Why or Why not A Bergamasco … you decide…
Along with the look of a shaggy face I grew up and have spent my life loving the independent nature of my shaggy herding dogs. They love you and are loyal to you always. They respond to direction and commands…. sort of… when they are ready… after they finish whatever it is that they find more important at the moment. In the mountains herding and protecting sheep they needed to think for themselves and they do that well. If a person wants a dog that is always keenly ready to leap to attention like a Border Collie or act like your desires are their desires like perhaps a Standard Poodle, they needn’t get a Bergamasco.
I like a clean house but have learned to live with dust and dirt and hair and I keep my vacuum always at hand. Bergamascos are reverse mops. Everything outside comes inside. Their flocks are like Velcro and unlike other shaggy breeds you can’t brush it out, you have to pick it out one piece at a time. Forget turning your dog loose in a California field in the summer, foxtails are a nightmare as are the sticky needles that fall from our Redwood tree every fall!! Fenced lawns are good!! Bergamascos are on the list of hypoallergenic dogs but if your allergen is pollen or dust never mind. And if you are like many of my friends who keep an impeccable house and you don’t have a house keeper or extra time for more vacuuming, find another breed. Whatever you may read to the contrary they may not shed but they do drop hair and flocks around the house. Dust bunnies we call them!
We are believers that the dog needs to suit your lifestyle. While I wouldn’t recommend a Bergamasco to a person who specifically wants a shorthaired dog, I would never fault a person who finds that the flocks ultimately don’t work for their family. Contrary to some beliefs the dogs are fine with short hair. And frankly I believe they are much better off with short hair than dirty, unkempt, smelly flocks dragging on the ground. We take our dogs swimming, kayaking, hiking and camping and we spend part of the year in 100 degree heat so long flocks don’t work for us. We trim them to about 4 inches every spring. Nisa lived in the rainy Oregon weather at school with Emmeline and she had very dense woolly flocks so in order to avoid the otherwise inevitable mildew we trimmed her again in the fall.
Ahh yes and the debate and contradicting beliefs on bathing. I don’t like a smelly dog. My dogs sleep on my bed. I arrived in the Bergamasco world hearing the story that they should only be bathed once or twice a year. Going with that info I found that unlike my other shaggy dogs who would start to smell after a couple of weeks with no bath my Bergamasco really didn’t smell. Their coat IS different. But I no longer follow that bathing advice. When my dogs are dirty they get a bath. And even if they weren’t smelly before the bath the water is always filthy!!!! The dog that may not have smelled "badly" before smells "lovely" after a good shampoo! I have never gotten the stink eye or been chastised by well meaning dog people for my dog’s coat, as I have heard stories from many others. I can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the fact that my dogs with flocks clearly are clean and well groomed (or maybe it is just that I live in liberal California!) Now that we are showing and coming across other Bergamascos I am sad to say some do STINK! dirty dog, mildew, bacteria stink. That appalls me! It represents the breed poorly to the public!
Bergamascos need to be socialized (not at a dog park which I consider, from experience, to be a recipe for disaster for herding dogs) and starting at an early age. They were bred as herders and guardians. It is in their nature to protect and to be aloof to strangers. They wouldn’t have lasted with the shepherds if they had welcomed wolves into the flock!! They need to go to puppy classes and then other classes as they mature. Conformation handling, foundation agility, rally…. your choice. Mine have all gone to school to pick up their kids, to the feed store or pet store and Home Depot and on walks. And most recently they brought smiles to the faces of people in the Dementia facility where my mother spent her last year. Anywhere dogs are welcome they like to go. (after puppy shots of course)
They want to be with you! Not left outside in the yard. If yours is a busy family with no one ever home and taking the dog with you at least some of the time isn't feasible, pick another breed. They will follow you up and down the hall or the stairs and flop down at your feet wherever you stop (under the computer, next to the sink in the kitchen, under the coffee table if not on the couch, by or preferably on the bed)
They are alert to every sound. Mine all bark when the sounds in the neighborhood are different or new. Once again they are protecting you and your property. Some are more protective than others and more barky than others. Some, like my Phaedra, bark just to get your attention. Our dogs stay inside when we are gone from the house. They are safe and they are not barking and bothering the neighbors.
All of my dogs love kids. They are herders, kids are theirs to herd, or so they think. They see their kids as siblings. They are also great with the other pets they grow up with. i.e. if you don’t have a cat until the dog is grown it will may take longer to get them used to each other. We have ducks and chickens in a separate yard and as long as they don’t venture into the dog side, the dogs pretty much ignore them. But when they do come to the dog side… flutter and squawk is really exciting to chase! The same goes for the neighbors cats that run! We added goats to the farm one summer and at first the dogs went nuts whenever they could see the goats. I brought a couple home to the suburbs to see if perhaps I could desensitize the dogs to the goats by keeping them in a pen next to the house. Well I guess I was partially successful but not completely. They no longer barked like crazy at the sight of goats but they wouldn't let them out of their sight either! Herders are herders and will always be herders. It is in their blood!!