Ignorant Beginnings

Oh to go back to the days of shopping for our first Bernese Mountain Dog! I didn’t even know what the breed was called. We had decided we’d get our newly adopted daughter a puppy for her 14th birthday; she had been pointing out these beautiful tri-colored dogs whenever she saw one in town. “That’s the kind of dog I’ve always wanted!” she would say.

So I pulled out Google: “Big tri-colored dog”…

“There!” My husband was looking over my shoulder and his finger stabbed at the picture of a Bernese Mountain Dog on my Google images. “That’s what she wants.”

Good grief. Just throw me into that pile of irresponsible dog owners. I knew NOTHING. Puppy Find. That’s where you go to find a cheap dog, right? So we found a Berner puppy, thirteen weeks old and crammed into a much-too-small cage with his thirteen week old littermate on a Pennsylvania Amish farm somewhere east of State College. We picked him because he had more black on his nose. My husband felt horrible leaving the littermate all alone, but hey… we had talked the lady down from $850 to $800 so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.


We didn’t know about puppy socialization or the critical periods for doing so. At the time we lived on four acres abutting Rothrock State Forest. Little did we know Hero (Marie named him this because he “saved her birthday”) had likely spent very little time outside his cage. It’s possible his feet had not touched grass. It’s possible he was left outdoors during rain and thunderstorms and the sometimes brutal heat of September.

What we did know was that we loved this dog. We had just brought home our Golden Retriever, Biscuit (and a cat named Gray-Vee) six months earlier, but from the start it was Hero who stole hearts right and left.

Until we moved into town. Remember that critical socialization period? Our little puppy who had grown up in the woods, walking off leash every day and bounding over creeks and fallen logs, was not sure what he thought of the new revolving door of friends and activity that two girls in high school brought about. He began barking (somewhat out of fear, somewhat out of protectiveness) every time someone came to the door. We called him a “bad first date” as he would rush at our visitors barking, his teeth pointed straight at the crotch. Again… we knew nothing. We took to putting him in the back bedroom for the first ten minutes of welcoming a visitor to our home. Then we would ask the visitor to sit down while Hero came bounding out to sniff and approve.


All in all, we did all right by Hero. The average life span of a Bernese Mountain Dog is between and seven and eight years. In Hero’s eighth year, after a lifetime of cheap grocery store kibble and Milk Bone dog treats, he was diagnosed with a slow moving lymphoma. Cancer is indeed the culprit that takes many a Bernese. Hero lived another year, growing gray and thin as his ninth birthday approached.

Hero’s first and last day were spent at his
favorite place on earth.

So there you have it. We had fallen in love with Hero, with the Bernese Mountain Dog as a breed, and we knew there was no turning back. There’s something special about these dogs. Their love is as fierce as their beauty. They are as fragile and as gentle as they are strong. We thought we would wait until we said goodbye to our sweet Golden, Scotti, before we brought home another pup. But you know how puppy fever goes…


Published by: When Life Goes to the Dogs

It was my youngest daughter who introduced me to the Bernese Mountain Dog. That first boy, Hero, set in motion all kinds of crazy love. And now, at the end of the day, I often find myself asking... what do these dogs have that is so special? I'm raising three Berners now, navigating the world of social media for dogs, holistic health and raw feeding. Sherman has become a therapy dog; Zuzu may soon follow in his footsteps. Madi, as I like to say, is still cooking. I guess we all need something to put our hands to that makes us feel like we've made a difference in this world. Believe it or not, these dogs help me do just that.

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