A BRIEF HISTORY
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a native breed of Switzerland and arose from the Swiss Alpine region near Berne (as it is named after) earlier this century. In its homeland it is referred to as the "Berner Sennenhund", Sennen meaning herdsman, hund meaning dog. The Bernese is arguably the most handsome of the four Swiss mountain dogs, which share the same classical Swiss markings - the other three being; The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, The Entelbucher and The Appenzeller.
In 1853 the first mention of the "Sennenhund" allowed us to gain some insight into what kind of herding dogs were used in these regions. The historic writings talked of its many colours and its very important function as a protector of the herd and the farmer's family.
Those historic writings also talk of the large farm dogs and their important functions. These dogs were big and intimidating so they could protect the livestock and the farmer's family from unwanted intruders. Their strength and size also attributed to their ability to haul large loads of produce to the dairies in wooden carts. Despite their size, these old farm dogs also needed to be agile enough to perform important herding duties. From this then, we can assume that the Bernese Mountain Dog was an 'all purpose' farm dog.
Although old paintings show dogs that resemble the Bernese dating back to the 16th Century, the breed as we know it today was not properly established until the early 1900's. The first entries of Bernese Mountain Dogs were entered in the Swiss Kennel Club records in 1907. That, by many standards, means the purebred Bernese Mountain Dog is still a very young breed. In the beginning, the Bernese markings varied a great deal and the temperament was also very shy. In 1947 an (accidental?) outcross to a Newfoundland, 'Pluto V Erlengut' to a Bernese bitch, 'Christine V Lux' produced a litter of Newfoundland puppies. One of the female pups of that litter was further bred to a Bernese and from there further controlled breedings finally produced the first ever World Champion Bernese Mountain Dog in 1952 'Alex V Angstorf' and his litter sister 'Bella'. These two dogs marked the foundation of the modern day Bernese. The characteristics we see in our dogs today stem from the hard work of a very select few individuals earlier this century. It is primarily a family dog. Even in those early days, the farmers and their families had a very close bond with these farm dogs. The children often walked the dogs to the dairies...this wonderful friendship with young children still appears in our modern day Bernese.
There is little doubt that this breed was seen to be a protector of the farmer’s family. A dog served no purpose if its affection was to be lavished onto every unwanted intruder. Therefore, the modern day Bernese still possesses some of these attributes in its protecting instincts. So...in brief, the Bernese stems from dogs that were primarily seen as all purpose farm dogs. Their duties on the farms appeared to be to protect (not necessarily to fight – but to warn), to draught and to herd. Their strength and structure was utilised in their ability to pull loads of dairy produce with a cart. So, the modern Bernese should also appear substantial enough to be able to perform this important duty.
The Bernese Character
Those that have owned or loved a Bernese Mountain Dog can attest to the fact that these dogs create a lot of interest in public. One of the striking features of the Bernese is their tri-coloured appearance...that shiny long black coat coupled with a scattering of rich tan and blazing white makes this dog truly a sight to behold. That animated face bestows on us a smiling appearance that most certainly is a very endearing quality. The Bernese Mountain Dog is a sensitive, family orientated dog. Character varies from dog to dog but all are happiest when they are allowed to be a part of their family. This would appear to be one of the needs of this breed that no one would argue with. In other words, if they are neglected or paid no attention to, your home and garden may pay the ultimate price.
The breed having been used extensively for farm work in their history, appear to have remained very good watchdogs throughout the years. At home he may become quite protective and vocal with a very deep, gruff bark when a stranger enters your premises. A Bernese would normally then settle down once the visitor has been acknowledged by their family. Of course, some Bernese love everybody and it isn’t unheard of for visitors to be treated to an exuberant display of affection. This does not mean you would not be protected in your time of need - rather- that they'll leave the watching to you. As far as their trainability goes, the Bernese is one which likes to please his family. However, compared with some other working breeds, he may be a little less tolerant of repetition and bore quickly, positive reinforcement training is suggested as Berner's are wonderfully food orientated.
Something that needs to be remembered is that the Bernese is a very slow breed to mature, both physically and mentally. Due to their sensitive nature, it's not a good idea to ever treat them harshly as your anger will affect them. Force free training is essential for our loving companions.
It is this sensitive nature and of course, that 'endearing' expression coming from your puppy, that can sometimes lead a new Bernese owner to the "First Berner Syndrome". Remember, this cute 8 kg puppy could soon be a 30 - 40 kg puppy! These dogs then can grow to 50-65 kg lean, mean pulling machines...so powerful, and with intelligence to boot, positive training is key.