The Bergamasco, with its large matted coat, may seem rather imposing. However, it is a quiet and eager-to-please companion. Intelligent as it is versatile, the breed was developed from Asian sheepdogs brought to the Italian Alps.
The Bergamasco is a muscular yet compact herding dog with a large head and long tail that curves slightly upward at the end. The Bergamasco's feature characteristic, however, is its shaggy coat. In fact, some would argue that it is the shaggiest dog in the world.
Its coat is made up of three kinds of hair, which combine to form dense, flat, felt-like mats that cover the dog's body and legs. These mats of hair will continue to grow over the course of the dog's life, only reaching the ground after approximately five years. The Bergamasco's hair is typically colored gray, black, or gradiations of gray (including merle). It can also be found in solid white, though this is considered unacceptable according to breed standards.
Many people who are allergic to other dogs find that they are not bothered by the Bergamasco's coat.
Though stubborn, the Bergamasco is a very intelligent dog. It has a strong protective instinct but is not aggressive without cause.
Contrary to what many think, the Bergamasco's coat is not too difficult to maintain. For the first year, the dog will have a soft puppy coat. The coat will gradually become coarser and fuzzy "wool" will begin to appear. Around the age of one, the coat must be "ripped" into mats. This process can take a few hours, but once it is done, it is done for life. A weekly checkup to make sure the mats have not grown back together is all that is required for the next months. After that, the mats will become dense enough that few things will get caught in them.
Bathing is not required more than 1-3 times a year. Though, as the coat gets longer it does take longer to dry. Fortunately, there is no brushing required.
The Bergamasco has an average lifespan of 13 to 15 years. It is considered a healthy breed with no specific genetic illnesses.
The Bergamasco's Asian sheepdog ancestors are believed to have been brought to the mountains near Milan from the Middle East by Phoenician traders before the rise of the Roman Empire. There they worked closely with their shepherds and developed into an independent herding dog. While the Bergamasco took its lead from the shepherd, it learned to identify problems and accomplish goals in whichever way seemed best, which was a challenge in the mountain valleys. It was in this way that the Bergamasco developed its high level of intelligence and its desire to work closely with its master.
The Bergamasco was in danger of becoming extinct when World War II drove down the need for wool, and thus shepherds and their dogs found themselves with lack of employment. Dr. Maria Andreoli, an Italian breeder, is credited with saving the breed in the early 1960s. Thanks to her careful breeding and founding of the dell'Albera kennel, a reliable bloodline was re-established. Although it remains rare when compared to other breeds, the Bergamasco standard has been upheld by a number of enthusiasts in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, United States, Canada and other countries.