Bernese Mountain Dog in a forest

Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Guide

Last Updated 1 NOVEMBER 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Brittany Ward BVSc

These true gentle giants are well known for their distinctive tri-coloured coat and overall friendly nature. The Bernese Mountain Dog, affectionately called Berners, are an all-rounder capable of fulfilling a variety of jobs or can serve as excellent companions. Although they may not be suited to apartment living, they can be a perfect family member with some dedication to their early socialisation and plenty of exercise.

1. Bernese Mountain Dog Facts
2. History
3. Personality
4. Diet
5. Health Issues
6. Related Breeds

Facts About the Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese mountain dog smiling
Bernese mountain dog in a forest of trees
Bernese mountain dog in the snow
Breed size: Place of origin: Intelligence:
Giant Berne, Switzerland High
Breed group: Energy level: Weight range:
Working Dogs High 36 - 50kg
Life expectancy: Tendency to bark: Height range:
7 - 10 years Low Females 58-66cm; Males 64-70cm at withers
Drool factor: Coat length: Coat type:
Moderate Moderate Thick, moderate length coat that is either straight or slightly wavy and has a natural sheen.
Shedding factor: Overall grooming needs: Colours:
High Moderate (daily) Tri-Colour; Black Rust and White

How Big do Bernese Mountain Dogs Get?

The Bernese Mountain Dog is considered a large breed dog and as such grows to weigh around 36-50kg. Female dogs are smaller measuring on average 58-66cm at the withers and males are taller than this at 64-70cm at the withers.

How Much Does a Bernese Mountain Dog Cost?

According to the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Western Australia the cost of a purebred puppy from good parents averages around $2800 - $3200, but can be more if the parents are imported.

Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Bark?

The Bernese Mountain Dog typically has a low tendency to bark, however, they are a livestock guardian breed and as such can be prone to alert barking. They also have high energy levels and may become frequent barkers if left alone or bored. When they bark, they bark loudly.

Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Shed?

This is a thick, long, double coated breed so their shedding factor tends to be high. They have a heavy shed twice a year, but are known to shed steadily throughout the years as well. They require daily brushing with a dog-specific pin brush to prevent matting and remove loose hairs, while a dematting rake can be used to remove tangles from the undercoat.

How Long Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Live For?

The Bernese Mountain Dog, like most other giant dog breeds, is relatively short lived and is considered one of the breeds with the shortest longevities, tending more towards 7 years than 10. You can promote your Bernese Mountain Dog's lifespan with a diet of high-quality, premium dog food for giant breeds, regular dental care, maintaining healthy body weight and supporting their joint health.

How To Find A Good Bernese Mountain Dog Breeder?

If you are considering adding a new dog to your family, I recommend looking for a rescue dog before considering a puppy. No matter what you decide though, it's always a good idea to do your research on your breed. It's always recommended to view the breeder's premises and the parents of the puppies, as well as asking the 10 Breeder Checklist Questions before committing to a puppy. Responsible breeders will house their dogs humanely, begin socialisation from a young age and selectively breed for healthy traits and good temperament.

Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Make Good Pets?

Burmese Mountain Dogs are generally bred for their gentle and affectionate nature, and loyalty. They are often very calm but playful, making them great pets, including around children. However, this breed is a giant, working breed and will not adapt well to apartment living. They prefer to have a job to do and do require their high energy needs to be met. They tend to be aloof towards strangers, although can become very welcoming with appropriate early socialisation. They can take on the role of watchdog and may be protective of their family, although they are rarely aggressive.

How Easy Are Bernese Mountain Dogs To Train?

Though these gentle giants are considered to be loyal, eager to please and obedient, they are a self-confident breed that does benefit from additional early socialisation. Their large size and high energy levels can make them difficult to handle. They also tend to be late mentally maturing, may be prone to alert/boredom barking, have a high prey drive and like to play rough despite their generally gentle disposition. These factors are something for first time dog owners to consider and make overall training a moderate difficulty.

Bernese Mountain Dog History

These majestic dogs were bred in the Swiss Alps, in and around the city of Berne, Switzerland. They were intended to be a general purpose farm dog. They could tolerate the harsh cold weather to guard the home and stock, herd stock, pull carts, and provide a loyal, obedient companion for farmers. They form one of the the four Swiss Mountain Dog Breeds, also including the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Appenzeller Sennenhund and Entlebucher Mountain Dog.

Their ability to be a good all-rounder made them very popular amongst farmers, however the introduction of farm machinery saw a massive decline in the breed's numbers in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Fortunately, a few fanciers preserved the majestic breed and it was officially recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1937. Today, drafting and carting events are often held to show off the dog's working ability.

Bernese Mountain Dog Personality

These dogs had to be very versatile to be suited to the variety of jobs they were expected to perform on the farm. Farmers expected them to be obedient, eager to please, intelligent, self-confident, alert, gentle and generally companionable so that they could be hardworking in the fields and affectionate in the home. They tend to be very tolerant and patient around children, and can even be protective, making them great for families. They are rarely aggressive, but may be aloof around strangers due to their origin as guard dogs, especially without sufficient early socialisation. Instead, they are known for their friendly face and nature.

Their heritage as working dogs both for herding stock and pulling carts weighing more than them does mean the breed has high energy needs and is very strong. Without these energy needs being met, they may be prone to destructive behaviours like barking or anxiety. Intended to be at the farmer's side all day, they also prefer human companionship, so can experience separation anxiety if left alone for long periods of time.

They are a breed with a high prey drive that means they may not be good with small animals, unless socialised around them as puppies. Although this does mean they love to play, especially with engaging interactive toys or fetch. Just keep in mind that their large size, strength and high prey drive means their play style can be rough. Their large size also makes early obedience training important.

Top Toy Recommendations For Bernese Mountain Dogs

Bernese Mountain Dog Diet and Nutrition

Bernese Mountain Dog Puppies

It's very exciting bringing a new puppy into the household, but it can also be a very overwhelming experience for both you and your dog. Early obedience training and socialisation, especially around strangers and other animals, is important for establishing a well-behaved and confidently friendly adult Bernese Mountain Dog. Puppy preschool is a great way to get these guys started on their obedience, before they become too big to handle.

You will also be busy organising vaccinations, parasite prevention, toilet training and crate training. For more detailed tips on all the essentials you need to know about before bringing your new puppy home, check out our New Puppy Guide. The Puppy Training Guide is also a great place to start with your training so that you can prevent undesirable behaviours such as barking and separation anxiety.

For any giant breed dog that is prone to joint problems like the Bernese Mountain Dog, it is very important that puppies are fed a premium quality, large or giant breed specific diet. These diets have tightly controlled calcium levels to prevent joint deformities and are less energy dense to prevent overfeeding as excess weight is a significant risk factor for joint disease. Bernese Mountain Dogs are slowly maturing, reaching their adult size and weight at around 18-24 months of age. As such, premium quality large and giant breed puppy foods are designed to promote this slow rate of maturing and a lean body condition score of 4/9.

Best Food For Bernese Puppies

Bernese Mountain Dog Adults

It is also important to maintain your adult Bernese Mountain dog on a large and giant breed adult food. These diets often contain ingredients for joint support such as Green Lipped Mussel or Glucosamine and Chondroitin to prevent development of arthritis, as well as controlled calorie content to prevent excessive weight gain.

Best Food For Adult Berners

Bernese Mountain Dog Health Problems

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)

GDV, also sometimes called bloat or gastric torsion, is a life-threatening, emergency condition. It is common in large, deep chested dog breeds, such as the Burmese Mountain Dog. GDV is the result of an accumulation of air and/or fluid in the stomach, followed by rotation of the stomach that blocks outflow of the excess air and compresses major blood vessels and organs. Watch out for signs of restlessness, unproductive retching, abdominal distension and signs of abdominal discomfort, such as the 'prayer pose' (front feet down and rear end up). To prevent Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, offer smaller meals more frequently, slow down food consumption and avoid exercise for 1-2 hours after eating with your Berner.

Joint Problems

Hip Dysplasia

Like most giant breed dogs, the Bernese Mountain Dog is prone to Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia. Hip Dysplasia is a condition where the head of the femur in the hindlimb doesn't sit comfortably in the socket of the hip leading to inflammation and pain, often noticed as lameness after exercise. Hip Dysplasia, and Elbow Dysplasia, are predominantly genetic conditions, so reputable breeders will have their dogs hip scored and screened for Elbow Dysplasia before breeding.

Elbow Dysplasia

Similarly, Elbow Dysplasia is a condition where the three bones of the elbow joint do not fit together properly causing pain and inflammation. Elbow dysplasia is often used as an umbrella term for a collection of conditions affecting the elbow; Fragmented Coronoid Process (FCP), Osteochondrosis (OCD), Cartilage Anomaly, Ununited Anconeal Process (UAP) and Joint Incongruity. UAP is the most common cause in Bernese Mountain Dogs, and presents as a progressive lameness in the forelimb often worse after exercise.

How to prevent Hip and Elbow Dysplasia? These conditions have a genetic component, so responsible breeders will ensure all their stud dogs are tested using the Canine Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Scheme (CHEDS) prior to breeding. However, it is also important that Bernese Mountain Dog owners prevent their puppies from engaging in any strenuous exercise and they are fed a controlled amount of a good-quality Large or Giant Breed specific puppy food.


Also sometimes called "growing pains", this is a condition of the long bones (femur, humerus) in large breed puppies and is associated with bone production. It is an incredibly painful condition that can develop suddenly. It has been associated with diet, especially high protein, high calorie diets that can cause fluid accumulation and increased pressure in developing bones. The most common symptom is pain when the limb is touched, but fever, inappetence, lethargy and weight loss may also be noticed.


Osteoarthritis, sometimes referred to as arthritis or degenerative joint disease, is a chronic condition resulting from inflammation in one or more joints. All dogs are at risk of developing osteoarthritis due to wear and tear as they age, but larger breeds do tend to be prone. Other factors affecting its development include trauma, congenital disorders and infection. A multi-modal approach is required for management with dog weight management, joint support supplements and prescription pain relief.

Von Willebrands Disease

Von Willebrand's Disease is an inherited bleeding disorder that prevents the blood from clotting due to a deficiency in clotting factor VII, also known as von Willebrand factor. While it is predominantly of concern during surgery or after injury, some dogs can also experience nosebleeds, bleeding into the digestive tract or bleeding in the gums. This is usually a manageable condition once your veterinarian is aware of it, but reputable breeders will do genetic testing to detect the condition.


Bernese Mountain Dogs seem to be quite prone to cancers and it is one of the leading causes of death in these dogs, contributing a significant portion to their short life span. The most commonly occurring cancers seen in Berners are bone cancers, lymph cancers and mast Cell Tumours. Cancer may be indicated by a swelling or lump, lameness or general malaise.

Malignant Histiocytosis is a rare inheritable cancer seen nearly exclusively in Bernese Mountain Dogs that affects multiple organs, primarily the spleen, lymph nodes, lungs and bone marrow. Symptoms may include general signs of being unwell such as inappetence, weight loss, lethargy and respiration abnormalities, but can be more severe such as anaemia, neurological symptoms and eye abnormalities.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy is an inheritable condition that should be checked for in all Bernese Mountain Dogs intended for breeding purposes. The term is used for a group of degenerative conditions affecting the retina that is located in the back of the eye. This degeneration of the eye can lead to blindness.

Top Health Recommendations For Bernese Mountain Dogs


A premium quality, vet recommended joint supplement containing green lipped mussel and epitalis to help support joint health and ease the symptoms of arthritis.

PAW Blackmores Fish Oil

A concentrated blend of liquid fish oil, a rich source of omega fatty acids, EPA and DHA in a formula specifically designed for pets. Fish oil can be used as adjunctive nutritional management for joint health, inflammatory disorders including atopy, cardiovascular health, renal conditions and may have some tumour suppression properties.

Canine Care Ramp

A lightweight, non slip ramp ideal for helping eldery or sore dogs in and out of the car and easing the burden on young joints.

Outward Hound Slo Bowl

Eating rapidly is a risk factor for bloat. Using a slow feeder bowl is a great way to slow down quick eating and reduce the amount of air intake during eating.

Related Breeds

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is one of the four Swiss Mountain Dogs bred as all-purpose farm dogs. Like the Berner, the Swissy is a tri-colour black, rust and white dog, but its coat is shorter and requires less maintenance. Their temperament is described as bold, faithful and a willing worker, as opposed to the Berner's self-confident, alert and good-natured description.


The Newfoundland is another overly friendly, gentle, playful, giant working breed. They tend to be more open towards strangers than Bernese Mountain Dogs, but do still have a protective nature. They are adaptable to a flexible lifestyle and have moderate energy and mental stimulation requirements. There was thought to have been some incorporation of the Newfoundland into Bernese Mountain Dogs during their period of near extinction.

Saint Bernard

The Saint Bernard, made famous by the movie Beethoven, is a versatile, gentle working breed originating from the Swiss and Italian Alps. Like other mountain dog breeds, the Saint Bernard is great with family, but more reserved around strangers like the Bernese Mountain Dog. They also only have moderate energy and mental stimulation requirements despite their large frame.

Entlebucher Mountain Dog

Another one of the four Swiss Mountain Dog breeds, the Entlebucher is a sturdy, confident cattle herding breed. They sport the same tricolour coat as the other mountain dogs although it is a short coat, and they are smaller (53cm tall), with longer, more muscular bodies. Their personality is closer that of the Border Collie or Australian Cattle Dog, than the overly friendly, gentle nature of other Swiss Mountain breeds.

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

The Complete New Puppy Guide

How To Choose The Right Dog Breed

Managing Separation Anxiety

Boredom Busters For Dogs

Arthritis In Dogs

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