Bergamasco Shepherd (Cane da pastore Bergamasco)

Country of origin:
Italy
Height (cm):
56-60
Weight (kg):
26-38
Life span (years):
13-15
Colour:
solid grey or with grey patches of all possible shades; Isabel, light fawn shades are permitted
Size:
average
Hair length:
long
Recognized by:
FCI, AKC, CKC, UKC
FCI code:
194
Intelligence:
Good with kids:
Trainability:
Shedding:
Watchdog:
Adaptability:
Allergy:
Yes
Pros Cons
  • excellent guardian and herder                     
  • devoted friend
  • loves children
  • not suited for living in a small apartment
  • requires regular mental and physical stimulation

Overview
The Bergamasco Shepherd is an ancient and revered sheepherding dog with its homeland in Northern Italy. It has earned its worldwide repute for its distinctive coat, which mats naturally to create cords and provides reliable protection from predators and adverse weather conditions. This breed lived through hard times during the Second World War but nowadays it enjoys a surge in popularity in its native county as well as in the rest of the world.

History
The Bergamasco Shepherd has been an indispensable helper of the Italian shepherds for thousands of years. The breed is closely associated with the highlands of the present-day province of Bergamo where it resided for the most part of its history. Its current name was evidently derived from the place of its origin.

There are various speculations as far as it concerns the ancestry of the dog. Some of its fanciers support the version that the Bergamasco Shepherd is directly related to the Komondor and the Puli, which possesses resembling curly coats. These breeds came of Hungary where they were imported either by the Magyars in 896 AD or by the Cumans in the XIII AD. However the Bergamasco Shepherd had already existed in Northern Italy by that time so their kindred is highly unlikely.

More probable theory states that the breed was brought to Italy during the Roman Empire as a result of trade. The Romans did business with the whole Ancient World but it’s strongly suggested that the Persian merchants sold their sheep with shaggy sheepdogs. Finally it’s quite possible that the breed evolved in this region without external influence from foreign dogs.

The Bergamasco Shepherd was extremely treasured by local shepherds for its ability to work independently in the toughest terrains and in any weather conditions. The Alps were a very challenging territory to live in, not to mention feeding very hungry cattle. At that time mountains were teemed with different wild beasts including wolves, bears, and feral dogs. The Bergamasco Shepherd was perfectly adapted to operate in such dangerous conditions and was able to withstand freezing winters, to traverse tough and various terrains of Alps and to keep off wild animals and marauders. It’s a quite remarkable fact that this dog was so quick-witted and docile that it was often trusted to handle sheep alone for hours long.

The appearance and major characteristics of the Bergamasco Shepherd remained virtually intact well into the XX century. At the same time industrialisation and modern technology, which affected Italy in the early XX century made local herding traditions no longer useful and the dog’s population dropped substantially. Gradually new breeds were introduced to the region and they were uncontrollably crossed with the remainder of local herding dogs diluting its purity. The Bergamasco Shepherd greatly owed its rescue to Dr. Maria Andreoli who was an expert in genetics and invested her time and knowledge in re-creation of the breed.

The Bergamasco Shepherd was officially recognised by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1995. The breed was granted provisional acceptance of the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2011. Today population of the breed is steadily growing in European countries where it’s mostly favoured for its quite exotic appearance and friendly nature.

Temperament
Despite its working origin the Bergamasco Shepherd usually becomes an outstanding family dog. This independent and clever breed establishes strong bonds with its family to whom it is endlessly devoted. It prefers to be on equal footing with all members of the family and view them as friends rather than masters. It’s also characterised with almost uncanny sensibility regarding moods and attitudes of surrounding people. The dog gets along with children if it has been exhibited to their company since its puppyhood. Actually it usually forms very strong and tight relationship with them and becomes a gentle and careful playmate for a child.

The Bergamasco Shepherd has a mixed reputation regarding its attitude towards unfamiliar people. Majority of specimens perceive new people as potential threats to its family so they act suspiciously and warily in front of them. In general the breed can easily differentiate a friend from a foe and will treat it accordingly. This alert and observant dog can make a fairly good watch dog. However it’s too outgoing and kind-hearted to be useful in the role of a guard dog.

The Bergamasco Shepherd was bred to effectively collaborate with several other sheep dogs while handling a stock. That’s why it tolerates other canines especially those with which it’s familiar. However, this clever dog usually strives for dominative position, which may lead to tough confrontation with strange dogs. It’s alright with non-canine animals as long as it has been timely socialised with them. The dog is known to have a powerful instinct to pursue but it won’t harass a household cat with which it has lived since an early age.

Health Problems
The most common problems for the breed include:

• canine hip dysplasia;
• elbow dysplasia;
• eye problems;
• skin allergies.

Grooming
The appearance of the Bergamasco Shepherd makes one to conclude that this dog needs incredible amount of care. However nothing can be further more from the truth because an adult specimen is very easy to groom.

In its puppyhood the coat of the dog is downy and should be brush only occasionally. At about one year of age its hair changes its texture and grows into so called «wool». Shortly afterwards the coat must be detached to the cords. This procedure usually takes minimum several hours and sometimes it’s wise to split it in a few separate sessions.

After the initial ripping, the coat requires regular check-ups (once or twice a week) for the next half of year to make certain that it is not accreting once again. Subsequently these cords remain intact for the rest of the dog’s life and will need neither brushing nor shearing. The Bergamasco Shepherd should be bathed no more than three times a year but once a year is quite sufficient in most cases. The breed sheds very little which makes it suitable for fastidious people or allergic sufferers.

Training

The Bergamasco Shepherd was invented to operate independently and therefore it developed clear mind and ability to solve very challenging problems. This means that it’s a capable learner, which can be easily trained to perform basic commands.

The Bergamasco is rather quickly annoyed with repetitive and dull tasks so it’s important to make its training as much fun and entertaining as possible. During lessons the dog should be handled with firmness but without unnecessary harshness. Gentle encouragement and praise are the only methods that proved to be effective while working with this dog.

Exercise
The Bergamasco Shepherd is an excellent athlete and it’s known for its superb stamina. So it requires considerable amount of physical activity. Daily long and brisk walk will keep it healthy and partially satisfied. In fact this dog longs for a regular opportunity to roam in a safely enclosed area. It will make an eager participant of children’s game and will readily spend countless hours in outdoors exercise.

It's crucial that this dog receives enough outlets for its exuberant energy, otherwise it’s prone to demonstrate major problems in its behaviour such as being destructive, restless and disobedient. The Bergamasco Shepherd is definitely a rural boy and poorly adapts to a big city life.
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