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The Bernese Hound Temperament: Affectionate, Loyal, Independent

If you would like an active dog with a loving and affectionate nature, you might enjoy the Bernese Hound temperament.

The Bernese Hound is a Swiss scenthound with exceptional skills. She is loyal and affectionate and can be a nearly ideal family dog.

She can be stubborn, though. This makes her a bit of a training challenge.

She would be a good fit for someone who could commit to firm training. Otherwise, she is not the best choice for a first-time dog owner.

Bernese Hound Temperament and Personality

1. Intelligent

Like most hunting dogs, the Bernese Hound is smart and learns easily.

2. Independent

Also like most hunting dogs, she can have an independent streak with occasional stubbornness.

3. Affectionate

The Bernese Hound temperament is very affectionate, maybe too much so for some.

She loves to snuggle and face-lick.

4. Trainable

This breed is a quick and willing study. She’s a very good candidate for dog sports such as bikejoring or skijoring. These are sports where the dog pulls a rider on a towline connected to a bike or skis.

She also does well at more traditional canine sports.

5. Gentle

The Bernese Hound temperament is docile and even-tempered. She makes a great family dog with proper training and socialization.

6. Friendly

She happily greets strangers. She does not make a good guard dog as there is no aggression in the Bernese Hound temperament.

7. Loyal

This dog loves to spend time with her family. Some individuals are prone to separation anxiety.

8. Playful

The Bernese Hound temperament is fun-loving and lively. She enjoys playing with children.

9. Tolerant

Most are comfortable with strangers, children, and other dogs.

10. Prey Drive

She has a prey drive, but it is not as high as with most hunting breeds. She can be trained fairly easily to leave the house pets alone.

11. Agile

This is an athletic breed. She has traditionally hunted in the challenging Swiss Alps terrain. She is steady and sure-footed. As above, she is a great candidate for dog sporting activities.

12. Active

As a hunting breed, the Bernese Hound has a fairly high exercise need. This is one of the defining traits of the Bernese Hound temperament.

Unlike some other scenthounds, though, she can be happy as a companion dog if she gets enough exercise.

13. Determined

She is a dedicated and passionate hunter. This is where the Bernese Hound independence becomes an asset. She will make decisions for herself while on the hunt and doesn’t like to give up.

14. Vocal

This is one of the challenges of the Bernese Hound temperament off the field. She is known for her loud and “melodious” baying, which hunters prize. However, it’s not always welcome at home.

You can train her to control it, but you’re not likely to eliminate it entirely. This makes her a poor choice for apartment living.

Bernese Hound History

The Bernese Hound is one of four Small Swiss Hounds. The other three are the Schwyz Hound, the Bruno Jura Hound, and the Lucernese Hound.

They were all “bred down” from Large Swiss Hounds. They were named for the regions in Switzerland where they originated.

These four hounds have been around since ancient times. (There were once five Swiss Hound varieties. The Thurgovian has been extinct since at least 1909.)

The French and Italians also prize the Swiss Hounds, mostly for their rabbit-hunting skills. There are almost certainly French hounds (the Basset Hound in particular) and Italian hounds (including the Segugio Italiano) in the ancestry of the Bernese Hound.

The Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) combined the four remaining Swiss Hounds into one breed standard, the Small Swiss Hound. They officially recognized the breed in 1954.

The United Kennel Club (UKC) accepted the Small Swiss Hound in 2006.

Bernese Hound Training

The Bernese Hound is a dog with natural hunting instincts. She doesn’t need much training to be great at her job.

She can easily learn many canine sports as well and will likely enjoy training for these.

This dog certainly bright enough to learn quickly. But she also has an independent streak that can make training challenging for a first-time dog owner.

She needs a firm hand in training with positive reinforcement.

She will also need socialization if she is to be kept as a pet. This should include training to control her prey drive if there are other pets at home.

If you have nearby neighbors who might object, she will need training to control her barking.

Helpful Dog Training Resource:

For help with training your Bernese Hound dog, you should take a look at The Online Dog Trainer by Doggy Dan. Doggy Dan is an expert Dog Trainer based in New Zealand. His online resource contains Hundreds of Excellent Dog Training Videos that will take you step-by-step through the process of developing a healthy, happy well-behaved dog.

Bernese Hound Appearance

General Appearance

The breed standard is identical for the four Swiss Hounds with the exception of coat color. Bernese Hound color is white with black patches and tan markings.

The Bernese is the only one that can have wiry or smooth hair. The others are all smooth-coated.

The short-haired Bernese Hound has a dense undercoat. The wire-haired has no undercoat.

The Bernese Hound has a muscular, rectangular-shaped body (longer than is tall). She is a little smaller-boned than most scenthounds, what some call more refined.

She has a long, narrow, and rather rounded head. Her ears are long and hang low. Her eyes are oval in shape and medium-sized. She has a soft and gentle expression.

The muzzle is the length of the skull or slightly longer and fairly narrow. The nose is black. She can have a scissor or pincer bite.

Her slender neck is elongated and muscular. She has a firm, straight back and a deep chest. Her legs are lean and muscular.

Her tail is medium to long in length, tapered. She carries it with a bit of a curve.

Bernese Hound Size

This is a small to medium-sized breed. Bernese Hound weight averages 30 to 45 pounds.

Average Bernese Hound height is 19 to 24 inches for males and 18-1/2 to 23-1/2 inches for females.

Bernese Hound Information

Bernese Hound Lifespan

The life expectancy of this breed is 10-12 years.

Other Names

Because Switzerland has four official languages, there are many other names you might encounter for these dogs. The most common are:

  • Berner Laufhund.
  • Berner Niederlaufhund.
  • Bernese Scenthound.
  • Bernese Laufhund.
  • Bern Hound.
  • Small Bernese Hound.

Hunting with a Bernese Hound

Many Swiss hunters consider this breed to be the best hunter in the world. As above, it was the only widely used breed in Switzerland for most of its history.

It has exceptional scenting abilities and is an excellent small and large game tracker. They were originally used to hunt rabbit, roe deer, fox, and wild boar.

Its territory has always been the Swiss Alps. In the early 1900s, the Swiss government began limiting mountain hunting regions, and large hunting dogs were banned.

At that time, breeders began “breeding down” the Swiss Hounds. The original hounds were crossed with the smaller Alpine Dachsbracke and other breeds to produce the Small Swiss Hounds.

The smaller dog is ideal for the smaller hunting regions. Her shorter legs keep her from getting too far ahead of the hunter.

They now hunt mainly rabbit and fox, but some are still able to take on larger game.

Bernese Hound Health Issues

The Bernese Hound has no known health issues. However, there are some conditions that many working dogs are prone to.

Conditions to look out for include:

  • Hip dysplasia. This is a malformation of the ball-and-socket joint of the dog’s hip. It can cause pain and arthritis. It can eventually be disabling.
  • Patellar luxation and elbow dysplasia. These are also musculoskeletal conditions. Patellar luxation is a displaced kneecap. Elbow dysplasia is a malformation of the ball-and-socket joint of a front leg.
  • Eye problems. These include ectropion and entropion.
  • Skin allergies. These can include food and environmental allergies.
  • Ear infections. Breeds with long, pendulous ears are more prone to infections. Moist ears are a perfect environment for bacteria and fungus to thrive. 

Helpful Dog Health Resource:

Note: Don't let the many issues above scare you. The best way to approach health problems is to prevent them in the first place. The Ultimate Guide to Dog Health is a great place to start. Get a copy to keep at home. It will help you prevent the painful health issues that can plague your lovely dog from expressing his winning personality and maximizing his life expectancy.

Caring for the Bernese Hound

Bernese Hound Grooming

The Bernese Hound is a fairly low-maintenance breed. She needs regular brushing and a rare bath.

The major concern when caring for any hound is their ears. As above, their long ears are prone to infection. They need to be checked and cleaned often, particularly after a hunt.

Bernese Hound Diet

This dog should do well on a high-quality dry food that has plenty of protein and a moderate amount of fat.

If she is active hunting or in canine sports, you may choose to put her on a working-breed formula. The richer protein and higher fat content can be a better choice for very active dogs.

Ask your vet if you’re not sure about feeding.

Bernese Hound Exercise

Not surprisingly, this hunting dog needs a moderately high level of exercise. She’s known for her stamina in the field, so she is not easy to tire out.

If she gets enough exercise, she can make a wonderful home companion. But if she doesn’t, expect some destructive Bernese Hound behaviors.

She is also likely to become hyperactive and to bark excessively. It’s good to keep in mind that her bay is loud.

Finding a Bernese Hound

Buying a Bernese Hound from a Breeder

The Bernese Hound is a rare breed outside of Switzerland. Finding a Bernese Hound for sale may be difficult. At the time of this writing, an Internet search found no breeders in North America.

This breed is recognized by the UKC, so you might try searching breeder lists on their web site.

Keep in mind, too, that this breed has many names in several languages. You may have better luck searching with several names.

A search of Facebook groups and YouTube may turn up owners, breeders, or other group members who can help you find a Bernese Hound breeder.

As a last resort, you might look into importing a Bernese Hound puppy from Europe. The FCI may be able to help you locate a breeder.

Eurobreeder.com has a list of Bernese Hound breeders. You may be able to find one that will export a puppy to North America.

We were not able to find a reliable estimate of Bernese Hound price.

Vetting the Breeder

If you are able to find a breeder, do some research before purchasing a Bernese Hound puppy online. Try to get recommendations from connections made by one or two of the sources above. Be careful you’re not buying a dog from a “backyard breeder” or puppy mill.

An ethical breeder will be happy to arrange a site visit. They will want to be sure you and the dog are a good fit.

They will also have health records for both the pups and the parents. The puppies will have had medical care and all of their shots.

A good breeder will guarantee the health of their puppies.

It’s unlikely that puppy mills selling Bernese Hound puppies will have tended to the puppies’ health at all. They will offer no guarantees. And their dogs may be brought up in horrible living conditions.

Bernese Hound Rescue/Adoption

If you would prefer to find a Bernese Hound for adoption, it may still be challenging. You’re not likely to find one of these rare dogs at your local shelter.

At the time of this writing, a Facebook search returned a number of available purebred and mixed Bernese Hound dogs.

If you don’t find anything there, you could try broadening your search to rescues that work with several hound breeds.

Another option is to consider a mixed breed. It is certainly possible to find a mix that will have the Bernese Hound traits that you’re looking for. And it may shorten your search time.

There are other benefits to adopting an adult rather than buying a puppy.

The dog will already be spayed or neutered. Chances are good it would be housebroken. It may even be microchipped.

But best of all, you would feel joy of providing a loving home to a dog that really needs one.

Is the Bernese Hound the Right Breed for You?

If yours is an active family, the Bernese Hound would make a fine choice. If you have children, even better. She makes a fine family dog with the right training.

If you can commit to being consistent in that training, you will be rewarded by the Bernese Hound temperament. You will have all the cuddles and doggie kisses that any dog owner could need.