The Bergamasco is a rustic, powerful, medium-to-large-sized sheepdog that hailing from the mountains and valleys of north Italy. The most distinguishing characteristic of the breed is its coat, which forms “flocks” or flat felted mats that provide protection from harsh weather and wild predators. The hair on its forehead falls in a curtain over its eyes, which are protected by extremely long upper eyelashes. Bergamascos have long, feathered dropped ears. Despite their formidable appearance, underneath their hair Bergamascos actually are trim and athletic in build.
Size and Weight
Mature male Bergamascos ideally stand 23½ inches at the withers, and females usually are about 22 inches tall. One inch taller or shorter than the ideal is acceptable. Males typically weigh 70 to 85 pounds; females weigh between 60 and 70 pounds. These are muscular dogs with plenty of substance. Young Bergamascos generally are active and lean, growing into magnificent muscular adults. Owners of older Bergamascos should watch their food intake to ensure that they don’t gain too much weight.
Coat and Color
The Bergamasco’s coat is far and away its most distinctive trait, which even breed experts have difficulty describing. It is made up of three different hair types: an undercoat (“dog hair”), a "goat hair" coat and a wooly outer coat. The undercoat is short, thick and fine. It is slightly oily and forms a protective layer against the dog’s skin. The middle "goat coat" is long, straight and rough. The outer coat is long, woolly and a bit finer in texture than the middle coat. The middle and outer coats are distributed unevenly over the dog’s body, which is responsible for its curious cording or “flocking,” in which strands of hair become naturally woven together into layers of loosely matted, or felted, hair. These mats start forming by about 10 months of age, and typically take about 5 or 6 years to reach ground length. When the Bergamasco is mature, each of its hair flocks (also called stripes, cords, shanks or locks) will be flat, irregular in shape, larger at the base and anywhere from one to three inches wide. The coat on the top of the dog’s back is mostly the middle "goat hair" that forms a smooth saddle in that region. On the rest of the body, including the legs, the abundant woolly outer hair mixes with goat hair to form the flocks, which grow throughout the dog’s life. Bergamascos have a curtain of goat hair that hangs over their eyes. Most people with allergies to dogs are not allergic to the Bergamasco’s coat.
This breed comes in all shades of silver, black and gray, including merle. Solid black is acceptable, as long as the coat is not shiny and bright. Pure white is not an approved coat color in this breed, although a few white markings are permitted. Puppies are born dark and lighten with age. As hair flocks form, they can take on shades of tan and brown (called “isabella” and “fawn”), especially on the undersides. This natural blending of coat colors and textures provided terrific camouflage for the Bergamasco’s ancestors in their native land.
Grooming the Bergamasco can seem intimidating but it actually is quite simple, because the flocks tend to take care of themselves. From birth to about 12 months, the puppy coats are soft and short with no felting tendency. Puppies benefit from occasional brushing to keep their hair clean and tidy. Hair of different textures starts appearing around one year of age, with some individual and seasonal variations. After this, Bergamascos do not need routine brushing or bathing and are best left in a natural state. At first, as the fine undercoat grows in and the puppy hair is shed, the coat looks like it is standing up or blowing in the breeze, even when the dog is motionless. The middle coat grows first on the tail and then on the back, and the wooly outercoat grows from the hindquarters forward and down.
The Bergamasco’s coat needs the most attention during this transitional period. As the soft puppy fur molts, it tangles with the newly-growing wooly hair and goat hair, forming shapeless clumps. If they begin felting, these clumps will interfere with a properly flocked adult coat. They should be gently opened by hand, almost down to the skin, in strands that are about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 centimeters) wide. Once felting has started, it can be difficult or impossible to separate the clumps by hand. It may be necessary to use scissors, but this must be done extremely carefully to avoid cutting the dog’s tender skin. The top of the back only has the rough goat hair coat and does require some brushing. Bergamascos are not especially attractive during this transition. The newly-forming mats stick out in all directions, making the dog look disorderly and messy. Owners must be patient until the adult coat becomes fully formed. It won’t reach its full length for 5 or 6 years, but by 3 years the flocks should lie fairly flat. Bergamascos don’t shed much and are a good choice for people with allergies who want a smart, independent companion.