AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - April 1995


Anyone who knows people who own Bernese Mountain Dogs will frequently hear them use the term Berner. This shortened version of the breed's name comes from the official name of the breed in Switzerland, Berner Sennenhund. An Alpine herder is known as a senn. Berner Sennenhund literally means "Bernese Alpine herder's dog."

The term Bernese was used by Mrs. L. Egg-Leach, a British subject living in Switzerland, in "The Bemese Is a Loyal Dog of the Swiss Alps" in the June 1935 GAZETTE. In its introduction to American readers, it was referred to as "Bernese" and "these mountain dogs." The AKC recognized the breed on April 13, 1937, as the Bernese Mountain Dog.

An earlier name of the breed is Durrbachler. Toward the end of the 19th century, a small group of Swiss fanciers realized the ancient farm dog known by a variety of names (farmer's dog, cheese factory dog, Gelbbackler [yellow cheeks] or Vierauger [four eyes, referring to the spots over the eyes]) was fast becoming a memory. In 1892, Franz Schertenleib went in search of dogs his father had described. South of the city of Bern in the Durrbach region in the canton of Bern, he found the variety known as Gelbbackler and bought some. Because they were from Durrbach, the dogs were called Durrbachlers. In 1907, the Schweizerischer Durrbach Club was formed.

The greatest impact on the breed's development came from professor Albert Heim, a respected geologist, canine researcher, and judge of several breeds. In 1908 he proposed that the name Durrbachler be changed to Berner Sennenhund to identify the breed as having its origin in the canton of Bern, not just the small region of Durrbach.

The club's name was changed to Berner-Sennenhund Klub and later to Schweizerische Klub fur Berner Sennenhunde, its present name. As a judge of the Berner Sennenhund, Heim's critiques evaluated the dogs that were the forerunners of the Bernese Mountain Dog of today.

[Other references on breed history include Diana Cochrane's "The Bernese Mountain Dog" and Mary R Dawson's "50th Anniversary of Bernese Mountain Dogs in America" in The Alpenhorn (Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America [BMDCA], February 1987).]

So it is with warmth and affection that American fanciers use the term Berner. On rare occasions one will still hear or see the name Durrbachler. A postcard of a Bemese Mountain Dog printed in Switzerland in the 1960s identifies the dog as a "Berner Sennenhund 'Durrbachler' which jogs the memory to recall that from that early collection of dogs discovered in Durrbach by a few Swiss dedicated to reclaiming and preserving the wonderful dog of the Alps, a nucleus was formed to ensure this ancient breed's continuation for future generations to enjoy.

A Legacy for the Future

The breed was saved at the beginning of the 20th century. As the 21st century approaches, breeders must carefully assess what they are doing. A particularly poignant statement was presented on a full page in the BMDCA 1991 national specialty catalog. The page was titled "Breeding" and continued with a quote from Ernst Haeckel's "Natural History of the Universe": "The business of the breeder is no lightly acquired art. It demands an extraordinarily clear view, great patience and a specially careful treatment of the organisms to be bred." Esther and Dutch Mueller's message was "dedicated to all 'Durrbachlers' past and present."

May all involved with BMDs be granted such wisdom and dedicate themselves to a bright future for the breed.

- Julie Crawford, 26391 May Twilley Road, Delmar, MD 21875.