What To Know Before Getting A Bernese Mountain Dog

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I recently read a headline that said during our COVID-19 isolation, people are adopting more dogs than ever.


It makes sense because who wouldn't want to quarantine with these loveable creatures? My days are made exponentially better because I get to spend them with Ivy, my beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog.

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Ivy is coming up on her second birthday (what!?!?!) and she's really developed quite the personality. She is the third Bernese we've had as a family, AMH's fourth as he grew up with one, so we're pretty well versed in the behaviours of this breed. There are some things that Ivy does that is all her, and other things that are common amongst the breed.

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Bernese Mountain Dogs are part of the working group of dogs, which basically means they were bred to help man by providing protection or doing jobs like water rescues or cart pulling. Cart pulling is what Bernese are known for and there are many funny and adorable videos on YouTube if you have a little time to spare. They are calm, loving, good natured dogs with a lot of strength and an eager to please attitude. That coupled with their high intelligence makes them easy to train (no doggy classes needed). They are originally from Switzerland where they enjoy the cold air and working on farms. And I should mention that while they are very protective of their family, they easily get along with strangers and other dogs.

What To Know Before Getting A Bernese Mountain Dog

Adopting any dog is a big responsibility and it pays to do a little research into the breed you are considering. I think it's safe to say our family will always include a Bernese so let me take you through a few things you should know before adopting one. I'm going to include some superficial things that I and my family have observed about the breed. For a more indepth look please consult you local vet and reputable websites such as the AKC. Also, please do your research on any breeders you are considering and I will also be an advocate for adopting an older dog. One of our Bernese was an older rescue and she was an incredible dog who is sorely missed every day.

There will be hair

What To Know Before Getting A Bernese Mountain Dog

This is always the first question I get about owning a Bernese and yes, there is a lot of hair. If you are a super neat freak, best look at a hairless chihuahua and stay far away from a Berner (that's their nickname)

They shed all year long with twice a year blowouts or coat blow. This means they are shedding either their winter or summer coats. It's basically a week or two of extra hair brushing and vacuuming. The good thing about Bernese hair is its light and fluffy and when it does fall, it sort of becomes a tumbleweed and you will find groups of it along your floorboards.  It's easy to grab and toss or you can just vacuum right up like I do.

After going through a vacuum a year I finally bought a Dyson Ball Animal 2 vacuum cleaner. It is specifically made for families with pets and I highly recommend it. Mine is six years old and still going strong!

How I keep Ivy's hair under control, as much as humanly possible, is by brushing her frequently. I don't have any special brushes, just whatever what was on sale at the pet store. But even with all that vacuuming and brushing, I still find hair in the most unusual places like once ending up with an Ivy hair stuck between my eyeball and contact lens 😐 I promise, you get used to it.

They are big

What To Know Before Getting A Bernese Mountain Dog

Ivy who started out as a huge puppy slowed her growth and is actually kind of small for the breed. But she's still big compared to other dogs out there! Ivy is around 80-90 pounds, Colton my last Bernese was 135 as his biggest! They are a weighty and solid dog, less tall and more low centre of gravity. If they were human, they would make a great back catcher or goalie.

Having a big dog means you've got a life sized teddy bear to cuddle but it also means they take up a good amount of space. Something to consider is the size of your home and access to outdoor space. It also means you need a good amount of upper arm strength to take them for walks on a leash, especially if they have a stubborn moment and want to go a different way than you. They usually win.

And probably the biggest trait that all Bernese Mountain Dogs share is sitting on your foot. They all do it! They either sit their big butt right on your foot, or they have their paw on your foot. If you ever forget how big they are, the second they sit on those delicate bones in your foot you will remember.

Physical activity

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Ok, so I love the breed because they are beautiful big cuddly teddy bears but you know what else is right there in the number two reason I love this dog? They like to exercise, but not too much. I once had a black lab who would run and walk and play for 10 hours straight and still would not settle down. It was exhausting and not a good fit for our family.

Bernese are worker dogs so they do need to expel some energy everyday. And given their size, they are prone to gaining too much weight without proper walks. That spells trouble for their hips and knees. Ivy gets two walks a day, once in the morning for 30 minutes and another 30 minute walk in the afternoon. That's enough to keep her and active and also allows for her to rest the remainder of the day.

Bernese are sprinters. They can move fairly quickly but not for long. On days where we travel with Ivy and she spends much more than her usual hour of exercise, we make sure to provide breaks throughout the day. You don't want to push these big guys to the point of exhaustion.

They also love to play. They will play with adults, kids and especially other dogs and animals. But, they can go a little too far sometimes. They forget their size relative to who they are playing with and sometimes need a gentle reminder to play nicely. That's mostly in the puppy phase when they still have the energy to run around.

What To Know Before Getting A Bernese Mountain Dog
Ivy sitting on the A/C vent to cool down during a warm summer day

Another thing to watch out for especially in the summertime is their exposure to heat. These are dogs that are from the mountains in Switzerland and with all that hair, they can get overheated if not monitored. There's actually a really great article on heatstroke in dogs and wouldn't you know it, they used a photo of my dogs, Colton and Ivy as the example of a Bernese Mountain Dog!

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Colton & Ivy Summer 2018


They only wanna be with you

What To Know Before Getting A Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese are social creatures, just like humans. In fact, some of them will even sit on the couch with you like a human! They are the perfect dog for a family. I raised my two sons with Bernese and they can't imagine their life without our dogs. They thrive on having kiddos around to play with and spending time with their adult owners. They are also great with other dogs and breeds. Basically, if you spend time at home, your Bernese will be happy.

If you don't have time to be at home and entertain your pup, there will be trouble. Bernese are prone to canine separation anxiety (our vet said Ivy is one of the worst cases of separation anxiety she's ever seen. She cries and refuses to walk or move when I try and leave her at the vet) and if they don't get enough attention or exercise, they will resort to mischievous or destructive behaviour. It's not uncommon for most dogs to be like that, but given their size it's more of a concern with a Bernese.

In our house, I work from home almost everyday, and now everyday while this pandemic is active. That makes for a very happy Ivy (and is why I think she does have such bad separation anxiety, because they only time I leave her is with the vet!) When I do have to spend the day in the office, she does quite well so don't think that a Bernese means you can't work. Just give them extra love when you get home. But if you say work 12 hour days and travel often a Bernese might not be the best fit.

And now for the paragraph I don't want to write, but I have to.

The life expectancy on these gentle giants is short

What To Know Before Getting A Bernese Mountain Dog

It's heartbreakingly short. The span is 7-10 years which is not nearly enough time. It's the only flaw with the breed. Our dog Lily was 11 and our Colton bear was almost 12 when they finally left for doggy heaven. They are such amazing dogs and they fill your life with so much colour and joy and then it's all gone far too soon. Losing any dog hurts like the dickens but with a Bernese there isn't a lot of time with them being older and decrepit, meaning you don't have a lot of time to get your heart ready for the big day. It just sort of sneaks up on you when you're busy living and in a flash they are gone.

But you have to know that going in because at some point their soulful brown eyes will look at you and tell you that it's time and you need to be strong enough to do what is right. They give so much love without asking anything in return. The least you can do is make sure they don't suffer in the end.

This is life. It's not just dogs, it's other pets and it's even people.

Even with knowing all of that, I wouldn't hesitate to get another one. And I did with Ivy. I don't like to think about it much but I know that her time will come one day. All I can do is love her with all my heart in the here and now and promise her that I'll do what's best for her.

I can't end this post about getting a Bernese Mountain Dog on such a sad note because that really is such a small portion of your life with these amazing dogs. They are stately and majestic and everyone you cross paths will stop and ask about your pup. Their tri colours are striking and they have this upbeat walk to them that just attracts attention.

So let me end with this, which has been the most fun for me in the last few years

They are great travellers

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Ivy in Times Square, New York City

Whenever I tell someone about all the places we've taken Ivy, and my Colton and Lily before her, they are shocked at how well travelled my pups are. I'm assuming it's the size that everyone is concerned about, and yes it does bare some weight in our travel choices, but they love the change of scenery as much as we do!

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The thing with smart dogs is that they get bored of the same old thing. They love little trips, like jumping in the car and heading to an all new trail, or heading out on a big road trip and landing smack dab in the middle of Times Square! They love exploring new surroundings and meeting new people (especially kids which Bernese just love playing with!) but most of all, they love being with you.

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Ivy at the ocean in Hyannis Port, Cape Cod MA

They adapt well staying in a new place. Ivy has a large dog bed that she sleeps on during the day and we always bring that, along with a familiar blanket and some toys. This way even when she is left for a few hours in a hotel or house, she has a piece of home and can be comforted by that. I also recommend nice long walks before leaving them in a new place on their own.

What To Know Before Getting A Bernese Mountain Dog

So there you have it, everything you need to know about getting a Bernese Mountain Dog. They truly are the only dog for me and I see a long line of them in my future. They are fun to have around and you can just feel how much they love you back. Plus, they are just gorgeous and they take the most amazing pictures! I mean look at Ivy. Adorable!