The Berner is powerfully built and an established working breed. They were designed for work in the mountains, but have quickly become a firm family favorite as a household companion. If you can handle their size, they are excellent, well-rounded dogs that can function well in just about any living situation.
Still, there are things you’ll need to consider before welcoming this beautifully fluffy companion into your home. The Berner is both large and active, meaning that they aren’t suited to every family or living situation. You’ll need to make sure you can afford to care for a large breed dog, as well as some of the other costs that come with them. Ready to find out if this is the perfect Swiss pup for your family? Let’s jump in!
The Bernese Mountain Dog, or the Berner as he is lovingly referred to by enthusiasts, is a well-established working dog breed. Believed to have been around on Swiss farms for 2,000 years, his origins are thought to be the Molosser or other traveling Mastiff-type dogs.
Molosser dogs were brought to Switzerland in the 1st century by the Romans when they invaded the Alps. And there, they bred with other unknown local breeds to create the four Swiss sennenhund breeds. The Berner is one of four and often compared to the Swissy, which has the same coloring, but a shorter coat.
Their name derives from the area of Bern. Bern is a sprawling agricultural region that, to this day, produces the two biggest Swiss exports: chocolate and cheese. Although the Berner is no longer needed to work on the farms, there are still upwards of 12,000 farms spread over Bern’s valleys, hills, and mountain areas. The Berner was a versatile farm dog, tasked with pulling dairy-laden carts, herding livestock, and guarding the family and property.
Their numbers dwindled throughout the 19th century, but by 1899 the Swiss sought to preserve their native breeds and the Berner dog club. Many members were already seasoned breeders of Swiss purebred dogs. Unfortunately, the World Wars meant that shows and breeding took a backseat. Post-war, however, the first dogs were exported to the USA, and in 1936 the Glen Shadow Kennel in Louisiana imported a pair of Berners for breeding.
Today they rank in the top 30 most popular dog breeds and have done regularly for some time. With a recent popularity boost in Swiss dogs and hard work by breeders to secure the other Swiss breeds in the AKC ranks, this breed is here to stay. He is a popular family dog, his love for humans has found him therapy purposes too. his popularity has also resulted in numerous Berner mixed breeds.
The AKC breed standard describes them as self-confident, alert, and good-natured. Never sharp or shy. The Berner is highly affectionate, very intelligent, and protective without being intimidating or aggressive. Making them a great family companion that is gentle with children, as well as calm and tolerant. Overall, a well-balanced dog for a family home.
If you are looking for a good house dog, you’ve also found a winner. Although not aggressive, they can be quite vocal and will bark at strangers and anything else they perceive to be a threat. This, mixed with their sheer size and standoffishness, can be a great visual deterrent to would-be intruders. However, with their gentle nature comes the negative side of their guarding tendencies. If an intruder did decide to enter the home, the Berner would likely just watch from afar and not fend them off.
When it comes to cuddle time, the Berner didn’t get the memo that he isn’t a lapdog. So, as soon as you sit still for more than a couple of seconds, he will climb on your lap for a fuss. He will be this affectionate with every family member and friend of the family once he knows they’re cool with you. Which makes him the best hang-out buddy a family could ask for.
He is also moderately energetic and not quite as laid back as his Saint Bernard cousin. The Berner is lots of fun and will happily play all day with his family. He is a clumsy dope of a dog and needs an active and fun family to keep up with him. This is great if you are looking for a free (kind of) source of entertainment. Not so much if you lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Size & Appearance
Firmly in the large dog class and a working mutt to boot, the Berner is a hefty hound. He weighs between 80 and 115 pounds, and he measures between 23 and 27 ½ inches. He is powerful, to say the least. And his weight alone is enough to bowl over a fully grown man if crashed into when goofing around. Under his shaggy fur that makes him appear soft and cuddly is a muscular frame.
Their eyes are large and intelligent with a friendly expression. Plus, the Berner is a smiley dog if such a thing exists. His ears are large, rounded, and dropdown. His body is strong, long, and level. Giving him a sturdy, balanced, powerful look with a confident trot when he walks. His tail is long, and his paws are huge.
Coat & Colors
The Berner’s coat, in essence, only comes in tri-color, but there may be some variation to this if he is not a pedigree. Traditionally, the ground coat will be jet black with rich rust and clear white markings. Namely, over the eyes, cheeks, corner of the mouth, chest, legs, and under the tail. The chest marking usually appears as an inverted cross. The coat will be of medium length with a silky sheen that is soft to the touch.
His double-layered coat is designed to keep him warm in snow and rain, as he would endure in the mountains while working. Contrary to popular belief, the Berner is not a natural swimmer, and many do not enjoy the water. The double coat also regulates his temperature in the summer months, which should not be shaved in a bid to cool him down. He is a moderate shedder throughout the year but sheds heavily in spring and fall due to the severe temperature changes.
Berners need 60 minutes of exercise every day to stay healthy and prevent boredom. Since they are working dogs, so it’s in their nature to work using mind and body as they go. Despite this aspect of their character, they are more than happy to spend most of their time indoors with their humans. His off-switch in the home is another big appeal of his character.
But outside activity is a must and can include a long hike, camping, and backpacking. Berners also enjoy pulling carts, especially if you throw the kids in the back, and herding competitions. The only activity you should avoid is a high-impact exercise, such as running, as it can be too much for his joints. This is especially true during puppyhood because it can damage his developing body.
Due to his size and outdoorsy nature, they will require a yard to roam in. He does not do well cooped up in an apartment. His yard needs to be secure too. Not only do Berners like to chase things due to their high prey drive, but they are also quite partial to a wander. If they can escape the yard, they will explore the local area before returning of their own accord. It goes without saying that this large come giant breed needs an equally large home.
The calm and gentle nature of the Berner makes him ideal for families with children. He will be very patient and tolerant of little ones that might tug and be generally overexcited. Always supervise dogs and children, and be mindful of that heavy tail of his. It is powerful enough to knock a toddler on their butt if they get on the wrong side of it. He will also happily charge around the yard with older children playing games and chasing them as they go. He’s a great judge of size and playability.
The Berner can be a little hit and miss with other dogs. So be sure to have a playdate with any prospective Berner rescue if you already have a dog at home. Or vice versa if he is already the resident doggo. However, if you get a Berner puppy, he will take it to a big brother or sister very quickly. Most Berners aren’t that great with other family pets because of their high prey drive.
They are reliable workers who are eager to please, and he enjoys learning new skills. This, coupled with his love of a tasty treat, makes him a great training partner. With his intelligent mind, he is a fast learner. He is happy to partake in simple commands and involved work tasks such as pulling carts, moving heavy objects, and herding and protecting important things such as cattle and children.
Early obedience training is a must for all dogs if you want a respectful pup. Especially for large dogs that can become dangerous if not controlled and allowed to maraud wherever they please. Bear in mind, though, that they are openhearted and sensitive, so their feelings are easily hurt with a harsh word. Positive reinforcement training is the way to this big friendly giant’s heart.
The flip side of his amazing character and human-centered outlook on life means that the Berner does not do well in his own company. As such, he shouldn’t be left for long on his own. He will suffer from separation anxiety, so be sure to crate train him from an early age. Start with short periods of alone time and work up to three to four hours maximum. Any more than this and you risk anxiety attacks that could lead to destructive behavior.
The expected lifespan for large breeds is shorter than the average pup, and this breed has a life expectancy of just 7 to 10 years. This is down their size and a limited gene pool that has made them susceptible to various genetic health problems. Not all Berners will experience health problems, but below are the most common health conditions they experience as a breed.
Cancer: Cancer affects many Berners and can lead to premature death. Symptoms include lumps, sores that don’t heal, bleeding from body orifices, and difficulty breathing, amongst many others.
Hip and elbow dysplasia: An condition whereby the affected joints do not fit together as they should. It presents as pain and lameness. Diagnosed via X-ray, it can be treated with surgery and medication. If undetected for too long, it can lead to arthritis and mobility issues.
Portosystemic shunt: A congenital abnormality in which blood bypasses the liver. The blood is then not cleansed by the liver, leading to neurobehavioral abnormalities, loss of appetite, low blood sugar, urinary tract problems, and stunted growth.
Panosteitis: Is self-limiting lameness, meaning it will eventually go away. Berners have been known to limp first on one leg, then on another—then the limping will stop without treatment. There are usually no long-term effects, and it is compared to growing pains.
Gastric Torsion: Also known as bloat. It is a life-threatening condition that can affect large breeds. Especially if they are fed just one large meal a day. Often followed by drinking a large amount of water or exercising close to mealtime. The stomach becomes distended with trapped gas or air and then twists (torsion). This prevents the normal return of blood to the heart, and in turn leading to heart failure.
Their dietary needs will change as they grow from a pup to an adult and into old age. As a responsible owner, you must be aware of their changing needs. With their shorter life expectancy, it can come round quicker than you think. The average Berner adult will eat around four cups of food a day, sometimes more, dependent on size and weight. You also need to make allowances for his energy expulsion if he is very active or a true working dog. This will mean he requires a higher calorie intake.
Always look for high-quality foods that produce age-specific food formulas for large breed dogs. Catering to their needs as a puppy, adult, and senior. Kibble is still the recommended food of choice by most veterinarians. It is heavily regulated and contains a balanced healthy food with added vitamins and minerals to ensure a healthy pup. While it looks dry and unappetizing, most dogs will enjoy it, plus it’s safe and convenient too.
These dogs are very food-focused with a healthy appetite for almost anything edible. With this in mind, a watchful eye needs to be kept on their weight. They are prone to obesity as many lack the exercise they need, and the heavy coat can hide many excess pounds that they have piled on. The best way to monitor it is via the scales. And, when you are training, you must adjust the food to account for the treats used. Don’t add any more weight to his joints!
Due to the Berner’s double coat and thickness of fur, they shed frequently and their grooming needs are high. The good news is their grooming is easy to perform, despite needing more attention. Their shiny locks will need brushing two to three times a week to prevent knots and matting and remove dead hair and dirt. As touched on before, they are moderate to heavy shedders. So, if you don’t like fur balls in the home or hair on your clothes, the Berner isn’t for you. If you are interested in a pup with lower grooming needs, consider a Bernedoodle.
Most of their loose hair can be removed with a slicker brush that breaches the deep undercoat made up of the finer hair that sticks to everything. It also stimulates hair follicles and promotes the natural oils that keep their coat beautifully glossy. Much of the day-to-day dirt that accumulates on their fur will naturally drop. Thankfully, they are generally clean dogs that take care of grooming themselves.
When it comes to bathing your Berner Dog, every month or so is about right. Try to avoid cleaning too frequently as it washes away the natural oils that keep the coat healthy. Get him used to his grooming schedule from an early age because he needs to be eased in gently. Use a gentle shampoo made from natural ingredients to prevent irritation. You may have to invest in a concentrated formula that will penetrate his thick coat too.
As an active dog, the Berner’s claws should wear down naturally as he exercises. But if you can hear them clipping the floor, they are too long and need trimming or grinding with a Dremel. He will also need his teeth brushing to ensure good dental hygiene. Thankfully, the Berner loves to spend time with you, and it’ll serve as a bonding and spa session all in one.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
They are very popular family dogs, so there are plenty of reputable breeders across the country. On the one hand, it makes it easier to find a healthy pup, but on the other, it does mean you’ll probably have to join a waiting list. The average price of a puppy is around $1,500. But you can expect to pay more for a dog from an award-winning breeder. A good place to start is the AKC’s list of registered breeders.
When looking for a Berner pup, you need to know how to spot one that might be offered by a puppy mill. These are breeders that prioritize profit over health. Surefire signs that the breeder is of poor quality or part of a puppy mill is low prices, evasive conversation, and poor communication. Especially when it comes to meeting the pups before you collect them. Do your research and avoid it at all costs!
When budgeting for your pup, be sure to consider all costs related to owning a Berner. He is a large dog breed, and as such, not cheap by any means. Factors such as insurance, medical care, food, bedding, crates, and tough dog toys are just the beginning. All dogs are a huge investment of time and money, so please make sure you can commit to him.
Rescues & Shelters
If you haven’t already, you should consider rescuing before ordering a puppy. You can visit your local rescue shelters as all sorts of popular breeds find their way there regardless of how much somebody paid for them.
There are also dedicated rehoming charities that specialize in rehoming these beautiful bundles of Swiss love. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America and the BFW Rescue list charities that find forever homes for Berners. As well as other information that you might find useful.
As Family Pets
- The Berner is suitable for many types of families and is great fun.
- They are happy to relax and cuddle or put in a hard day’s work.
- Berners need 60 minutes of exercise a day to stay healthy.
- The breed does better where they are at home with family.
- Berners are family and child-friendly pups.
- They are aloof with strangers until they know the stranger can be trusted.
- Berners are good watchdogs, but terrible guard dogs.
- They are highly intelligent and trainable.
- Their size and power require experienced owners.
- They don’t like apartment living, doing better with bigger yards.
The Bernese Mountain Dog will steal your heart with his big goofy grin and glorious good looks. He is gentle, loyal, protective, patient, and an all-around fantastic family dog. Happy to kick back or go full tilt if he is with his family, he is a joy to own and live with. He can be independent when the family is busy as long as he is close by, and in equal measure, he can be an oversized lapdog.
So, whether you are a suburban family or an outdoor worker, a professional couple in a city, or retired on a farmstead, the Berner can fill the dog-shaped hole in your life. All he asks for is the exercise, interaction, and love he desires to be the fab furry friend he was bred to be. It’s clear to see why he is one of the most popular dogs today and has been a hit with families for many years. He is versatile, easy-going, and will go with your family’s flow.