AKC group: Herding Group
UKC group: Pastoral
Average lifespan: 13-15 years
Average size: 55 to 85 pounds
Coat appearance: Dense, Fine, Harsh and Rough, Long, and Water-Repellent
Coloration: This breed comes in all shades of silver, black and gray, including merle.
: Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Puli
The Bergamasco is an ancient sheep herding dog breed with roots in the Middle East. Sheep and goats were first domesticated thousands of years ago near the Zagros Mountains, which straddle the present Iraq-Iran border. Herding dogs with long, thick coats worked alongside their masters to help move, guard and tend to those flocks. Eventually, some of these nomadic people moved west in search of greener pastures, settling in the foothills of the northern Italian Alps, near Milan, bringing their flocks and dogs with them. Probably the shaggiest breed in the world, the Bergamasco’s dense, disorderly coat protected it from the chilly alpine weather, and its natural herding and guarding instincts made it extremely valuable.
Bergamascos were – and are – courageous and fiercely protective of their flocks, working closely with their shepherds but requiring little direction from them. With just one person, a few dogs and hundreds of sheep, nomadic shepherds needed their dogs to be independent thinkers and the Bergamasco was perfect for the job. It undoubtedly contributed to several other shaggy European working breeds, such as the Bouvier, Briard
and Polish Lowland Sheepdog.
Bergamascos are smart, strong but docile dogs that have a deep desire to please their people, but are not submissive animals. They are independent thinkers and usually act more as partners than subordinates within a family unit. Bergamascos share their time and attention equally with all family members, treating each of them as individuals rather than bonding tightly to only one. They are extremely loyal and protective of their owners, affectionate with family and friends and suspicious of strangers. Bergamascos have a reputation for being dominant around unfamiliar dogs. Owners who respect and return the Bergamasco’s intelligence, loyalty and affection will have a rare, steadfast companion.
As a relatively rare breed, the Bergamasco has not received
the same genetic scrutiny as some others, making information about its health somewhat limited. Because this is a very old breed that hasn’t changed much over centuries, it is generally very healthy. Bergamascos reportedly are not prone to any specific disorders or diseases, major or minor.
Their typical life expectancy is 12 to 15 years. Because of its dramatic dense coat, this breed does not thrive in hot or humid climates. Cutting or shaving the Bergamasco’s shaggy locks can cause irritation and predispose it to skin infections.
Contrary to what many think, the Bergamasco’s coat is not too difficult to maintain. For the first year, the dog will have a soft puppy coat. The coat will gradually become coarser and fuzzy “wool” will begin to appear. Around the age of one, the coat must be “ripped” into mats. This process can take a few hours, but once it is done, it is done for life. A weekly checkup to make sure the mats have not grown back together is all that is required for the next months. After that, the mats will become dense enough that few things will get caught in them.
Bathing is not required more than 1-3 times a year. Though, as the coat gets longer it does take longer to dry. Fortunately, there is no brushing required.
The Bergamasco Sheepdog is best suited for seasonal to cold climates. Given its dense coat which provides protection from the elements of the climate, it is not uncommon to find the Bergamasco spending its nights sleeping outdoors. The Bergamasco Sheepdog would not do well in apartment living, rather a house with a yard to provide for daily exercise.
These are bright, obedient dogs that bond deeply with their owners and want to please. However, they won’t follow orders blindly. A Bergamasco wants to know why it is being asked to do something. Once it figures that out, it usually will happily comply, on its own terms. Bergamascos respond best to firm, consistent, patient training using positive reinforcement and rewards rather than harsh corrections. They are quickly learners and have a terrific work ethic.
Bergamascos are fairly large dogs that require regular exercise in order to maintain health, happiness and an even temperament. They like having a job to do and love stretching their legs outside. Most enjoy playing fetch and participating in other outdoor activities, such as Frisbee. They perform well in athletic competitions, such as herding, agility and obedience. While these are not overly rambunctious dogs, long daily walks are always a good idea. Bergamascos are not suited for apartment living. They need plenty of room to romp and do best in rural settings with large, securely fenced yards.
The Bergamasco’s coat is unusual in having three different types of hair in it that weld together and felt into mats. After five or six years, the coat reaches the ground. Some of the hair acts like the visor on a baseball cap to protect his eyes from the sun, but he can see past it. That coat helps protect the Bergamasco against everything from wolf bites to mosquitoes. Most people with dog allergies do not react to the Bergamasco’s coat, but some who are allergic to wool or lanolin do react.
Caring for the Bergamasco’s coat is not necessarily difficult, but it does call for some specific approaches. Ask the breeder to show you how to care for the coat. Trim the hair around the mouth and clean the dog’s face after meals to help reduce the odor.
A common misconception is that the coat should not be brushed, but once the coat is formed, nothing will change it. Brushing is necessary to remove dirt.
The Bergamasco can have as many baths as other dogs, but shampoo is not recommended because it dissolves natural oils in the coat.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Keep the ears clean and dry to prevent bacterial and yeast infections. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for overall health and fresh breath.
Is the Bergamasco right for you?
If you love spending time outside, enjoy working with an intelligent dog, want a low-maintenance grooming routine and have experience with herding breeds, then the Bergamasco could be the perfect dog breed for you.
Low Maintenance: Infrequent grooming is required to maintain upkeep. No trimming or stripping needed.
Recommended for owners who do not want to deal with hair in their cars and homes.
Difficult Training: The Bergamasco isn’t deal for a first time dog owner. Patience and perseverance are required to adequately train it.
Fairly Active: It will need regular exercise to maintain its fitness. Trips to the dog park are a great idea.
Good with Kids: This is a suitable breed for kids and is known to be playful, energetic, and affectionate around them.
Did You Know?
The Bergamasco’s matted coat is meant to protect him from bad weather and the predators he might have to drive off in defense of his flock.