Described as being calm, good-natured and strong by the AKC, Bernese Mountain dogs are endearing canines that often make wonderful family pets. And although they aren’t well-suited for all owners, most people will find that the Bernese mountain dog makes a great companion and family member.
We’ll discuss Bernese mountain dog personalities below, but first, we’ll explain the history and basic physical attributes of the breed. This should help you determine whether they’d make a good pet for you. Just be sure to think carefully about your lifestyle and the things you want in a dog before deciding to add a Bernese mountain dog to your family.
Bernese mountain dogs get their name from their birthplace, the Canton of Bern (cantons are essentially akin to states or territories) -- a charming region tucked into the Swiss Alps. The earliest members of the breed were tasked with a variety of different duties, including watching over livestock, pulling carts and, perhaps most importantly, being a family companion.
The breed almost disappeared entirely in the early 1900s, but they regained their popularity and became recognized by the AKC in 1937. Unfortunately, because of the reduction in population size, and therefore the size of the gene pool, modern Bernese mountain dogs are susceptible to a number of genetic ailments associated with various health problems.
Bernese mountain dogs are large animals, ranging from about 70 to 110 pounds, with females being significantly smaller than males. They have a beautiful tri-colored coat, and they typically bear a “Swiss Cross” across their chest. Bernese mountain dogs have a long, thick coat, which makes them very well-suited for cold weather, but it reduces their ability to tolerate extreme heat.
Because of their eventual size, it is very important to provide young Bernese mountain dog puppies with basic obedience training. Fortunately, this is not difficult, and they tend to excel at the task.
Bernese mountain dogs often take a moment to think before executing a command, which causes some owners to underestimate their intelligence. But in actuality, they are quite sharp. Most Bernese mountain dogs are easy to train and eager to learn new commands, which they tend to pick up very quickly.
But intelligence isn’t the only trait of Bernese mountain dogs that makes them easy to train: They are also very loving canines, who are very keen to please their owners. This helps provide them with the drive needed to learn, process and perfect new commands.
Bernese mountain dogs are not couch potatoes, who love to snooze away the day. To the contrary, they want to have plenty of time to run, jump, play, sniff and explore. They are not well-suited for apartment life; they want to have a large, fenced yard in which they can roam.
You’ll need to use care when walking your Bernese mountain dog, taking him to the park or introducing him to other pets (particularly small ones), as they have a very well-developed prey drive. This can send them chasing after squirrels, rabbits, cats and smaller dogs in the blink of an eye. Because of the size of the breed, this can have tragic consequences for the smaller animal.
Early and consistent socialization may help to reduce the Bernese mountain dog’s prey drive a bit, but it isn’t likely to disappear entirely, and you’ll always need to be mindful of the other animals that you’ll encounter when you leave the house.
Despite their large size and muscular build, Bernese mountain dogs are sensitive souls. They do not respond well to harsh training methods or sharp corrections, and they will often respond to such treatment by withdrawing in apparent shame. Instead, you’ll always want to focus on training protocols that emphasize positive reinforcement.
And because Bernese mountain dogs are also very loyal, loving and dedicated to their families, they do not like being left alone for long periods of time – they want to be with their families as much as possible. They may develop destructive behaviors if forced to wait in an empty house all day while their families are at work or school, and they are not the type of dog that is content to live alone in the backyard.
Another dog (with whom your Bernese mountain dog gets along well) may help reduce some of the problems associated with their separation anxiety, it is no magic bullet. Owners that spend long periods of time away from the home should simply look for a different breed.
In general, Bernese mountain dogs are friendly, fun-loving, happy-go-lucky dogs who live in a perpetually good mood. Far from uptight or stiff, these dogs generally have a playful personality, which owners often describe as being somewhat goofy. In fact, these dogs mature slowly, which often leads them to behave like a puppy for long after they’ve achieved adult size.
Bernese mountain dogs usually get along well with children, although their large size and care-free nature can represent a minor safety hazard: While they are not aggressive with children, Berns (as they are often called) are big and uncoordinated when excited. This can cause them to accidentally knock small children over during overly enthusiastic play.
Strangers may be kept at arm’s length or greeted warmly, depending on the individual dog in question. Most Bernese mountain dogs are inclined to defend their homes and families from threats, but they aren’t as protective as many other breeds are.
Have you ever had a Bernese mountain dog? How did it work out for you? What kinds of things did you like and dislike about the breed? We’d love to hear all about your experiences in the comments below.