The History and Standard of the Bernese Mountain Dog

In the course of time, the sport of dogs has developed a way to judge and evaluate its breeding stock. Each breed has a set standard by which it is judged. The standards are generally purpose driven, and, depending on the breed, sometimes fashion driven, the latter not being preferred in a working dog. Standards of dogs from non-English speaking countries may suffer from inaccuracies or misunderstanding in translation to English. For instance, what one culture understands as a guard dog, another understands as a watchdog, and yet another understands as a watchful dog. It is to be noted that Swiss farms are very different from American farms.

In the case of the Bernese Mountain Dog, the AKC standard was originally a direct translation from the FCI standard at the time of recognition, 1937. The first BMDCA revision, made in 1980, and the second, made in 1990, reflected changes in the FCI standard as well as incorporation of AKC requirements. Major changes included raising the height on the lower end and adding a section on movement.

The historical essence of the Bernese Mountain Dog is that it has been a farm dog of the midland regions of Switzerland, mostly around the city of Berne. In that capacity, it was primarily used as a companion and watchdog to the farmer and his family. It alerted his owner to unfamiliar visitors. It may have been used as a dog to pull a cart. A large dog, well-muscled and with sturdy bone, was needed for this task. It may have been used to accompany cows to pasture but not for long distances as dogs which work on a range. As most Swiss farmers had a small number of cows, the dog was not required to manage large herds. The BMD was not a herding dog for sheep and goats as these animals were not kept usually on Bernese farms except in very small numbers. In other parts of Switzerland especially in the alpine regions such tasks were done by smaller, quicker dogs such as the Appenzeller and Entlebucher. The temperament of the Bernese Mtn. Dog was never to be sharp or shy.

The history of the breed, therefore, is one of a watchful farm dog. Those fanciers who wish to have conformation dogs or obedience or draft or agility or tracking or herding dogs would be wise to heed the heritage of the breed and mind that this is not a breed of any one specific sport but is a Swiss farmer's companion.

Additional Background on Bernese Farms from Margret Baertschi

The term "farm" or "farmdog" does not mean the same thing when used for Swiss or Bernese farmers as when it is used in the USA. The farm in the two countries/continents are two very different things. In order to get an idea what the duties of a farmdog on a farm around Berne were like a hundred years ago one must have seen a Bernese farm and understood its functioning.

The main business of the dogs on Bernese Farms has always been to be good watchdogs. These farms were built at a distance from each other, each one situated more or less in the center of the land that was cultivated by the farmers family. A dog that announced strangers (man and other animals) which approached the farm or the nearby meadows was essential for the security of all the living creatures there. The land belonging to a farm was from about 5 ha for the poorer farmers up to 15 ha at the maximum for the richest farmers. (1 ha (hectar) = 2.47 acres ) Up to about 1830 the farmers did not have a great number of cattle (cows), because they had no use for the milk. Their main income was from different kinds of grain: wheat, barley, oats etc (maize was unknown). The cattle and some sheep, horses and swine moved freely around the houses and in the nearby forests. The crops were fenced to save them from being eaten by the animals. The cattle did not have to go far.

Only after about 1840, when the cheeseries were built and farmers could sell their milk at a reasonable price, the farmers started to have more cattle (about 6 to 15 cows at the maximum and some heifers and calves), so many as they could nourish on their land. Poor people (day-laborers) kept a few goats instead. At the same time the farmers started to keep the cattle in stables, not only in winter but all the year round, also in summer. This means, that there was not a lot of driving to be done on the farm itself. The few sheep (maybe 6 to 10) that were also kept on some farms could move freely in the nearby poorer parts of the land that were not cultivated and in the forests. It was the butchers who also kept dogs to drive the cattle they bought on the farms to distant places were they were either slaughtered or sold to other merchants.

I have found reference to these facts lately in a newer publication of a historian who specialized in the history of farming in the Canton Berne from 1700 till 1914 (first world war). His Name: Prof. Dr. Christian Pfister, he lectures at the University of Berne.

1) Geschichte des Kantons Bern seit 1798: Band lV
											Im Strom der Modernisierung: Bevölkerung, Wirtschaft und Umwelt 1700-1914
											Christian Pfister
											4. Organisation und Leistungen der pflanzlichen und tierischen Produktion

Footnotes from the Judges Education Committee

The FCI categorizes the BMD in Group 2, "Cattle Dogs." It is basically comparable to our Working Group as it contains breeds such as Boxers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands,Schnauzers and Pinschers. The BMD is listed with Swiss Mountain and Cattle Dogs.

Dr. Paschoud was the President of the Standards Commission of the SKG and FCI and was the author of the current standard. The statements made in the book are also found on the FCI web site and the Natural History Museum web site.

References were sent of present day dogs "herding" in the United States and Canada. It is difficult to find sources that state the breed was used for sheep or goats in any historical Swiss records. How does one make a biographical reference to a lack of information on herding? None was found.

There are numerous references to the dogs being used for getting cattle to the fields and back in the midlands of Switzerland.

Dr Paschoud, in the Introduction to the book: "Swiss Cattle Dogs were originally used to help the farmer to drive his large cattle from their stables to the fields and to guard them while they grazed. These dog also guarded the farmhouse, and the two larger breeds were also used to carry burdens, or were harnessed to two-wheeled milk carts."

Under the section for Bernese Mtn. Dogs: A brief historical summary: "The Bernese Mountain Dog is a farm dog of ancestral origin which was used as a guard dog and draft dog and for driving cattle in the prealpine regions and in the midland areas around Bern."

Mrs. Egg-Leach, an English woman, refered to the dog as a weaver's cart dog. Mrs. Baertschi questions the use of a dog as such as her experience was that the dogs were used to pull milk.. Perhaps Mrs. Egg-Leach knew a few weavers who used their dogs but never met anyone in her travels that used the dogs for milk or cheese. Does this example mean that the dogs were solely used as weavers' dogs? No. But we can conclude that the dog was used a draft dog.


Baertschi, Margret. BMDCA Alpenhorn, February 2001. "Our Swiss Connection: Herding? Driving? Drafting? Some Breed History."

Egg-Leach, L. AKC Gazette, April, 1937 (?). "The Bernese is a Loyal Dog of the Swiss Alps."

Paschoud, Dr. J.-M. The Swiss Canine Breeds. Schweizerische Kynologische Gesellschaft SKG, 1994.

Raeber, Dr. H.C. Hans. Die Schweizer Hunderassen. Albert Mueller Verlag, Ruschlikon-Zurich, 1980.


Breed Standard of the Bernese Mountain Dog

Our portrayal is based on the experience of many long time members involved in all aspects of the breed.

It is not hard to find many wonderful things to say about these dogs. Many owners think there is nothing better than a Bernese Mountain Dog, unless it is two Bernese Mountain Dogs. But if you are trying to decide if you are right for a Bernese Mountain Dog, we think it is important to not just sing their praises. This candid discussion should only be one part of your decision making process. We hope you make as informed a decision as possible, even if your final decision turns out to be "no" at this time.

You should assess your own strengths and weaknesses and see how well your personality and abilities mesh with that of the dogs'. A successful, enduring match will be made when the specific breed characteristics are compatible with your human lifestyle. Our club will do all we can to help educate you and help you develop the special relationship offered only by a Berner.

The American Kennel Club Standard for the Bernese Mountain Dog.

Each AKC recognized breed has a standard. Ours is an excellent starting point for learning the basic characteristics the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA) feels are key in making the Bernese Mountain Dog unique among other breeds. Keep in mind as you read this that both males (dogs) and females (bitches) are working dogs -- draft animals pulling loads around the farm and to market.

General Appearance

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a striking, tri-colored, large dog. He is sturdy and balanced. He is intelligent, strong and agile enough to do the draft and droving work for which he was used in the mountainous regions of his origin.

Dogs appear masculine, while bitches are distinctly feminine.

Size, Proportion, Substance

Measured at the withers, dogs are 25 to 27-1/2 inches, bitches are 23 to 26 inches. Though appearing square, Bernese Mountain Dogs are slightly longer in body than they are tall. Sturdy bone is of great importance. The body is full.


Expression is intelligent, animated and gentle. The eyes are dark brown and slightly oval in shape with close fitting lids. Inverted or everted eyelids are serious faults. Blue eye color is a disqualification. The ears are medium sized, set high, triangular in shape, gently rounded at the tip, and hang close to the head when in repose. When the Bernese Mountain Dog is alert, the ears are brought forward and raised at the base; the top of the ear is level with the top of the skull. The skull is flat on top and broad, with a slight furrow and a well-defined, but not exaggerated stop. The muzzle is strong and straight. The nose is always black. The lips are clean and, as the Bernese Mountain Dog is a drymouthed breed, the flews are only slightly developed. The teeth meet in a scissors bite. An overshot or undershot bite is a serious fault. Dentition is complete.

Neck, Topline, Body

The neck is strong, muscular and medium length. The topline is level from the withers to the croup. The chest is deep and capacious with well sprung, but not barrel-shaped, ribs and brisket reaching at least to the elbows. The back is broad and firm. The loin is strong. The croup is broad and smoothly rounded to the tail insertion. The tail is bushy. It should be carried low when in repose. An upward swirl is permissible when the dog is alert, but the tail may never curl or be carried over the back. The bones in the tail should feel straight and should reach to the hock joint or below. A kink in the tail is a fault.


The shoulders are moderately laid back, flat lying, well muscled and never loose. The legs are straight and strong and the elbows are well under the shoulder when the dog is standing. The pasterns slope very slightly, but are never weak. Dewclaws may be removed. The feet are round and compact with well arched toes.


The thighs are broad, strong and muscular. The stifles are moderately bent and taper smoothly into the hocks. The hocks are well let down and straight as viewed from the rear. Dewclaws should be removed. Feet are compact and turn neither in nor out.


The coat is thick, moderately long and slightly wavy or straight. It has a bright natural sheen. Extremely curly or extremely dull looking coats are undesirable. The Bernese Mountain Dog is shown in natural coat and undue trimming is to be discouraged.

Color and Markings

The Bernese Mountain Dog is tri-colored. The ground color is jet black. The markings are rich rust and clear white. Symmetry of markings is desired. Rust appears over each eye, on the cheeks reaching at least to the corner of the mouth, on each side of the chest, on all four legs and under the tail. There is a white blaze and muzzle band. A white marking on the chest typically forms an inverted cross. The tip of the tail is white. White on the feet is desired but must not extend higher than the pasterns. Markings other than described are to be faulted in direct relationship to the extent of the deviation. White legs or a white collar are serious faults. Any ground color other than black is a disqualification.


The natural working gait of the Bernese Mountain Dog is a slow trot. However, in keeping with his use in draft and droving work, he is capable of speed and agility. There is good reach in front. Powerful drive from the rear is transmitted through a level back. There is no wasted action. Front and rear legs on each side follow through the same plane. At increased speed, legs tend to converge toward the center line.


The temperament is self-confident, alert, and good natured, never sharp or shy. The Bernese Mountain Dog should stand steady, though may remain aloof to the actual attentions of strangers.


Blue eye color.
Any ground color other than black.



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Information and Resource Guide on this page provided courtesy of the Nashoba Valley Bernese Mountain Dog Club

Information on the History of the Bernese Mountain Dog provided courtesy of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America.

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