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If you are looking for a canine companion that is unlike the dog next door, look no father than the Bergamasco Sheepdog. This extremely intelligent canine has a hip, dreadlock-like hairdo, which is the breed’s trademark. The Bergamasco is a member of the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service (FSS). The FSS is the AKC’s record-keeping system for rare breeds which are not yet fully AKC recognized.
History and Origin
Tracing back thousands of years, the Bergamasco is a herding dog who originated in what is currently Iran and migrated to the Italian Alps. The Bergamascos worked with one shepherd and very large flocks of sheep. Their great responsibilities led to these dogs developing strong problem-solving skills and an independent working spirit. Their ability to think for themselves sets them apart from many herding dogs who focus more on specific commands.
After World War II, the production of wool declined, and, as a result, the number of Bergamascos drastically dropped, threatening the breed. Dedicated breeders, particularly scientist, Dr. Maria Andreoli, worked hard to re-establish this unique dog.
Appearance and Size
The Bergamasco is a solid, strong dog, standing up to 23.5 inches tall at the shoulders and weighing up to 84 pounds. The ears naturally hang, and the tail is long and heavy, curving up toward the end.
The most striking characteristic of this breed is his hair coat. His coat is made of three types of hair: undercoat, goat hair, and outer coat. The undercoat is fine, short, and oily, serving as a waterproof protection. The goat hair is longer and coarser, and the outer coat has a woolly texture. Together, the unevenly dispersed goat hair and outer coat make up the Bergamasco’s mats, also known as flocks, which give the dog the dreadlock appearance. These flocks served as protection against the natural elements during ancient times.
The coat may consist of shades of grey, black, fawn, and/or white, and it will reach its full length, near the floor, around age 5 years.
Much like the breed’s appearance, the Bergamasco also has an especially unique personality, which was molded by his historical work as a talented herding dog and the close bonds formed with his shepherds. He is extraordinarily intelligent and in tune to the slightest change in body language and emotion of his family members.
This breed is unlike other breeds in that he associates with humans as an equal rather than a lesser. An example of this, he is not intimidated by a direct stare like other breeds but uses it as an innocent form of communication. The Bergamasco does not select a master within his family, but he forms unique bonds with each member based on personalities and preferences. This breed is friendly, eager to learn, and a good watchdog.
Home and Family Relations
This dog forms strong bonds with his family and greatly enjoys spending time with his loved ones. A natural guard dog, the Bergamasco Sheepdog is protective of his family and home. His personality and body make him an ideal dog for children. His history of independent thinking in sheep herding are applied to his careful observance and nanny-like skills with kids.
Because of his coat, this dog does not do well in hot climates and prefers cooler weather. His size and athleticism make significant living space and outdoor availabilities preferable. The Bergamasco needs daily exercise and loves to accompany his family on outdoor excursions and vacations.
During the first year of life, the Bergamasco has a soft, puppy coat which does not form flocks, so regular maintenance brushing is sufficient. In the second year, the Bergamasco begins to grow hair of differing textures, mats begin to form, and careful attention to the coat is necessary. Brushing is kept to a bare minimum during this stage and careful clump separating is performed by hand to shape the coat.
For specific coat maintenance instructions, it is important to read further Bergamasco Sheepdog literature or consult a groomer, as maintenance during the second year coat stage will be crucial to the future quality of his coat.
After the mats have formed, from the third year on, maintenance is surprisingly minimal. Little to no brushing is required. No more than one bath should be given a year, as the coat is at risk of drying out leading to a loss of flocks. In order to avoid disturbing the natural, protective oils of the coat, only a very small amount of shampoo should be used when bathing.
Unlike mats on other breeds, the Bergamasco’s mats do not extend all the way to the skin, so there is no uncomfortable pulling.
Shedding is minimal, as the breed does not blow his coat but naturally loses some hair as humans do. Those with allergies have found that the Bergamasco is less offensive than many other breeds.
Due to the breed’s way of thinking and level of intelligence, he does not enjoy performing mindless, pointless tasks. He prefers to see reason for the chores and commands he is asked to perform. For this reason, the Bergamasco can be stubborn and selectively obedient. Otherwise, he is easy to train and eager to please.
Common Diseases and Disorders
The Bergamasco is generally a healthy breed, and there are no common health problems known.
This breed’s life expectancy is approximately 13 to 15 years.