Bernese Mountain Dog (Berner): Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Bernese mountain dog standing indoors in profile

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

The Bernese mountain dog is a large working dog breed from Switzerland with a tricolor, medium-length coat. Also called the Berner, these dogs can make for loyal and loving companions and are even typically good around children and other pets. They are fairly playful and energetic but not exhausting, and they can be protective but not aggressive. Although they are a big breed, they aren't as intimidating as some other large dogs, thanks to their happy expressions and generally good natures. They can be barkers, however, and they do shed a great deal, so you'll need to be prepared for regular grooming sessions should you decide to make a Berner part of your family. Nor are they a hypoallergenic breed of dog.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Working

HEIGHT: 23 to 26 inches (female), 25 to 27.5 inches (male)

WEIGHT: 70 to 95 pounds (female), 80 to 115 pounds (male)

COAT: Thick, medium-length double coat

COAT COLOR: Black, rust, and white or black, tan, and white

LIFE SPAN: 7 to 10 years

TEMPERAMENT: Gentle, even-tempered, loyal

HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: Switzerland

Characteristics of the Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese mountain dogs typically have a good-natured personality. Hallmarks of their temperament include their gentle nature and eagerness to please. With proper socialization, they can be open to meeting strangers and are quite affectionate with their families. They are protective and make good watchdogs, though some can bark more than you might desire.

Berners are intelligent dogs that are quite trainable, and while any dog should have thorough obedience training starting in puppyhood, it is especially important with a large-breed dog like the Bernese Mountain Dog. Although gentle, these dogs can be playful and exuberant, and their size and weight means that they might accidentally knock over a child, or even an adult, should they jump up in greeting or get too energetic while playing.

Because of their outgoing personalities and devotion to their family, Berners don't like to be left alone for too long. This isn't the right breed for you if you work long hours and expect a dog that can remain happily alone at home.

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

History of the Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese mountain dog originated in Switzerland around the city of Berne, for which it is named. Its ancestors came to the area thousands of years ago and descend from Roman mastiffs, among other dogs. Today, the Berner is one of four varieties of Swiss mountain dog, set apart by its longer and silkier coat. The other three varieties are the Greater Swiss mountain dog, the Entlebucher mountain dog, and the Appenzeller mountain dog.

In the 1800s, these dogs were used to drive livestock, guard farms, and pull heavy loads. They also were loving companions to their families. The breed declined in popularity toward the end of the 1800s due to machines replacing them in much of their work. However, that spurred clubs to form to preserve the breed and revive its popularity. 

Berners arrived in the U.S. in the early 1900s. And the American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1937. They’re now regularly one of the most popular dog breeds in the country, thanks to their friendliness, reasonable energy level, and good looks. 

Bernese Mountain Dog Care

Bernese mountain dogs require a moderate amount of exercise, along with consistent training and socialization, to be happy and healthy dogs. Their grooming is fairly straightforward, though you should be prepared for lots of loose fur and occasional streams of drool.

Exercise

Berners have a moderate energy level, and they need space for their big bodies to move and play. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day, such as brisk walks, hikes, and games of fetch. Berners are quite athletic dogs and can compete in dog sports, such as obedience, agility, tracking, and carting. This will help to challenge them both mentally and physically, and can be lots of fun for you both.

As a general rule, these dogs do best in a house with a yard. If you live in an apartment or a home without a yard, then it is even more important to make sure your Bernese Mountain Dog gets daily outdoors time in the form of a long walk, time at the dog park, a session of doggy daycare, or a vigorous game of fetch the ball or Frisbee. Your Berner will likely love playdates with fellow friendly and outgoing dogs as well, as long as they are matched in size and strength.

Grooming

The Berner has a double coat (a shorter undercoat paired with a longer outer coat), which repels dirt and debris nicely. But the coat does shed a lot. Brush your dog thoroughly at least weekly to remove loose fur and prevent mats and tangles. Also, shedding will typically increase when the weather changes in the spring and fall, and daily brushings might be necessary to keep up with all the loose fur. Begin brushing your Berner as a puppy so it becomes accustomed to regular grooming; many dogs will even look forward to their grooming sessions if you make it a habit when they are still young.

Bathe your dog roughly every month, depending on how dirty it gets. And check to see whether it needs a nail trim every month as well. Also, examine your dog's ears weekly to see whether they need cleaning. Look for dirt, along with any redness, swelling, or smell in the ears. Dogs with floppy ears, like the Bernese Mountain Dog, can be more prone to ear infections than dogs with upright ears.

Finally, many Bernese mountain dogs drool very little, but those with loose jowls can drool quite a bit. That slobber can end up on the dog, in the house, and on you. So if you have a drooler, keep a cleanup cloth on hand to prevent the drool from embedding in your dog's fur. And as with any dog, try to brush your Berner's teeth regularly to prevent the buildup of tartar that can lead to gum disease.

Training

Bernese mountain dogs are bright and eager to please, which helps to make training easy. Start basic obedience and socialization when your dog is a puppy, teaching it to sit, stay, and lie down on command. This is especially important for such a large breed like a Berner, as adults are powerful and thus difficult to control if they haven’t learned their manners. Aim to expose your dog to different people, other animals, and various situations to boost its comfort and confidence. 

Berners respond well to consistent and positive training techniques, such as clicker training. They are sensitive to harsh corrections and might shut down with such training. And like many other large-breed dogs, they take longer to reach full physical and mental maturity, so always be patient with your pet and remember that multiple short training sessions each day—just five minutes or so—are more effective than one long session.

portrait of a Bernese Mountain Dog
The Spruce / Kevin Norris
Bernese mountain dog sitting on rug in living room

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Closeup of a Bernese mountain dog's fur
The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Common Health Problems

Bernese mountain dogs have relatively short lifespans compared to many other smaller breeds, which is something to take into consideration before deciding to bring one home. Like many breeds, the Berner is prone to certain hereditary conditions, including:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia, which is a genetic abnormality in the development of the joints
  • Blood disorders, including Von Willebrand's disease, in which the blood doesn’t clot properly
  • Cancer, especially a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells
  • Progressive retinal atrophy, a degenerative eye disease
  • Bloat, a potentially life-threatening condition in which the stomach bloats and can twist—often from eating too quickly
Bernese Mountain Dogs as Pets

The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water available for your dog, and select a quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet. Berner puppies especially will benefit from a diet made for large breeds. These diets contain the proper nutrition to encourage slow and steady growth to help prevent joint problems and other issues.

Most owners feed meals twice per day. Discuss the diet and quantity with your vet to ensure your dog is eating properly. And make sure treats and other extra food don’t lead to your dog overeating and becoming overweight. Excess weight can put a great deal of stress on these big dogs’ joints and lead to other health problems. 

Where to Adopt or Buy a Bernese Mountain Dog

Check local animal shelters and breed-specific rescue organizations for a Berner in need of a home. If you’re looking for a breeder puppy, expect to pay around $2,000 to $3,000 on average, though this can vary depending on bloodline and other factors. For further information to help connect you with a Berner, check out:

Bernese Mountain Dog Overview

Pros
  • Excellent family pet

  • Loyal and devoted

  • Energetic but not exhausting

Cons
  • Relatively short life span due to hereditary diseases and size

  • Heavy shedder

  • Some dogs slobber and drool a lot

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide on a Bernese mountain dog, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other Berner owners, vets, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar large breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are Bernese mountain dogs good family dogs?

    With proper training and socialization, Bernese mountain dogs can be excellent family dogs. The breed is generally good with children and even other pets. Despite their large size, these are usually gentle and friendly dogs that love to spend time with their family playing or just hanging out.

  • Are Bernese mountain dogs aggressive?

    Bernese mountain dogs typically do not display unwarranted aggression. They are generally gentle and even-tempered dogs, though they might become protective if they think their family is in some sort of danger. However, they can be barkers if not trained early to prevent this potentially annoying habit.

  • Are Bernese mountain dogs good apartment dogs?

    As a general rule, Berners do best in a home with a yard. They might be able to live in a spacious apartment that gives them enough room to move and play. However, it's essential that they get out daily for exercise if they live in a small home or apartment. Plan on taking your dog for a long walk, a visit to a dog park, or having a good game of fetch daily if your dog doesn't have access to a backyard for exercise.

Article Sources
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  1. Bernese Mountain Dog. American Kennel Club.

  2. Bernese Mountain Dog Puppies For Sale. American Kennel Club.