We have put together a list of frequently asked questions from puppy owners, to try and help you understand living with your bergamasco. Please get in touch if you have any questions or need further help!
Q: Our understanding/advice is that neutering or spaying is beneficial in terms of health (e.g. lowers risk of cancer) and temperament (“calms down”). What is the Club view?
A: It can be hard to live with an un-neutered animal. It’s up to you if you want to do so. General advice is to spay/neuter around 24 months once the dog is fully grown. Bitches shouldn’t be neutered before their 1st season (but ideally before their 2nd season). In any case, bitches should be neutered at 8 years old to prevent health problems.
Keep in mind that neutered dogs are not allowed to enter dog shows. Neutering may change the behaviour of the dog. People often assume that neutering will fix any behavioural problems that your dog has but this is not always true. In some cases it can make the dog’s behaviour worse as it can increase anxiety in male dogs.
Q: We would like to breed from our puppy. What do we need to know in terms of health (e.g. hip scoring), temperament, lineage, how to find a sire/dam etc?
A: Hip scoring is standard for the breed. We don’t currently require any other tests as standard. Please keep an eye on the club’s breeding guidance as this may change over time. The club maintains a list of stud dogs and breeding bitches and our breed officer can help you understand the lineage of dogs you are thinking of breeding.
Q: We have both worked from home during lockdown and our puppy is now used to us being around the house – do the Club have any views on ways to avoid separation anxiety and crate training specifically?
A: You need to get the dog used to being alone over a period of time. You shouldn’t need to crate the dog unless it is is destructive while alone. Otherwise leave them unconstrained in a safe area of the house. A good technique to get them used to being alone, is to put them in a room and leave them alone for a minute or two before going back in with them. You can gradually extend the period before you return over a few days until you are sure that the dog is settled while you are away from them. It’s a good way to teach the dog that while you may be leaving them, you will return.
Q: Does the Club recommend “standard” puppy training classes? Do Bergamasco puppies respond to training as with any other breeds?
A: Puppy training classes are a good start and are essential for teaching your dog some basic behaviour and to listen and respond to commands. They definitely need some good basic training and socialisation as pups. It’s also a good opportunity to spot personality traits which could be problematic in the future
Q: Are puppy training classes particularly useful for socialising the Bergamasco puppy… or, with the Bergamasco temperament, do they need socialising?
A: Socialisation is critical for all puppies and puppy classes are a great way for your pup to meet other dogs and other people. As well as your dog learning from other dogs, it’s a good opportunity for you to learn more about your dog’s behaviour and to start to modify any undesirable traits. An aggressive or fearful puppy can be taught to be less so with good training and consistent direction from you. If you don’t spot problems early on they’ll be difficult or impossible to change in the future.
Q: Can you tell us more about the “herding instinct” of Bergamascos?
A: Some Bergamascos may show a herding instinct. If you are out and about near sheep or other livestock and your dog shows in interest in them, it’s likely they will have at least some interest in herding. If you want to try herding with your dog, you should find a very experienced trainer who can guide you. You should never let your dog loose in a field to see what happens. Sheep worrying is a serious crime and farmers have a legal right to shoot a dog who is deemed to be out of control near livestock.
Q: What is the Club’s position on “brushing out”? We’re thinking of clipping around the face/eyes and brushing the face/head?
A: The bergamasco is an ancient breed of alpine sheepdog and the coat is one of the things that makes them so special. It’s been developed over thousands of years to help the dog cope with the harsh weather conditions it experiences in its alpine environment, and to give the dog protection from any animal that tries to attack the flock. The unique matts and rustic appearance are what makes this dog so attractive and we encourage our owners to work with the dog’s natural coat to really show off the best of this breed. Bergamascos weren’t bred to be pampered pooches! If you intend to show your dog, you must adhere to the breed standard. You should trim around the bottom of the paws and between the paw pads, and keep the inner ears hair free. If you are not showing, you may trim the hair from over the eyes but you should take care not to remove their eyelashes. You may brush out the head of you wish. Some dogs have naturally soft head hair while others tend to matt on the head.
We understand that managing the dog’s coat can be a challenge, but the club is here to help with advice and guidance whenever you need it.
Q: Is the Bergamasco’s vision impaired by the flocks over the eyes? Are the flocks required to protect the eyes from the sun’s glare as intentioned for Alpine based Bergamascos? We’re thinking of bunching the flocks on top of the head so our Berg can see properly, and we can see (his/her) beautiful eyes.
A: As a pet in a UK home, it’s unlikely that your bergamasco will be spending a lot of time on a mountainside, but they were bred to do so, and so have adapted to cope with long hair that grows over their eyes. The dogs have extremely long eyelashes that keep the hair out of their eyes so they usually have no trouble with vision. If you wish, you can bunch the hair on the head. Bunches will need to be removed for showing.
Q: We intend bathing our Bergamasco regularly (i.e. could be weekly depending on the amount of soiling of the coat in muddy weather). Is our understanding that specialist dog shampoo does not strip the natural oils correct?
A: Such regular bathing is not recommended as it will cause the natural oils to be stripped from the hair and skin which can cause issues for your dog. Bergamascos should never be washed with neat shampoo, it should always be well diluted with water. Full baths should only be given every month at the most, but this is not usually necessary. Spot washing of smelly bits should be carried out where required but no more than once per week.
Q: We have seen adult Bergamascos with full length flocks i.e. as per the BOFF profile picture on Facebook. Our intention is to trim the flocks to “half-length” to avoid soiling of the flock ends. What is the Club view?
A: If it is easier for you and your dog to manage then you can trim the coat as required. Bear in mind that show dogs must meet the breed standard in order to compete
Q: Our puppy is always “on-duty”. Will he/she grow out of it and are there steps to change this behaviour?
A: Bergamascos are guard dogs and as such will always be looking out for danger. This is natural behaviour and while you cannot train them out of it, you can limit it with by diverting any undesirable behaviour (such as barking). Strong leadership from you is essential. If a dog thinks they have to be on constant alert, it can cause them huge stress and lead to other behavioural and health problems. We can offer advice and would recommend seeking help from an experienced behaviourist in extreme cases.
Q: We cannot take our puppy in the car – any advice on chronic car sickness?
A: Most puppies will grow out of car sickness and any associated anxiety they have about car travel. You can help by taking time to get the puppy used to the car. Try just sitting in the car for short periods without going anywhere. After some time, you can introduce short trips, perhaps to the park or other walking locations. It can help to feed them treats so that they feel more positive about being in the car. Ginger biscuits are a good option as dogs like them (usually) and ginger can help to settle the stomach.
Q: I’m worried about setting my dog’s coat when in starts to matt. How will I know when the time is right?
A: Regular brushing of your puppy is essential when they are young to get them used to being handled and groomed. As the puppy approaches a year old, their coat will thicken and it will be more difficult to brush. Don’t panic at this stage, you should continue brushing out the puppy hair until the coat starts to matt all over. At that point the coat is ready to be set and we will provide assistance with coat setting when the time is right. We understand that it is very nerve wracking for a first time puppy owner.