Bernese Mountain Dogs are striking in appearance, with a long, shiny black coat and highly characteristic markings of white blaze, chest, feet and tail tip, and rich reddish brown found on the "eyebrows," cheeks and between white and black on the legs.
Bernese males range in height at the withers from 25 to 27.5 inches, and females, 23 to 26 inches. There are exceptions to the ranges, but those are ideal. Mature weights for those heights range from 90 to 125 pounds for males and 75 to 100 pounds for females. The coat is thick, of medium length, and slightly wavy or straight. Although the standard describes the breed it may be interpreted in different ways resulting in different "types" of BMD's.
Bernese are generally gentle dogs as adults. Puppies and young dogs can be quite boisterous. Many Bernese are reserved and do not seek the attention of strangers, though some will climb into anyone's lap. Most adults take cues from their owners for the appropriate response to strangers: either acceptance or alert watchfulness. Bernese have an uncanny desire to communicate with their people on a high level. This intense desire, though found in other breeds, is present in nearly all Bernese and is one of the qualities owners refer to when they call the breed "special" or "unique." Bernese are not a breed suitable for solitary confinement in the back yard. Left without personal attention a Bernese is likely to become a miserable, shy, and LARGE problem dog. With love and nurturing, he will enrich his owners' lives. The Bernese is not generally thought of as a guard breed, although some are protective of their owners' property. Their long history and role as farmers' companions shows well in their good disposition, love of and devotion to their people, and ability to learn readily. They are not kennel or pack dogs, but rather prefer human companionship.
Some Things "The Books" Don't Tell You
Bernese do shed. "Bernerfur" is easily removed from clothing with a velvet lint brush. A daily brushing, appreciated by the dog, also helps to reduce the amount of loose hair about the home.
Bernese are not heat-tolerant dogs, though many live in warm climates about North America. Most owners report their Berners seek either air-conditioned quarters, or subterranean coolness. If a hole-free yard is important, create an approved digging area for the dog. Burying "treasures" like a beef shin bone, rawhide chew and other items the dog likes in this area will encourage him to dig there and not elsewhere.
An untrained Bernese, no matter how sweet the disposition, is a problem dog. A grown BMD can easily knock over his owner, not to mention a toddler. Training is a necessity.
Cancer is quite prevalent in Bernese. To date we have learned that our most common cancer, histiocytosis, as well as mastocytoma are inherited through the action of many genes.
Hip dysplasia is a progressive, degenerative joint disease. It ranges from very mild cases with no apparent ill effects to crippling cases severe enough to require euthanasia. Dysplasia is inherited, however, environmental factors contribute to the manifestation of symptoms. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the GDC serve as an evaluators and registrars of dogs hip conformation. Dogs may be radiographed by a veterinarian, who submits the x-ray with the proper form. Radiographs are evaluated by three board certified radiologists.
Elbow dysplasia in Bernese is as serious problem as hip dysplasia. Other Orthopedic problems are also found in Bernese. They include panosteitis (shifting leg lameness), and shoulder problems such as osteochondritis dissecans (cartilage flap or fragment).
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a hereditary eye disease that causes blindness. The following facts are known:
There are early and late onset forms of the disease with symptoms being detected between a few months and five years.
Blindness can occur between 1 year and old age.
Annual eye examinations (commonly called CERF exams) can detect symptoms of the disease and lead to a definitive diagnosis. Dogs that pass this exam &Mac255;may be registered with either CERF or the GDC but the exam must be repeated yearly.
Bernese, because of their size, body mass, thick coat and black colour are susceptible to heat stroke. Avoid situations in which the dog may become overheated. Some young dogs will foolishly overexert themselves in the heat and should be protected from this by supervision or confinement during hot weather. If left outside in the summer, a Berner should have heavy shade in which to rest, a large supply of fresh water at all times, and if possible a child's wading pool of water.
Selecting a Breeder
Perhaps as important as selecting a puppy from stock one finds suitable to one's taste, is an open and good rapport with the pup's breeder. Breeders should be willing to advise buyers about diet, obedience training, exercise management, and general breed information.
A breeder who is conscientious about developing a line of hearty dogs should be interested in the following:
helping buyers ascertain whether the BMD is the best choice
interviewing buyers about the potential home environment, including the number of family members and ages, daily family schedule, quarters for a large dog, and the buyer's willingness to cooperate with a recommended dietary and exercise program
gauging the buyer's knowledge of dogs to assess where the breeder should begin educating
obtaining the buyer's pledge to cooperate in progeny testing (assessing hip status and other traits as puppies mature)
evaluating individual puppies for placement in optimal family situations
Some Questions to Ask Breeders
The following are a just few good questions to ask a breeder when thinking about purchasing a puppy. There are no perfect answers and listening to the breeders answers may reveal information useful in your search. The information you need may not be volunteered but may be readily shared if you ask.
Is the breeder's dog a house dog? If a kennelled dog, how does the breeder provide the personal interaction Bernese need? Do they show their own dogs?
Has the breeder trained any of his dogs for obedience work, tracking, carting etc? Does the breeder attend obedience classes, matches, shows etc. with his dogs?
How does the breeder socialize puppies? Are they raised outside or in the house? What household noises and activities are the puppies exposed to? What type of testing and assessing of puppies does the breeder do?
Does the breeder evaluate the puppies' aptitudes and temperaments? Methods used to evaluate temperament may vary between breeders, but these evaluations can be helpful in assessing which puppy is most suitable for a particular home. One pup may be too much (mischievous, impetuous) for a very soft owner and just the challenge the person looking for a dog for tracking/obedience work needs.
Can the breeder refer buyers to individuals who have bought their puppies--preferably from similar lines to puppies they have now or are expecting?
Can buyers meet the prospective or current dam of a litter? The sire? Can the breeder send photos/videotape of the sire/dam/pups?
Show or Pet Quality?
The CKC BMD standard includes only two disqualifying faults. These are a ground colour other than black (there are some rust and white BMD's) and blue eyes (which should generally be obvious in pups by the time they go to their second homes). However, most breeders set higher standards than these minimums for their show quality pups. The exact criteria used for show/pet puppies will vary significantly from breeder to breeder and may include the skeletal conformation, size, head shape, markings, and many other characteristics.
The buyer's best aide in pup and breeder selection is education. A good way to start is by asking individual breeders to recommend books and videotapes. All breeders interested in their pups' welfare and in the breed's welfare should be willing to help any way they can.
It is recommended that puppies attend a puppy kindergarten/ socialization class where owners are taught how to establish a working relationship with their dogs, and puppies receive important socialization with people and other dogs. Bernese and their owners benefit from obedience classes at least through the pup's first year of life. Bernese generally want to please a fair and consistent owner. Harsh training methods are usually not necessary. To find obedience instructors, ask the breeder or a local veterinarian. Many local kennel clubs offer public classes.