The Bernedoodle is a cross between a Bernese Mountain Dog and a Poodle. This hybrid blends the clever goofiness of the poodle with the placid loyalty of the Bernese. What’s more, the Bernedoodle is low- to non-shedding, and is a safe bet for most people with allergies.
I believe the Bernedoodle is the perfect companion dog. Although many are stunning, they are not bred for the show ring. They are meant to be at your side no matter whether you are hiking, snowshoeing, or lying on the couch watching a movie. Their only job is to be your best friend.
No two Bernedoodles are identical. The genes from the parent breeds meld in unique ways, and it’s endlessly fascinating to see what each litter produces. That said, prospective owners must understand that there can be a lot of variation in a hybrid litter, and must therefore choose a breeder that can help match them with the best dog for their circumstances.
Purebreds may be the preferred choice for people who want predictability. When I was writing descriptions of my dogs, I was struck by the consistency of the traits among the purebreds. With some minor variations, one well-bred Berner is very similar to the next: sweet, loving, and calm. One well-bred Poodle is also very similar to the next: playful, intelligent and goofy.Notice that I emphasize “well-bred.” Like so many purebreds, Bernese and Poodles have been highly inbred over the past century. This has led not only to health problems, but also temperament issues. Poorly bred Berners may be extremely stubborn and skittish. Poorly bred Poodles may be hyper and neurotic. It is incredibly difficult to find healthy Bernese and Poodles with calm temperaments that also happen to be gorgeous. In fact, it’s an ongoing quest.
The Bernese Mountain Dog
I have a deep appreciation for the Berner’s placid, easygoing nature and extreme loyalty. They are completely dedicated to their families, with a special fondness for children. In fact, they are so loyal that it can be difficult to re-home an adult Berner and break its original bond. Berners are known for leaning on people to soak up all possible attention.
Berners are exceptionally beautiful dogs with their distinctive tri-colored coats. Bred in the Swiss Alps as farm dogs that pulled carts or drove cattle to market, the Bernese thrives in cold weather, and has a double coat that sheds quite heavily. It’s an intelligent, strong dog that has a moderate need for exercise. This versatile breed does well in agility, tracking, herding, and therapy work.
A significant number of Bernese are afflicted with hip and elbow dysplasia, or succumb to inherited cancer, heart disease, or epilepsy in middle age. While cancer is the leading cause of death for dogs in general, Bernese have a much higher rate of fatal cancer than other breeds. Overall, the Berner is one of the shorter-lived dog breeds, with a life expectancy of just seven years. This is particularly sad when the Berner is known to be slow to mature, and somewhat challenging to train.
Without proper socialization, these naturally cautious and reserved dogs can become skittish and suspicious, and may develop separation anxiety. They can also be decidedly stubborn. Yet the Bernese also has a deep need to please its humans and is surprisingly sensitive. As a result, training a Berner requires a great deal of patience and a gentle hand.
Everyone knows that the Poodle ranks high on the canine intelligence scale. They are very trainable and excel in obedience. Most people are also aware that their low- to non-shedding coat makes poodles a great choice for those with allergies. What many don’t realize, however, is how goofy and fun poodles are. They are the clowns of the dog world, and it’s no coincidence they were used in circus acts for centuries.
But the Poodle is more than a clever show dog: it is believed to have originated as a water retriever, in Germany. This breed doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being a hardy, intrepid dog that enjoys outdoor adventures.
Poodles come in three sizes and a wide variety of colors. Where most dogs have double coats, poodles have a single layer coat of dense, curly fur that sheds minimally but does mat without proper care.
A typical Poodle is lively and playful, with a bouncy prance to its walk. It thrives best in a busy household where it can get plenty of attention and stimulation. Vigorous exercise and ongoing training are the keys to managing the Poodle’s exuberance. If bored, Poodles may get into mischief. They are also quick to sound an alert, and have earned a reputation for barking.Some Poodles are high strung and sensitive to stress. They may have serious health problems, including eye, skin, and digestive diseases, as well as immune system diseases. The most common problems are bloat/torsion, thyroid issues, tracheal collapse, epilepsy, sebaceous adenitis, juvenile renal disease, hip dysplasia, and cancer.
Bernese Meets Poodle… Magic Ensues
If a breeder does his or her due diligence in selecting the right parents, crossing purebred dogs of different breeds results in puppies that are healthier than either of their parents. This is because the two breeds are generally prone to different genetic problems. Hybrids such as the Bernedoodle are only likely to inherit a health problem that is common to both the Poodle and the Bernese—two breeds that share few common diseases. Bernedoodles therefore have what is referred to as “hybrid vigor,” and can be expected to live healthier, longer lives than their purebred parents.
A hybrid dog combines the traits and characteristics of its purebred parents; with careful, conscientious breeding, the resulting pups may end up with the best attributes of each. In the case of the Bernedoodle, the blend of the Bernese and the Poodle produces a smart, friendly, playful dog. They tend to have the sweetness and loyalty of the Bernese, and the goofy liveliness and intelligence of the Poodle. Like the Bernese, they are gentle around children and the elderly, and because they love to work, they often make excellent therapy dogs.
Most Bernedoodles have a moderate activity level. They love to play, run, and hike with you, and may inherit the Poodle’s love for retrieving and swimming. When it’s time to relax, Bernedoodles are usually happy to join you on the couch for a snuggle. Most of them have little need for personal space.
My clients most commonly describe their Bernedoodles as: happy, goofy, smart, charming, curious, friendly, social, enthusiastic, cuddly, and loving.
Bernedoodles aren’t always perfect, however. Despite my efforts to breed only the best purebreds, some offspring may inherit stubbornness or sensitivity from the Bernese. Their training requires patience, a light touch, and positive reinforcement.
Unless a breeder is vigilant, Bernedoodles may also inherit the Berner’s cautiousness with strangers and end up being somewhat skittish. Further, from the Poodle they can inherit an extremely high level of energy.
When bred well, however, the Bernedoodle is an intelligent, social, fun, crossbreed with character and charisma. On the whole, Bernedoodles tend to be quite similar to Goldendoodles in nature, with the most notable difference being that the Bernedoodle can be headstrong. This is more pronounced at the puppy stage, and tends to disappear when the Bernedoodle is older and trained. Every dog has a different personality, but the two breeds have much in common, and those traits make them excellent family pets.
Bernedoodles are usually pure black, black-and-white, black-and-brown, or tri-colour (black, white and brown), but I have seen other colors. Their overall appearance combines elements of the Bernese and the Poodle. Beyond color, well chosen parents tend to blend the traits of the Poodle and the Berner in a fairly consistent way. Although some pups may lean more toward the Poodle’s slighter build, or the Berner’s sheer bulk, there is a common “look,” and a breeder can, to some extent, control that by studying the results of matching various pairs. In short, Bernedoodles tend to look like shaggy teddy bears!
Many clients want a tri-color Bernedoodle, with markings as similar as possible to those of the Bernese Mountain Dog. That look is challenging to achieve, and people may have a long wait for it. Personally, I love Bernedoodles of all colors. Temperament is far more important to me than colour.
Every Bernedoodle has a different coat. The majority have a wavy coat that sheds minimally, if at all. Most people with allergies to dog dander (i.e., those who experience sneezing and runny eyes) are fine with a wavy-coated dog.
It’s rare to see a Bernedoodle with a straight coat. However, the straighter the coat, the more it sheds, and the less suitable the dog will be for people with allergies.
Bernedoodles with a curly coat are similar to the Poodle and will not shed. While there are no guarantees, even if you have serious allergies to dander, you should do well with a curly-coated Bernedoodle.
Breeders can often tell by the time a dog is a few weeks old what type of coat it will have, and can help match you to the best coat type for your situation.
If you are allergic to dog saliva, and your skin breaks out in hives when licked by a dog, you will most likely be allergic to all Bernedoodles regardless of coat type.
Since there are no absolute guarantees with coat type, responsible breeders will give you some time to see if you are allergic to your puppy and will allow you to return the pup if it is not working out.
As for grooming, the curlier the dog’s coat, the harder it is to maintain. Since most Bernedoodles shed little, if at all, they need to be brushed regularly to prevent matting, and must be clipped every few months.
Bernedoodles come in different sizes, depending on the parents and the vagaries of genetics. Females are usually smaller than males.
Standard Bernedoodle – results from crossing a Standard Poodle with a Bernese Mountain Dog, will generally be 50 lbs. and up, and around 23-29 inches at the shoulder. Most standards are in the 70-90 lb. range.
Mini Bernedoodle – results from crossing a Miniature Poodle with a Bernese Mountain Dog, generally ranges from 25-49 lbs. and is 18-22 inches at the shoulder.
Tiny Bernedoodle – results from crossing a Toy Poodle with a Mini Bernedoodle, ranges from 10-24 lbs. and is about 12-17 inches at the shoulder.
These ranges capture the averages, but sometimes a pup will fall outside the expected height and weight.
In terms of temperament, Mini and Tiny Bernedoodles may have a slightly higher energy level than the standard, to reflect the same in the Miniature and Toy Poodle parent. However, using calm poodles, regardless of size, tends to produce docile Bernedoodles.
F1 – is a first generation cross, in which the pup is 50 per cent Bernese Mountain Dog and 50 per cent Poodle. The F1 cross is considered the healthiest, as the parents have the least likelihood of contributing genes for common inheritable diseases.
F1b – is a backcross in which a Bernedoodle is bred with a poodle. The puppy is 25 per cent Bernese, and 75 per cent Poodle. F1b puppies are the most likely to be non-shedding and allergy-friendly. Some breeders have backcrossed a Bernedoodle with a Bernese, which results in a dog with more of the Bernese traits. I prefer not to breed this backcross as there is a greater likelihood of shedding.
F2 – is a second-generation cross, in which an F1 Bernedoodle is crossed with another F1 Bernedoodle. If this is done for 7 generations a breeder could apply to register this dog as a purebred. The closer the generations come together the more consistency there will be in the lines, but the genetic problems of the purebreds are more likely to reappear, and hybrid vigor diminishes. Some F2 pups may have an improper coat—not the fleece softness we love in the ’doodles.
While bernedoodles vary in appearance and coat type, an experienced breeder will be able to give you an idea of what the pup will look like as an adult, based on what the parents have produced in the past and what traits they see in the pup.
Health and Lifespan
As a breed, the Bernedoodle is still young, so there is limited information about longevity and health concerns. Of the hundreds of Bernedoodles I have bred in the past decade, however, only a few owners have reported a genetic health concern, none of which has been life-threatening. I have not seen a case of cancer in my Bernedoodle lines since I started breeding them in 2003, when cancers are so prevalent in Bernese. Therefore, I am confident that hybrid vigor is indeed creating a healthier dog that will be with you for a long time. At this point, I can only estimate an average lifespan: I predict Standard Bernedoodles will live 12-15 years; Mini Bernedoodles up to 17 years; and Tiny Bernedoodles up to 18 years. Usually, the smaller the dog the longer it lives.
While Bernedoodles tend to be healthier than their parent breeds, they can still be prone to conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia and certain eye problems. Skin problems, such as hot spots and allergies, are also seen in this mix. Like any other breed of dog, they may get cancer.
Genetic testing can reduce the risk of many diseases. A reputable breeder will perform a number of tests and provide evidence of the successful results. It’s important for prospective buyers to understand that breeders invest a great deal of money upfront in finding healthy breeding stock and doing the required testing. This investment is usually reflected in the higher cost of the puppy for the buyer. A higher upfront cost will most likely reduce vet bills down the road.
I believe the Bernedoodle is a suitable dog for most people, with a few caveats:
- This is a very social dog that thrives on plenty of human interaction; if you have limited time for a dog, this may not be the breed for you.
- A low- to non-shedding coat means more time, effort, and money spent on grooming.
- If your Bernedoodle should happen to inherit the higher energy of the Poodle or the stubbornness of the Bernese—or both!—it will need more of your attention in the form of exercise and training, especially in the first couple of years.
But if you have the time and enthusiasm, I predict your Bernedoodle will become the best friend you ever had—at least of the canine variety.