The Bergamasco is a very unique dog with a heart of gold. They are known for their independent spirits, excellent intelligence, and great herding skills. Despite all those wonderful traits, probably the most well-known feature of the Bergamasco is their felted coat. These shaggy dogs originated over 2000 years ago in Persia. For the longest time their origins were kept secret by the shepherds who created them. This was most likely because, when the Bergamasco was first bred, the shepherds originally wanted a guard dog who could protect them and the sheep while out in the fields. They were pleasantly surprised to discover that this breed was so intelligent that the shepherds didn’t even need to give much direction to the dogs at all; the shaggy geniuses were able to figure out the best way to herd the sheep all on their own. Because of this, the breed has been unaltered for centuries and still possesses a gentle, intelligent, and proud personality. The Bergamasco continues to be used for herding to this day and also competes in dog shows due to their impressive intelligence. On top of all that, the Bergamasco is a wonderful companion and family dog; perfect for those with allergies or people who don’t want to deal with a lot of shedding.
Because the Bergamasco is such an old breed, we don’t know much about what they may have been called in the original country of Persia, which was the region that is now known as Iran. When the nomadic shepherds that created the wooly dog headed from Persia to Europe, they ultimately decided to settle down in the Italian Alps; the name Bergamasco then came from the region of Bergamo. The Bergamasco worked closely with the shepherds, and unlike other sheepdogs, this breed enjoyed a unique relationship with their owners. Without the need for specific commands and cues, the Bergamasco were able to learn how to herd and protect the sheep in their own way; and so, the shepherds had a great, intelligent companion to work with instead of a dog in need of direction. Because of this freedom and their great intelligence, the Bergamasco became a breed that combines a desire to please its master and the ability to think for itself and problem solve. With such intelligence, the Bergamasco is a wonderful show dog, work companion, and family animal. Despite this breed’s amazing qualities, there was a time after World War II when the Bergamasco almost became extinct. The problem appeared once wool production decreased during the great depression and the need for shepherding dogs was almost completely gone. Thanks to the passion and hard work of an Italian breeder, Dr. Maria Andreoli, the breed was saved and bred once more to create reliable bloodlines that would carry on for generations. Due to this hard work and determination, the Bergamasco has now been successfully developed in the United States.
As the most distinguishing feature of the Bergamasco, this dreadlocked coat has a lot of components to it. Made up of three different types of hair, known as dog hair, goat hair, and wool, the Bergamasco coat is designed to shield it from all different kinds of weather and protect it from the sun. As a puppy, the fur is fluffy and slightly curled, with no dreadlocks in sight. But, over time the hair will begin to grow out and reach the flocking stage (around 8 to 9 months). At this stage the three types of hair begin to combine: the soft undercoat that creates a waterproof layer, the goat hair which are long strands that feel similar to a goat’s hair, and the wooly top coat which is extremely fine to the touch. Flocking takes place when the fine top coat and the goat hair begin to weave together. This occurrence will happen until around 2 years of age, where then it will just continue to grow out until reaching the ground. Once flocking has begun, the owner will need to help ‘felt’ the coat by pulling apart the strands; you can have a groomer or the breeder help in the process. The typical colors for a Bergamasco are black, grey, or a silvery combination of the two. They have dark eyes that will be shielded by a fringe of hair that falls over their eyes. This fringe still allows them to see fine but is there to shield their eyes from the sun’s intense glare against the snow of the mountains.
While the intricacy of the Bergamasco coat may seem overwhelming to first timers, it actually isn’t that difficult to take care of once the mats have been set. Bathing only needs to occur around 1 to 3 times a year and no brushing is required. Once the mats have been set in the fur, nothing will change them so there is no need to worry about messing your dog’s flock up. Do not shave or clip your Bergamasco’s coat extremely short, when this is done it takes a very long time to re-grow the flock and more often than not, the hair will grow back messy and knotted. If you need to trim your dog’s coat or would like a sportier look, the Bergamasco’s coat can be trimmed to 4 to 5 inches in order to ensure that there is plenty of fur left for the coat to perform its function of protecting the dog from weather and regulating heat.