Hailing from the farms of the Swiss Alps, the Bernese Mountain Dog is a steadfast protector, hard worker and faithful friend. Not to mention good-looking!
The Bernese Mountain Dog belongs to the family of Swiss mountain dogs, or Sennehunde, that has been guarding flocks in the Alps since the Romans occupied the area in ancient times. Roman Mastiff-like dogs were crossed with native flock-guarding dogs to create a strong, cold-resistant dog that could work as a flock guardian, draft dog and mostly, general farm dog. The breed's native name, Berner Sennehund, comes from the town of Berne; from senne, meaning alpine pasture; and hund, meaning dog.
The breed was barely saved from extinction around 1900 by a group of dog lovers who rescued the few survivors. Their numbers grew, and they came to America in the 1920s.
Protective, devoted and laid-back, the Berner has a puppyish side and likes to play. But be forewarned; he needs tough toys!
The Bernese Mountain Dog's great size brings some special concerns, including joint problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia. Feeding a diet formulated for large breed puppies during the first year of life will help decrease the possibility of hip dysplasia, and probably elbow dysplasia. These diets allow the puppy to grow more slowly, while still achieving the same adult size---just a little later. Joint supplements, such as glucosamine chondroitin, are also vital for protecting joint health throughout life.
As an adult, you must be careful to keep your Berner at a lean weight. Too much weight stresses the joints, and can worsen arthritic changes. You may need to feed a low-calorie food. When dieting a dog, you must make sure he gets enough vitamins. We suggest supplementing with a good multi-vitamin, probiotics and, if the coat is dry, a fatty-acid supplement.
One of the Berner's biggest concerns is bloat or gastric torsion, a condition in which the gases accumulate in the stomach and can't escape. The stomach may then twist, totally cutting off any ability for anything to leave the stomach. The dog's stomach enlarges as gases continue to accumulate, and the dog is restless and tries unsuccessfully to vomit. This is an extreme emergency that needs immediate veterinary attention to save the dog. Nobody knows exactly how to prevent it, but many veterinarians advocate feeding an anti-gas pill with every meal.
Drool can make your Berner have a stronger doggy odor than you'd prefer. A deodorizing shampoo, applied especially in the throat and forechest area, can help fix this. A color enhancing shampoo for black parts can help deepen the color of a sunburned black coat. Whitening shampoos can help the white parts of the coat that may have stained.
Only rarely do Berners have ear problems. Apply an ear cleanser any time the ears start to accumulate dark secretions. Some ear wax is healthy; a lot is not. If you must apply ear medication, use the ear cleanser first to remove thick secretions that would block the medication from reaching the surface of the canal. If your dog's ears are painful, don't put any cleansers or medications in the ear until first seeing your veterinarian, as the ear drum could be ruptured.
Berners have a tendency to form calluses on their elbows. Encourage your dog to rest on soft surfaces (even carpeting can be abrasive, but is still better than hard tile). Using a cooling blanket or simply placing a fan so it blows over a soft cushion can help steer him to the better surface. Moisturizers applied to the calloused area can also help, as can wrapping the elbows with padding.
Brush the teeth daily.
Clip the nails every two weeks or so using a heavy-duty dog nail clipper.
Bernese Mountain Dogs tend to be affected by age-related physical changes, such as arthritis, at an early age. Besides any intervention recommended by your veterinarian, a soft cushion to lie on and glucosamine chondroitin supplements added to the diet can help soothe aching joints, and keep him young and frisky.