What to Know About Bernese Mountain Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 07, 2022
7 min read


Bernese mountain dogs are big, beautiful dogs and even cuter as puppies. They are popular dogs, with many coming from high-volume commercial breeders. 

Unfortunately, while people love these big friendly dogs, they have a higher risk of cancer, locomotor problems, and other conditions. A large percentage of this breed can pass away at a young age. A range of factors, including reduced genetic diversity, can cause declining health conditions, but careful owners can also take steps to protect the health of their new pets. 

Bernese mountain dogs are easily identified by their prominent appearance and tri-color coat. They’re strong, intelligent, and agile dogs once bred for working the mountainous region they’re from.

Bernese mountain dog size. Bernese mountain dogs are a large breed. Males grow to be between 25 and 27.5 inches tall. Females are slightly smaller, between 23 and 26 inches. Males weigh between 80 and 115 pounds, while females weigh 70 to 95 pounds. 

Bernese mountain dog life expectancy. A cared for, healthy Bernese mountain dog can live between seven and ten years. 

Bernese mountain dog temperament. This breed gets along well with children and families. They are imposing but not threatening. Bernese mountain dogs are intelligent and strong. 

Bernese mountain dog personality. There’s an aura of nobility in Bernese mountain dogs. You can see their intelligence in their eyes. They’re hardworking dogs that usually become more attached to one person in their family. 

Bernese mountain dogs are friendly dogs who add love and play to a household. This large breed takes up a lot of space in your home and heart. They'll make a great addition to your family and life with the right care and attention. 

Bernese mountain dogs have a longer outer coat and a wooly undercoat. They’re shedders, even more so during their shedding season twice a year. They need weekly brushing to remove loose hair and to work out any tangles. A slicker brush or metal comb may be needed for the undercoat. 

Bernese mountain dogs need their nails trimmed regularly. Otherwise long nails can cause walking issues and pain. 

They need at least a half-hour of moderate exercise daily. They love outdoor activities like long walks and hiking. However, their thick coat can cause them to overheat. Be mindful of this in warmer temperatures and climates. Bernese mountain dogs are great companions for camping or backpacking. They’re even strong enough to pull young children around in carts. While they like spending time outside, they’re better suited for living inside with their family. 

Bernese mountain dogs can become overweight if they do not get enough exercise or if they’re fed too much dog food or table scraps. Your dog should have high-quality food appropriate to their age and size.

To ensure you have a happy, healthy pup, you should: 

  • Make sure they get plenty of exercise
  • Regularly brush their teeth and coat
  • Schedule regular exams and vaccinations
  • Test for diseases and common conditions

Your dog relies on you to keep up with their required care. Keep an eye on them to ensure they're not eating or getting into things they shouldn't. There are foods they shouldn't eat and plants that aren't safe for them to be around. 

If your dog is a chewer, you can give them appropriate toys to keep them from chewing on items like phone chargers, new shoes, or handbags. 

Bernese mountain dogs are generally healthy if they come from responsible breeders. However, they do often have a shorter lifespan than other large breeds. Breeders should screen their breeding dogs for the following conditions:

  • Hip and elbow evaluation
  • Cardiac exam
  • Ophthalmologist evaluation
  • Von Willebrand’s Disease DNA test

Bloat. Large breeds are more likely to get bloat, a sudden, life-threatening stomach condition. You should check your dog’s ears for signs of infection or buildup.

Cancer. This is a leading cause of death in Bernese mountain dogs. This breed has a higher rate of fatal cancer than other breeds. Their average life expectancy was once between ten to 12 years, but it’s lowered to seven to ten years with increasing medical issues. 

Hip andelbow dysplasiaThese conditions occur when hip and elbow joints don't fit together correctly. This can eventually lead to arthritis. 

Degenerative myelopathy. This condition affects Bernese mountain dog spines and gradually paralyzes their back legs. 

Progressive retinal atrophy. This condition worsens over months or years and causes blindness in your dog. 

Cruciate disease. This condition damages the cruciate ligament, which holds the knee together. Over time, your dog's knee joint will become unsteady and pained. 

Obesity. Bernese mountain dogs are more prone to becoming overweight. It's hard to limit what your dog eats if they beg for food, but there are other ways to show them positive reinforcement that doesn't include treats. 

Obesity can worsen: 

  • Joint problems
  • Metabolic and digestive disorders
  • Back pain
  • Heart disease

Taking your dog for a walk, playing a game with them, or hugging them are ways to show them the love that doesn't include extra calories.

Early testing and quick response to problems can help keep your dog healthy and happy. Look for signs of discomfort in your dog and make sure they get routine checkups and bloodwork to know if any conditions need treatment. 

If you rescue a Bernese mountain dog, you can still get them tested and treated at an older age. Every dog deserves a chance at a loving, happy home. So, if you're hoping to add a Bernese mountain dog to your family, first look at rescue shelters, then search for reputable breeders that do the proper screening. 

Bernese mountain dogs are big, family-friendly dogs that are good with children. However, you should know some other things before deciding to bring one of these cute dogs into your family. 

They shed a lot and need to be brushed regularly to manage the shed hair, unless you're okay with hair overtaking your home. They also need regular exercise and stimulation so they don't resort to naughty behavior like chewing and digging related to boredom. 

Bernese mountain dogs are sensitive dogs and need praise and love. They mature slowly and can have puppy-like behavior longer than smaller breeds that mature faster. 

Strangers aren't always welcome around Bernese mountain dogs. They can be standoffish, which can be intimidating, given their large stature. 

These dogs also don't do well in the heat. They were bred to work in cold climates, and their thick coat acts as a heater in warm temperatures. Ensure they have access to cool spaces with shade or air conditioning and plenty of water around. 

Where you live is vital when it comes to what activities you can provide for your dog. Since Bernese mountain dogs were bred as working dogs, they need a stimulating environment. You don't have to live on a farm for your Bernese mountain dog to be happy, but it does help to have a space where your dog can run, play, and train. They love obedience training, tracking, drafting, and herding activities. 

Bernese mountain dogs typically tolerate other animals. You should make sure they're getting along and not playing too roughly with other animals. Properly socializing them as puppies will help them play well with others. As puppies, Bernese mountain dogs can be lively, curious, challenging towards other pets. 

They calm down and make great, gentle companions as they get older, though. They can be a fun, loving friend for children and people of all ages. You should consider getting them trained and socialized early if they're your first dog. 

If your Bernese mountain dog is showing problematic behavior and not listening, a dog trainer can help you get back on track with their learning. Trainers help teach you and your dog how to work together. It's okay not to be able to do all the training your dog needs on your own. Trainers are specialized in teaching you the best way to manage your dog's behavior and bond with them. 

If you've bonded with your Bernese mountain dog, they'll likely turn to you in times of happiness or scared behavior.  

Bernese Mountain dogs are one of four mountain-dog breeds from the canton of Bern. This agricultural region was responsible for providing dairy for two of Switzerland's main exports, chocolate, and cheese. 

Bernese mountain dogs were bred to protect farmyards and drive cattle. They're able to pull many times their weight due to their immense strength. By the late 1800s, Bernese mountain dogs were dwindling as a breed. The Swiss began trying to reverse their decline. In 1907, thanks to a Swiss breed club, Bernese mountain dogs became household companions and good farm dogs. 

Bernese mountain dogs were used for driving, guarding, and draft work. They often pulled carts around the Swiss Alps. They were used for their strength and stature. 

In 1926, Bernese mountain dogs were introduced to America when a Kansas farmer imported a pair. By 1937, they were AKC registered.

Bernese mountain dogs have been around for a very long time. From the beginning, they've been good, hardworking companions. Though their lifespan is short, they make a big impact on their families.