Bernese Mountain Dog Origins
What are Bernese Mountain Dog origins? Where do Berners come from?
Like with any dog, Bernese Mountain Dog history could tell us quite a bit about the breed. All breeds were generally bred with certain purposes in mind, and those purposes defined many traits of the dog: both physical and mental. Unfortunately, we don’t always have enough information to create a well-rounded overview of the breed origins. What can we tell about the Bernese Mountain Dog from what we do know of its history?
Bernese Mountain Dogs are one of the oldest breeds of dogs in the world. Such ancient breeds as Roman Molossus and Tibetan Dog are quite possibly among its ancestors, although its exact genealogy is unknown. You can see dogs very similar to Bernese Mountain Dogs depicted in the works of art going as far as ancient Rome. It’s quite possible that the Bernese Mountain Dog ancestors were brought to Switzerland two thousand years ago by Roman soldiers. After that, the Roman dogs got interbred with the local dogs, which resulted in a somewhat different-looking mix.
In its more recent form, the Bernese Mountain Dog was bred extensively in the mountainous regions of Switzerland and used as a guard and shepherding dogs. Not that the Swiss farmers put any conscious thought into breeding the dog for certain character or physical traits – it was more of a happenstance that they almost accidentally developed a dog that fit so well in the every day farm life.
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Bernese Mountain Dogs didn’t even have much of a name for centuries of living next to humans – they were just a common dog used on the farms. A breed known among local farmers.
What did the Bernese Mountain Dogs do on the farms? Their “duties” ranged from guarding and shepherding of the herds of cattle and sheep/goats and protecting them from predators. Berners also helped farmers pull heavy carts with fresh produce to and from the market, and also farm supplies. Along with that, Bernese Mountain Dogs used to guard the farm itself from predators, both of animal and human kind.
The dog’s appearance and physical traits fit really well with Bernese Mountain Dog origins. It was a large, powerful, strong dog capable of keeping in line even large cattle like cows and bulls. Berners have thick, rich coat which protects them wonderfully from sometimes extreme weather of mountain Switzerland and allow the dog to spend plenty of time outdoors, no matter what the weather, even in snowiest conditions. (Can Bernese Mountain Dog live outside? Read why not.)
Short hair or thin hair is a serious defect according to the breed standard – for that very reason.
Bernese Mountain Dog origins also explain some of the physiology of the breed. For example, the dog’s tendency to move in a slow, confident pace can be explained by centuries of pulling heavy carts filled with precious loads.
It was also an intelligent dog, capable of (and striving to) working closely with humans and learning what was required of it. This dog quite possibly descended from Roman molossus dogs, or, of course, it could have been just a breed that developed locally from a dog of an unknown breed. What’s important is that in 2020 the breed known today as “Bernese Mountain Dog” is 113 years old and it’s been a wonderful breed for all of these years.
19th century is when some dog lovers started intentionally breeding Bernese Mountain Dog, paying particular attention to the breed’s best and strongest traits. The dogs that were particularly used for that were dogs from the village of Dürrbäch not far from Bern, where there were particularly many of them, owned and bred by the local farmers.
Those dogs already had the famous Bernese Mountain Dog tricolor, which is so popular and known today. In 1904, one of the first Bernese Mountain Dog enthusiasts, Franz Shenterleib, showed his dogs in a dog show. Back then no one could have imagined that this “farm” dog would some day become as popular as it is today. But even in 1904 that first “Dürrbächler”, as Bernese Mountain Dogs were called back then, won a lot of attention and love from the public.
In 1907, the first Dürrbächler Club was formed that centered around developing the breed and united the Berner breeders. The club members used to purchase the best of the best dogs from the farmers and concentrated on developing the breed standards that, a hundred years later, gave us this wonderful dog. In 1910, more than a hundred Berners were shown.
That was also when Dürrbächler was renamed to Bernese Mountain Dog, and the breed history officially took off. It quickly started to become increasingly more popular all over the breed’s motherland Switzerland as well as Southern Germany.
In 1949 some Newfoundland blood was mixed in to the Bernese Mountain Dog bloodline: the resulting dog named Alex became a show champion. There were other attempts to add some other breeds to the breeding stock, but the results are unknown.
As you can see, the Bernese have quite the long history, rooted in their working dog past, and developed by lovers and enthusiasts to what the Bernese are today. Thanks to the Swiss farmers of centuries ago that spotted some great qualities in this large, strong, intelligent dog, we can now enjoy living side by side with our lovely giant Bernese goofs.
But most of all, it is the breed itself that deserves such long-standing love and recognition, both due to its exceptional working qualities, highly developed intelligence and unparalleled looks. Today’s Bernese Mountain Dog breeders continue to write the history of this wonderful breed.