Life With A Berner

Separate and apart from the considerations that go into any decision to purchase a dog, a prospective Bernese Mountain Dog owner must become knowledgeable of the many unique aspects of the breed. While there are countless positive aspects to sharing your home with a Bernese, there are several negative factors as well. You will not be in a position to make an informed decision until you give serious consideration to these issues.
 
Perhaps the most significant fact that any potential Berner owner must learn is that the breed is subject to several specific health problems. Hip and elbow dysplasia, progressive degenerative joint diseases, plagues all large breeds. Hip and elbow dysplasia ranges from very mild cases with no apparent ill effects to crippling cases severe enough to require surgery.  There is a poly genetic component to the cause, but environment, exercise and nutrition will also affect all the joints in a large fast, growing puppy.   It is still possible for normal parents to produce dysplastic puppies, however, the chance of a puppy becoming dysplasia is reduced if both parents are normal, and even more greatly reduced if other close relatives (parents' parents, parents' littermates, and other puppies produced by the parents) are also free from hip and elbow dysplasia. Environmental factors and poor nutrition may contribute greatly to manifestation of symptoms and absence of symptoms if not absence of the disease. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), evaluate x-rays to screen dogs for hip and elbow dysplasia, it is important to have your dog x-rayed and the results given to your breeder.  
Other orthopedic problems associated with large breeds are found in Bernese, they include panosteitis (shifting leg lameness), and shoulder problems such as osteochondritis dissecans (cartilage flap or fragment). Management of growing youngsters is critical to eliminate or minimize symptoms of these problems.
Bernese suffer from a high incidence of certain cancers. Indeed, cancer may be the number one cause of natural death in all domestic dogs. According to ongoing research by the BMD clubs, some of the cancers are believed to be hereditary, while others are not.  Sadly, due in part to the foregoing, the average life span of the Bernese Mountain Dog is believed to be shorter than that of other breeds. An ageless Swiss expression advises: "Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, and three years an old dog. All else is a gift from God."  There does not seem to be any firm conclusions on why some dogs live longer than others, but a good diet, minimal vaccinations, avoid harmful chemicals and pesticides, and a stress-free life could help in some cases.
Other health concerns in our breed are Bloat, Aortic Stenosis, Autoimmune Diseases, Degenerative Myelopathy, Meningitis, Wobblers and Cruciate Ligament Ruptures to name just a few.
 
Bernese Mountain Dogs require great attention to their environment, with adequate room to exercise as an absolute requirement. Special attention may be needed in warmer climates and during hot summer months because BMD's do not tolerate heat very well. Because of their size, body mass, thick coat and black color, Berners are susceptible to heat stroke. 
 
The BMD has a very strong need for human companionship. It is one of their most endearing qualities and an important consideration for any prospective owner.  Prolonged isolation is particularly cruel to Berners, as they crave constant loving attention. Again, although the Bernese Mountain Dog can adapt to a variety of circumstances, talk to your breeder and other owners to make sure that your lifestyle is compatible with the Berner's special needs.
 
There are several practical considerations that should factor into your decision as well.  Berners are large animals, males range in height from 24-28 inches at the shoulder and weigh from 85 to 120 pounds. Females stand from 23 to 26 inches tall and weigh between 65 to 100 pounds. Bernese normally possess extremely active tails, making clean sweeps of coffee tables. Uncluttered houses and fenced yards are a must.
Berners need daily exercise, they cannot be locked up for 10 hours a day, otherwise they may have trouble adjusting to the calm household that most owners expect. Young puppies only need minimal exercise, slowly increasing it as the puppy grows into an adult, each dog is different but overdoing with young puppies can cause serious problems. 
Bernese are double coated and shed a minimum of twice a year, keeping them well-groomed is very important for their health and well-being.  If you require a fastidiously kept house, don't get a Berner! You will always have some dog hair around, especially in rugs, on furniture, and, oh yes, occasionally in your food.
 
Don't forget to factor in the costs of food, health care, crate, bowls, brushes, grooming supplies, training, boarding, toys, home repairs ect, we highly recommend getting pet health insurance for a Berner.
Bernese do best on a top-quality diet, a premium kibble or a raw food diet can save you trips to the vet.  Most are very greedy eaters, so you must watch their weight to insure they do not get fat, keeping puppies lean for the first two years of their life is very important.
Puppy socialization and a good obedience class is a must for a dog of this size.  Berners tend to be sensitive or soft in many training situations, they must be handled carefully, with a loving, firm, but nonetheless gentle hand.
Though Bernese may bark and growl defensively occasionally protecting their family and home, some are more protective than others, when it comes down to brass tacks they'd as soon kiss the intruder.  Berners are very loyal and can be protective of family and property, but if you are looking for a vicious guard dog, look to another breed.
 
The Bernese is growing in popularity, which unfortunately can lead to less scrupulous breeding practices as opportunistic back yard breeders rush to meet the demand. You must get to know everything you can about this breed, so you can ask potential breeders the right questions. You must carefully examine your own circumstances until you are positive that a Bernese Mountain Dog is the right choice for you.