FROM FARMYARD TO FAMILY FAVOURITE
Bernese Mountain Dogs are guaranteed to attract attention. Bred and developed by the Swiss as a general purpose farm dog, the breed has captured the hearts of followers across the globe.
Striking to look at in their contrasting black, tan white colour pattern – even those who are not “died-in-the-wool” dog lovers cannot ignore, and be intrigued by, this stunningly beautiful breed. No wonder the breed was destined to flourish and fine fame as a family companion – but what are Bernese REALLY like? With so many diverse breeds to choose from, and Bernese scoring top marks in the beauty stakes, potential owners need to delve beyond the good looks to find out if the whole package of the Bernese Mountain Dog is, indeed, ideally suited to them.
Large and heavily built, the accepted size range of Bernese is quite wide – 58 cms (23 inches) at the shoulder is the lowest height desirable for bitches increasing to a preferred size upper limit of 70 cms (27 ½ inches) for males. Bernese are stocky and sturdy, broad and solidly built with heavy bone and of course their workmanlike construction brings with it great physical strength and power. Capable of maintaining energy levels that would allow them to work all day, Bernese are built for endurance – not speed – although they can generate a pretty impressive spurt when the need arises! Bernese are also very happy to just sit back and watch the world go by when not engaged in a job – they quickly learn the daily routine and do not have that “drive” which demands huge amounts of daily exercise, but even so they never pass up the chance of a walk or the opportunity to accompany their owner on any outing.
Bernese puppies go through some extraordinary physical changes during their first 15 months. Occasionally one hears of a pup that grew in a fairly uniform and coordinated manner, maintaining an even growth pattern. But most Bernese grow in a most erratic, uneven and uncoordinated way, shape-shifting to an almost alarming degree during their first year! Rearing any large, fast growing breed is something that needs to be done with sensible planning, great organisation, consistent care and monitoring, and most importantly, novice Bernese owners should seek and insist on guidance from a knowledgeable and experienced breeder. That is an essential part of the new Bernese puppy owners “package.”
Many people think that a “dog is a dog is a dog” – and to some degree that is true. Bernese are a complex mix of strong yet delicate – but different breeds (especially the large breeds) clearly have specific traits and growth patterns / stages that are unique to them – and for that reason young Bernese are at risk of impediment unless appropriate care is applied during those formative months. That “appropriate care” for Bernese involves a great deal of owner hands-on input and a huge amount of the owners time – most would-be owners of Bernese have the “homestead” space for such a large dog and the available funds to finance the rearing and day to day costs of keeping a dog of this size – but sadly far too many owners lack the time needed to nurture these very special dogs. Bernese are EXTREMELY demanding of their owner’s time, attention and effort!
As beautiful as these dogs undoubtedly are – the most attractive asset of Bernese Mountain Dogs is their temperament and character. UNDOUBTEDLY! A Bernese with a typical, desirable temperament is a sheer joy to own. Bred as a general purpose farmhand – they do not have one over-riding instinct for any single task, unlike some of the other working breeds who were developed primarily to herd or guard etc. Bernese were developed to be a “workmate” who functions primarily alongside his master rather than go into “automatic pilot” and go off and do his own thing! He is the sort of dog who is happy to be told what to do and is intelligent enough to apply his focus and attention, and his unquestionable capabilities, to a number of tasks SO LONG AS HE UNDERSTANDS WHAT IS REQUIRED.
A typical Bernese is easy going, happy to drift along and take life as it comes; he is a social dog who relies totally on human company – definitely not the sort of dog who enjoys being left on his own – and they are most certainly a breed who need to live within the house as a fully-fledged member of the family – kennel life nor regular or extended hours of solitude do NOT suit Bernese. Confident, outgoing and possessing an obvious sense of humour – they are also an extremely sensitive breed and so they need calm owners who are careful, consistent and understanding in their training methods.
Many first-time owners of Bernese delight in how “faithful” their dog is – they are greatly impressed that this breed so willingly puts his owner on a pedestal. But beware – Bernese are indeed great people watchers – they are very tuned-in to how humans react to them and Bernese pups as young as 4 or 5 weeks old make much more noticeable eye contact with people than some other breeds who are perhaps a little more independent. That amount of attention from a cute baby Bernese is charming and completely captivating – but there is a down-side to that trait. Those cute little fluffy bundles with the angelic faces are watching you very closely! Owners who send out the wrong signals will inevitably be in for a bumpy ride as their baby enlarges at an astonishing rate – those owners inevitably find themselves engaged in a daily battle of wits and strength far removed from what they may have hoped for in their ideal Bernese / owner relationship.
Bernese are intelligent – but most have perfected the art of pretending they are not – all Bernese puppies successfully leave their dam with their Human Manipulation Grade 1 Certificate – and they clearly graduated with Honours!! Bernese puppies who have been reared by sensible breeders go off to their new homes and settle in with extreme ease – many owners are astonished how “ploddy” and laid back Bernese puppies are. But, initial rearing in a highly charged environment, too little human contact, handling and socialisation, and/or too much owner indulgence and not enough guidance will be interpreted by these dogs as a lack of leadership in that family pack, and they will either develop erratic behaviour caused by them being put in the position of having to making choices and decisions they are not equipped to make or they will set about filling the pack leader vacancy! Bernese do not need rough handling or tough training techniques - but they do need to learn good behaviour patterns and constructed daily routines from the very first day you get your pup home. Owners who are unable to control a 12 week Bernese puppy are very unlikely to gain better control as their pup gets older, heavier and more wilful.
Different families of Bernese can have very different activity levels – ranging from the laid-back almost “horizontal” to the hyperactive, and prospective buyers need to ensure they look long and hard at the parents and other close relatives of any litter they may consider. It is all too easy for prospective owners to be drawn by the look of the Bernese – who wouldn’t be? But make no mistake – if by reading this you have learned that rearing a Bernese to sound adulthood is an engrossing task that demands care and effort - breeding Bernese is a much more complex and difficult hobby and anyone who is attracted to the idea needs to be sure they have learned about the breed by serving their “owner apprenticeship”, secured the help of a mentor, and provide a full back up network for every one of their pup owners and a refuge for every dog they breed that becomes unwanted.
It is vitally important to buy a Bernese that comes from a breeder who’s dogs have the correct activity and character “potential” for your requirements – but the rearing and husbandry practises thereafter employed are all the new owners responsibility. If you truly want a Bernese as a companion but accept you are lacking in experience or large breed rearing skills, then be sure you have a network of help at hand. Bernese can be the greatest dog to live with – ask any of us who have shared decades of our lives with them – but they are a high maintenance breed and there is no escape from that! Once you live with a Bernese, your life will never be the same.
Jude Simonds 2011 ã