

Height: 22 to 23.5 inches

Coat: Three textures that form loose mats, or “flocks”

Coat Colors: Tones of gray to black

Life Expectancy: 13 to 15 years

Characteristics of the Bergamasco Sheepdog

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Bergamasco Sheepdog

The Bergamasco Sheepdog has a long, rich history; their origins can be traced back nearly 7,000 years to what is now Iran. Bergamasco Sheepdogs (or plural, Bergamschi, in Italian) hail from the Alpine town of Bergamo (near Milan, Italy), where they lived and worked for many centuries. Sometimes referred to as the Cane da Pastore Bergamasco, they are one of several ancient Middle-Eastern breeds that were used for bartering around the Mediterranean basin in the pre-Roman times.

These powerful and resilient dogs were well-suited for their work of moving and guarding sheep along the rocky terrain of the Italian Alps. Though they somewhat resemble their Hungarian cousin, the Komondor, the Bergamasco's coat is flat whereas the Komondor's cords are round and almost rope-like.

The French believed that the Bergamasco is partially descended from an ancient French herder, the Briard. However, Italians believe that the Bergamasco was one of the parent breeds for the Briard as well as other European flock-dog breeds, due in part to the fact that the breed was originally Middle-Eastern and likely arrived in Italy before it was established as far west as France.

The Bergamasco's unique flocks of hair adapted over time to help protect these dogs from the frigid, bitter cold of the high altitudes where they worked. Their flocks are strands of hair that become woven together and create flat layers of felted hair. Their coat was also believed to serve as a bit of extra protection if they should come across a predator looking to feast on stray sheep. These dogs also have exceptionally long upper eyelashes, which helps keep hair out of their eyes and also helps protect their eyes from snowblindness and other cold-weather dangers.

Sadly, the Bergamasco's popularity and numbers began to dwindle in Italy in the years after the Second World War, but they have many supporters across the world. Most notably, the breed’s American devotees helped get the Bergamasco Sheepdog admitted to the American Kennel Club (AKC) Stud Book.

The Bergamasco has been eligible to compete in companion events since 2008, and they were also able to compete in the miscellaneous class from 2011 to 2014. The breed was recorded in the Foundation Stock Service from 1997 to 2014. The Bergamasco became eligible for AKC registration in December 2014 and has been eligible to compete in the Herding Group since January 2015.

Bergamasco Sheepdog Care

An extremely friendly and social dog breed, the Bergamasco makes an exceptional family companion that's capable of developing strong individual relationships with each member of the family, including kids and other pets (when socialized properly).

The Bergamasco Sheepdog has moderate daily exercise needs. Because of their close bonds with their families, they will enjoy group exercise the most, such as playing ball, frisbee, or other games in the backyard as opposed to being left to roam freely on their own. Though they are generally mellow dogs, the Bergamasco does have plenty of energy, and is known to enjoy brisk walks and hikes or other outdoor adventures.

As with all breeds, early socialization and training are important. The Bergamasco is an extremely intelligent breed with a strong desire to please his owners. However, they do tend to be somewhat independent "mountain dogs," and will often see himself as an equal member of the family—so training that helps these dogs understand the desired behavior and why he should comply will likely prove the most successful training approach.

While most dog breeds have excellent hearing, the Bergamasco Sheepdog is in a league of its own. These dogs not only have acute hearing, but an almost psychic awareness of whats going on around him or her. Not surprisingly, they make excellent watchdogs, but can also be relied upon to warn their humans of other impending dangers, such as if another dog in their vicinity is getting ready to attack. They are only ever aggressive when it becomes entirely necessary.

Surprisingly, the thick, multi-layer coat of an adult Bergamasco actually requires very little maintenance. Because the Bergamasco's coat is made up of three types of hair (called “dog,” “goat,” and “wool" hair), there's actually only a one-time maintenance process that has to be performed. The dog's goat and wool hairs won't begin to appear until they're about a year old, and when then they do, the coat has to be ripped up into mats. This process can range from a few hours to a few days. But then after it's completed, the felt-like mats that grow in over the course of their life will touch the ground by the time their approximately six years old, and won't require any additional maintenance.

A Bergamasco doesn’t need to be brushed, and they won't require more than a few baths a year. Believe it or not, they don't even shed, and because their coat plays an important role in regulating their body temperature, they should never be shaved. The Bergamasco's coat is also believed to be somewhat allergy free (although people with allergies to wool or lanolin have been known to react). As with all breeds, the Bergamasco’s nails should should be trimmed regularly.

Common Health Problems

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is considered an exceptionally healthy breed. Though they may develop some health issues as they age, they are not associated with any specific conditions.

Diet and Nutrition

The Bergamasco Sheepdog should perform well with a high-quality commercially or home-prepared (under veterinary supervision) dog food. Although any dog is at risk of weight gain and obesity if they aren't fed a proper diet or don't receive ample exercise, the Bergamasco is a breed that doesn't generally overeat. They may look large, but underneath all of their fur, these dogs are actually quite slender and muscular. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times.

Pros
  • Sociable and lovable family pets

  • Excellent watchdogs


Cons
  • Independent thinkers

  • Require a one-time significant grooming process


Where to Adopt or Buy a Bergamasco Sheepdog

Be sure to check your local animal shelters and rescue groups for Bergamascos that are in need of a forever home. National rescue organizations such as the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America can be a helpful source of information to help you find your new best friend.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Be sure to do your homework when choosing a dog breed. Talk to other Bergamasco Sheepdog owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more about this particular breed and their care. There's a variety of dog breeds, and with a little research, you can be sure you'll find the right dog to bring home.

If you’re interested in learning about other dogs, consider these similar breeds: