The Bergamasco is a medium size dog originally bred as a herding dog in the Italian Alps near Bergamo. It is one of the most easily recognized dog breeds because of its distinctive feature – a unique coat made of three types of hair that weaved together as the dog grow older. These strands form flat layers of felted hair or what is known as flocks. Some Bergamascos form loose mats which cover the body and legs. This unique feature protects the dog from extreme and harsh winter climate as well as from predators that roam the Italian Alps. The Bergamasco’s body is muscular and made of heavy bones. It has a large head, slightly domed between the ears with long hairs that hang over the eyes. It has a blunt muzzle that tapers slightly towards the nose. It has a fully pigmented dark nose and slightly oval and large eyes. It has soft, thin ears that hang down on both sides of the head. It has massive, strong shoulders, a square-shaped body, long muscular thighs and oval feet with very tough pads. The tail reaches to the hock and carried in a saber fashion with a slight curve at the end. The coat is made of three types of hair – a short, dense, oily undercoat that acts as a waterproof layer, a long, straight and rough “goat hair”, and a woolly outer coat. The “goat hair” and the outer coat are what forms the characteristic flocks. Coat colours are solid gray, gray with patches, all shades of gray, and solid black. Males are 60 cm in height while females are 56 cm in height. Males weigh between 32 – 38 kg while females weigh between 26 – 32 kg.
The Bergamasco is an ancient sheep herding dog which traces its roots back thousands of years in the past. It is believed that the Bergamasco originated in ancient Persia (what is now Iran) and was used by nomadic tribes to herd sheep, cattle and goat in the unforgiving climates of the mountains of Iran and eventually found their way to the Italian Alps where they settled and eventually became known today as the Bergamasco. Like other dog breeds in the 1940s who became victims of the war, the Bergamasco also almost became extinct during that period. Another main reason for the decline is that there were no more need for shepherding dogs due to the dwindled number of the sheep and goat population. It was Italian breeder and scientist Dr. Maria Andreoli that observed and studied the genetic traits of the Bergamasco and successfully revived the breed through decades of selective breeding from reliable bloodlines. Her first Bergamasco was a little grey dog named Maira which would become the cornerstone of her Dell’Alberta kennel and other breeders throughout Europe. Today the Bergamasco thrives as a pet companion and as a show dog.
Back when it was working sheep, cattle, and goats in the mountains of the Italian Alps, the shepherd would let the Bergamasco tend to the sheep independently with little to no supervision. As a result, the Bergamasco became an intelligent and independent thinker, highly observant of its ever-changing environment while watching over the flock. Years of working in this environment made the breed highly tolerant to extreme cold weather which is why it has its distinctive coat today. The Bergamasco is a very good watch dog and guard dog. It will warn its master when it sees people approaching the property but it will typically not be aggressive unless provoked. It is highly affectionate, playful and calm which makes it a good addition to the family.
The Bergamasco is an intelligent breed that can excel in dog agility trials, obedience, showmanship, flyball, and tracking events. It has natural herding instincts and is highly trainable which means it can be trained to compete in herding trials. The Bergamasco needs a firm, consistent and dependable trainer to excel very well. It will not respond to harsh or coercive training.
The weatherproof coat of the Bergamasco starts as a fine, soft curly coat during puppyhood up to about a year, when it will start forming mats. The hair will continue to grow and produce flocks as the dog age and will typically reach the ground by age five or six years old. Grooming is easy and not as hard as it looks. There is no need for brushing or combing because the Bergamasco does not shed. There is also little to no need for bathing because the dog has natural oil protection in its undercoat. The ears however, should be checked and cleaned regularly to avoid ear infections.
The Bergamasco is a sturdy and healthy breed with no major specific health issues associated with it – so far. It is still a relatively rare breed and the negative effects of overbreeding have yet to take a toll on this breed’s health. There are rare incidences of hip dysplasia and eye problems but these are generally seen in other large breeds as well.
Like other sheepherding dogs with similar size, the Bergamasco has a high energy level which requires a good amount of exercise. A Bergamasco who lives with a family in a suburban home needs daily long walks or an hour of play outside the yard or in a dog park. Jogging alongside a bike is also a good physical exercise which will keep the breed happy.
Like most herding dogs, the Bergamasco is wonderful with children and will often seek them out and herd them, but in a gentle manner. It loves to play and has a high tolerance level so it is also an excellent playmate to children who knows how to play with a large breed. It will do fine with other dogs as long as the other dogs do not display aggressive or dominant behaviour or seen as threats. Cats are also accepted as long as they are within the same household especially if they grew up with them.