Incredibly Shaggy Coat Protects This Dog in Many Ways


The Bergamasco's Incredibly Shaggy Coat Protects This Dog in Many Ways

The Bergamasco has the unique distinction of being a large and imposing dog – but a shaggy and endearing one, as well. With a long, thick, "shabby" coat that is perfect for the harsh climate of the Alps (its original home), its ancestors date back more than 2000 years. A strong and powerful dog, its thick and matted coat is something to be admired. Mats begin at the spine and grow down the flanks, growing every year until they finally reach the ground. In addition to a long shaggy coat, hair also hangs over the eyes, a natural protection against the blindingly bright sun that would normally reflect off Alpine snow.


With its predecessors dating back at least 2000 years, the Bergamasco lineage includes both cattle dogs and shepherd dogs that served the nomadic populations of the Zagros Mountains on the border of Iraq and Iran. These dogs then moved west to a variety of other mountain ranges including the Pyrenees, the French Central Massif, the Alps, the Carpathians, the Caucasus, and the Anatolians. Ultimately, one of these ancient canine breeds settled in the Italian Alps to become the pedigree now known as the Bergamasco.

Considered a "good luck" breed in its now native country, the Bergamasco developed an incredibly hardy constitution along with a rough-haired, thick coat that tended to "felt" everywhere, including on the head so that a curtain of hair formed in front of the eyes. This rough, protective coat also protected the dogs' eyes from extreme sun glare, the harsh mountain elements and from attacks by wolves who preyed on the sheep in their care.

Working side by side with their masters, these dogs' ultimate goal was to protect the flocks or herds for which they were responsible. The dog breed did not remain pure, however, and began to risk extinction after World War II, when production of wool fell off and Bergamascos were no longer needed to as great an extent as shepherding dogs. An Italian breeder, Dr. Maria Andreoli, worked to save the breed from extinction. With training as a scientist to facilitate valuable study of the genetics and traits of the breed, she has worked for 40 years to develop champion lines of these dogs. Her efforts produced reliably pure and established bloodlines, so that today, the Bergamasco has been introduced to the United States where it has found development success.


Large, lovable and a walking mass of fur, that shaggy coat actually serves a very distinct purpose for this beloved pet. Its "felted" fur, which will continue to grow until it falls in straight ropes or felted "mats" from your pet's back, protected this dog’s ancestors from the harsh climate of the French Alps. Providing a facial “curtain” over the eyes which cut down the effects of glare from the sun, as well as shielding against wolf bites and other predatory attackers.

When you bring your puppy home, it will have a soft, fluffy coat. Beginning around nine months of age, the hair will begin to "flock," which is the “felting” process that transforms it into dense ropes. The flocking process lasts until your pet is approximately 2 to 3 years old, after which it will continue to grow for the rest of your dog's life.

The coat itself is made up of three types of hair. The first, the undercoat, is fine, oily, and dense, for waterproof protection from the elements. The second is called "goat hair," made up of long rough strands which are coarse to the touch and similar to the quality of a goat's fur. The woolly topcoat is fine and soft. These weave together to create the resulting "flock." Throughout your dog's life, you will see multilayered flocks grow magically, weaving together to create the distinct coat that falls from the spine and eventually produces a thick (and much-needed) covering for the eyes, as well. The flocks themselves will reach the ground at about five years.

The coat color can be anything from gray to the color of coal, or a silvery gray. These colors also have a specific purpose, which is to provide camouflage when working in the mountains.

In adulthood, your pet will stand about 23 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 57 and 84 pounds.


This lovable devoted dog is also brave, strong, very intelligent and peaceful. Somewhat reserved, it will unabashedly throw itself into activities with your family at a moment's notice. Your pet is so attentive that even when it has been sleeping, you may turn around to find it watching you to see what you're doing and whether or not you need it to participate. Excellent as a watchdog as well as a guard dog, this tranquil animal is no threat to anyone unless it feels you're in danger.

Although this breed is very devoted and wants to please you, it will not necessarily be completely obedient, since its natural talent is most definitely to work on its own. Therefore, consider your pet a "partner" who wants to work with you rather than an unquestionably obedient subordinate. Unlike some Shepherd dogs that have been bred to take direct commands from human masters, the Bergamasco was taught to work independently in its isolated home region. This shows up today in your pet, who will have a deep desire to please you as its master, but also a keen intelligence that gives it the ability to come up with ways to accomplish what it needs to on its own.

Most endearing about this dog is its strong devotion to children. The Bergamasco seems to have a special affinity for children and delights in them, as they do in him, giving all a mutually wonderful, satisfying relationship. There is an almost spiritual connection between children who bond with this breed, who will be exceedingly watchful as their guard dog and protector. While all of these qualities are wonderful, it is important that your puppy has been expertly trained to know when to be protective, and when to allow you to take charge. Many dogs can develop a suspicious or fearful nature if not trained properly, so make sure to do so early and often.

This is a very active breed that needs adequate playtime and a long walk. Generally not suited to apartment living, this breed responds best to a devoted single owner or family. The Bergamasco can also excel in competition or sport in the areas of obedience, agility, and rally. Need a hiking companion for the mountains? Look no further since the Bergamasco’s lineage includes exactly that experience.


This is generally a very healthy breed, with a life expectancy of 13 to 15 years.


This is one breed that really requires no grooming to speak of. The natural mats should be left in place, although a light brushing to remove dirt may be necessary. Occasional bathing may be done as necessary, but should be rare so that the natural oils are not removed from the coat. Hair should be trimmed around the mouth and you should clean your pet's face after meals so that odor does not develop. Otherwise, it's really best to leave your pet's coat as is. Trim if necessary to keep the long "cords" of fur above the ground, but do not cut your pet's fur shorter than 4 to 5 inches long. The health of the Bergamasco's skin relies upon the texture and natural oils of the coat. Cutting the coat too short could result in very dense mats that form over the skin and cause irritation and infection. Left as is, mats fall away from the skin, with natural oils in the fur protecting the skin against infection and the elements.


AKC Meet the Breeds®: Get to know the Bergamasco.

Retrieved September 21, 2013.


Retrieved September 21, 2013.

Bergamasco Sheepdog (Bergamasco) (Bergamaschi) (Bergamese Shepherd)

(Cane da Pastore Bergamasco) (Bergamo Shepherd Dog).

Retrieved September 21, 2013.

Bergamasco Shepherd.

Retrieved September 21, 2013.

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