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Bergamasco Sheepdog
dog breed information


Bergamasco Sheepdog - Bergamasco Shepherd - Cane da Pastore Bergamasco

At first sight,the Bergamasco Sheepdog is a very unusual looking dog! It is down to the Bergamasco coat. It's fur changes as it grows from a cute fluffy puppy into a scruffy teenage rebel before eventually becoming the dreadlocked cool dude in adulthood. Now becoming more popular in the United States, the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2015.

Bergamasco Sheepdog lying down on red tilesflickr photo courtesy of *Tom [luckytom]

Bergamasco Sheepdog
- Temperament

In terms of personality, Bergamaso Sheepdogs (or Bergamasco Shepherd dog as he is also known) are friendly, intelligent dogs, peaceful and well balanced. This is a herding dog breed.

They love children - their natural herding and strong protective instincts come out when they are around kids, and the Bergamasco dog breed has been successfully used as therapy dogs for disabled children. They are a great family dog, as they form a close bond with all members of the family, not just the alpha male.



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A Bergamasco's coat is made up of 3 different types of hair which weave together as the dog gets older: a dense oily undercoat made up of fine hairs which creates a waterproof layer, a longer type of hair which is harsher and similar to goat hair, and finally a woolly outer coat.

The weaving of these three types of hairs together produces flat flocks of hair which feels like felt. This was used to keep the Bergamasco warm in cold climates and as such, hair shedding is minimal so these dogs are considered good for people with allergies to dog fur.

He can be a little suspicious and distrustful of strangers, although he isn't aggressive, and he remains very loyal to his owner.

The Bergamasco Sheepdog gets on well with other dogs as long as he doesn't view them as being a threat to him and as for cats, they should be fine too. Even better if you can raise them both together whilst young.

Due to his size, the Bergamasco Shepherd is not suitable for apartment living - he requires a large yard to exercise in. And he does best in cold or at least seasonal climates due to his dense thick coat (which I've heard can get a bit smelly.)

Breed History

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is an ancient breed with a long history which has remained unchanged for centuries.

It is thought that the ancestors of the Bergamasco dogs originated from Asia. They were brought across by the migrating Asians who were heading West, looking for fresh pastures.

They passed through the Middle East, Anatolia, the Caucasus Mountain Range at the border of Europe and Asia, The Carpathian Mountains of Central And Eastern Europe and The Alps before ending up at the Italian Alps near Bergamo - hence the name.

They were used for herding and guarding the sheep up in mountainous terrain - a job they were perfectly suited to due to their dense, woolly, weather resistant coat - and the breed never changed for several hundred years. Their unique 3-layer coat meant they could withstand the extreme cold weather in the Italian alps.

After World World II, everything changed. Tourism sprang up and the demand for wool declined. Less wool demand meant less sheep which meant less need for the Bergamasco Shepherd.

The Bergamasco Sheepdog very nearly became extinct but for the love and perseverance of an Italian breeder named Dr. Maria Andreoli who took it upon herself to save the breed during the 1960s.

She worked hard over the following 40 years and in the mid 1990s the first imported Bergamasco Sheepdogs made it to the US. At last count the numbers were around 600 so although the numbers are rising, it still remains a very rare breed.

Vital Statistics

Weight:26-38 kg (57-83lb)

Height: 21-24in (54-62cm)

Life Expectancy: 13-15 yrs

Country of Origin: Italy

Colors

  • Fawn including light fawn
  • Black
  • Black and Brown
  • Merle
  • Silver/Grey


Ease Of Training

The Bergamasco Sheepdog is an intelligent breed which is easy to train using positive reward methods. He should be given early socialization to avoid problems later. This means puppy training classes, and being introduced to new sights, smells and sounds from an early age.

Shepherds needed them to be able to do a lot of problem solving on their own without having to be given commands constantly so the breed evolved into an independent, intelligent one.

Make sure you are firm but kind - Bergamasco Sheepdogs like strong leaders to look up to. If you live on a large farm or own a lot of land then the Bergamasco should be able to receive all his required exercise from running around there. Otherwise, he needs long walks or lots of playtime with children.

Protection

Bergamasco Shepherds are not instinctively aggressive but they are naturally suspicious of strangers, and they make an excellent watchdog as well as guard dog.

Originally they needed to be gentle enough to look after sheep and yet courageous enough to be able to fight off any wild animals which were looking for a free lunch in the form of the Bergamasco's herd.

Nowadays most Bergamasco Sheepdogs are used as watchdogs or companions.

Grooming

Bergamasco Shepherd Dog Breed puppy

The Bergamasco needs a perhaps surprising amount of grooming due to its unique coat. Well, not grooming as such -more, it needs an eye kept on it's hair as it grows and weaves together.

Bergamasco Sheepdog grooming instructions are very important, to help you look after your dog correctly. When a Bergamasco Sheepdog is a puppy he looks totally different from the dog he is about to grow up to be! Puppies are born with soft fluffy fur which needs to be brushed every month. You can bath him at this stage too but not too often or his skin will dry out.

At around 9 months to one year old, the dog begins to develop his flocks - the flat, felt-like cords for which the Bergamasco sheepdog breed is so well-known for. You'll probably feel these little flocks with the doggy brush before you actually see them.

As soon as you see (or feel!) them, then it's bye bye to the brush! From now on you have to use your fingers to groom your dog instead.

They'll probably start at the spine or the base of the tail where the hair is thickest and you'll be able to see the development of what is referred to as the "goat hair". This is the harsh, grey hair which is similar to a goat's.

Over 1 year Old

This early flocking stage goes on for about another year. 

Gradually the 3 types of hair which a Bergamasco dog has - the fine but dense undercoat which is oily and keeps the dog water tight, the "goat hair" coat which is made up of long smooth grey hairs which feel a bit harsh and the top woolly outercoat - will all combine and weave together.

If you spot any puppy hair getting tangled all up in this, gently separate it by pulling the flock apart (from the ends up to the skin part) into smaller flocks of between 1.5-3 inches (don't make them too thin or the flocks will break off).

The puppy hair will mat too close to the dogs skin, stopping air from circulating properly and causing all sorts of issues such as skin rotting, rashes and infections. The part of the flocks which are attached to the dogs skin should not be woven, they should be flat and straight to allow the skin to breathe and the oils to be distributed correctly.

Bergamasco Sheepdog grooming instructions

Your dog will look very scruffy at this stage (from age 1-2 years) so ignore anyone who suggests you groom him! Instead, help him on his flocking way by checking for any puppy hair matting or any other matting around the armpits, chest or behind the ears.

Keep pulling apart flocks which are too wide. The flocks will be naturally wider at the dogs base and the back where there is more woolly type of hair.

Once your dog reaches around 2 years on, the flocking should be well on its way. All you need to do now to keep an eye out for any getting too big or fat and peel them apart.

At 5 years old, your Bergamasco will have developed several layers of flocks and should look pretty much how he's going to look for the rest of his life. The flocks will be well formed and will be growing down towards the floor if they haven't already reached it.

Bergamasco Sheepdog grooming instructions - Washing

Washing your Bergamasco now becomes an absolute mission as it can take an age to not only make sure he is rinsed thoroughly but it can also take several days for him to dry off completely too!


Never attempt to speed up the drying process by using a hair-dryer. It is way too hot for a dog and can damage his coat. Squeeze the flocks instead to try to get as much moisture out as possible.

The Bergamasco has a very efficient system in place which makes his skin secrete lots of oils which help to "wash" his coat to keep it clean, stops it from smelling and makes it resistant to dirt so bathing should be occasional only.

It is better to spot clean him where necessary such as around his mouth where food could get trapped or around his rear where poo can accumulate (ew!)

The hair around a Bergamasco Shepherd's face should be kept long as the dog used this as a visor to protect his eyes from the bright sunlight reflecting off the white snow.

Bergamascos should never be clipped either. The clipping stops the 3 types of hair from weaving together. Instead, it forms massive clumps of matting which is impossible to comb out. The matting blocks the skin which makes the oils unable to be secreted properly and causes skin complaints.

If you require a more manageable coat on your Bergamasco then his flocks can be trimmed to a minimum of 4-5 inches which is called the Sports Coat. You can also brush your adult Bergamasco Sheepdog with a slicker brush which will remove any surface debris.

If your Bergamasco Sheepdog is a male and happens to not cock his leg up enough whilst urinating, then it is advisable to consider buying a few human elastic hair bands designed for Afro/Dreadlocked hair and giving your dog a little ponytail between his legs!

It will be hidden from view by his other flocks and could save him from wetting his flocks every time he goes to the bathroom. Also advised for the rear end when your dog has diarrhoea!

Health Issues

The Bergamasco dog breed is a very healthy breed. At the moment there are no known genetic health problems from which it suffers, although it is always wise to search for a reputable breeder when looking for a Bergamasco puppy. A responsible breeder will have his dogs checked regularly by a vet for any possible genetic issues.

Here is a very cute video of a group of Bergamasco Sheepdogs. The puppies are so sweet!

Famous Bergamascos

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