About the Bergamasco Sheepdog
The Bergamasco is an ancient and rare breed of Sheepdog, probably originating in the Himalayan region. Nomadic Shepherds traveled from Persia across the Alps into Europe and they were accompanied by their sheepdogs which drove and guarded their precious flocks. As the nomadic peoples began to settle in different countries and areas along the alps, the dogs settled with them, creating pockets of individualization. As these dogs evolved in their settled places they began to differentiate from one another. The Ocharka in Russia, the Puli and Komodor in Hungary, the Briard and Bouvier in France and the Bergamasco in Italy. The ancestors of our modern Bergamasco arrived in Italy in the wake of migratory populations, spreading right over the flanks of the Alps and here he survived for centuries and centuries, unchanged due to the inaccessibility of the Alpine region.
It is interesting to note that around the end of the last century, the dog was still defined by some authors as “Alpine Sheepdog” and sometimes as “Northern Italian Sheepdog” which shows that the name “Bergamasco Sheepdog” is fairly recent.
The present name of “Bergamasco Sheepdog” should not be attributed to its place of origin, as commonly assumed, but is more probably linked to the history of the “Traveling Shepherds”.
The Bergamasco is a complex being. Because it is a sheepdog by nature, it has developed critical thinking skills which has allowed the Bergamasco to work both with it's master and independently. It was able to understand what it's human Shepherd wanted it to do and it was also able to conform to the situation to make important choices in moving sheep across the mountains. The Bergamasco is categorized as a "flock protector". They were responsible for keeping the wolves and other threats away from the flock. Intimidating once aroused, but non-aggressive, the Bergamasco is always on alert and ready to protect that which it calls it's own. This is not to be confused with a Livestock Guardian Dog whose sole purpose is to live with and protect it's flock.
The Bergamasco is still on alert today in the home as a domestic pet. Nothing gets past our Bergamascos. Their level-headedness balances their protective nature and thus we have a dog that will bark and alert you of changes or intruders but is not aggressive and not an attack dog.
The Bergamasco responds to everyone differently and does not choose one member of the household. Instead they create different relationships with different people, as we do. Bergamascos love to be with you. They thrive on human companionship and are not a breed to be left outdoors to fend for self.
A note about children and Bergamascos:
Bergamascos are generally excellent with children if raised in the home with them. They tend to form special bonds with them. Because children can be high-pitched, and quick moving, it can bring out the herding instinct in a herding breed. Bergamascos may tend to try to herd children at play. Caution should be taken with any breed of dog and no child under 12 years of age should be left with a dog unsupervised.
The Bergamasco Coat
The Bergamasco is a medium sized dog, strong and compact. It's thick "flocked" coat gives the Bergamasco it's distinctive appearance.
The coat is made up of three types of hair: the undercoat, goat hair, and the wooly coat (top coat). These three hairs are distributed in different ratios on different parts of the dog's body. The three types form an interwoven matrix which creates the "flocks" as they are called. They are not referred to as "cords" in this breed, as they are with the Puli and Komondor. The difference is that flocks are larger, flatter and can be irregular in shape due to the abundance of goat hair mixed with the wooly hair. Corded dogs have a double coat, not a triple coat like the Bergamasco.
During puppy-hood, only the soft puppy coat is present. This requires regular brushing as would any other dog. The coat begins to mat anytime from 7-12 months. There are variations to this time frame. The puppy hair moults during this time. This is the most critical period for coat care. The clumps that begin to form at this time must be separated by hand by ripping the clumps into segments of 2-3 finger widths. This ripping must be reinforced often until the flocks are fully formed and no longer re-clumping together. Once fully formed, the flocks will continue to grow for the life of the dog.
The adult coat requires little care and can be maintained with occasional brushing of the flocks with a stiff wire brush to remove surface dirt. The saddle should be brushed often. Frequent baths can be detrimental to the coat of the Bergamasco, as detergent washes away protective oils which aid in keeping the coat weather resistant. Drying out the coat can cause the flocks to become brittle and break off. It is advised that Bergamascos be bathed only when they are really dirty and during periods of warm, dry weather so that flocks can dry appropriately. It is OK to spot bath your dog on specific areas that need cleaning.
Over the years we have experimented and discovered effective methods for cleaning the coat. We are here to help our puppy families during the flocking process and beyond. I am also available by appointment to help with Bergamasco grooming for families in New England.