THE BERNESE MOUNTAIN DOG
An extraordinary dog for extraordinary people
The Bernese Mountain Dog is different from most other dogs in many respects. Take his size, for example. Everything about a fully grown Bernese is big and strong, massive and mighty: his body, his paws, his teeth, his tongue, his tail, his emotions, his response, his will, his good, and, when they exist, not-so-good habits. Anyone who wants to adopt a Berner needs to think large.
A Berner cannot be carried to the vet’s in a basket; a struggling Berner cannot be pulled along on a leash; a fully grown Bernese cannot be forced into a down position by the use of a hand – or even two. A Berner cannot be bathed in a sink, scooped up with an arm, or lifted across a puddle. A Berner slurps water with a bigger tongue from a bigger bowl (and thus slobbers more water on his folks); his coat takes longer to brush; he must go for longer walks.
A Berner’s paw leaves bigger, deeper, muddier tracks in the house, in flowerbeds, in the car, and on clothes; he shakes off more water upon entering the house after a hike in the rain; his tail wags with greater strength at a higher level he barks less frequently, but louder.
A Berner bounces more merrily, mourns more deeply, sulks more sadly resists more strongly, clings more closely, and loves more intensely. A Berner Sennenhund requires more than the little finger. He needs the whole hand, no, both hands; no, still not enough. A Berner needs the total person.
Bernese Mountain Dogs are extremely people-oriented. In that respect they are truly high maintenance dogs. They crave close and – especially as ‘only’ dogs – preferably permanent contact with their humans. That does not mean that a Bernese needs, nor should he receive, constant attention from his folks. What it does mean is that he wants to be a part of the family, to feel his humans’ presence, to share their life.
Anyone not willing to share their home with a dog should not get a Bernese. By the same token, a house where the dog is left alone, day in and day out, from morning to night, while his humans are out working cannot be considered a home for a Berner. A kennel run is, of course, completely out of the question. In fact, any confinement that serves only the convenience of humans or the safety of furniture and flowerbeds is unacceptable for a Berner. Putting a Berner on a chain is an abominable crime.
People whose lifestyles do not welcome the presence of a large dog, people for whom surfing, sailing, sunbathing or hot beaches, skiing weekends, museum visits, elegant dining, overseas holidays, and similar pastimes are very important should refrain from adopting a Berner.
While the typical Bernese is not exactly lethargic, he is not particularly active either. He does not normally chase around the yard, dash through fields, or become wildly enthusiastic about retrieving a ball or a stick. This means that he needs to be moved regularly and extensively.
A Bernese Mountain Dog is big and strong. He may not eat as much as those unfamiliar with the breed would assume. Still, one must realistically anticipate that a Berner needs a larger amount of high-quality food than does a little dog. The cost for this is substantial. If one adds to this the multitude of other fixed expenses (from bed to bowl, from tax to toys to training classes, from vitamins to vet visits), the total quickly approaches the cost of maintaining a small car. These expenses will increase exponentially if the dog should experience severe health problems.
The Berner’s coat is luxurious, thick, and long. Bernese shed. A lot. And then some more. Maintaining the beauty of your Berner’s coat requires regular intensive brushing. Even if the dog is thoroughly groomed several times a week, there will always be Berner hair throughout the house; even the most scrupulous housekeeping cannot keep up with the constant dirt and dust a Berner brings with him. Anyone unwilling to accept that, in a Berner household, Berner hair is a standard ingredient in food and drinks should realise that a Berner is not for him or her.
Something else must be addressed here. Although all puppies are cute, a baby Berner is the ultimate in cuteness and cuddliness. Each and every Berner pup is drop-dead adorable. Anybody will be enraptured at the sight of one of those tri-coloured, velvety, chubby, roly-poly balls of fur. His bear-cub-like movements are clumsy yet nimble; his dark eyes shine and his pink tongue shimmers. The grown-up Bernese also has the reputation of being an absolute softie; he is said to be extremely gentle, exceptionally friendly, especially good with children, and euphorically eager to learn. Too many people are therefore led to believe that the clumsy, darling fluff-ball, the playful bundle of joy, will automatically grow into the mighty, good-natured huggy-bear that is more and more often seen in television commercials, movies and magazine ads. They mistakenly tend to neglect training their little Berner buddy, which carries severe consequences.
It must not be forgotten that a Bernese puppy is, first and foremost, what it is by nature – a dog. As the enchanting little Berner matures and his individuality and personality develops, he begins to seek his place and to define his role within his immediate social environment, canine and/or human, pack and/or family. At the same he will grow by leaps and bounds into a big, powerful, self-confident dog. Anyone who neglects to train his Berner puppy will later fight an uphill battle. Before you know it, the dog may be too big, too strong, too fast, and too dominant for you to handle. Now it will be difficult, and in many cases too late, to start solving behaviour problems.
There are legendary examples of a Berner Sennenhund seeing himself as master of the house, unmistakably demonstrating his dominance. Or there are Berners who behave perfectly at home but are virtually uncontrollable outside. There are Bernese who pull so hard on the leash that they can only be taken out by a male body builder. Some Berners shiver and tremble fearfully at the veterinarian’s; others are so aggressive that they have to be muzzled before the vet can touch them.
However, no Berner is born that way! Not one displayed such unacceptable behaviour the day his breeder tenderly and trustingly put him in the arms of his new partner. Each and every one has become what he is through the education and training he received from his human. There are people who allow their Berner to enjoy unlimited freedom as a youngster, then later try to teach him manners by jerking and dragging his across obedience-training fields. Whatever the cause of this human neglect of the dog – whether a well-meaning but mistaken concept of love, genuine and innocent ignorance, or simply indolence and laziness – this is not the way to educate a Bernese. It needs to be remembered that at the end of his first year, every Bernese, like every other dog, is what his human has made him.
The Bernese is an extremely sensitive dog, but he also experiences occasional bouts of stubbornness. In order to educate him successfully, his humans must possess two essential qualities: sensitivity and consistency. Anyone who does not possess sufficient compassion and understanding to guide the little bear onto the proper path, and/or who lacks the leadership to keep him on that path, should abstain from entering into a partnership with a Berner Sennenhund in the best interest of both partners.
People who are hectic, or choleric, dishonest or arrogant, egocentric, narcissistic, cynical, megalomaniacal, or tyrannical are not to a Berner’s liking. Nor are people who lack clear values and firm principles. If dogs could choose their own humans there are more than a few people who would be without a Bernese.
And finally, the Bernese is a strikingly attractive dog. What’s more, he carries that chic Swiss flair that smacks of Interlaken, Gstaad, Arosa and St Moritz. For more than a few people this is an additional, or perhaps the only, reason to acquire a Berner – as a trendy object of prestige, a status symbol. His attractive appearance and wonderful character have already caused the Bernese to gain an alarming degree of popularity. Many Berners end up with people who are neither willing nor able to provide them with an appropriate lifestyle. There are far too many Berners who are physically and mentally under-challenged, who are mere coach potatoes or – what’s even wore by far – kennel prisoners. It must, therefore, be stated unmistakably that anyone who wishes to acquire a Bernese Mountain Dog mainly as an attractive accessory or a decorative addition to a stylish ambience will be better off with a stuffed version – and the real dog will be considerably happier, too.
You, however, who are willing to open yourself to the adventure of fully sharing your life with a Bernese Mountain Dog will be offered a unique chance to find happiness. You will find it in the eyes, in the warmth, and in the unconditional, lifelong love of this wonderful creature.
An excerpt from The Bernese Mountain Dog – A Dog of Destiny by Bernd Guenter