picture of a bernese mountain dog in nature and the text : bmdtutorials.com - bernese mountain dog tutorials by a dog parent, for dog parents

Chapter 4 - Bernese Mountain Dog Education 101

4 months old Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy sitting on a wooden bench
Bruno at 4 months old on his bench

Imagine tomorrow you're moving to Fur-Fur-Away-Land, a country where all people are furry and clothes are just for fashion. What's one of the first things you’d do, after the selfies? You'd probably want to be able to communicate with the fur-fur-away-landers. At least the basic words, for example about food. And you’d probably want to understand their culture, so you can integrate their society. I mean, what if shaking hands is an insult and smiling is considered impolite? It’d certainly be a relief if a fur-fur-away-lander would dedicate a few minutes every day to help you.

Well, that's the reality for your puppy from the moment he’s born. He finds himself in a culture he doesn't understand, with a language he doesn’t know and everyone expects from him to respect the society norms. You're the generous indigenous guide helping him learn English, showing him how to behave in the society, and while you're at it, you might even learn a doggy word or two. So what does your dog look like when you’ve made it? Your dog:

IS CONFIDENT

He’s afraid of nothing, he's relaxed, optimistic, happy. He wants to investigate and sniff all new things, fireworks make him snore, heights, ramps, the garbage truck, the vacuum cleaner, they all leave him unimpressed. He’s almost jaded, like a top secret agent.

He makes good decisions in the most common situations and he doesn't bark for no reason. He's happy when meeting someone, including dogs. He doesn't find it weird to see a man wearing a hat, an old person with a cane, a woman wearing a big coat, a crying child, a child approaching arms stretched to hug him, a running horse, all of this is normal to him. Maybe you find it’s bizarre what I just said, Of course these are normal things, what do you mean? For a dog, especially a Bernese Mountain Dog, these things don't come naturally, you have to get him used to them starting from his youngest age.

Let me tell you about the first time we brought Bruno to see horses. There were four fenced fields and in the middle, there was a narrow street ending in a wide river. We parked the car at the end of the street. In one of the fields, a horse was grazing. When he saw the car stop, he came at the border of the fence, which was about 16 feet from the car. Very sociable horse!

Bruno was in the trunk. While I prepared the ramp for him, Fred approached the horse. Bruno watched through the car window. With each step Fred took toward the horse, Bruno’s panting intensified, his eyes growing wider and wider. And when Fred started to pet the horse, mamma mia! Bruno howled the longest howl in dog history. He howled like a wolf. I thought I’d faint from laughter, and at the same time, I felt bad for him, an undefined feeling mixed with guilt. Poor dog, he’d never seen a horse before and I imagine he worried for Fred. Who knows what he was thinking?

I'm telling you this story to demonstrate how important it is for your puppy to meet the world right from the beginning, when he’s young. If we’d socialized Bruno with horses, a good decision from his part would've been to ignore Fred petting the horse. But you see, because it wasn't a usual situation for Bruno, he perceived it as a crisis situation. What I mean is,

Show your puppy as many things as possible, so he understands what a usual situation is.

TRUSTS YOU

He knows your decisions are to his advantage. Even if he learned how to behave in most situations, new situations always arrive. That's life.

Imagine you're out for a walk with your dog and you meet a clown doing somersaults, throwing confetti and sneezing. I know, what are the odds? But we’re having a little fun, for the example's sake. So your puppy, who has never seen anything like this before, looks at you to observe your reaction. In a playful voice, you tell him, Ha-ha-ha, this is a clown! you give him a Yummy-wow and you go on with your walk.

When your puppy looks worried, talk to him playfully.

He has a good recall, because he knows returning to you means always good news: petting, treats, walking, play, up on the couch, brushing and all sorts of stuff he loves.

He’s not afraid to make mistakes, because he knows you’re patient with him and you always remind him the right decision if he gets stuck.

Willingly gives you what's in his mouth when you ask him. Because he knows you're generous and he’s convinced it benefits him. He knows that if you're taking something away from him it's only to give him something better instead. Because he knows the human hand always makes things better.

HAS GOOD MANNERS

  • Says, Hi! by sitting nicely and waiting for his petting, or treat or both
  • Waits for your invitation to come in and out through the door
  • Remains seated while you put his harness and leash on
  • Walks calmly on-leash
  • Stops when reaching the border of the sidewalk
  • Let's you eat in peace
  • Digs only where he's allowed
  • Goes potty at the spot you designated for him
  • Chews only on his toys
  • Is generous and lets others play with his toys
  • Gets off the couch when you ask him
  • Lets the vet do the examination
  • Is able to walk past food without taking it if that's what you told him

Now we know what we're aiming for, we’ve got the details down and the words well-educated and socially well integrated dog are no longer abstract. For the rest of the book, this is what we're pursuing.