Bergamasco Shepherd Dog

BergamascoBergamasco

The Bergamasco Shepherd Dog is a very ancient breed that developed in the northern part of Italy. His extraordinary coat is his most striking feature. Like many of the other ancient breeds, the Bergamasco faced extinction after World War Two. But fortunately, a scientist with knowledge of genetics, resurrected the breed. Her name is Dr. Maria Andreoli and she developed a kennel bearing the prefix 'Dell Albera'. We present some footage of Dr Andreoli grooming some of her beautiful dogs that she exhibited at the World Dog Show in Milan held in the year of 2000.

History of the Bergamasco

In our History section we have traced Early Livestock Guardian Dogs back to 9,000 BC. This link also explains the history and traditionally, the role of the Livestock Guardian Dog. In settlements after this migration, different breeds developed according to the local climatic conditions, and assumed their own identity.

Bermagasco driving cattleBermagasco driving cattle

In particular, the Bergamasco we know today originally came to Italy over the Swiss Alps. But as the centuries rolled by, it became usual for farms to be located within fenced properties. So instead of roaming free, herds of livestock had to be driven along passes or roadways between these properties in a practice called transhumance. In this case, the migration of Italian sheep to Switzerland occurred for over 10,000 years from around 700 AD to the 1800's[1].

People who were Shepherds would have needed dogs to assist them to not only guard the herds, but also drive them. These dogs were originally known as the 'North Italian Sheepdog'[1a]. In 1781 G. von Albertini van Tamins wrote:

Bergamasco guarding cattleBergamasco guarding cattle

"... at the beginning of June, Italian shepherds drove their flocks up the Splugen Pass from Piedmont....  their excellent sheepdogs not only bravely guarded their masters and the flocks against wolves, but also nearly replaced the shepherds in managing the animals... they were big dogs with long, woolly coats....  courageous assistance of the Bergamasco Shepherds"[1a] 

By the 1800's, people who worked in the arid Bergamasco valleys became known as 'Bergamasco Shepherds'. These were salaried men who, during transhumance took flocks of sheep along migratory routes from the high Swiss Plains to the Italian shores of the Po Valley. The association of the dogs which accompanied these men, gave them the modern name by which we know them today, the 'Bergamasco Shepherd Dog'[1b].

The Bergamasco Coat

Bergamasco pupBergamasco pup

The flocks of the Bergamasco's coat are its most distinctive characteristic. But it takes years for the coat to 'mature' into display this feature. The development of these flocks begins at about 12 months. Before this, the puppy will have a soft coat and look much like any other cute puppy. Then the 'flocks' begin to form. At maturity, these flocks will be composed of three distinctive components:

Flocks and Goat HairFlocks and Goat Hair

  1. The fine, dense and oily undercoat which forms a waterproof, protective layer
  2. The woolly top coat: which is finer and softer to the touch
  3. The 'goat' hair which is isolated strong and harsh strands.

At 15 months and 2 yearsAt 15 months and 2 years

Coat Development

The development of the coat usually begins after one year of age. The dog in the foreground of the picture on the right is around 15 months of age. The goat hairs have begun to come in and the auburn tinge at the tips of the remaining puppy hair have begun to show. Standing alongside him is his sister who is about one year older. Her flocks are becoming recognizable but retain the auburn tinge from her puppyhood. So these puppy hairs, the coarser 'goat' hair, the woolly top coat and the dense undercoat have all begun to mesh together or flock. This began near the the topline and is developing down the sides of her body. You can also see by this picture how the puppy coat looks thicker around the tail of the younger dog compared to the when he was 6 months old on the left. So the young bitch standing beside her brother demonstrates this gradual development of the coat over a period of around one year.

As the flocks extend forwards to the saddle and withers, simultaneously the woolly top coat becomes more obvious.

But it is when the waterproof undercoat and the woolly topcoat are meshed or woven together by the goat hairs, the flocks develop. These flocks continue to lengthen throughout the life of the dog, almost touching the ground on a fully mature dog. But long flocks of matted hair, which is such an integral part of the Bergamasco's general appearance, can take around 5 years to mature like the dog on the left.

Bergamasco with calfBergamasco with calf

Note that the distribution of various types of hair is not consistent. Like the dog pictured, on the shoulders and withers there is usually only soft woolly top coat which is often devoid of flocks. Typically the flocks begin behind the withers and extend towards the rear section of the trunk and on the limbs. On the rear section of the dogs there is a vast amount of woolly hair and most of the flocks. This is particularly evident in the accompanying photo of this 9 year old male dog whose flocks are fully developed. This is also a wonderful example of a Bergamasco bonding with his 'charge'.

The Bergamasco Today

The Bergamasco Shepherd Dog is a medium-sized dog whose unusual coat is described above. Naturally bonding with cattle, sheep or other livestock, he is also capable of driving and guarding them, his harmonious build and temperament giving the impression he is ready to do so.

BergamascoBergamasco

He comes in all shades of grey through to black. Tinges of light fawn and small amounts of white are also permitted. However, as the dog ages the flocks can gradually change colour with the ends of the black flocks turning blue, beige or even yellowish.

Bergamasco with cattleBergamasco with cattle

His short, square compact body is well-balanced throughout with his depth of chest being half the distance from his withers to the ground. Ideally, his height at shoulder for males should be 60 cm (23.6 inches or almost 2 feet high) and 56 cm (22 inches) for females, with the small tolerance of 2 cm (around one inch) over or under this height. His huge coat can weigh up to 20% of his body weight giving the impression that he might be heavier! But the males should only weigh 32 - 38 kg (70 - 84 pounds) and the females 26 - 32 kg (57 - 70 pounds).

Head and Neck

BergamascoBergamascoIn keeping with its abundant coat, the Bergamasco's head hair can also make it look larger than it actually is! But the head should still be in balance with his body as a whole. Additionally, the skull and the muzzle should be of equal length and in profile, present parallel planes. Although the head's skin must not be thick, it must also be tight and without wrinkles.

BermagascoBermagascoThe medium sized skull should tend towards flat, its width being less than half the total length of the head, without prominent cheeks. The stop is evenly sloping, but looks deeper due to the eyebrows being sufficiently pronounced to hold the head coat away from the eyes, enabling the dog to see through it. There is a median frontal furrow between the eyes, and a pronounced occiput.

BergamascoBergamasco

The black nose with its wide, open nostrils should be in line with the muzzle and not appear to protrude when viewed in profile. The muzzle must be half as deep as its length, with tight, thin, well pigmented lips which just cover the teeth which close in a normal scissors bite. The forward-looking eyes are rather large and slightly oval in shape. They should be of a darker or lighter shade of chestnut colour depending on the colour of the coat, and have black pigmented rims. The eyelids fit tightly around the eyes. The particularly long eyelashes combined with the pronounced eyebrows described above, provides a veranda so the hair of the forehead falls in front of the eyes, making it easier for the dog to see through it. The high-set ears are dropped, but can lift slightly at the base when the dog is alert. Triangular in shape with slightly rounded tips, the ears are wide at the base, and can reach the middle of the skull when pulled forward.

The neck is a little shorter than the head, looks slightly convex in profile and is covered with thick hair. The skin must be close-fitting, without dewlap.

BergamascoBergamasco

Body

The topline should be wide and straight beginning with long, prominent, clearly defined withers. The strong shoulder blades are long, strong and set obliquely to the upper arm. The chest must be broad and deep, reaching to the elbows.The hair hanging down from this region should be abundant, long and thick, and tend to flock. The elbows are set well under the body in a line with the rear end of the shoulder blade. The well boned forelegs are straight and well proportioned in relation to the size of the dog whether viewed from the front or from the side.

BergamascoBergamasco

The pasterns slope down to oval feet which have arched, tight toes, strong dark colored nails and hard pads. The hindquarters should be in proportion to the size of the dog with long, broad, well-muscled thighs and sound stifles that turn neither in nor out. The hind legs have strong bone with good angulation to the hock which is broad and perpendicular to the ground. The width of the loin is nearly the same as its length; muscles of the whole region being well developed. The croup slopes downwards with the tail set being at its lower third. Covered with slightly wavy goat-like hair, the tail is thick and strong at the root, tapering towards the tip. The tail often reaches the hock when the dog is standing, but preferably it should be shorter. At rest the tail is carried sabre fashion with the end third slightly curved. But in action the dog waves his tail in a flag-like fashion. He moves with with long steps capable of an extended trot which he can maintain for quite long periods, easily breaking into a gallop.

References and Further Reading

[1] Dr Maria Andreoli and Donna DeFalcis, Bergamasco, Special Rare-Breed Edition, Published by Kennel Club Books Inc, Allenhurst, NJ 07711, USA ISBN 1-59378-315-9. Chapter 1, History of the Bergamasco Page 12.

[1a] Ibid., Chapter 1, History of the Bergamasco Page 13.

[1b] Ibid., Chapter 1, History of the Bergamasco Pages 14 - 15.


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