The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly Burma, is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia and due to a common mispronunciation, many people will argue that the Bernese Mountain Dog — or Burmese Mountain Dog as they will say — originated there. In fact, this glorious breed was brought to Switzerland by the Romans 2,000 years ago and was bred from crosses of Mastiffs and guard-type dogs.
The area of the breed’s origin is the canton of Bern and this mountain dog was originally kept as a general farm dog. They accompanied the alpine herders and dairymen and the larger of the breed were used as draft animals, pulling carts. The breed was officially established in 1907 and is classified as a member of the working group of dogs.
However, they don’t have to work very hard to steal your heart as Berners make wonderful companion animals with their easy going temperament and friendly nature. My next door neighbour has two beautiful Bernese named Nero, who is 8 1/2 and Charlie who just turned 1 and watching them walk down the street is like being in a playground surrounded by happy, scampering children. These dogs just exude joy and energy and make you feel good just watching them act out.
Bernese are outdoor dogs at heart and though well behaved in the house, need activity and exercise despite not having a great deal of endurance. They can move with amazing bursts of speed for their size when motivated and if they have no problems with their hips, elbows or other joints, can enjoy hiking. Not being given an adequate amount of exercise can lead to barking and disruptive behaviour in the Bernese.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is easily recognized by its distinctive tri-coloured coat, black with white chest and rust coloured markings above the eyes, side of mouth, front of legs and a small amount around the white chest. The average height for males is 25-28 inches and for females, 23-26 inches. Weight is 80-120 lbs. for males and 75-100 lbs. for females. It is slightly longer than it is tall and highly muscular with a strong, wide back that I’m sure more than one toddler has climbed upon. Berners are sweet and affectionate and generally do well with children, as they are patient with adventurous little ones. They get along well with other dogs and make excellent guardians.
This breed sheds all year long and the heaviest shedding is during seasonal changes. It usually only requires a brushing once a week, with more in spring and fall, to keep its coat neat and reduce the amount of fur on the floor and furniture. Bathing can occur every couple of months or so depending on its activity level. It is important to pay special attention to the Berner’s ears as they can trap bacteria, dirt and liquid thus running the risk of infection. And this leads into the various health issues you may experience with your Bernese.
Cancer is the leading cause of death for dogs in general but Bernese Mountain Dogs have a much higher rate of fatal cancers than other breeds. Nearly half of Bernese die of cancer compared to 27 per cent of all dogs. This breed is also prone to hereditary eye diseases that are common among larger dogs. Berners have an unusually high mortality due to musculoskeletal causes such as arthritis, hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament rupture with the age of onset at roughly 4.3 years old. The Bernese is one of the dog breeds with a short lifespan compared to other breeds of a similar size and purebred dogs in general. The average life expectancy is 7-9 years although one Berner in the UK lived to 15.2 years of age.
A well balanced diet provides quality nutrition, which in turn keeps the cells, tissues and organs healthy. This enables a Berner’s immune system to stay in top condition to fight any invaders. Feeding can range from a raw diet to homemade foods to commercially prepared kibble, but no matter what is chosen, most Berner owners agree that a high quality food with relatively low protein levels and a moderate fat content is best. High protein/fat feeds can be too much for many Bernese, especially those that are not very active and can lead to obesity.
So enjoy every year you have with your beautiful Bernese and if the cold of winter is too much for both of you, I hear it’s pretty warm in Burma.
Judie Amyot is a volunteer with Animatch, a non-profit dog adoption service. For more information, visit www.animatch.ca