top of page

Illustrated commentary on the
AKC BMD Breed Standard

The Illustrated Commentary on the AKC Bernese Mountain Dog Breed Standard is a resource designed to further the understanding of Bernese Mountain Dog breed characteristics. The Illustrated Commentary on the BMD Standard pages are available as both web pages and as PDF's. The PDF pages print out on 8 & 1/2 x 11 inch sheets.
If you have comments or questions on the material please drop us a line.

Ill Comm Intro Pic.jpg

The"Berner" breed was developed by Swiss farmers. The dogs were originally kept for their ability to serve the farmers' need for a reliable, multipurpose farm dog. Historical photographs of the breed show us the 'roots' of present day Bernese. Throughout the breed's history and in present day, owners and breeders have appreciated the gentle nature and working capabilities of Berners. Bernese have been the subject of paintings and have been written about in books. Some Berner art from the mid 20th century depicts the environment in which the ancestors of today's Bernese lived and the kinds of work the dogs were expected to do. Experiencing the exceptional human understanding that is typically seen in Bernese has drawn devoted individuals to the breed. Owners' and breeders' understanding of the Breed Standard can serve the task of preserving the breed's finest qualities and protecting the best interests of Bernese Mountain Dogs.

The breed standard identifies traits of the BMD. This commentary on the official Standard of the BMD is written to identify the traits of the BMD which distinguish it from other breeds. In order to preserve the distinguishing traits of the BMD, it is necessary to identify what they are.

Each Bernese Mountain Dog is completely unique; yet each bears similar traits to all others. It is important for each dog to not only be valued by its people, but to feel this value. With all their variations, many Berners fulfill the breed's most important function, and that is bringing joy to people's lives. Perhaps the breed's development as an all purpose working farm dog and companion explains why Bernese can serve different owners well. Owners have about as many ideas about desirable traits of the companion dog as Bernese have traits to meet owners' expectations. By filling the various roles of the companion animal, many members of the breed represent the 'perfect' Bernese for their owners. Please enjoy exploring the Bernese Mountain Dog.

Bernese breeders should be aware of the nature of dentition present in dogs they choose to use for breeding purposes. Overshot and undershot bites, missing teeth, crooked teeth and dropped incisors tend to run in Berner families. Breeders should look at teeth and remember which dogs have or do not have "good bites". Recognition of dentition patterns present in different families of Bernese allows breeders to make informed breeding decisions to minimize the incidence of producing pups with dentition faults.


Labeled Dog Parts

Common terms & skeletal anatomy

Labeled Dog Parts

Measured at the withers, dogs are 25 to 27 1/2 inches; bitches are 23 to 26 inches. The Bernese Mountain
Dog is sturdy and balanced. He is intelligent, strong and agile enough to do the draft and droving work for
which he was used in the mountainous regions of his origin. Dogs appear masculine, while bitches are
distinctly feminine.

Sturdy bone is of great importance. The body is full.

The neck is strong, muscular and of medium length. The topline is level from the withers to the croup. The
chest is deep and capacious with well-sprung, but not barrel-shaped, ribs and brisket reaching at least to
the elbows. The back is broad and firm. The loin is strong. The croup is broad and smoothly rounded to the
tail insertion. The tail is bushy. It should he carried low when in repose. An upward swirl is permissible
when the dog is alert, but the tail may never curl or be carried over the back. The bones in the tail should
feel straight and should reach to the hock joint or below. A kink in the tail is a fault.

Though appearing square, Bernese Mountain Dogs are slightly longer in the body than they are tall.

Body length is measured from the point of the shoulder to the buttocks. Body height is measured from the withers to the ground.


Note, there appears to be a dip behind the withers; the rump has more hair making it seem high.

The distance from withers to elbow and elbow to ground is roughly equal. The BMD Standard does not address an exact measurement. Substance and depth of body are important considerations.

The main points are the chest falls below the elbow. Rangy or short legged dogs, or too long or too short backs are not correct.

Body Proportion

Body Proportion


The shoulders are moderately laid back, flat-lying, well-muscled and never loose. Straight shoulders are often seen in Bernese. Angulation is the foundation for muscle structure. Poor shoulder angulation does not allow for substantial muscle structure which lends strength and stability to forequarters.


The legs are straight and strong and the elbows are well under the shoulder when the dog is standing. The pasterns slope very slightly, but are never weak. Dewclaws may he removed. The feet are round and compact with well-arched toes. Front and rear legs on each side follow through in the same plane. At increased speed, legs tend to converge toward the center line. Angulation of the fore
quarters influences head carriage and the manner in which the neck ties in to the back.

A balanced dog will have forequarters and hindquarter angulations that work well together.

Good front
showing elbows
well under

Out at elbows ~
toes in

inclined slightly ~
toed out

Narrow chest ~
knock knees ~
toes out

pasterns ~
thin feet









1. This dog shows a more open angle formed by the humerous and scapula. The elbow further towards the front of the ribs. The front of the chest is flat.

2. This dog shows the elbows are well under the shoulder when standing. Notice the angle formed by the scapula and humerous.

3. These two examples show front and rear legs on each side following through in the same plane. At increased speed their legs tend to converge toward the center line. Notice the column of support is a straight line. Observe the rear leg is moving in the same plane as the front leg. There is good breadth to the front and rear quarters.

4. This dog is moving wide in the front. Notice the chest appears wider than the rear quarters. The rear legs and front legs are not following through in the same plane.

5. This dog is elbowing out. The column of support breaks at the elbow.

6. This dog is wide chested and toes in. The column of support breaks at the pastern.

7. This dog has a narrow chest and is toed out. Notice the rear leg falls outside the plane of frontquarters movement. The column of support breaks at elbow and pastern.



The thighs are broad, strong and muscular. The stifles are moderately bent and taper smoothly into the hocks. The hocks are well let down and straight as viewed from the rear. At increased speeds the legs converge to the center line.

Narrow rear ~ dewclaws ~ Dewclaws should be removed.

Barrel hocks


Straight angulation ~ the rear leg should not appear straight when viewed from the side.


This dog is traveling too close; the rear assembly is narrow.

This is a correct gait. Notice the straight column of support from hip to foot.

This dog is toed out; notice the direction of the pads of the feet.

This dog shows a cowhocked gait. Cowhocks limit drive from the rear.

'Going away'
This dog shows good rear movement. There is adequate breadth across the top (hips) of the rear quarters.

The feet are compact and turn neither in nor out.

Good rear showing hocks straight.

The hips, stifles, hocks and feet are aligned in an efficient column of support to provide strength and drive. With speed the legs tend to converge towards the center line.


Notice the extension of the front leg. The leg reaches forward and the foot is in line with the nose.

The angles of the front and rear legs have the same slant which indicates balance of fore and rear angulation.

When in a trot, the dog's feet should meet underneath the dog (just barely touch). There should not be space between the feet when they meet under the dog nor should the front and rear feet cross (interfere).


The natural working gait of the Bernese Mountain Dog is a slow trot. However in keeping with his draft and droving work, he is capable of speed and agility. There is good reach in front. Powerful drive from the rear is transmitted through a level back.


Notice the topline is flat. The feet are traveling close to the ground. There is no wasted action.


Structure and Angulation

How a dog is made - its proportions, length of back, length of leg and fore and rear angulation affects the dog's movement. Correct proportions and angulation allow for efficiency, agility and power when a dog gaits.

The outline we see when looking at a dog is often a reflection of underlying structure and physical condition. Bernese carry heavy coats which may mask structure. Long furnishings, heavy hair on the legs, and differing lengths of hair occurring on various parts of the body can result in incorrect structure appearing more correct than it actually is. Likewise a dog with correct structure might not appear that way. Dogs carrying heavy, dense coats are sometimes mistakenly called fat; when, in fact, they are in good weight and condition. A hands on examination and watching dogs gait offers insight into how dogs are really made.


The studies below explain a few basic structural aspects of Bernese. A dog's structure influences the kind of work he is capable of doing. It also may determine whether or not he will remain physically sound over the course of his life. Structural defects result in more stress on bones, joints, tendons and muscles which can significantly limit a dog's ability to function in day to day living. Structure is inherited.

structure back leg 1.jpg

Proportions~Length of back compared to length of leg

The dog shown below has correct proportions, and good balance of fore and rearquarters angulation.

The neck is of medium length and blends smoothly into the back.

The pasterns are moderately inclined.

The dog shown above is short in back and high on leg.

 Long legs coupled with short backs and long backs coupled with short legs are seen in some Bernese. These traits can affect soundness and durability in the dogs that display them.

The dog shown above is long in back and low on leg.

The hocks are perpendicular to the ground. The dog's feet turn neither in nor out.

structure back leg2.jpg
structure back leg3.jpg

Correct Angulation and Balance

struct angle bal 1.jpg

The standard describes Bernese as sturdy and balanced, deep chested with a flat topline. Shoulders are moderately laid back, flat-lying, well-muscled and never loose. The thighs are broad, strong and muscular The stifles are moderately bent and taper smoothly into the hocks.

struct angle bal 2.jpg

Bernese vary somewhat in size, substance and angulation. A well built, balanced dog is functional and durable. Both of the dogs to the left show substance, good balance and moderate angulation. The first dog has slightly more angulation in fore and rear quarters than the second dog. While the two example Bernese differ, they represent typical structures and body styles seen in the breed.

Tailset~Angle of croup affects tailset.

A long pelvic bone set at the correct angle results in a correct tailset. Angle of croup indicated by arrows.

struct tail 2.jpg

This dog shows a good tailset. His tail will be carried low when in repose. It will not be carried over his back.

struct tail 1.jpg

This dog has an incorrect croup angle and carries his tail high, over his back.

Structural Studies

Please notice how straight shoulders affect the tie in of the neck to the back. The transition is not smooth.

struct study 1.jpg

This dog has straight shoulders and pasterns. When a dog gaits, straight pasterns do not absorb the weight of the front quarters as well as pasterns with a gentle slope. The dog's fore and rearquarter angulations are not balanced.​​

struct study 2.jpg

Short neck

This dog has a short neck. The The forequarters show straight angulation. These traits often occur together in Bernese. The elbows are not set well under the ribcage. The front of the chest appears flat.

struct study 3.jpg

Note the angle of the pastern. The pasterns are weak.

This dog is low in front and high in rear. The topline inclines (slopes down, rear to front).This type of conformation places considerable stress on the front end assembly. The body's weight is shifted onto the dog's forequarters due to the slope of the topline.

This dog has slight angulation of fore and rearquarters. The pasterns are straight as well.

struct study 4.jpg

While the dog's structure is balanced, it does not provide a framework for good muscling or substance. A structure such as this shortens stride. This dog will take more steps to cover ground and tire more quickly than a dog with moderate angulation.

Structure and Angulation

Berner head types differ. The bones in the skull affect the shape of the head. Eye placement, ear placement, muzzle length and breadth, form and placement of the underjaw, bite, and the manner in which the bones of the skull interact to form planes contribute to head type.


The skull is flat on top and broad, with a slight furrow and a well defined but no exaggerated stop. The muzzle is strong and straight. The nose is always black. The lips are clean, as the Bernese Mountain Dog is a dry-mouthed breed, the flews are only slightly developed. Berner head types differ. The bones in the skull affect the shape of the head. Eye placement, ear placement, muzzle length and breadth, form and placement of the underjaw, bite, and the manner in which the bones of the skull interact to form planes contribute to head type.



Very little stop ~ features too fine ~ muzzle too long for skull

Normal head ~ ear relaxed ~ nothing exaggerated

Stop too steep ~ short heavy muzzle ~

The dogs pictured here show head type variations seen in Bernese. Both relaxed ear and raised ear representations are present in the examples. The examples show both desiable features and less desirable features as they are described in the explantion of "Heads" in the AKC Breed Standard. Each of these dog's facial expressions represent the most important feature Bernese Mountain Dog's possess; and that is their fine spirit.

Male heads should appear masculine, female heads, feminine.


The eyes are dark brown and slightly oval in shape with close fitting eyelids. Inverted or everted eyelids are serious faults.



Normal eyes ~ Dogs do not have lower lashes.

Round eyes


Entropion (rolling in of the eyelids) and ectropion (rolling out of the eyelids) are conditions caused by abnormal eye position in relationship to the globe of the eye. An entropion condition may cause irritation due to lids or lashes scratching the eye or conjuntiva. Surgical correction may be required as the condition can be extremely uncomfortable and/or interfere with affected dog's vision. An ectropion condition may cause irritation of the eye and surrounding tissue because loose fitting lids act as debris catchers. Foreign matter such as pollen and dust collecting in the eye's moist environment can become a breeding ground for bacteria and infection. Depending on the severity of the condition, surgical correction may be required. Most cases of entropion and ectropion are heritable in so far as conformation of the head, size of orbit, size of globe and eyelid conformation are heritable.

Inverted eyelid (entropion) usually affects the lower lid, may affect upper lid.

Everted eye (ectropion) results in a droopy look.

Ears and Ear Set

The ears are medium sized, set high, triangular in shape, gently rounded at the tip and hang close to the head when in repose. When the Bernese Mountain Dog is alert, the ears are brought forward and raised at the base; the top of the ear is level with the top of the skull. Large ears and low set ears are undesirable.


Notice the placement at the top of the skull.

When in repose, ears hang close to the head.

Puppy ears may appear relatively large while the head is still growing, before the backskull has reached its full breadth.

Ears and Ear Set





Even (level) bite ~ causes wearing of incisors ~ other teeth aligned properly

Overshot ~ Upper incisors beyond lower ~ other teeth displaced as well

Undershot ~ Lower incisors beyond upper ~ other teeth displaced as well

Even if you are new to Berners, you can evaluate the quality of your dog’s dentition if you have a basic understanding of canine dental structure. Awareness of the conditions that exist in your dog’s mouth can help you maintain the health of your dog’s teeth. Bites are controlled by genetics, nutrition, environment, and by mechanical forces generated by the interlock of the upper and lower teeth. Head shape and growth determines how upper and lower teeth interlock.

An adult Berner with complete dentition has a total of 42 teeth. The teeth should meet in a scissors bite. An overshot or undershot bite is a serious fault. Dentition is complete. The typical bite faults seen in Bernese Mountain Dogs are missing teeth and malocclusions. Missing teeth (hypodontia) usually occurs in the premolar area in Bernese. The word malocclusion literally means "bad bite." Berners that have "bad bites" may have undershot bites, overshot bites, wry bites (where one side of the lower jaw has grown longer than the other, skewing the end of the jaw to one side), crooked, crowded, or protruding teeth. With slightly over or undershot bites, the incisors may be the only teeth affected. An anterior cross bite is often identified as an undershot bite. The difference between these two bites is not subtle. An anterior cross bite occurs when the lower incisors extend beyond the upper incisors, but all other teeth mesh properly. In a true undershot bite, the other teeth do not mesh properly. Some Berners have “dropped” incisors a condition where the center, lower incisors are shorter than normal. Sometimes dropped incisors will tip slightly outward or be crooked. Crooked teeth in Bernese may be caused by crowding in a too-small or too-narrow jaw. Malocclusions in Berner bites usually are not severe enough to cause dogs to have problems chewing. In some Berners the difference in jaw length is extreme which causes most or all of the teeth to be misaligned with the teeth in the opposite jaw. A Berner bite that is this far off will result in teeth that do not function well because the teeth grossly interfere with each other. In some cases wear on the teeth’s surfaces may cause rapid tooth decay or damage to the soft tissues of the opposite jaw by the canines.


Faulty dentition in Berners is typically a hereditary problem. Some bite defects in Bernese appear to have a simple mode of inheritance (overshot and undershot). Some genetic bite problems do not show up in each litter because they are recessively passed on. The jaw and skull structure of Berners affects dentition. So, it is likely that some bite faults are polygenic and involve a group of genes. The position of teeth in the jaw is dependent on a properly formed skull and lower jaw in order for a bite to function efficiently. A Berner’s muzzle must be long and broad enough to accommodate the teeth in their proper locations. Jaw strength is determined by the shape of the skull and the musculature that creates movement. Generally speaking, dogs that have long, narrow heads have straighter angulation around the cheekbone (straighter angulation means there is less room for substantial muscles). Narrow headed dogs possess weaker jaws. A narrow jaw may also cause crowding of the incisors. Some Berners have larger sized teeth than others. Teeth size appears to run in families. The degree of a Berner's bite faults should be weighed along with all the other virtues and faults the dog has. Minor bite faults have only minimal impact on the dog’s ability to function. Berners with more severe bite faults should not paired with mates of similar pedigree with the same fault or paired with mates from families where the same bite fault is known to occur. The normal relatives of dogs with bite faults may carry some genes for the dentition faults found in their family of dogs.

At 8 weeks of age breeders and owners can get a basic idea of the configuration of a Berner pup’s teeth and jaws. Scissors bites, undershot, overshot and wry mouths can be identified. The configuration of a puppy's bite changes as the bones in the skull grow. Upper and lower jaws do not grow at equal rates. If malocclusions are detected when looking at an 8 week old puppy's bite, those same malocclusions are likely to be present in the adult Bernese. Minor malocclusions are not easily detectable when viewing the bite of an 8 week old pup. Sometimes it is difficult to accurately predict the nature of the bite a Berner pup will eventually possess. A good method used to evaluate bites in Bernese pups involves observation of the premolars. Premolars should meet in a saw-toothed fashion. (For example, the tip of the lower third premolar should be positioned equally between the crowns of the upper third and fourth premolars. If the tip of one premolar points to the tip of another premolar, there may be a genetic malocclusion. In some families of Bernese, the dogs’ bites are not set till age 4 due to changes that occur in the bones of the skull and foreface while the dogs’ heads are growing. In other Bernese families the alignment of teeth changes very little after dogs reach one year of age.

Scissors Bite


The teeth meet in a scissors bite. An overshot or undershot bite is a serious fault. Dentition is complete.

Color and Markings

Color and Markings

"Perfectly marked" is a aesthetic consideration within the bigger picture of virtues that make up a Bernese Mountain Dog. 


It is important for beeders to pay attention to markings heritability tendencies in selecting dogs for breeding. The reality is "perfectly marked" Bernese may produce offspring that are not "perfectly marked" and visa versa.

Markings other than described are to be faulted in direct relationship to the extent of the deviation. Black bands across the chest (harnesses), white legs, white extending above the pastern (boots) are not desired. White legs or a white collar are serious faults. Any ground color other than black is a disqualification.

The breed standard describes the Bernese Mountain dog as tri-colored. The ground color is jet black. The markings are rich rust and clear white. Symmetry of markings is desired. Rust appears over each eye, on the cheeks reaching to at least the corner of the mouth, on each side of the chest, on all four legs, and under the tail.

There is a white blaze and muzzle band. A white marking on the chest typically forms an inverted cross. The tip of the tail is white. White on the feet is desired but must not extend higher than the pasterns.

Facial Markings

Symmetry of Markings is desired. Rust appears over each eye, on the cheeks reaching at least to the corner of the mouth. There is a white blaze and muzzle band. Berner facial markings can deviate from the 'ideal' description in the Breed Standard.


Breeder and owner focus on markings has historically been a subject of discussion. Preferences for dogs with less white or more white on muzzle band and blaze seem to rest in the eye of the observer. Blue eye color often appears on dogs with more white, but 'perfectly' marked dogs also can have blue eye(s).

The early breeding stock with very little white were referred to as "Barris". The "Blazies" had the white blazes and chest markings we typically see in Bernese.

Facial Markings


The coat is thick, moderately long and wavy or straight. It has a bright natural sheen. Coats vary, not only from dog to dog, but depending on diet, age, the dog's environment and general health. Some Bernese carry extremely dense, long coats and some sport shorter, more open coats. Some berner coats are wooly, and some almost curly. The correct Bernese coat should not hold on to dirt or trap moisture. Extremely curly or dull looking coats are undesirable. The Bernese Mountain Dog is shown in AKC conformation events in natural coat; and undue trimming is to be discouraged. Trimming of excess hair on feet, and either trimming or hand stripping long hair around ears is a generally accepted practice.


Puppy coats are soft. Usually between 4 and 8 months of age the puppy coat sheds out and is replaced with the sleeker looking adult coat. Sometimes young dogs have a moderately curly coat. Future coats may have more relaxed waves.

Realize that if you plan to own a Bernese, caring for the coat will be a necessary part of caring for the dog. Weekly brushing may be necessary.


Berner hair isn't confined to being only on the dog. Hair finds its way onto furniture, floors and clothing. Regular vacuuming to remove "Berner fur" from the home is part of keeping a Bernese.


If allergies are an issue, a Bernese Mountain Dog may not make an ideal companion.

The Bernese has a double coat. The breed was developed to work in the alpine meadows and snowy mountainous regions of Switzerland. The Bernese required a coat that would protect them from the cold and snow. The coat color is mainly is black, so it absorbs the sun's warmth. Many Berners choose to rest in shady areas even on cold days. Because of their heavy, black coats the breed is not well suited to live in climates that are hot (over 70°) most of the time. It requires a conscientious management effort to keep a Bernese in a hot climate.

Bernese Mountain Dog's shed. They also cast (moult) their coats once or twice a year. It usually takes about 3-6 weeks for a moult. When dogs cast their coats, the hair may become coarse and patchy. In some berners 'old' coats (just prior to a shed) may have a reddish or sunburned cast.

bottom of page