What Were Bernese Mountain Dogs Bred For? Original Role, Jobs, History, and More

Bernese Mountain Dog puppies
© otsphoto/Shutterstock.com

Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Published: May 4, 2023

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Bernese mountain dogs are considered to be “working dogs” by the American Kennel Club. These mighty pups are muscular and full-bodied dogs that have the build to be working dogs. You can tell they were bred for some kind of work purpose but what exactly were Bernese mountain dogs bred for? Where are these dogs originally from and what was their original role? What jobs did they fill and are they also good companion dogs? Read on to find out all about the history of Bernese mountain dogs!

What is a Bernense Mountain Dog?

A Bernese mountain dog is one of the largest dog breeds, similar to a Saint Bernard.  They have a classic tri-color coat with a black back, white chest and rust colored legs. Their faces are tri-colored too with a white stripe down the middle and nose, black masked eyes and rust on either side of their (often smiling) mouth. Bernese mountain dogs are known to be hard working dogs, but they are also very friendly and easy to train. They make good pets IF you can make sure they get plenty of exercise and you don’t mind heaps of hair (and drool at times!).

Bernese mountain dog laying down

The Bernese mountain dog has a tri-colored coat and face consisting of black, white and rust coloring.

©iStock.com/Kriste Sorokaite

How Big Are Bernese Mountain Dogs?

Bernese mountain dogs are 25-27 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 80-115 pounds, that is almost as tall as your kitchen table! They are a little smaller than the Saint Bernard but still one of the largest dog breeds. A one month old puppy will weigh between 5-10 pounds but by the time they turn one year old they could weigh as much as 75-105 pounds! As an adult they will eat 3-6 cups of food per day! Keep that in the budget if you are thinking of getting a robust Berner.

What Were Bernese Mountain Dogs Bred For?

Bernese mountain dogs were bred to be working dogs. Originally they were bred from mastiffs that were brought over by the Romans. They are one of four dog breeds that were bred in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland where the dairy industry was so important to the production of cheese and chocolate. While some of the working dogs were great at herding cattle they needed dogs that were strong enough to haul carts and sleds into town. There were four breeds of mountain dogs that were bred in this region to help on the farms and ranches. The four Swiss mountain dogs are:

Bernese mountain dogs were originally bred to haul carts

Bernese mountain dogs were originally bred to haul carts and sleds into town for dairy farms and ranches.


What Jobs Did Bernese Mountain Dogs Have On The Farm?

On the farms of Switzerland, Bernese mountain dogs played an important part in farm and ranch operations. Dogs needed to be able to withstand some of the cold winters as well as the uneven terrain of the Alps. Some of the jobs they held include:

  • Drafting: One of the most notable jobs that Bernese mountain dogs are known for is their ability to pull heavy carts full of goods. They were trained to pull wheeled carts in the warmer months and sleds in the winter. Berners are very well adapted for winter weather with their heavy coats and large paws. These traits were invaluable in the rough terrain of the mountains of Switzerland.
  • Driving cattle: Berners have a temperament that makes them want to please their owners. This makes them great at learning to drive cattle, getting the herd to and from their pastures. It takes a special kind of dog to be able to work around cattle. That is why the stocky Bernese mountain dogs have excelled at the task.
  • Guarding: Besides driving cattle, Berners can be trained to guard a herd. One of the most common predators of cattle and sheep back in the day was Eurasian wolves. The wolves that lived in the Alps could get to be 85 pounds or more. So you can see why a large, fierce watchdog was needed. Farmers got fed up with the wolves predating their livestock. They nearly eliminated the Eurasian wolf species in Switzerland, but in recent years the numbers have been increasing. Finding the balance between humans, livestock and nature can be a difficult endeavor.
  • All-around: Some working dogs are excellent at one skill, like Australian cattle dogs for herding. But Bernese mountain dogs are excellent as an all around farm dog. This is why they were bred to be both strong for drafting and agile to herd and drive cattle.
  • Companion: After a long, harsh day in the mountains of the Alps, there is nothing better than snuggling up to a warm fire with your Berner at your feet. Bernese mountain dogs were also bred to be loyal companion dogs, affectionate and appreciative of their owners. That is why they make good pets even if you don’t have a load of Swiss cheese to haul to market!
Bernese mountain dog cuddling

Bernese mountain dogs were also bred to be loyal companion dogs, affectionate and appreciative of their family.


When Did Bernese Mountain Dogs Come to the United States?

Bernese mountains dogs first came to the United States in 1926. At the time a farmer from Kansas was looking for an all around farm dog that could do a variety of tasks on the farm. A pair of Bernese mountain dogs were imported and word got out about this versatile (and cuddly) breed. By ’30s there was enough interest in the breed that the American Kennel Club officially registered their first one in 1937. Now it is a popular “large dog” and has also been bred with poodles creating bernerdoodles as an option for pet owners that want a smaller version of the Berner but love the same lovable characteristics!

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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