Bergamasco sheepdogs might be one of the most interesting-looking dogs out there! With origins in Italy and the Alps, these dogs were bred as guardian dogs and their thick, unique coats help protect them from predators like wolves and bears when they’re guarding or herding livestock. Like other herding dogs, Bergamascos (Bergamaschi in Italian) are determined, intelligent, patient, and a bit stubborn. These dogs are actually a lot easier to care for than one might expect and can be great family dogs.
With a long, rich history, Bergamascos have strong ties in the Alpine region of Italy and France. It’s thought that these dogs can be traced back thousands of years to modern day Iran and that they were one of several early Middle Eastern breeds used in bartering around the Mediterranean basin. They earned their name from the city of Bergamo in Italy but there are some that think the breed is descended from the French herder breed, the Briard.
These dogs can be great in apartments and with kids, as long as they’re exercised and entertained every day. Bargamascos are medium in size, usually weighing 60-85 pounds and standing 21-24 inches tall at the shoulder. They’re definitely not the biggest dogs out there and given the right space and routine, they could do okay in an apartment. Personality wise, these dogs are patient and tend to form close bonds with everyone in their home, meaning they often love group activities with one or more of their people like going for hikes or playing fetch!
Because they were bred to thrive in the cold Alps as herding/guardian dogs, Bergamascos do well in cold climates and need plenty of training. Their intelligence and stubbornness make training a bit difficult but consistent, positive training that helps them understand the expected behavior. In addition to their unique coats, it’s been said that Bergamascos also have very good hearing and an almost psychic awareness of what’s happening around them. That trait makes these dogs great guardians for livestock and great watchdogs for homes.
While their coats resemble the Hungarian Komondor, the Bergamasco coat is flat and there are actually three types of fur in these thick coats. There is their long, coarse outer coat, a layer of “goat hair”, and their soft, oily undercoat. The matted flocks that cover this breed are strands of hair that eventually create flat layers of felted, corded hair. For most dogs, matted fur is a cause for concern because mats can be incredibly uncomfortable, can cause skin problems, and can even result in bacterial infections.
There are some breeds with naturally corded or flocked coats, like Komondors, Bergamascos, and Pulis. For Bergamascos, their thin flocks don’t weave all the way down to their skin, which prevents the discomfort and tightening of the skin that usually happens with mats in dog fur. Their coats also allow for these dogs to stay cool while also protecting them from predators and the frigid cold of the Alps. Plus, their very long eyelashes help keep hair out of their eyes and protect them from snowblindness and other winter dangers.
Care for corded coats can be difficult, making dogs with these coats not great for novice dog owners or those not willing to deal with the special care the dogs need. Corded coats don’t need brushing or bathing like other breeds and require special equipment. Air drying these coats after they get wet isn’t ideal, as this process can take days and the coats could get moldy in the process. Cage dryers are great for drying a Bergamasco’s coat, as these dryers are quiet and have temperature adjustments to allow the coats to get dry without causing heatstroke.
As a breed, there are plenty of unique things about the Bergamasco but their coats tend to stick out the most. With flocks of woven/matted hair, these dogs almost look like sentient mops but their coats help keep them warm and dry, a particularly good trait to have for these mountain dogs. Like any other herding/guardian dogs, Bergamascos are intelligent, patient, and a bit stubborn. For experienced dog owners looking for a loving, unique breed, a Bergamasco might be a great match!