Bernese Mountain Dog (Berner): Dog Breed Profile

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

bernese mountain dog resting after a hike

Matthew Spaulding / Stocksy United

The Bernese Mountain Dog, which originated in Switzerland, is a gentle giant with its large frame and striking tri-colored coat. An excellent family dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog gets along well with children and most other pets and loves to be included in all family activities. Breed aficionados love the Bernese Mountain Dog’s intelligence and devotion to family. They are protective but not aggressive, loyal but independent, and energetic but not exhausting.

You’ll never be lonely with a Bernese Mountain Dog in the house. The Berner, as it’s affectionately called, wants to be with you always. Bernese Mountain Dogs that are left alone in the house or yard for long periods of time might turn to destructive activities to keep themselves entertained.

Breed Overview

GroupWorking (AKC)

Height: 23 to 27.5 inches at the shoulder

Weight: 70 to 115 pounds

Coat and Colors: Thick, moderately long and slightly wavy or straight, with a bright, natural sheen; tricolored (jet black ground color with white and tan markings)

Life Expectancy: 6 to 8 years


Characteristics of the Bernese Mountain Dog

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Low
Playfulness Low
Energy Level Low
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Low
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. The Berner was a general-purpose farm dog employed as a watchdog, property guard, and carting dog. Although it might have been used as a guardian for livestock, it was likely not a herding dog. One of four related tricolored Swiss mountain dogs, the Bernese Mountain Dog is related to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, and the Appenzeller. All four breeds share the characteristic flashy, tricolor coat (black and white with tan accents), although only the Bernese Mountain Dog has a long coat.

Bernese Mountain Dog Care

Consistent training and socialization will help this intelligent working breed develop into a well-behaved companion. Start in puppyhood before the strong Bernese Mountain Dog attains its full adult size. Bernese Mountain Dogs want to please their people and usually respond well to positive training techniques like clicker training. They are sensitive and will shut down if you try to use harsh training methods with them. Bernese Mountain Dogs need a minimum of 30 minutes of daily exercise. Although a nice long walk will do, Bernese Mountain Dogs are highly versatile, excelling at competitive obedience, agility, tracking, and of course, carting. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America holds drafting events throughout the country.

The Berner has a double coat (a shorter undercoat paired with a longer outer coat) which repels dirt and debris nicely. A thorough brushing once a week will remove any loose undercoat and contribute to a shiny, soft coat. They shed a decent amount throughout the year, but will “blow coat” twice a year, losing much of their undercoat in a short period of time. Increase brushing when this happens to cut down on hair in the house. Bathe your Berner occasionally, trim the nails every few weeks, and examine the ears to clean them if they look or smell dirty. If you notice any redness or swelling in the ears, visit the veterinarian to rule out an ear infection.

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. Combine that drool with high levels of shedding and you can see why the Bernese Mountain Dog might not be the best choice for the fastidious dog owner. Breed devotees could care less about the mess—to them, it’s all worth it for the tradeoff of the Berner’s huge heart and enduring companionship.

Bernese Mountain Dog training
Alex Potemkin / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

It’s a sad fact that many Bernese Mountain Dogs live shorter lives than some other breeds, something to take into consideration before deciding to bring one home. Like many breeds, the Bernese Mountain Dog is prone to certain hereditary conditions; diseases common to this breed include:

  • Cancer
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia,
  • Eye diseases
  • Cardiac disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • von Willebrand’s disease (a blood clotting disorder)
  • Gastric dilatation (bloat).

Diet and Nutrition

All large and giant breed puppies, including Bernese Mountain Dogs, benefit from special diets that promote slow growth to avoid joint problems like hip dysplasia from developing. A large or giant breed puppy food has all the nutrients a growing Bernese Mountain Dog puppy needs in the correct amounts to encourage slow and steady growth.

Additionally, it’s important to keep Bernese Mountain Dog puppies on the lean side to avoid placing too much stress on the joints. Whether a puppy or an adult, feed your Berner measured meals at scheduled times. Free feeding (filling the bowl up at all times) can lead to an overweight dog, which can contribute to not only hip dysplasia but other health issues, like diabetes. Work with your veterinarian to determine how much food to feed daily.

Pros

  • Excellent family pet

  • Loyal and devoted

  • Energetic but not exhausting

Cons

  • Relatively short lifespan due to hereditary diseases

  • Heavy shedder

  • Some slobber and drool a lot

Where to Adopt or Buy a Bernese Mountain Dog

The best way to locate a Bernese Mountain Dog breeder is to contact the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America, which is the national club for the breed. The club maintains a list of breeders as well as a list of regional club rescue groups.

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, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons.

Otherwise, check out other dog breeds to help you find the perfect dog.