This charming dog from the Swiss Alps conjures up images of idyllic pastures in mountainside settings. Learn more about the draft dog and its heritage.
1. THEY HAIL FROM SWITZERLAND.
Since the breed is so old, the details about its creation are a little slim. Some believe they came about when Romans brought mastiff-like dogs to Switzerland 2000 years ago. Others contest this theory, as the remains of large dogs have been found in Switzerland dating to before the Romans crossed the Alps. Unfortunately, there is very little art or literature to help shed any light. Berners are working dogs, and artists generally chose to put more glamorous hunting and lap dogs on the canvas.
2. THE NAME REFERS TO WHERE THE BREED IS FROM.
Bernese mountain dogs get their name from the area where they were bred: Bern Canton, the central region of Switzerland.
3. IT'S A TYPE OF SWISS MOUNTAIN DOG.
Swiss mountain dogs, or Sennenhund, are large working dogs that originated in the Swiss Alps. They're known for their stocky figure, calm temperament, and tri-color coat. Besides the Berner, the others are the Appenzeller, Entlebucher mountain dog, and Greater Swiss mountain dog. While they all look similar, only the Bernese mountain dog has the signature long flowing fur.
4. THEY WERE BRED AS WORKING DOGS.
This powerful breed was developed to have strong legs to endure the rocky terrain of the mountains. Originally they were used as herding and guard dogs for farm families. Their friendly and calm personality makes them great companions as well.
5. EVENTUALLY THEY BECAME DELIVERY DOGS.
In 1850, cheese plants started to open up, and producers wanted to move large shipments of food. The strong dogs would pull carts filled with dairy products and bread to different farms. Sometimes small children would accompany the dogs, but Berners were perfectly capable of doing it on their own. [PDF] The trend of draft dogs caught on, and soon countries like Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and even Canada were using the dog-carts. While the canine-drawn carts were a necessity in the Alps, in other parts of the world they were used as a novelty.
6. THEY'RE CRAZY STRONG.
These dogs are well muscled and eager to please. They can haul up to 1000 pounds—10 times their own weight.
7. LOVE OF THE ST. BERNARD ALMOST WIPED OUT THE BERNER.
In the late 1800s, the St. Bernard was the ‘It’ dog of Switzerland. As popularity for the big dog rose, people began to forget about the Swiss mountain dogs. Fanciers loved the St. Bernard’s uniform coloration and distinct origin. The Swiss Kennel Club started in 1883 and chose not to recognize any of the mountain dogs, opting to showcase instead the St. Bernard and other hounds of the region. Soon, only farmers in remote areas had use for the Bernese mountain dog and others of its kind. The breed would have been wiped out entirely if not for an innkeeper named Franz Schertenleib, who as a child had heard stories about the dog. He popularized the breed by promoting it across Switzerland and Europe.
8. CARTING CAN BE A SPORT.
While there is no longer a need for cart-pulling canines, that doesn’t mean the dogs have lost for their love for it. Berner owners recognize that the dogs were bred to pull carts and come to life when they do it. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America holds a carting competition so Berners can show off their stuff.
9. THEY'RE A LITTLE IMMATURE.
Bernese mountain dogs mature a bit slower than other dogs, so they require consistent and patient training.
10. BERNERS HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR.
These floppy dogs love making their owners happy and often respond well to laughter. If they find a particular antic or action will make their owners laugh, they’re sure to repeat it. One book refers to this as the “Berner chuckle.”