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The Bernese Mountain Dog: A Complete Dog Breed Guide - PawSafe

The Bernese Mountain Dog: A Complete Dog Breed Guide

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

The Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog is a breed as majestic in appearance as it is gentle in nature. If you’re captivated by their striking tri-colored coat and kind eyes, and you’re considering bringing one of these loyal companions into your home, you’re in the right place. Whether you’re thinking about buying a puppy or adopting an adult, understanding the full scope of what it means to live with a Bernese is essential.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into what makes the Bernese Mountain Dog a unique and beloved breed. We’ll explore their characteristics, from their calm and affectionate temperament to their robust health needs, and discuss the daily care they require to thrive. For those of you looking to make a Bernese part of your family, I’ll share insights on everything from choosing the right puppy to managing their health and happiness as they grow.

To ensure you get the most accurate and detailed information, we’ll be referring to the expertise of Dr. Ross Clark, DVM, whose extensive knowledge on the breed has been captured in his comprehensive guide to the Bernese Mountain Dog breed. So, join me as we unpack all you need to know to decide if a Bernese Mountain Dog is the perfect addition to your life, ensuring you’re well-prepared for the rewarding experience of Bernese ownership. 

Contents show

Bernese Mountain Dog Key Points

  1. These majestic Swiss working dogs are known for their calm and friendly temperament, despite their large size.
  2. Bred to herd cattle and pull carts, Bernese Mountain Dogs are intelligent and enjoy having a job to do.
  3. Their thick double coat keeps them warm in the mountains but requires regular brushing to manage shedding.
  4. Originally working companions, Bernese Mountain Dogs have moderately high energy levels and need daily exercise.
  5. Sadly, Bernese Mountain Dogs typically live 7-10 years due to a higher prevalence of certain health conditions.
  6. Their thick fur makes them intolerant of hot weather, so owners need to take precautions in warm climates.

The Bernese Profile: Physical and Personality Traits

Bernese Mountain Dog sitting showing physical traits and calm temperament

The Bernese Mountain Dog, with its impressive tri-colored coat and sturdy build, epitomizes the grandeur and strength characteristic of a traditional mountain dog. 

Originating from the mountainous regions of Switzerland, these dogs are not only striking in appearance but also balanced and robust, capable of the draft and droving work for which they were originally bred. 

According to the Official Standard of the Bernese Mountain Dog, males stand about 25 to 27.5 inches (63.5 to 70 cm) at the withers, while females typically range from 23 to 26 inches (58.5 to 66 cm) at the withers.

.Despite their square appearance, Bernese are slightly longer than they are tall, with a body full of sturdy bone, which is of paramount importance to their structure.

Physical Attributes

The Bernese sports a thick, moderately long coat that can be slightly wavy or straight, characterized by a bright natural sheen. 

The breed’s distinct color pattern includes a jet-black ground color with rich rust and clear white markings. The desired symmetry of these markings adds to their striking appearance, with specific patterns such as a white blaze and muzzle band, and rust markings over the eyes, cheeks, and legs.

The expression of a Bernese Mountain Dog is one of its defining traits — intelligent, animated, and gentle. Dark brown, slightly oval eyes and medium-sized, triangular ears that hang close to the head contribute to their alert yet kind demeanor.


The temperament of the Bernese Mountain Dog is as desirable as its physical attributes. Known for their calmness, intelligence, and loyalty, Bernese make excellent family pets. They are self-confident, alert, and good-natured, never sharp or shy. These traits make them particularly well-suited to families with children and other animals. They are affectionate and protective, often forming a strong bond with family members.

Owners of Bernese Mountain Dogs frequently praise their adaptability and gentle nature. One owner shared, “Our Bernese, Hugo, is the heart of our family activities. He’s fantastic with the kids, always gentle and patient, no matter how chaotic the play gets.” Another remarked on the breed’s demeanor towards other pets: “Molly has grown up with two cats, and it’s like they’re all from the same litter. She’s protective yet respectful of their space.”

These dogs do best in environments where they can be part of daily family activities. While they are large, their calm and stable nature makes them adaptable to various living situations, provided they have enough space to move comfortably and access to regular exercise to maintain their health.

Bernese Mountain Dogs vs. Other Swiss Mountain Dog Breeds

The Berner is often confused with the Great Swiss Mountain Dog, but what’s the difference?

The truth is that the Bernese is actually one of four distinct breeds of Sennenhund, or Swiss Mountain Dogs. Each breed has unique traits tailored to specific roles in rural Swiss life, ranging from herding to guarding and drafting

Among these are the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Great Swiss Mountain Dog, along with the Appenzeller and the Entlebucher Mountain Dogs. Here’s a comparative look at these fascinating breeds:

Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund (Greater Swiss Mountain Dog)

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is the largest of the Swiss mountain breeds. They resemble the Bernese Mountain Dog in their tri-color markings but have a shorter, denser coat. Typically, males stand between 25.5 to 28.5 inches (65 to 72 cm), and females between 23.5 to 27 inches (60 to 69 cm).

Known for their strength and vigilance, the Greater Swiss is dependable, watchful, and protective, making them excellent family guardians. They are less outgoing than the Bernese but share a similar loyalty and affection for their family.

Berner Sennenhund (Bernese Mountain Dog)

As described earlier, Bernese Mountain Dogs have a distinctive long, silky tri-color coat. They stand slightly smaller than the Greater Swiss, with males typically reaching 25 to 27.5 inches (63.5 to 70 cm) and females 23 to 26 inches (58.5 to 66 cm).

The Bernese is affectionate, intelligent, and gentle. They excel in a family environment and are particularly known for their patience with children.

Appenzeller Sennenhund (Appenzeller Mountain Dog)

The Appenzeller is medium-sized, muscular, and agile, built for herding and farm work. They stand about 18.5 to 23 inches (47 to 58 cm) in height.

This breed is lively, fearless, and energetic, with a strong work ethic. They are highly intelligent and trainable but require a lot of physical and mental stimulation.

Entlebucher Sennenhund (Entlebucher Mountain Dog)

The smallest of the Swiss mountain dogs, Entlebuchers are compact and sturdy, standing about 16 to 20 inches (41 to 51 cm) tall.

Known for their spirited and assertive nature, Entlebuchers are also very loyal and affectionate with their families. They are energetic and need adequate exercise to match their high energy levels.

Comparative Overview

  • All four breeds were originally used for pastoral and draft purposes, but their roles have slightly diverged. The Greater Swiss and Bernese are more aligned with heavy draft work, while the Appenzeller and Entlebucher lean towards herding.
  • The Bernese and Greater Swiss have similar grooming needs due to their thick coats, though the Bernese requires slightly more care due to its length. The Appenzeller and Entlebucher have shorter coats that are easier to maintain but still require regular grooming.
  • While all four breeds can integrate well into family life, the Bernese is particularly known for its gentle demeanor with children. The other breeds are also family-friendly but may exhibit more guarding instincts and require thorough socialization.

Understanding the nuances between these related breeds helps potential owners choose a dog that best fits their lifestyle and environment. Each Swiss Mountain Dog has a rich heritage and can provide companionship, protection, and service in various capacities, embodying the robust spirit of the Alpine regions they originate from.

Living with a Bernese: Pros and Cons

Bernese Mountain dog in the mountain with space for living conditions

Bernese Mountain Dogs, with their majestic appearance and gentle demeanor, can make wonderful additions to many homes. However, like all breeds, living with a Bernese comes with specific considerations. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of having a Bernese Mountain Dog, focusing on their adaptability to different living environments and their exercise requirements.

You can also read more about Bernese Mixed Breeds like the Great Bernese and the Berner Dane.

Exploration of the Breed’s Lifestyle Fit

Bernese Mountain Dogs were originally bred in the cold, mountainous regions of Switzerland, which has influenced their adaptability in several ways:

  • Bernese are large, active dogs that thrive in environments where they have plenty of room to move and play. They are best suited to homes with large yards or rural areas where they can roam and explore safely.
  • Their thick, long coats make them particularly well-suited to cooler climates. In warmer areas, they require special care to prevent overheating, including access to shade, air conditioning, and plenty of fresh water.

Exercise Requirements

  • Bernese Mountain Dogs require regular exercise to maintain their health but do not have excessive energy levels that make them hyper or unruly. Moderate, consistent exercise is key to keeping them healthy without putting undue stress on their joints, which can be a concern due to their large size.
  • Activities such as walks, gentle hikes, and play sessions in a secure area are ideal for keeping them physically and mentally stimulated.

Comprehensive Table of Pros and Cons of Having a Bernese Mountain Dog

Pros of Having a Bernese Mountain DogCons of Having a Bernese Mountain Dog
Affectionate and Loyal Companions: Bernese are known for their gentle and loving nature, making them excellent family pets. They are loyal and form strong bonds with their owners.Large Size Requires Space: Their large size means they are better suited to homes with ample space. Small living environments can be challenging for a Bernese.
Good with Children and Other Pets: They are known to be very patient and gentle with children and generally get along well with other pets if properly socialized.Sheds Heavily: Bernese shed a lot, especially seasonally, which can be a challenge for cleanliness and for people with allergies.
Moderate Exercise Needs: They need regular but moderate exercise, making them suitable for owners who enjoy daily walks but do not want a highly energetic dog.Prone to Health Issues: They are susceptible to several genetic health problems, including hip dysplasia and cancer, which can lead to high veterinary costs.
Adaptable to Various Climates: While they prefer cooler climates, they can adapt to different environments with appropriate care.Sensitive to Heat: Their thick coat makes them susceptible to overheating in warm weather, requiring careful management to ensure they remain cool.
Excellent Working Dog: Historically bred as farm dogs, they are excellent at various tasks around the yard and enjoy activities that involve pulling or carrying.Shorter Lifespan: As a large breed, their lifespan is typically shorter, averaging around 7-8 years, which can be hard for families who form close bonds with their pets.

Understanding these pros and cons will help prospective Bernese owners determine if this breed is a good fit for their lifestyle and environment.

Common Health Issues in Bernese Mountain Dogs

Bernese Mountain Dog puppy at vet for check up for health conditions

Bernese Mountain Dogs are cherished for their friendly nature and striking appearance. However, like many large breeds, they face several health challenges. Proper awareness and care can significantly enhance their quality of life. Here, we delve into the common health issues associated with the breed, drawing from insights provided in Dr. Alex Gough’s comprehensive book.

Dermatological Conditions

Skin Tumors – Bernese Mountain Dogs are predisposed to various skin tumors, which can range from benign growths to more serious conditions such as malignant melanomas.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Gastric or Mesenteric Dilatation/Volvulus (GDV) – Also known as bloat, GDV is a critical condition that involves the stomach swelling and in some cases, twisting. Bernese Mountain Dogs have a 1.8% mortality rate from GDV, highlighting the importance of recognizing symptoms early and seeking prompt veterinary care.

Hematological/Immunological Conditions

Factor I and VII Deficiency – Both of these conditions involve the dog’s ability to clot blood and are inherited autosomally. They can lead to excessive bleeding from minor injuries or surgeries.

Infectious Conditions

Leptospirosis – This breed has been found to be significantly overrepresented in cases of leptospirosis in German studies, suggesting a higher vulnerability to this bacterial infection.

Borreliosis (Lyme Disease) –  With a high seroprevalence noted in studies, Bernese Mountain Dogs are particularly at risk for Lyme disease, which can lead to joint pain, lethargy, and more serious complications if untreated.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

Elbow and Hip Dysplasia – Common in many large breeds, these conditions can lead to pain and mobility issues. Regular screening and appropriate management, including weight control and joint supplements, are crucial.

Panosteitis (Growing Pains) – This condition typically affects young, growing dogs and can cause periods of lameness and pain, though it often resolves as the dog matures.

Neoplastic Conditions

Histiocytic Sarcoma Complex –  Particularly prevalent in Bernese Mountain Dogs, this cancer can be aggressive and is more common in males. Early detection and intervention are key to managing this disease.

Neurological Conditions

Hepatocerebellar Degeneration –  Seen in some puppies, this genetic condition affects the liver and brain, leading to significant developmental delays and often early death.

Ocular Conditions

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) —  This degenerative eye disorder leads to blindness but can be managed with lifestyle adjustments as the dog’s vision declines.

Renal and Urinary Conditions

Familial Renal Disease –  Including conditions like glomerulonephritis and interstitial nephritis, these serious ailments affect the kidneys and can lead to early renal failure.


Studies, such as this one, have found that the average lifespan of a Bernese Mountain Dog is around 7 years, which is relatively short compared to other breeds. This shortened lifespan is largely due to their predisposition to serious health issues like cancer and hip dysplasia.

Best Foods for Different Life Stages of Bernese Mountain Dogs

Bernese Mountain Dogs have specific dietary needs that vary across their life stages. Given their large size and predisposition to joint issues and weight-related health problems, selecting the right dog food is crucial for maintaining their health and well-being. 

Below are recommendations for the best dog foods for Bernese Mountain Dogs at different life stages, focusing on formulations that support joint health and help manage weight effectively.

Royal Canin Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy

Specifically formulated for Bernese puppies, this food supports their rapid growth phase with an appropriate balance of protein and energy. It includes nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin to help protect developing joints.

Hill’s Science Diet Large Breed Puppy

Rich in fish oil for a healthy brain and eye development, this food also contains high levels of calcium for bone growth. Its balanced nutrition is excellent for large breed puppies who need careful management to prevent excessive growth, which can lead to health issues later in life.

Eukanuba Adult Large Breed

Designed for adult dogs of large breeds, this food offers a balanced diet with high-quality chicken as the primary protein source. It’s enriched with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to support joint health and contains L-carnitine to help manage weight by promoting fat metabolism.

Wellness Core Large Breed

This grain-free formula provides complete nutrition without excess calories that can lead to obesity. It includes glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support, antioxidants for a healthy immune system, and probiotics for digestive health.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Senior Large Breed Chicken & Brown Rice

Tailored for the needs of aging dogs, this food includes ingredients to support heart health, joint care, and overall mobility. It is formulated with reduced calories to help maintain a healthy weight in senior dogs.

Nutro Ultra Senior Dry Dog Food

This holistic brand offers a trio of proteins from chicken, lamb, and salmon. It’s packed with superfoods like coconut, chia, and kale, which provide antioxidants and fatty acids to help maintain mental sharpness and overall vitality in senior Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Special Dietary Considerations

To support joint health, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those containing fish oil or flaxseed, are beneficial. These nutrients help reduce inflammation and can support joint function. Additionally, diets high in antioxidants such as vitamins E and C can help combat oxidative stress and may aid in maintaining joint health.

For weight management, look for foods with high-quality, lean protein sources that help maintain muscle mass while keeping overall fat and calorie content low. Fiber-rich foods can aid in digestion and help keep your Bernese feeling full, which can prevent overeating.

Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial to monitor your Bernese Mountain Dog’s health and adjust their diet as needed, especially since they age and if they develop any health issues. Always transition to new foods gradually to avoid digestive upset and ensure your dog adjusts well to the new diet.

Daily Care and Management of Bernese Mountain Dogs

Deshedding a Bernese Mountain Dog as part of routine care

Caring for a Bernese Mountain Dog involves meticulous grooming, diligent health maintenance, and thoughtful exercise planning to ensure they lead a healthy and happy life. Here’s a comprehensive guide to managing their daily care effectively:


Bernese Mountain Dogs boast a thick, long double coat that requires regular maintenance to keep them looking their best and to prevent health issues related to poor coat condition.


Due to their dense and long fur, Bernese should be brushed several times a week, and daily during seasonal shedding periods. Use a slicker brush and an undercoat rake to remove loose hair and prevent matting.


Regularly trim the hair between the paw pads to prevent accumulation of debris and improve traction. Hair around the genital area should also be trimmed for hygiene.


Check and clean their ears weekly with a vet-recommended ear cleaner to prevent infections, especially since Bernese are prone to ear issues due to their floppy ears.


Clip their nails every few weeks. Long nails can cause discomfort and lead to problems with walking and joint health.

Health Maintenance

Routine health checks are essential for identifying and managing potential health issues early.

Joint Health

Regularly assess your Bernese for signs of joint discomfort or lameness, particularly given their susceptibility to hip and elbow dysplasia. Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can be beneficial, but consult your vet for recommendations.

Dental Care

Implement a regular dental care routine, including brushing your dog’s teeth several times a week. This helps prevent gum disease, which can lead to serious health complications.

Veterinary Check-ups

Schedule regular vet visits to monitor their overall health and catch any early signs of common ailments like bloat, cancer, or hereditary diseases.


Bernese Mountain Dogs require regular exercise to maintain their physical health and mental well-being, but their activities should be appropriate for their size and joint health.

Walks and Hikes

Daily walks and occasional gentle hikes are great for keeping your Bernese active. Avoid strenuous activity on hard surfaces to protect their joints.


Bernese have a history of draft work, so activities like carting can be a great way to provide exercise while engaging their minds.

Play Sessions

Engage them in play sessions that allow them to solve problems and use their strength, such as pulling toys or gentle tug-of-war.

Mental Stimulation

Provide toys and puzzles that challenge them mentally to keep them engaged and prevent boredom, which can lead to destructive behavior.

Managing the care of a Bernese Mountain Dog requires dedication and an understanding of their specific needs. By maintaining a routine that includes proper grooming, health checks, and suitable exercise, you can ensure your Bernese remains a happy and healthy companion.

Training and Behavior of Bernese Mountain Dogs

Training a Bernese Mountain Dog can be a rewarding experience, given their intelligence and natural eagerness to please. Recognized as the 27th most intelligent dog breed, Bernese are quick learners and respond well to structured training. 

However, their large size and working-dog heritage present specific challenges. Here’s how to tailor your training techniques to the breed’s unique needs and personality.

Harnessing Their Intelligence and Eagerness to Please:

  • As a working breed, Bernese Mountain Dogs thrive when given tasks that make them feel useful. Incorporate draft work or simple cart-pulling into their routine. Start by training them to wear a harness and gradually introduce them to pulling lightweight carts.
  • Their keen sense of smell makes them great candidates for scent work. Create simple scent games where they find hidden treats or toys. This taps into their intelligence and keeps them mentally stimulated.
  • Establish a consistent daily training routine that provides structure. Bernese respond well to predictability and clear expectations. Begin each session with known commands to build confidence, then introduce new commands one at a time.

Training Techniques Specific to the Breed:

Bernese Mountain Dogs are known for their sensitivity to touch. Use gentle touch or massage as a reward for good behavior, reinforcing the positive association with training.

Their gentle nature makes them prone to shyness. Gradual desensitization to new environments, sounds, and people will help them build confidence. Introduce new experiences in a controlled, positive way.

Addressing Potential Behavioral Challenges

Managing Size and Strength

Start leash training as puppies to instill proper behavior. Teach them to “heel” and not pull on the leash, which will be crucial as they grow larger and stronger.

Games like “Leave It” and “Wait” teach impulse control, which is particularly important given their strength. Reward them for holding their position or resisting the urge to grab food or toys until given the command.

Family Pet vs. Working Dog:

If your Bernese is a family pet, incorporate tasks that fit your household, like carrying small items or fetching. For working dogs, emphasize draft training or herding, which aligns with their natural abilities.

Due to their size, they can unintentionally knock over small children or guests. Teach them to “sit” or “down” on command when people approach to encourage calm and respectful behavior.

Early Socialization

Enroll your Bernese puppy in socialization classes to expose them to other dogs and people in a controlled environment. This can help prevent shyness and encourage positive social behavior.

Introduce them to different environments, such as parks, busy streets, and indoor venues. Gradual exposure builds their confidence and helps them adapt to various settings.

Ongoing Training:

Keep their minds sharp by teaching advanced commands and fun tricks. This keeps them engaged and reinforces their bond with you.

Given their gentle nature, consider training your Bernese as a therapy or assistance dog. This gives them a meaningful role and harnesses their desire to please.

By understanding and respecting the unique traits of the Bernese Mountain Dog, training becomes a more enjoyable and effective process for both you and your canine companion. Tailor your techniques to leverage their intelligence and strength, while addressing potential challenges, to foster a well-behaved, socially adept Bernese.

Purchasing and Adoption of Bernese Mountain Dogs

Bernese Mountain Dog puppy for sale

Whether you’re considering purchasing a Bernese Mountain Dog from a breeder or adopting one from a rescue, it’s crucial to understand the best practices to ensure you’re supporting ethical breeding and rescue operations. Here’s a guide to help you navigate the process of bringing a Bernese Mountain Dog into your home.

Finding Reputable Breeders

  • Look for breeders who perform genetic testing on their breeding dogs to screen for common health issues associated with the breed, such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and hereditary cancers.
  • If possible, visit the breeder’s facility in person. This allows you to observe the conditions in which the dogs and puppies are raised, ensuring they are clean, spacious, and well-maintained.
  • Contact the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America for a list of reputable breeders. They endorse breeders who adhere to specific health testing and ethical breeding practices, providing a great starting point for finding a responsible breeder.

Adoption and Rescue Organizations:

Consider adopting a Bernese Mountain Dog from rescue organizations dedicated to the breed. These organizations often house dogs that need a second chance at a loving home, and they come with the advantage of often being trained and socialized.

Don’t overlook local shelters and mixed-breed rescues, as they sometimes have purebred dogs or Bernese Mountain Dog mixes in need of homes.

Cost Breakdown of Bernese Mountain Dog Ownership

Initial Costs

  • Purchasing from a Breeder – The cost can vary widely but typically ranges from $800 to $2,500, depending on the breeder’s reputation and the dog’s lineage.
  • Adoption Fees –  Fees for adopting a Bernese Mountain Dog can range from $300 to $600, which usually covers initial medical expenses such as vaccinations and spaying/neutering.

Ongoing Costs

Due to their size, Bernese Mountain Dogs require a significant amount of food, and high-quality dog food can cost $60 to $100 per month.

Routine veterinary care can average $500 to $1,000 annually; however, it’s crucial to factor in potential costs for treating common health issues specific to the breed.

Regular professional grooming, which can range from $50 to $100 per session, is recommended due to their thick coat, especially if you are not grooming the dog at home.

Costs for puppy classes or ongoing training sessions can range from $50 to $200 per session, depending on the trainer’s expertise and the class’s location.


Bringing a Bernese Mountain Dog into your life is a rewarding decision that comes with considerable responsibility. Known for their majestic appearance, gentle temperament, and loyal companionship, Bernese Mountain Dogs make excellent family pets and working dogs, provided they receive the care and attention they deserve.

Whether you decide to purchase a puppy from a reputable breeder or adopt from a rescue, it is crucial to prioritize ethical practices and proper health screening to ensure the well-being of your new pup. Remember, owning a Bernese Mountain Dog involves a significant commitment not only financially but also in terms of time spent on training, socialization, and health care.

By understanding the unique needs of the Bernese Mountain Dog and preparing to meet them, you can ensure a loving and mutually rewarding relationship with your pet. Their companionship can bring immense joy and fulfillment to your household, making the commitment well worth the effort.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.