Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain DogBernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a longhaired, tricoloured, agile working dog of above medium size. He is self-confident and fearless in everyday situations, but devoted to his owners. At the same time, he is self-assured, good-natured, docile and placid towards strangers.

History of the Bernese Mountain Dog

The fall of the Roman Empire around 476 AD meant the end of the ancient Roman military trading routes that led to cities like Rottweil. Then Gemanic people with ancestry from the more northern parts of Europe, began clearing the land adjacent to these ancient trading routes, for farming. Some people settled in the valleys of the Swiss plateau which is now called the Berner Midlands. These farmers only kept a few animals for their own needs which did not include beef products like skins and milk for making cheese.

Meanwhile, in the Alpine regions, larger types of Swiss dogs were used as cattle herders. These would not only protect the herds from thieves and wild animals, they also took over the role of the Livestock Guardian Dog. These larger Alpine types of dog were the ancestors of not only the Bernese Mountain Dog, but also the Great Swiss Mountain Dog, the Rottweiler and the Saint Bernard. In a unique form of transhumance, in the winter these Alpine cattle people and their herds of cattle were housed by the farmers of the valley in permanent dwellings. This was a win-win situation for both the farmers and the Alpine cattle herders. The farmers of the valley exchanged cheese and other beef products for providing the Alpine people with shelter and lodgings during the bitter winter months.

Milkmaid with dog carting milkMilkmaid with dog carting milk

By the late 1800's, there were changes in the above rural scene of Switzerland. Cattle herding in the mountains decreased and the farmers of the valleys began keeping cattle on their own farms and selling their milk. So the large dogs that formally belonged to the Alpine cattle herders, became carting dogs, mainly used to transport milk[1]. This meant they were usually owned by milk maids and cheese makers who favoured dogs with softer temperaments than those of the cattle herders. Hence the docile, placid nature that has made the Bernese so popular today.

Bernese pupsBernese pups

The Bernese Mountain Dog becomes a Pure Breed

In 1883, the Swiss Kennel Club (SKG) was formed. One of its founders was interested in promoting native Swiss dogs, especially dogs used for hunting and farm dogs from the mountain areas used for cattle herding. An affiliate of the SKG then became affiliated in Bern and held the first Swiss national Show in 1902. They encouraged large, long-coated tri-coloured dogs called Dürrbächler to attend. The Dürrbächler were named after the small hamlet Dürrbäch, which these dogs came from. They were a common sight around the city of Bern where they were used to pull milk carts. Two years later, the best 4 shown at the International Dog Show organized by the Berna Club, were registered in the Swiss Stud Book. By 1907, the Dürrbäch Club published the first Breed Standard.

Bernese Mountain Dog 1909Bernese Mountain Dog 1909

In 1909 at a Show held in Basel, when these dogs were judged by Professor Heim, he awarded the bitch Netty(pictured) Best of Breed. The Professor declared she was the type of dog he was looking for when the first Breed Standard was written. But it would be 1912, after much discussion, that the Dürrbäch Club decided to change the name to 'Berner Sennehunde' or as we English speaking people know him, the Bernese Mountain Dog[1a].

History of the Bernese Mountain Dog in Australia

Bernese Australia 1984Bernese Australia 1984

The first Bernese to arrive in Australia was from New Zealand in 1978. But the breed began here when an English dog, Ch Millwire Clockwork Soldier (pictured) was imported by a Ms Clayton. When her circumstances changed and she was no longer able to keep him, he went to Mrs Lyn Brand. She piloted him through to become the first Bernese Mountain Dog in Australia to be awarded Best Exhibit in Show all-breeds. This award was given by Australia's iconic judge, Mr Harry Spira. Then several imports followed into other States. Of particular significance was Eng Ch Choritsma  Monch Of Vindissa who came into South Australia with Mrs Waterman and left some outstanding progeny. To improve the breed in Australia, Bernese breeders in Australia have imported from many famous International kennels around the world. Today, Bernese in Australia attract entries in their Speciality Shows approaching 100[2].

Comparison between the Rottweiler and the Bernese Mountain Dog

These two modern breeds are considered here together because they have a common origin and purpose. In Roman times their ancestors drove cattle along ancient trading routes north from Italy over the Alps via the St Gotthard Pass to Switzerland and Southern Germany. Centuries later, both breeds were used for carting.

Rottweiler Bernese Mountain Dog
General Appearance The Rottweiler is a powerful, double coated, black and tan dog standing 56 - 68 cm tall. The Bernese is a longhaired, tricoloured, agile working dog, standing 60 - 70 cms tall.
Temperament Alert, self-assured and eager to work. Outgoing friendliness.
RottweilerRottweiler Bernese Mountain DogBernese Mountain Dog
Skull The relatively broad skull is of medium length with pronounced cheek bones or zygomatic arches. In profile, the forehead is moderately arched and the occipital bone visible.

The head is strong in balanced with its general appearance without being too massive. Viewed from the front and in profile the skull is slightly rounded with the frontal furrow hardly visible.

Stop The stop relatively well defined with a frontal groove that should not be too deep. The stop is well defined, but not too deep.
Muzzle The ratio between the length of the muzzle to that of the skull should be 1:1·5. The straight nasal bridge is broad at the base, moderately tapered, with dark, close fitting lips. The nose is black, the muzzle strong and of medium length and the nasal straight. The lips must always be tight fitting and black.
Eyes The almond shaped dark brown eyes are of medium size, with eyelids close fitting. The almond-shaped, dark brown eyes have close fitting eyelids and are not deep-set or prominent.
Ears The medium sized triangular shaped ears are set high and wide apart. When alert they make the skull appear  broader. The medium-sized, high set triangular shaped ears have slightly rounded tips. When alert, the rear part of the ear is raised while the front edge of the ear remains close to the head. In repose they hang flat and close to the head.
Mouth A normal scissors bite with complete dentition. A normal scissor bite. A level bite is acceptable with full dentition preferred.
RottweilerRottweiler Bernese Mountain DogBernese Mountain Dog
Neck Strong and muscular, of fair length without excessive dewlap. Strong and muscular of medium length.
Forequarters From the front, the chest is broad and deep so the legs are not placed too closely together. The foreleg is straight and vertical, the shoulders sloping at about 45 degrees to the horizontal and the elbows close fitting.The pasterns are springy with some slope. From the front, the chest is broad and deep, reaching to the close-fitting elbows with the forechest distinctly developed. The shoulder blade and upper arm are long and set obliquely. The forelegs are strong and vertical with almost upright pasterns.
Feet The front feet are round, tight and well arched with hard pads and short, black and strong nails. The back feet are slightly longer. The front feet are short and round, with well-knit, well-arched toes. The hind feet are slightly less arched.
RottweilerRottweiler Bernese Mountain DogBernese Mountain Dog
Body The back is straight, strong and firm, the loins strong and deep and the croup is broad and of medium length and slightly rounded. The belly should not be tucked up. The topline runs slightly downwards from the neck to the withers. It is then a firm, straight and level harmonious line running to the broad, strong loins and smoothly rounded croup into the tail.
Hindquarters Seen from behind, the hind legs should be not too close together. In profile, obtuse angles form the dog's stifle, his moderately long upper thigh and the hip bone, the upper thigh and the long and sinewy lower thigh, and the lower thigh and sturdy, well angulated hock. Viewed from the rear, the legs should be straight and parallel, but not too close. The upper thigh is long, broad, strong and well muscled and the stifle well bent. The lower thigh is long and oblique and the well angulated hock joint is set almost vertically with dewclaws removed (except in those countries where it is prohibited by law).
Tail The undocked tail is set-on level with the  the topline. When exited or moving it can be carried upward in a slight curve. At rest hangs reaches the hocks or a bit longer. Bushy, reaching at least to the hocks; hanging straight down when at rest but carried level with back or slightly above when moving.
Coat The double coat consists of a top dense, flat top coat of medium length through which the undercoat must not show. The skin should be tight fitting but wrinkles on the forehead when alert, are typical. Long and shiny, straight or slightly wavy.
Colour Black with clearly defined markings of a rich tan on the cheeks, muzzle, throat, chest and legs, over both eyes and around the vent.

Essentially a black dog with rich tan markings on the cheeks, above the eyes, on all four legs and on the chest, and with specific white markings.

Movement A trotting dog, moving with his topline remaining firm and relatively stable. His movement is typically harmonious, full of energy with a steady, unrestricted stride. The movement is sound and balanced with free strides covering a lot of ground, moving forward in a straight line.

References and Further Reading

[1] Silvana Vogel Tedeschi - 'The Bernese Mountain Dog' Self-Published ISBN 88-901658-1-2 Italy Chapter 1 Part 2 'Large Farms to the Middle Ages' Page 15

[1a] Ibid., Part 3 'The Dürrbach Dog' Page 17

[2] Lyn Brand - "The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia" The Bernese Mountain Dog. Published by OzDog Newspaper 1997 Page 50


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