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History of the Bernese Mountain Dog

The Swiss Mountain Dogs

The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of four breeds of cattle dogs originating in Switzerland. The Bernese Mountain Dog (Berner Sennenhund, Dürrbächler), the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund), the Appenzell Mountain Dog (Appenzeller Sennenhunde), and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog breeds are appreciated worldwide for their adaptability, working abilities, and as exceptional companion dogs.

Swiss Breeds in the United States and the American Kennel Club (AKC)

The Bernese Mountain Dog is listed as a member of the Working Group by the AKC. Bernese acquired AKC recognition in 1937. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was officially granted full recognition in the AKC Working Group in July 1995. The Entlebucher was accepted into AKC in 2011 in the Herding Group. The Appenzell Mountain Dog is classified by the AKC as FSS® breeds and as such are not eligible for AKC registration. The AKC provides the Foundation Stock Service® service to allow these purebred breeds to continue to develop while providing them with the security of a reliable and reputable avenue to maintain their records. Appenzell Mountain Dogs are approved to compete in AKC companion events including obedience, tracking, agility and rally.

For more information on Swiss Mountain Dogs please visit the following websites. The organizations/association listed below are recognized by the AKC as the official Parent Clubs for their respective breeds.


The History and Standard of the Bernese Mountain Dog article located on the BMDCA's website provides insight into breed standards and the original function of the breed.

The Naturhistorisches Museum der Burgergemeinde Bern website contains some breed information and a link to The Albert Heim Foundation website.

International Bernese Mountain Dog Clubs 

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) is the World Canine Organization. FCI affiliated clubs can provide you with information about BMD clubs and reputable breeders in their respective regions or countries. It is advisable to contact BMD clubs, protecting the best interests of the BMD in other counties prior to importing a dog. The North American BMD fanciers from the US and Canada, due to our close proximity, have enjoyed a longstanding association including an ongoing exchange of dogs and services. For information on Canadian breeders and clubs please visit the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Canada.

Historical Development of the Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a very old breed. The ancestors of today's dogs served as all purpose farm dogs in Switzerland long before the time they were recognized as a purebred dog and before dog clubs or clearly defined pedigrees (family trees) were recorded. The breed has gone by several names in its homeland including Gelbbäckler (Yellow Cheeks), Vieräuger (Four Eyes), Dürrbachhunde and the Berner Sennenhund.

Many people living in Switzerland were involved in developing the Bernese Mountain Dog as a purebred breed during the early days, just as there are those who have continued on through the decades to manage this breed of dog. Dog clubs have had the greatest influence on the development of dog breeds, including the Bernese Mountain Dog.

The information provided here is about those people who have undertaken the responsibility to appreciate, preserve and protect the Bernese Mountain Dog. It is through an understanding of the history of the breed documented by its supporters in books, writings, photos, illustration and in dog club publications that future generations of Bernese fanciers will gain perspective and an appreciation for the importance of their roles in caring for the Bernese, a breed that has served for generations as faithful canine companions and helpmates.

During the mid 1800's showing dogs at public competitive dog show exhibitions became a popular sport among the wealthy who kept dogs of a recognizable style or type for a particular purpose. Kennel Clubs were founded to govern over the breeding and showing of dogs. The purpose of dog clubs was to see to the rearing and caring for a most noble domestic animal, the dog. Kennel clubs began to establish breed standards (written descriptions of physical traits and functions for specific breeds of dogs.) The kennel clubs recorded pedigrees and compiled Stud Books in which dogs of specific breeds whose parents were known were registered. The kennel clubs also kept records of dogs competing in dog shows.

The Bernese Mountain Dog came to be recognized as a breed worthy of merit and came under the direction of the dog club breeders in its homeland, Switzerland during the 1800's. The Swiss Cyological Society (SCS - Swiss "Kennel Club") began in 1883. In 1907, the "Schweizerischer Dürrbachclub" was established in Switzerland.

Margret's article mentions a booklet, "Die Schweizer Sennenhunde" was published in 1914 written by Professor Albert Heim in which several pictures of the early Bernese appeared. Today's Bernese have bloodlines and traits in common with these ancestral dogs.

From "Die Schweizer Sennenhunde" (1914)


Breed Standards adopted by dog clubs pertaining to Bernese traits have been adapted and honed over time. Some earlier versions of the BMD breed standards can be seen here.

 The dogs pictured are the foundation breeding stock of the breed.

50th Anniversary of BMDs in America

The AKC (American Kennel Club) and BMDCA (Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America) have made substantial contributions to maintaining historical documentation of the Bernese Mountain Dog in the United States. The Bernese was introduced to the purebred dog fancy in this country by Mrs. L. Egg-Leach in the AKC Gazette in her 1935 article entitled, "The Bernese is a Loyal Dog of the Swiss Alps". In 1943 R. Caldwell's article entitled, "The Bernese Mountain Dog" provides more information on the history of the breed in the US and covers the breed's recognition by the AKC as well as the first dogs born in this country. A record of the Bernese Mountain Dogs introduction and development in the United States was created in 1987 by the BMDCA in its newsletter The Alpenhorn, editor Mary Dawson. The special issue published in February 1987 entitled "The 50th Anniversary of Bernese Mountain Dogs in America" references the first articles on the breed found in the AKC's publication, The American Kennel Gazette.

Introduction of BMDs to America
BMD Recognition by the AKC

It seemed to begin so simply. In the May 1, 1937, Issue of the American Kennel Gazette there was a brief notice: "New Breed Admitted to Stud Book. Bernese Mountain Dog." There followed the newly accepted "Standard of Perfection" for the breed, which was admitted to the Working Group.

Recognition of the Bernese Mountain Dog by the American Kennel Club actually took place at the meeting of April 13, 1937. There were, we may be sure, many events, discussions, meetings, and deliberations leading up to this momentous recognition. The breed had, of course, been recognized and promoted in its Swiss homeland for many decades prior to this recognition of Its status by the American Kennel Club. Active promotion of the breed by Mrs. L. Egg-Leach of England and Switzerland and by the American fancier Glen Shadow were among these events.On the occasion of the 50th, "Golden," Anniversary of the recognition of the Bernese Mountain Dog in America, this issue of the newsletter of the Bernese Mountain

Dog Club of America is devoted to a retrospective view of these dogs. Deciphering their history must be based on a number of sources: archaeological records give us some clues about Swiss dogs; works of art can be used to document how these farmers' dogs developed; the history of the breed since its initial promotion by Swiss dog fanciers, starting in 1892, is known from writings of Professor Albert Heim and other early fanciers. The history of these dogs in America can be told from records of the American Kennel Club and, since its founding in 1968, from those of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America.

Thanks are due to Mary Alice Eschweiler, Chairman of the Records Committee, for providing valuable information from the Club's archives; to Robert and Brenda Abrams and Dora Gruber for help with the photographs; to Esther Mueller for providing background information on the breed; to Deborah Godfrey and Elizabeth Hill for arranging the computer programs that were used In this Issue; to Bill and Mary Jo Thomson for critical reading of the manuscript; and to Roberta Vesley and the Library of the American Kennel Club for providing information from stud books and registers. Some of the information here appeared in the first (1968-1972) issue of the Yearbooks of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America. The cover features (top) Fridy v. Haslenbach (A-156,753), first Bernese to be registered by the AKC in 1937, and Ch. Taliesin Raclette d'Aldo (WF169978), a representative of the breed today.

                                                                                                                               Mary R. Dawson

The presentation of this material is offered as an aid to all those in the fancy who do not have access to the February 1987 Alpenhorn publication which contained vital historical information on the breed's past. Special thanks to all those who contribute to BMDCA publications and with respect to all those in history who have appreciated and contributed to the development of the Bernese Mountain Dog.

View the entire publication here.

Additionally, the BMDCA Publication entitled, "Silver Anniversary 1968 - 1993" published in 1993, editors Mary Dawson and Deb Godfrey, contains articles and information covering the 1st 25 years of the Bernese Mountain Dog in America, including discussions by Barbara Packard, Mary Dawson and Sylvia Howison on the early days of the BMDCA and Berner-Garde's role in breed health. These articles on Bernese Mountain Dogs as well as other AKC Gazette breed columns, AKC library and BMDCA record sources serve as an exploration of how the Bernese came to this country and their recognition by the AKC.

Since the Bernese was first recognized as a purebred dog breed its popularity has risen and the dogs have spread throughout the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Bernese Mountain Dog clubs worldwide have been created to care for and promote the understanding and development of the breed. It is important to recognize that Dog Clubs and their dedicated memberships are all about maintaining the inherent qualities of a breed through the understanding and breeding management of traits defined in breed standards. Those involved with dog clubs take their responsibility to care for this breed very seriously. Dog clubs and their members provide breed education and encourage responsible breeding and care of dogs as well as participation in the sport of purebred dogs.

BMDCA Silver Anniversary

The photos in this gallery show Bernese Mountain Dogs as working dogs during the 19th and early 20th century. The dogs have been used to pull carts, served as watch dogs and companion dogs for decades.

We encourage you to join other Bernese Mountain Dog fanciers by participating in the rich heritage and longstanding commitment dog clubs offer this breed.

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