Bernese Mountain Dogs were used to guard farms in the Swiss Alps and herd cattle over long distances. Later they were used to pull heavy carts, especially dairy carts. A single Berner was capable of pulling carts up to 500kg; this is where they earned their nickname, "the poor man's horse". Berners were also used as war dogs to transport ammunition, food, and medical supplies. 

Berners have an intimidating appearance since they are large, sturdy and self-confident dogs, but they also emit a calm and kindly attitude. They have a laid-back nature, accepting a change in routines with a carefree attitude. Berners are sociable with people and generally love other animals.

8-12 years (see details below)

Generally healthy dogs - hip dysplasia & cancer are the most common concerns (see details below).

Large breed.

40 - 55 kg

Highly intelligent & trainable.

Low exercise before 18 months of age, average exercise needed thereafter.

Double coat; sheds heavily once/twice per year when seasons change.

No drooling.

Highly affectionate breed.

Inborn love for children.

Generally alert, but friendly once introduced.

Very intimidating watchdogs, but too kind for an ideal guard dog. 



The Bernese Mountain Dog was always known as one of the breeds with the shortest lifespans, with an average life expectancy of 6 - 8 years. With responsible breeding the lifespan has increased to 8 - 10 years, but it is no longer uncommon to see Berners between 10 - 12 years of age.


A reported 10% of Berners have the risk of developing cancer, and 25% of these have the risk of developing histiocytic sarcoma. BUT, let's put this into perspective:

Great Danes: 10-25% risk of developing cancer (osteosarcoma).

German Shepherds: 50% older than 10 may die of cancer (hemangiosarcoma).

Boxers: 38.5% will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. 

Poodles: An estimated 40% will die from some form of cancer.

Rottweilers: Some studies show that this breed has the highest rate of cancer.

Golden Retrievers: One of the top five breeds most prone to cancer.

In the general dog population, 25-50% of dogs are expected to die from cancer.

This list is by no means to degrade other breeds, but merely for perspective. When you do your own research, you will find that the statistics vary tremendously. At the end of the day, we will never know if a specific dog will ever develop cancer. All we know is that every mammal, including humans, has an increasingly higher risk of developing cancer as they age. This should never deter anyone from getting a breed of dog that they have always dreamed of owning.


Both Hip Dysplasia (HD) and Elbow Dysplasia (ED) are found in all dog breeds. HD is more pronounced in Berners than ED. Researchers and breeders have tried to eliminate it for decades, but without success. The most important thing to know is that dysplasia is a natural process where joints degenerate with age, but owners can slow this process down.


HD and ED are found in all breeds, especially large and giant breeds. Decades of strong breeding selection have resulted in only modest reductions in the incidence of HD and ED,  which shows the heritability of the trait is rather low.


Many studies have shown that genetics only account for 15% of HD, which means that 85% result from non-genetic (environmental) factors. This is where responsible ownership comes in. There are four most important environmental factors in the development of dysplasia.

What can you do?
If hips do not become lax, dogs do not develop HD. Hip laxity results from traumatic injury to the hips, overloading of the hips by weight (overweight), too much exercise (external forces on the hips), splaying of the hind legs on smooth surfaces, etc. Try and limit any of these above-mentioned scenarios.

What can you do?
Do not exercise your Berner excessively before 18 months of age. Moderate exercise on soft ground is ideal. Try and keep puppies off slippery floors and away from stairs as these increase the risk of HD.  

What can you do?
Overweight puppies have a dramatically higher risk of HD. Obesity could well be the single most significant factor affecting the development of HD.

What can you do?
Do not supplement calcium, phosphorus, or protein without a vet's approval. Do not increase your puppy's calories if they are not underweight. You want your puppy to grow slowly so that the muscles and bones develop in sync. Feed reliable brands that are nutritionally balanced, such as Royal Canin, Hill's etc. Raw feeding must only be done with the necessary knowledge and guidance. 

In reality, HD cannot be avoided, only limited. The age and degree to which a Berner develops HD is mostly dependent on the owner.