A sheepdog with a strong work ethic, the Bergamasco Sheepdog’s most unique characteristic is its coat, which contains “dog hair,” “goat hair” and “wool” that combine to form black or gray felt-like mats. The mats grow over the course of the dog’s life, reaching the ground at approximately 6 years of age. The coat can actually smell like a sweater when it is wet. But despite its formidable appearance, the Bergamasco is really a trim, athletic sheepdog.
- Personality: Eager to please, very smart, and an indpendent problem solver; patient but protective
- Energy Level: Not Very Active; Serene and watchful, this breed has no special exercise needs
- Good with other Dogs: With Supervision
- Shedding: Infrequent
- Grooming: Occasional
- Trainability: Eager To Please
- Height: 23.5 inches (male), 22 inches (female)
- Weight: 70-84 pounds (male), 57-71 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 13-15 years
- Barking Level: Barks When Necessary
The first centers for domestication of sheep and goats appears to be the Zagros Mountains which straddle the Iraq-Iran border. In this region originated a type of dogs with long, bristly coats, probably descended from a wolf with a very thick coat (“Canis lupus laniger”).
In Italy, the dogs that became the Bergamascos worked closely with their shepherds in a one-to-one relationship, the goal of which was to protect the flock. Unlike some other shepherding breeds, which are taught to execute exact commands from their masters, the Bergamasco enjoyed a unique partnership with its shepherd in the isolated high mountain valleys: with just one human, a small number of dogs, and hundreds of sheep to tend, the shepherd needed his helpers to be as independent as possible, and so the Bergamasco was developed to problem-solve on its own.
The dogs emigrated with shepherding population groups that moved from east to west in search of new pastures, settling in mountainous zones along a practically uninterrupted line from the upper planes of Asia over all the mountains of Anatolia, the Caucasus, the Carpathians, the Alps, the French Central Massif to the Pyrenees.
Thus, while it learned to take its lead from its shepherd, the manner in which it accomplished what the shepherd wanted was left up to it. And so, it learned to identify problems and to think its way through them, and to accomplish the goal in whichever way seemed best, given the always changing circumstances in the mountain valleys.
Certain of these nomads ultimately settled in the Italian Alps and remained there; their dogs became what is now known as the Bergamasco.
As a result, Bergamascos developed into a highly intelligent breed that combines a deep desire to please and help its master with an ability to think for itself and to figure out its own ways to accomplish the mutual goals. Thus, to a certain extent, it for good reason sees itself more as an equal working partner than as an inferior subordinate. This makes the Bergamasco an excellent choice for a person who appreciates intelligence and self-sufficiency in a companion.
The Bergamasco Sheepdog is a muscular, heavy-boned herding dog with a large head and a thick tail that hangs down to the hock and curves slightly upward at the end. The entire dog is covered with an abundant coat that forms mats. The Bergamasco is compact in profile but is just slightly longer than tall.
The Bergamasco’s characteristic feature is its unique coat, made up of three types of hair. The coat forms flocks (strands of hair weaved together creating flat layers of felted hair) or loose mats, which cover the dog’s body and legs, and protect the dog from weather and predators. The hair on the head is typically long and hangs over the eyes.
It is actually different types of hair that form flat mats that feel like felt. This coat needs attention at one year of age to create the mats by pulling apart the hairs. Seek out a breed expert to help you in this process. Bathing is only required 1-3 times per year. Grooming can be a wonderful bonding experience for you and your pet. Their strong fast-growing nails should be trimmed regularly with a nail clipper or grinder to avoid overgrowth, splitting and cracking. Their ears should be checked regularly to avoid a buildup of wax and debris which can result in an infection. Teeth should be brushed regularly.
Options for exercise include play time in the backyard, preferable fenced, or taken for walks several times a day. Exercise can also come in the form of indoor activities, like hide and seek, chasing a ball rolled along the floor, or teaching them new tricks. Depending on the breed, certain outdoor activities like swimming, hiking, retrieving balls or flying discs can provide a good outlet for expending energy. If you live in an apartment even short walks in the hallways can give your dog some exercise, especially during inclement weather. Training for dog sports like agility, obedience and rally can also be a great way to give your dog exercise.
Like all breeds there may be some health issues. Some dogs may be faced with these health challenges in their lives, but the majority of Bergamascos are healthy dogs.
Working with a responsible breeder, those wishing to own as Bergamascos can gain the education they need to know about specific health concerns within the breed. Good breeders utilize genetic testing of their breeding stock to reduce the likelihood of disease in their puppies.
Depending on the size of your dog as an adult you are going to want to feed them a formula that will cater to their unique digestive needs through the various phases of their life. Many dog food companies have breed-specific formulas for small, medium, large and giant breeds.
What you feed your dog is an individual choice, but working with your veterinarian and/or breeder will be the best way to determine frequency of meals as a puppy and the best adult diet to increase his longevity. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.