Large and sturdy, Bernese Mountain Dogs are as beautiful as they are affectionate. Berners, as they’re also called, live to please their owners. Their intelligence and gentle temperament make them easy to train. But Berners can be sensitive to harsh correction and don’t do well with being left alone. That’s why it’s important to consider specific training and milestones so you can best cater to their needs.
For advice, we talked to Julie Jackson, the owner of RavenRidge Bernese Mountain Dog with over 20 years of experience breeding and raising Bernese Mountain Dogs. Jackson is a member of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America and is active in obedience, agility, and confirmation.
Key Milestones: 3-12 weeks
Puppies need to be eight weeks old before going to their new home. However, there are a few things you can do to get you and your home ready for a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy before they arrive.
1. Preparing for a Puppy
Research the breed by talking to breeders and owners and attending regional club events. Visit Berner-Garde Database, a free resource on the health and pedigree of registered Bernese Mountain Dogs. Before getting on, ask yourself: Am I comfortable managing an adult dog that can weigh between 70 and 115 pounds? Am I prepared to provide food, grooming, and veterinary care throughout my dog’s lifetime?
“I’m not just looking for the owner,” Jackson says. “I am looking for people that will be advocates for the breed.” She recommends booking a wellness exam and obedience classes before your puppy comes home.
Once they’re properly vaccinated, introduce your puppy to new people, animals, surfaces, and environments. Jackson’s advice is to “give it about a week or two to bond with the puppy, get to know each other, but in the meanwhile, it’s important that they not be in lockdown.”
Invite friends and family over and visit dog-friendly places with floors that are cleaned regularly. Steer clear of unfamiliar dogs until your puppy is fully vaccinated.
“Stairs should be kept to a minimum for the first couple of months,” advises Jackson. While most Berners can go upstairs on their own, make sure to carry them downstairs until they’re older or get too heavy. The same rule applies to car rides. Lift your puppy onto the ground for the first year to avoid elbow and knee injuries.
Puppies earn the privilege of increased freedom as they learn the house rules. Curtail unwanted chewing by limiting their access inside the home with puppy pens and gates.
Berners don’t have full bladder strength until about six months. Getting angry during potty training is counterproductive. Instead, be patient, take them out regularly, and mark good behavior with praise.
“It’s amazing how quickly they understand, and in the morning, they can’t wait to get out and do potty outside and not in their pens,” Jackson says. She cautions against using pee pads which can signal that it’s okay to pee inside the house.
Key Milestones: 4-6 months
Puppies can begin obedience training after their second round of vaccines, meaning there will be a ton of learning (and growing) in this time.
4. Obedience Training
Work with a trainer on strategies for controlling your dog and dealing with pulling. An exuberant puppy or adolescent dog might jump on or accidentally knock over a child or an elderly person. When properly introduced, Berners are good with other pets and farm animals. One exception is chickens, in which case, puppies need to be taught that chickens are not prey.
The adolescent stage begins around sixteen weeks and can last for six months. Adolescent puppies tend to forget their training and might become fearful of new and familiar objects. Set boundaries with your puppy and revisit training.
Berners have a silky, double coat that needs weekly brushing to remove excess fur and avoid matting. Long nails can cause pain and affect your dog’s gait, so trim them yourself or enlist the help of a reputable groomer.
Dogs that are moderately active can have a bath every six to eight weeks, but bathing puppies too frequently can dry out their skin. If your dog goes into the water, make sure to dry their coat thoroughly to prevent hot spots and staph infections.
Prepare yourself for shedding season. Bathe your dog at the start of shedding season and use a powerful dryer to pull out the dead coat. In another three weeks, bathe them again to reduce dry, itchy skin. “Twice a year, there is going to be hair in every corner of the room when they blow coat,” Jackson says.
Key Milestones: 7-12 months
Puppies need exercise to stay healthy and avoid behavioral issues before they reach a year of age.
“Your puppy sets the pace,” says Jackson. “With an eight-week-old puppy, you may only go ten feet.” Practice luring them with treats and praise.
As working dogs, Berners can be quite active for the first two years, or they can turn into couch potatoes. Some guidelines recommend four hours of exercise per day which isn’t realistic for most owners. In addition, it’s best to avoid strenuous exercise before fifteen months when the growth plates close.
Depending on the time of year, puppies can learn to swim as young as four months. Avoid swimming in the winter and support their belly as they begin paddling.
Some Berners are natural swimmers while others hate the water. “You can’t assume that if you’re at a lakefront home and the puppy goes off the dock that they can swim,” says Jackson.
8. Sexual Maturity
“I encourage owners not to spay or neuter at six months,” says Jackson who suggests waiting until they turn two and longer, if possible. Boys reach sexual maturity as young as 6 months but the recommended age for breeding is 24 months. Girls come into season between 9 and 15 months.
Along with your veterinarian, your breeder and trainer can help you navigate these important milestones. Good-natured and alert, Berners love having room to run but most of the time you’ll find them glued to your side.