History of the Bernese Mountain Dog
Also see AKC: The Bernese Mountain Dog.
In the course of time, the sport of dogs has developed a way to judge and evaluate its breeding stock. Each breed has a set standard by which it is judged. The standards are generally purpose driven, and, depending on the breed, sometimes fashion driven, the latter not being preferred in a working dog. Standards of dogs from non-English speaking countries may suffer from inaccuracies or misunderstanding in translation to English. For instance, what one culture understands as a guard dog, another understands as a watchdog, and yet another understands as a watchful dog. It is to be noted that Swiss farms are very different from American farms.
In the case of the Bernese Mountain Dog, the AKC standard was originally a direct translation from the FCI standard at the time of recognition, 1937. The first BMDCA revision, made in 1980, and the second, made in 1990, reflected changes in the FCI standard as well as incorporation of AKC requirements. Major changes included raising the height on the lower end and adding a section on movement.
The historical essence of the Bernese Mountain Dog is that it has been a farm dog of the midland regions of Switzerland, mostly around the city of Berne. In that capacity, it was primarily used as a companion and watchdog to the farmer and his family. It alerted his owner to unfamiliar visitors. It may have been used as a dog to pull a cart. A large dog, well-muscled and with sturdy bone, was needed for this task. It may have been used to accompany cows to pasture but not for long distances as dogs which work on a range. As most Swiss farmers had a small number of cows, the dog was not required to manage large herds. The BMD was not a herding dog for sheep and goats as these animals were not kept usually on Bernese farms except in very small numbers. In other parts of Switzerland especially in the alpine regions such tasks were done by smaller, quicker dogs such as the Appenzeller and Entlebucher. The temperament of the Bernese Mtn. Dog was never to be sharp or shy.
The history of the breed, therefore, is one of a watchful farm dog. Those fanciers who wish to have conformation dogs or obedience or draft or agility or tracking or herding dogs would be wise to heed the heritage of the breed and mind that this is not a breed of any one specific sport but is a Swiss farmer's companion.