Bergamasco Sheepdogs | A Coat Unlike Any Other

We asked the following questions to various experts involved with the breeding & showing of Bergamasco. Sheepdogs. Below are their responses, which are taken from the March 2020 issue of ShowSight. Above photos taken from the article “Bergamascos Today” by Michael Sing, BSCA Club Memeber Switzerland, ShowSight Magazine, December 2013 Issue.

 

  • Where do you live? What do you do “outside” of dogs?
  • In popularity, the Bergamasco is currently ranked #187 out of 192 AKC-recognized breeds. Do you hope this will change or are you comfortable with his placement?
  • Does the average person on the street recognize him for what he is?
  • Are there any misconceptions about the breed you’d like to dispel?
  • What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate?
  • At what age do you start to see definite signs of show-worthiness (or lack thereof)?
  • What is the most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind?
  • What’s the best way to attract newcomers to your breed and to the sport?
  • What is your ultimate goal for the breed?
  • What is your favorite dog show memory?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? Please elaborate.

 

Donna DeFalcis

In June 1995, we became interested in the Bergamasco when we saw a picture of the Bergamasco in a Magazine from England. After we called the number in England, the breeder, Reyna Knight, referred us to a breeder in Italy, Maria Andreoli, founder the dell Albera linage. Before computers, Internet, email, due to language barriers, since Maria spoke very little English, all correspondence was through faxing with Maria’s son, Riccardo. The First Bergamasco Fauno came to the USA in the summer of 1995. He was six months old. The Love Affair Began: Introduced the first Bergamasco Sheepdog to the USA. In the Summer of 1996, we went to Italy to meet the breeder, Maria Andreoli, at the same time brought home our first female, Gae, to compliment Fauno, our male. First litter born in 1998, to become the first FSS litter registered in AKC; The Foundation of the dell Albera linage and the Bergamasco Sheepdog in the USA. The Beginnings: For ten years, studied in Italy with Maria Andreoli until her passing in 2005. Maria was one of the founding breeders who was responsible to help bring the Bergamasco back from extinction after the Second World War. Stephen and I started showing Fauno within rare breed organizations and fell quickly in love with the show arena. In 1996, Gae dell Albera joined the show arena along with Fauno and our three boys. The beginnings of Silver Pastori Bergamascos, 1996 to Present: Bred 28 litters, over 230 puppies, 11 Champions, and World Winner. Co-Author of the First Bergamasco Breed Book. Founder of the Bergamasco USA Club. President of the USA Club from 1995 to 2016. Chairperson of the Bergamasco Club. Responsible for AKC full Recognition in 2015. Breeder of Merit Award 2016. For me, breeding is not about change or improvement. It is about maintaining what was. Every puppy that leaves my home takes within them a little piece of history.

I live in beautiful Bucks County, PA with my husband Stephen and nine Bergamascos. For the past 33 years, I have been teaching Special Ed for students with severe Multiple Disabilities in the Philadelphia School District. My classroom of eight students is my second home along with my Therapy Dogs, Whope and Voltu, who are a wonderful asset to my students.

The Bergamasco is currently ranked #187 out of 192 AKC-recognized breeds. Do you hope this will change or are you comfortable with his placement? Yes, we are comfortable with this. It is more important for us to maintain the style and characteristics of the original Bergamasco. The ranking is not simply the most liked. Rather, the ranking tracks the registry statistics on purebred dogs. Keep in mind the Bergamasco is a rare breed. We have worked diligently to preserve and promote the characteristics of the our breed. The numbers have very little, if any, affect on the Bergamasco in the USA. Prior to becoming AKC recognized, the breed was very successful in the rare breed shows throughout the USA. The Internet has made the breed more accessible for people who want more information and it provides a method to connect with breeders and Bergamasco owners.

Does the average person on the street recognize him for what he is? Absolutely not, the majority of the people are more curious being that they never saw a dog with dreadlocks. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the first comment is Rasta Dog! and “mop dog” “What is it?” “Can I feel the coat?” “Friendly” “Do they get hot?” “Must take forever to dry!” “How do you give it a bath?” Let’s not forget lots of smiles.

Are there any misconceptions about my breed? Appearance is the biggest misconceptions about the Bergamasco. People seeing a full-coated Bergamasco for the first time immediately think it is a very high maintenance breed with hours and hours of work just to wash, dry and maintain the coat. On the contrary, it is just the opposite. The adult coat requires very little maintenance. The coat is very natural and bathing should only be kept down to a minimum to not strip the natural oils from the coat that aid in the condition of the coat.

Special challenges do breeders face? Breeders should work together and not compete with each other or use their social media sites such as Facebook and their own personal websites to inadvertently attack other breeders.

What age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? At week seven a breeder may have a glimpse of the puppy’s potential. At his age most puppies seem to have a moment with equal growth (pretty proportional.) A little glimpse of angulation, proportionality, the teeth alignment just a precursor. The Bergamasco goes through a variety of developmental stages; the coat is continually growing for the life of the dog and the bone muscle doesn’t fully develop until the age of two and three. Therefore, it makes judging the Bergamasco extremely complicated especially when being compared against a mature fully-coated adult who has years of ringside experience. Unfortunately, in this country puppies are being judged as an adult at six months old. In FCI countries, a Bergamasco cannot be champion worthy until the age of two. For me, this is absolutely correct for our breed! The Bergamasco Sheepdog Club is working on the standard to accommodate younger dogs, but also want to be careful not to have champions who will never reach the minimum standard requirements.

Most important thing about my breed for a new judge to keep in mind? Initially I was attracted by the unique rustic look of the Bergamasco. Unfortunately, this is not what I am seeing in the show ring today.

The Bergamasco should remain as natural as possible, with minimal overall grooming. Trimming and brushing should be kept only on a need basis. The Bergamasco should be judged on the day of the event and not be persuaded by magazine ads, handlers or the ranking systems.

Best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? The breed attracts people; speaking with and educating those who seek out the breed so they can have a clear understanding of whether the breed is the right fit for them. Owning a Bergamasco is a privilege and a responsibility.

My ultimate goal for my breed? For me, it is important to preserve the Bergamasco’s characteristics of yesteryear, with their natural rustic coat, at the same time maintaining their well being.

Favorite dog show memory? I will never forget Westminster 2017, Whope won the breed and went on to the Garden. While waiting her turn to go up for the judge’s examination, she turned around and jumped up on the sides saying hello to the crowd, or looking for help, “Mom, where are you?” In any case, she brought a lot of smiles that night at the Garden.

Anything else I’d like to share about my breed? The Bergamasco should be treated as an integral part of the family. In return you will have a friend for life and memories to last life time.

 

Jeanine Dellorfano

I have been involved with the Bergamasco Sheepdog since 2005. I fell in love with an image of a Bergamasco in a rare dog encyclopedia and lived on a farm in Nova Scotia, Canada at the time with herds of goats and sheep. I imported Lothario, our first male from the U.S.A., and one year later imported a female, Mezza, from England.

Over the next several years I learned all I could about the breed and became heavily involved in efforts made by the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America (BSCA) to promote the breed. On July 13, 2007 the first Bergamasco litter was born in Nova Scotia out of our Mezza and Lothario.

I moved back to the U.S. shortly thereafter and worked with the BSCA to help gain breed recognition with the AKC. This would be a long process and in the meanwhile I attended shows and events and continued to create awareness. For the next several years I served as the BSCA Vice-President and was able, along with the help of my colleagues at BSCA, to gain full AKC recognition for the breed in 2015. I am the former President of the BSCA and have worked diligently to achieve parent club status with the AKC. Before I resigned my position as President, I helped to organize the club, draft the bylaws, partner with the CHIC registry and set health testing standards for the breed. I have been involved with the AKC Judge’s education program since breed recognition and continue to enjoy long and short term Judge mentoring as well as ring side mentoring. In addition, my husband and I were the founders of the Bergamasco Companion, a quarterly publication of the BSCA no longer in print.

In 2018, I founded the Bergamasco Shepherd Association of Canada and am currently working on breed recognition with the Canadian Kennel Club. I am the current President of this association. I am also a member in good standing of the Bergamasco National Sheepdog Alliance and Societa Amatori del Cane da Pastore Bergamasco (S.A.B.). I fully support these two organizations for their continued work to preserve this breed as it was intended.

I live in Connecticut where dogs are my primary hobby and passion. My family lives on a farm and we also have horses, chickens and goats. I also do photography and I am an RN, but not currently working.

Do I hope the breed’s popularity will change or am I comfortable with the placement? I am comfortable with this placement. The breed is still so rare and there isn’t enough supply for more demand. I have always been interested in rare breeds and the fact that they are considered unpopular just means hopefully less opportunity to do harm to their already fragile gene pool.

Do the numbers help or hurt the breed? I think the numbers help the breed basically for the reasons I described in the last question. There aren’t enough Bergamascos to keep up with a higher demand. The breedings that take place now should be carefully planned and chosen in order to keep the breed healthy long term.

Does the average person on the street recognize the breed? Generally, no. There have been one or two times where someone in public has recognized one of my dogs as a Bergamasco and I am always surprised when that happens. Most folks will think they are a doodle if young and not in coat, or a Puli or Komondor.

Are there any misconceptions about the breed I’d like to dispel? Yes. The breed is not a livestock guardian. They can be protective of their family and their territory, but they do not function as a LGD. They do not bond to livestock over people and they do not fair well with living outdoors. They are a true herding breed and their natural style of herding is tending. Another misconception is that they can’t be bathed often. They can be bathed frequently as long as they are fully dried within a short time and don’t have the chance to mildew.

What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Breeders face a lot of challenges today. Obviously they are facing more and more AR legislation which is making it more difficult to breed and to keep dogs in many states and towns. Breeding is also a very expensive “hobby”. I say hobby because I am a hobby breeder, but it is expensive for anyone who is doing it right. The responsible breeders are not making much money or losing money which is detrimental to some of our rarer breeds that need a new generation of breeders to carefully carry them into the future.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? I try not to look at my puppies structurally until eight weeks and, even then, I know it’s not a sure thing. I get a good sense of personality as far as confidence goes around five weeks. The puppy willing to try it all, who doesn’t shy away, who learns quickly that reward is worth their attention is usually promising. I look for balance and smoothness of movement around eight weeks also. I don’t make a final decision until they are almost two years old and out of their awkward growing phases.

The most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? I think the most important thing is that this dog is meant to herd. They originally herded cattle and, later on, sheep. They performed this work in the Alps. They should be well conditioned, sound, muscular with good substance and they should move effortlessly.

The best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? Social media has been great for this and for spreading awareness, especially for rare breeds like the Bergamasco. Being available and willing to stop each time and explain the breed and what makes them special is necessary. The coat can look very intimidating to a newcomer and it’s honestly one of the easiest dogs to show in regards to grooming. There is almost no grooming involved and the maintenance of the coat is much easier than it looks.

My ultimate goal is for this breed to be healthy and to have a lot of available breeding choices in the future without genetic bottlenecking.

My favorite dog show memory? Winning the breed at the Westminster Kennel Club with two of our home-bred bitches for three consecutive years, 2018-2020.

 

Jane Gonzalez-Bass

I have been with the breed for over 14 years. I am currently the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club’s secretary and also the Club’s judge’s education instructor. Should judges be interested in learning about the Bergamasco, please contact the club via email, bscamerica@gmail.com.

My husband, son and I live in Easton, Connecticut. We have our five dogs, a flock of chickens and one day, Norwegian goats (husband does not know about this plan). My husband has a tax consulting firm and my son is currently working on his final Eagle Scout project with Boy Scout Troop 8, in Montclair, New Jersey and serves with the Civil Air Patrol 399th Squadron in Danbury, Connecticut. I work with dementia residents as a Memory Care Counselor at an assisted living facility. I am also a realtor specializing in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Our Bergamascos are a part of our daily life and all are considered our family members.

Do I hope the breed’s will change or am I comfortable with the placement? Given we are a rare breed, a drastic change in numbers might be a huge red flag for irresponsible breeding or people importing dogs to be bred for money rather than the love and respect for the Bergamasco! As a breeder, I register every litter as well as include AKC owner transfer and individual puppy registration as a part of my puppy package. This will ensure each of my puppies are fully registered with the AKC. I do not leave it up to the new family. I believe it is important to track the number of Bergamascos each year so the parent club may have an accurate idea on how we are doing with increasing the overall Bergamasco numbers slow and steady.

Does the average person on the street recognize the breed? They are certainly an attention grabber. Seldom are they recognized as Bergamascos. I just use the frequent stops as a chance to educate people on the breed. Often with young children I use these casual walk experiences to teach the proper way to approach a dog. The little ones are just eye level with a large Bergamasco and they will often run right up to them waving their hands with squeals of excitement. Most Bergamascos just take it all in stride, even if it means their flocks are going to be braided.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? Around seven weeks they seem to have a moment when their aspects are proportional. A brief glimpse of their bite, tail set, coat coloring, etc. Around four months you can have an idea of their natural movement. A Bergamasco at six months in the show ring is still very much a puppy. Even at 18 months a Bergamasco has not reached their full structural development. They will continue to develop up to three years of age. And the coat is constantly changing throughout their lifetime.

The most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? While the most apparent feature is the Bergamasco coat, it is not the most important. A Bergamasco should remain natural and rugged even when being presented with the poise of a show ring champion.

Any judge should be prepared to put their hands under the coat of the Bergamasco. Underneath those abundant flocks they will find a body, while built for strength and resistance, that is lean, built on sturdy bones with firm, limber muscles. This framework is well-muscled without ever being bulky or ponderous. Must be sufficient to support both the tending to the sheep and the calm droving along steep and treacherous Alpine paths. Never so massive as to interfere with the resistant, efficient, agile movement.

My favorite dog show memory? I have two wonderful memories. My very first show ring experience was at the Philadelphia dog show. Along the side of her handler, my happy two-year old Bergamasco entered the ring with such exuberance her entire backside was moving side to side. She stopped with a perfect free style stack and waited patiently for her turn. As the judge approached, within a blink of an eye she was on her back happily presenting her perfect tummy for belly rubs. We did not earn any points, but she certainly earned her nickname, the forever puppy!

Second: This past summer 27 beautiful Bergamascos entered the show ring at the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club’s First National Specialty. A stunning ring full of the top Bergamascos, ranging from young up-and-coming to the exquisite, accomplished veterans. A proud moment for every Bergamasco. Adding to the excitement of the day, the Best of Breed was awarded to my Grand Champion, Mikka. She went on to earn a Group Two placement in the Herding Group.

The Bergamasco is a magnificent breed, over the recent years an increased interest has arisen among the show world/breeders. I sincerely hope these people are entering the rare breed community for the right reasons. I hope these enthusiasts join the AKC Bergamasco community and not only help develop the Bergamasco numbers, but will also be able to demonstrate their great qualities to the fullest, respecting their history and function. Only a small number of people work to increase public awareness of this breed which benefits all. It is a small community. All are welcome.

 

Nicole Kure

I have had herding dogs for over 50 years. My mother and I first got an Old English Sheepdog when the Shaggy Dog movie came out in the 60s. From there we had Briards and Bearded Collies and twelve years ago when I was teaching, a dad walked into the classroom with a Bergamasco puppy in his arms and that was it for me! Our first Bergamasco is still with us, but sadly has terrible hips and our second who was closely related to the first died at eight years to cancer. I was determined to help preserve this breed with good health, so I found mentors in Europe and Spellbound Bergamascos was born. I have since bred three litters from their healthy lines!

We live in California, ten miles north of San Francisco. We also have a small farm near Redding where we raise Alpacas. My family loves to ski, hike, bike and sail or kayak on our local lake.

Do I hope my breed’s ranking will change? Does it help or hurt? I am comfortable with the placement. This breed is not for everyone and popularity in many breeds seems to bring out the people wanting to raise pups for the money and not for the preservation of the breed. It doesn’t help or hurt.

Does the average person recognize my breed? Rarely do we meet a person who recognizes Bergamascos. The guesses are a huge range from Doodle (No, this is a purebred), to Briard, to Komondor, to, “Oh it’s a Rasta dog”.

Any misconceptions about my breed? Ah, yes! There are many myths that are out there about this breed. “They are easy to groom.” False. They are easier than some breeds, but their hair does need attention. They are reverse mops. Their hair picks up dirt and stickers like velcro and if it is flocked the debris needs to be picked out of the coat by hand. Brushing only partially works. They need to have head and neck brushed. The beard gets matted with food and thus bacteria if not kept brushed and the oils from the ears also causes matts behind the ears. Those are not flocks!

“They shouldn’t be bathed.” False. They don’t need a bath as often as many breeds since they don’t get that dirty dog smell, but they smell a lot better after a bath! And mine like to sleep on my bed. And when in the tub the water turns black with dirt! The flocks, if they aren’t trimmed under the belly and around the butt, soak up urine and periodically that area needs to be spot bathed. A bath is time consuming and drying requires a nice hot day with a dry wind or industrial fans in order to dry the flocks so that they don’t mildew.

Their hair can’t be cut short. False. In the Alps where they worked the sheep with the shepherds, they were periodically shorn with the sheep. They would have been unable to move easily through the mountains with flocks dragging on the ground. People are attracted to our breed because they are beautiful with flocks, but sometimes the reality is that flocks don’t work with all lifestyles. If that is the case, the hair can be kept in a puppy cut. It is much better to cut it than to have a matted mess that isn’t cared for. It is the heart and soul of this breed that makes them unique and wonderful, not their hair.

What special challenges do breeders face? I think that the biggest problem for breeders is the pro-rescue climate and the bad name that breeders get from puppy mills and backyard breeders who breed a lot of dogs and don’t support their puppy buyers throughout the life of their puppies. All we can do is raise healthy dogs and pick the best possible homes and then support them. If life changes happen then we need to be able and willing to take a dog back or re-home it and not let it go to a rescue.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? They change so much before they are fully grown at two years. You can get a pretty good idea at seven weeks, but then the gangly growing begins!

Most important thing about my breed for a new judge to keep in mind? Theses dogs worked sheep and protected them from predators in the mountains. They had to leap over logs and maneuver in mountainous terrain. They need be strong and to have good movement. Their movement should be fluid with long strides. They should float across the ground with their head and neck even with their topline. They should be thoughtful and cautious, but never aggressive.

The best way to attract newcomers to my breed? Willingness to educate and talk to anyone who is interested. Too many breeders only want to talk to puppy buyers. I am happy to take the time to talk to anyone interested in learning about the breed.

My ultimate goal for my breed? I hope to be able to continue to work with Italian breeders and my likeminded friends here in the United States to preserve the breed as it is and has been in Italy for generations.

My favorite dog show memory? I loved taking my first Bergamasco to shows when we were still in FSS. She was such an ambassador for the breed. People loved her and she loved the attention! My passion with my Bergamascos now is AKC Agility. My bitch Spellbound’s Minerva and I have earned AKC Master’s Agility titles. I see agility as all of the things this breed was bred for, minus the sheep!

Anything else I’d like to share about my breed? Bergamascos are smart, they are problem solvers. If they want something they figure out how to get it! They are independent thinkers. They will respond to your commands when they are finished with whatever they are doing. They can be stubborn, but they are very sensitive and need a human who is not heavy handed. They are loyal to their family, thus they need lots of positive experiences as puppies with socialization. They need exercise such as a brisk walk for 30 minutes and some ball time and then they are happy to chill on your feet in the house. They worked as an equal with the shepherd, thus they want to be with you. If you are in the house, they are in the house. If you are outside then they will want to be outside. If you are going in the car, they want to go in the car. They will sleep in your bedroom on your bed or on the floor. They will love your kids as their siblings. They bark when someone comes to the door, but once that person is accepted by the family then the Bergamasco will want to sit in their lap.

 

Rob Laffin

I live in Maine. Outside of dogs, I enjoy screenwriting, daylily hybridizing and I’m a retired attorney.

Do I hope the breed’s popularity will change or am I comfortable with the placement? The Bergamasco is not for everybody. They are very intelligent and sensitive and require a certain sort of person to understand them and give them what they need. Also, many people would not want to do the coat, although it is not as much work as many other kinds of coats. When breeds become too popular, they get overbred and this is not good for the dogs. I think the level of slow growth we see now is appropriate. Do these numbers help or hurt the breed? These numbers are irrelevant to the breed.

Does the average person on the street recognize the breed? It used to be never, but now more people have at least heard of the breed. Many because of Westminster.

Are there any misconceptions about the breed I’d like to dispel? The coat is not a high-maintenance coat. There is work involved at age one to two years to set up the flocks, but after that, there is no brushing or other difficult maintenance. Bergamascos do not roll and do not stink and so do not require baths more than once a year (or less).

What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Unfortunately, the Internet is a place where much disinformation can be spread. People interested in the breed would be well advised to get their information from a breeder or several breeders who have deep experience with the breed, having owned numerous Bergamascos. They are not a cookie cutter breed and there can be big differences in their personality, size, likes, dislikes, coats, temperament, etc. It takes many years and many dogs to get a true sense of the breed and the wide variety of individual characteristics one might encounter.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? The dogs have not fully completed their growing until approximately 22 months of age. When they are growing, different parts may grow at different rates (temporarily). There is no way to get a sense of possible great show movement before at least four months, and things will not have fully settled until later than that.  It should be noted that the coat takes many years to develop and a full coat (from approximately four to six years) should not be rewarded by judges—the younger dogs with immature coats should be put up against a mature-coated dog if they are better in other respects, but unfortunately the mature coats often win out in the non-puppy categories.

The most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? The Bergamasco is all about movement. They do not need to run in their work—they need to have a good easy trot that will not tire them out even after hours of work. Their body should be ever so slightly longer than tall, which for anatomical reasons facilitates the proper gait for the terrain (mountainous) the dogs work in naturally.  Very important—the Bergamasco should not hold its head high (or be kept on a short leash to pull its head high) when in the ring—the proper look is for a straight, level topline, including the head. The dogs are serious workers who know that they’re doing without signals from the shepherd, so they should be looking sideways to keep an eye on the sheep. An uplifted, smiling face and a show-offy prance is totally inappropriate for a true Bergamasco.

The best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? Contact the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America. We are happy to talk to anyone interested, and can tell you about upcoming shows where you could meet some Bergamascos and their owners, who are always pleased to share their experience with newcomers. We are an informal and friendly group. We have an annual get-together at a show (in 2020 this will be in early May) where there are many people who come with their Bergamascos just to meet up with others and let the dogs play, without showing. The Club is also planning Fast Cat and other events that are lots of fun for onlookers. Please contact the Club.

My ultimate goal for the breed? To preserve this wonderful, ancient breed, staying true to its historical roots, abilities, conformation and character (and not “cute-ifying” it for the show ring).

 

Rachel Meyers

I live in Virginia and outside of the dog world, I work in my family’s produce company.

The Bergamasco is currently ranked #187 out of 192 AKC-recognized breeds. Am I comfortable with this placement? Do these numbers help or hurt the breed? I’m comfortable with this ranking. Because this is rare breed, the sheer numbers of puppies being born each year are not there to change that ranking significantly. To me it shows that the few breeders that are here are not trying to mass produce puppies.

As far as showing, it probably hurts the breed as judges are not as familiar with the Bergamasco as they are with other breeds. As a family dog or participating in other events with the Bergamasco, I don’t think it affects the breed.

Does the average person recognize my breed? No, depending on their age, they are usually mistaken for either Pulis or Komondors. As puppies, I’ve had one of mine mistaken for an Aussie doodle, but it creates a great conversation starter.

Are there any misconceptions about the breed? Yes, their hair really does grow naturally like that.

At what age do you start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? Between two and three months, you can start to see how they are put together and their personality. Some dogs enjoy the show ring and others don’t.

What is the most important thing about my breed for a new judge to keep in mind? The coat is not the most important trait of the dog, but build and movement are. The only way to really know about the build is to feel the dogs. They are a rugged breed that is not supposed to be overly groomed. They are supposed to be longer than tall and their movement is different from other herding dogs and they don’t make the direct eye contact.

What’s the best way to attract newcomers to my breed? I think competing the dogs in other sports is a good way to bring visibility to the breed. It makes them seem more accessible than just seeing them on TV. We are fortunate to be in a breed that a lot of people show their own dogs, so makes it more of community feel for newcomers.

Ultimate goal for my breed? To bring awareness of these great family dogs. They dogs have been around a lot longer than people have been showing them and I would hate to see them altered just for show ring success.

 

Irene Senedak

I live and work in the New Haven, Connecticut area, although I do spend some time (and bring my dogs along, too) in my family’s home in northeast Ohio. I am a pianist, a working musician, and a teacher/professor when I am not passionately engaged in the dog world. It makes for an interesting and somewhat crazy balancing act for me, but one I wouldn’t have any other way.

I’m fine with this “popularity”. The people who are interested in our fascinating, magnificent breed always manage to find us, and we have had a close-knit circle of helpful friends and supporters for as long as I’ve been with the breed, which is now close to 20 years for me. Too much fame and popularity can be harmful to any breed, let alone such a unique breed as ours is. To bring in another of your questions: Many more ‘average’ people these days are able to correctly identify and recognize the Bergamasco, due to the availability of online sources of information, and having a few more tireless and committed breeders and advocates for our dogs spreading out in the US and worldwide. When I was first involved and brought out my first Bergamasco, my jaw would drop to the ground if a ‘Joe Q. Public’ passerby actually knew what our breed was, and certainly it was worth stopping to chat a bit with him or her and show off my lovely girl, Ellie.

Misconceptions I’d like to dispel: Lots, but mainly the difficulty of the coat. As an adolescent dog, most need some amount of hands-on ‘setting’ of the flocks of hair when their third kind of hair starts coming in—however, once the flocks are set up, the coat is fabulously easy to take care of and very low maintenance. Also, there is absolutely no way I would be able to enjoy a multi-dog household if I had a lot of maintenance (or shedding!) to cope with!

A special challenge to all breeders, but particularly breeders of a rare dog such as the ancient Bergamasco in our current society, is twofold: The marginalization and shrinking of the more historical and diverse roles for dogs, for instance in a much diminished agrarian world where most humans work and reside, means that most people have less and less understanding of, contact with, and opportunity to learn from being among animals in general, and in carrying forward many of the traditional environments and roles that dog breeds, for instance, have played and were carefully bred to fulfill. This translates into a lack of awareness and grasp of the enormity of how much we as humans can learn from animals, and dogs in particular, and a profound loss of the amazing history and background of our dog breeds. The second challenge becomes one of dispelling and countering the public image of preserving and caring for any purebred dog, let alone a rare breed that has been in danger of becoming extinct, as numbers and interest dwindle and fashions change. What is the purpose of maintaining breed integrity, in a society where most people now believe rescuing a mixed breed animal from a shelter is the noblest deed and a careful, conscientious, dedicated and intelligent breeder is equated with a puppy mill operation? I feel that I play a role in rescuing and preserving an entire breed, the Bergamasco, and that word must get out that this is a valuable and worthwhile and noble deed, too—that our purebred dogs deserve our society’s respect, preservation and continuation for their long histories and their distinct and close partnerships with mankind. I believe there is a place of dignity at the table for both the shelter rescue mindset and for the passionate fanciers of purebred dogs.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? I always feel that I am blessed with the honor of bringing these perfect little beings into the world, to have a formative hand in their development and in finding their life’s role—of course I notice good qualities almost from birth, but it’s a realization, as I watch them grow and develop (temperament, structure, soundness, etc.) of the imperfections that creep in, that help separate a top conformation dog prospect from a future loving pet. I truly believe that being a cherished family member and bringing joy to others is the highest position any dog can ever have, more than any show ring successes and fond memories I have had, more than awards and medals.

The most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? Good, broad head, topline, tail set, structure, and fluid movement. Five things!

 

Susan Wyant

I have always loved animals. Growing up we had various dogs and many different kinds of birds from finches to macaws. My favorite childhood dog was a Bearded Collie. In the 90s I was attending college in Florida and found the Bergamasco in a dog breed book. I fell in love, but was not planning on having a dog while living in Florida. My husband and I returned to our home state of Indiana. In 2011, we decided the time was right to get a dog. I did a little research, but I already knew which breed I really wanted. My husband had always had hunting dogs so he was a little unsure. We drove seven hours to just meet our first Bergamasco in person. A few weeks later we returned for our girl, Fina. The next year we imported Argo from a well-respected kennel in Italy. My husband has developed a deep bond with Argo and the rest of our flock. We now have two cats and five Bergamascos that make up our family.

I live in western Maryland. This area is rich in natural recreational resources, parks, woodlands and mountains. My dogs are a part of everyday life including working in the yard, hiking, and exploring. Besides working as Case Analyst, my life is devoted to the dogs.

Do I hope the breed’s popularity will change or am I comfortable with the placement? I would like to see more interest in the breed, however, I don’t think becoming a popular breed is a benefit. If popularity occurs too quickly, it can be harmful. They are not a breed for everyone and require more time as a family member.

Do these numbers help or hurt the breed? Extremely low breed numbers do not help the breed. Fewer individuals can make it difficult to find worthy breeding partners. If there are few individuals geographically then fewer people get to know the breed.

Does the average person on the street recognize the breed? No, most people do not have any idea what the breed is. I find lately there are a few more people that are identifying the breed as recognition increases. Occasionally, people will guess Puli or Komondor due to the similar appearance of the coat.

Are there any misconceptions about the breed I’d like to dispel? Bergamascos can get wet and be washed as frequently as one would like. It does not harm the coat. Some people fear there is a ton of grooming involved and others think there is no grooming. Brushing is not required every day like some long haired breeds, but there is brushing and grooming involved to keep the hair clean and sanitary.

What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Pro-rescue and negative attitude towards breeders raises challenges for breeders that are trying to do everything right to raise well-adjusted puppies bred for a purpose. Breeders also have to compete with the designer breeds.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? I look at my puppies at eight weeks to determine which may have future show-worthiness. Some individuals go through the puppy stage nice and evenly, but many individuals do not really mature and start to shine until they are around two to three years old.

The most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? Structure and balance are very important for function of the breed. One must get underneath the coat.

The best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? I am always happy to talk to anyone about the breed. I have attended Meet The Breed events. I try to enter large events that draw public attendance. I encourage people to attend breed gatherings. I love to encourage juniors.

My goals for the breed are to provide strong, healthy puppies from health-tested parents with great temperaments, that can perform the job they were bred for originally, and will go on to contribute to the gene pool. I am very selective in my breeding choices taking careful consideration of pedigrees, temperament, health, and breed traits. I hope to bring the joy and love that I have for the breed to new families.

My favorite dog show memory? IKC benched show in Chicago. It was a wonderful venue. My nieces participated in Junior Showmanship. All of us had a great time introducing the breed to the public.

Bergamascos are independent thinkers and have learned to problem solve. They also like to be engaged or a have job. Bergamascos are very agile and athletic as they worked in the rugged Alps. The breed is very intelligent and my husband offers them deeper consideration and thought in training versus the bird dogs that he has trained in the past. 

 

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