Introduction Of Bergamasco Dog
The Bergamasco, also known as the Bergamaschi, Bergamasco Shepherd Dog, Bergamese Shepherd, Bergamashi Herder, Italian Bergama Shepherd or Cane da Pastore Bergamasco, is an ancient herding breed that originated in the Middle East and was brought to the mountains of northern Italy by traders during pre-Roman times. Bergamascos are sturdy, shaggy, fairly large dogs that were bred to guard, move and monitor ranging flocks of sheep. They were prized for their ability to do those tasks independently, without constant reminders from their shepherd owners. The most striking characteristic of this breed is its unique coat, which grows into ground-grazing, flat woven mats that resemble dreadlocks. This heavy coating provides great protection in cold weather, is not well-suited to extremely hot climates and provides an excellent breeding ground for fleas and other parasites. Today’s Bergamascos make friendly family companions. Most are wary around strangers. These are patient animals that like having a job to do. They are an excellent choice for people who appreciate intelligence, loyalty and self-sufficiency in a canine companion.
Bergamasco Dog Breed Quick Facts
Bergamasco – Appearance & Grooming
The Bergamasco is a rustic, powerful, medium-to-large-sized sheepdog that hailing from the mountains and valleys of north Italy. The most distinguishing characteristic of the breed is its coat, which forms “flocks” or flat felted mats that provide protection from harsh weather and wild predators. The hair on its forehead falls in a curtain over its eyes, which are protected by extremely long upper eyelashes. Bergamascos have long, feathered dropped ears. Despite their formidable appearance, underneath their hair Bergamascos actually are trim and athletic in build.
Size and Weight
Mature male Bergamascos ideally stand 23½ inches at the withers, and females usually are about 22 inches tall. One inch taller or shorter than the ideal is acceptable. Males typically weigh 70 to 85 pounds; females weigh between 60 and 70 pounds. These are muscular dogs with plenty of substance. Young Bergamascos generally are active and lean, growing into magnificent muscular adults. Owners of older Bergamascos should watch their food intake to ensure that they don’t gain too much weight.
Coat and Color
The Bergamasco’s coat is far and away its most distinctive trait, which even breed experts have difficulty describing. It is made up of three different hair types: an undercoat (“dog hair”), a “goat hair” coat and a wooly outer coat. The undercoat is short, thick and fine. It is slightly oily and forms a protective layer against the dog’s skin. The middle “goat coat” is long, straight and rough. The outer coat is long, woolly and a bit finer in texture than the middle coat. The middle and outer coats are distributed unevenly over the dog’s body, which is responsible for its curious cording or “flocking,” in which strands of hair become naturally woven together into layers of loosely matted, or felted, hair. These mats start forming by about 10 months of age, and typically take about 5 or 6 years to reach ground length. When the Bergamasco is mature, each of its hair flocks (also called stripes, cords, shanks or locks) will be flat, irregular in shape, larger at the base and anywhere from one to three inches wide. The coat on the top of the dog’s back is mostly the middle “goat hair” that forms a smooth saddle in that region. On the rest of the body, including the legs, the abundant woolly outer hair mixes with goat hair to form the flocks, which grow throughout the dog’s life. Bergamascos have a curtain of goat hair that hangs over their eyes. Most people with allergies to dogs are not allergic to the Bergamasco’s coat.
This breed comes in all shades of silver, black and gray, including merle. Solid black is acceptable, as long as the coat is not shiny and bright. Pure white is not an approved coat color in this breed, although a few white markings are permitted. Puppies are born dark and lighten with age. As hair flocks form, they can take on shades of tan and brown (called “isabella” and “fawn”), especially on the undersides. This natural blending of coat colors and textures provided terrific camouflage for the Bergamasco’s ancestors in their native land.
Grooming the Bergamasco can seem intimidating but it actually is quite simple, because the flocks tend to take care of themselves. From birth to about 12 months, the puppy coats are soft and short with no felting tendency. Puppies benefit from occasional brushing to keep their hair clean and tidy. Hair of different textures starts appearing around one year of age, with some individual and seasonal variations. After this, Bergamascos do not need routine brushing or bathing and are best left in a natural state. At first, as the fine undercoat grows in and the puppy hair is shed, the coat looks like it is standing up or blowing in the breeze, even when the dog is motionless. The middle coat grows first on the tail and then on the back, and the wooly outercoat grows from the hindquarters forward and down.
The Bergamasco’s coat needs the most attention during this transitional period. As the soft puppy fur molts, it tangles with the newly-growing wooly hair and goat hair, forming shapeless clumps. If they begin felting, these clumps will interfere with a properly flocked adult coat. They should be gently opened by hand, almost down to the skin, in strands that are about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 centimeters) wide. Once felting has started, it can be difficult or impossible to separate the clumps by hand. It may be necessary to use scissors, but this must be done extremely carefully to avoid cutting the dog’s tender skin. The top of the back only has the rough goat hair coat and does require some brushing. Bergamascos are not especially attractive during this transition. The newly-forming mats stick out in all directions, making the dog look disorderly and messy. Owners must be patient until the adult coat becomes fully formed. It won’t reach its full length for 5 or 6 years, but by 3 years the flocks should lie fairly flat. Bergamascos don’t shed much and are a good choice for people with allergies who want a smart, independent companion.
Bergamasco – History and Health
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 almost faced extinction extinct after World War II, when wool production fell off and there wasn’t as much need for large sheep-herding dogs. An Italian breeder and renowned geneticist, Dr. Maria Andreoli, was instrumental in saving the breed. She studied the genetic traits of the Bergamasco and produced many champions over more than 40 years of selective breeding. She is credited with establishing reliable bloodlines and introducing this unique dog more widely to dog fanciers throughout Europe and elsewhere. The Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America was founded in 1996 by Donna and Stephen DeFalcis. The DeFalcis, working closely with Dr. Andreoli, imported the first Bergamascos to the United States in the mid-1990s. The Bergamasco population in this country is still small, but it is gradually growing. Dedicated enthusiasts in many other countries are also working on focused breeding programs.
Bergamascos still have efficient herding and guardian instincts. They occasionally serve as therapy dogs. They compete in assorted canine sporting events, including agility trials, obedience, herding and showmanship. The United Kennel Club formally recognized the breed in 1995, as a member of its Herding Group. The breed is not yet fully recognized by the American Kennel Club. However, it was brought into the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service in 1997 and is now a member of the Miscellaneous Class, with a Herding Group Designation.
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.
Bergamasco – Temperament & Personality
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.
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.
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 calm when in familiar surroundings. They tend to be most active outdoors and well-behaved inside. This breed isn’t known to be particularly destructive, as long as they get enough exercise and don’t become bored. Bergamascos are pretty quiet and rarely bark, although they become quite vocal and intimidating when protecting their families or livestock. They are great pets for families because they are patient and gentle with small children. These dogs have extremely good hearing and an extraordinary awareness of their surroundings, including the location of their family members. They are reliable protectors and guardians. They have been known to warn unsuspecting people of imminent attacks by other dogs. However, Bergamascos are not naturally aggressive.