The History of the Bernese Mountain Dog

The History of the Bernese Mountain Dog


The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of the four breeds of Sennenhunde working dogs, having their origins in farming areas of Switzerland. All of the Sennenhunde (the other three are the Appenzeller, the Entlebucher, and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog) are tri-colored dogs sharing similar markings, but only the Bernese is characterized by a long coat.

“Sennenhunde” is what English speakers call the Bernese Mountain Dog. The name has three distinct parts: “Berner” refers to the Canton of Bern in west-central Switzerland, both alpine and farmlands where most of this breed were concentrated during the last part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. Swiss dog fanciers first became attracted to these native dogs. A “Senn” or “Senner” is the cowherd who accompanies the cattle herds to the Alps in the summer, and “hund” is the dog accompanying the master and herds.

The History of the Bernese Mountain Dog
The History of the Bernese Mountain Dog

The old records show that Bernese were developed as general-purpose farm dogs. Their work involved driving cattle, for which a large, calm-natured dog was required. They pulled carts laden with dairy product and other items to market, the work requiring a sturdy constitution and the self-confidence to be independent. They were watchdogs around the farms and with the herds, alert and instinctively aware of the things happening around the farm. They lived with their people, whether on the farm or in the alpine huts, and were devoted to them.

Bernese Mountain Dogs are hardy and not bothered by cold weather, rain or snow. On the other hand, their heavy coat means they do not do their best in hot weather. They are natural dogs, in the sense that they are not altered by docking, cropping or trimming. They are honest working dogs, not changed in ways more suitable to the show ring than to the farm.

At the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, when Swiss dog fanciers turned to the search for old native breeds, the great geologist and dog fancier Dr. Albert Heim was a leader in his admiration for the Berner. He was instrumental in preserving the Berner Sennenhund as a distinct breed.

The History of the Bernese Mountain Dog
The History of the Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain Dog’s introduction to America began in 1936 with the import of two dogs from Switzerland, a male and female, brought here by Glen Shadow of Ruston, Louisiana. On April 13, 1937, Mr. Shadow received a letter from the American Kennel Club, declaring official recognition of the Bernese as a new breed to the Working Group. From just a few early dogs, the breed’s numbers have climbed steadily. Their population has spread from the dog’s original home in Switzerland to manynations, their capabilities and adaptation a study in utility.

Seeking a balance of beauty, function in form, and solid character has been a constant in breed management from the early days to the present. These dogs were and are now bred for purpose, to serve as companions and working dogs. We continue to cherish the breed’s distinctive qualities of utility and dependability. It is today’s breeder’s role to ensure the breed’s future place as a solidly built, stable working companion—the beautiful and capable Bernese Mountain Dog.


Submitted by BMDCA from the Illustrated standard

  • The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA) was founded in 1968 for the advancement of the Bernese Mountain Dog. The BMDCA is the parent breed club for the Bernese Mountain Dog and is a member of the American Kennel Club. The BMDCA has many Regional Bernese Mountain Dog Clubs that create a network of support for Bernese Mountain Dog owners.

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