The history of the breeding of the Bergamasco breed

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The history of the breeding of the Bergamasco breed
The history of the breeding of the Bergamasco breed

General characteristics of the dog, the area where the Bergamasco was bred, the versions of the appearance of the variety, its uniqueness and application, the influence of world events on the breed, the revival and recognition of the species. Bergamasco or bergamasco is a shepherd tapa breed. It originated in Northern Italy and has been present there for many centuries. Such dogs have long been used by people to help in the management of cattle breeding. They helped to graze livestock by transferring it from one territory to another, guarding and protecting from the attacks of predatory animals and intruders. Bergamasco is renowned for its unique coat that creates dreadlocks-like curls and helps protect the breed from predators and inclement weather.

After the events of World War II, the population of these dogs practically disappeared. Thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts and amateurs, the number of the species is not only fully restored, but also growing steadily. Although the breed is still quite rare in the United States of America, the Bergamasco is slowly gaining popularity. He is also known by other names: “bergamasco sheepdog”, “bergamasco shepherd dog”, “bergermaschi”, “bergamo shepherd dog”, “bergamo sheepdog”, “cane de pastore”, and “cane de pastore bergamasco”.

The dog looks very peculiar because of the fur, which coils like cords. The sizes of the animal are from medium to large. A significant part of the body is hidden by wool, but underneath is a muscular and athletic shepherd dog. The tail is long and tapering. The head of the bergamasco is proportional to the size of the body and clearly changes from a tapered muzzle, the dark brown eyes of most individuals are hidden behind cords of hair, but in fact they are quite large and oval. The ears are thin and relatively small, usually folding close to the sides of the head.

The bergamasco coat is the most important feature of the breed. During the first year of life, its coat is similar to that of an Old English Sheepdog. Hair gradually begins to grow and form into cords. The coat consists of a soft, dense, thin and greasy undercoat, long, straight and coarse "goat hair" and an outer outer layer, woolly and somewhat thinner.

The back of the body and legs is dominated by the outer sheath, which blends with the reduced "goat hair" to form cords, commonly called "flock", which are widest at the base, but sometimes fan-shaped at the end. The cords take a while to grow long, reaching the ground when the dog is five or six years old.

Bergamasco has one color - any shade of gray from white to solid black, provided that it is not glossy or shiny. Most of the representatives have light markings, but in order to be eligible to participate in the show ring, they must not cover more than 20% of the fur coat. Many individuals have spots and markings of a different shade of gray or black on their bodies.

Sometimes they are born solid white or with white markings prevailing throughout the animal. These dogs are also suitable for keeping as pets or for herding livestock, but cannot be introduced into the show ring.

Locality and etymology of Bergamasco

Two Bergamasco dogs
Two Bergamasco dogs

These dogs are a very ancient breed, about the origins of which almost nothing is known for certain. Accurate data is difficult to obtain because it was developed long before the first written records of dog breeding began. Bergamasco were mainly kept by herders in the countryside, who cared much less about the pedigree of the dogs, giving priority to their working ability.

There are many theories about the origins of Bergamasco, but most of them are nothing more than a myth or hypothesis. What is clear is that this species has a very long history in northern Italy, where it has helped countless generations of Italian herders manage their flocks.

The breed was mainly found in the mountainous region around the modern province of Bergamo, an area where the fertile Padan Valley meets the formidable Alps. These animals were so associated with this region that they became known as the "cane pastore de bergamasco", which can be loosely paraphrased as "Bergamasco Sheepdog".

Versions of the appearance of bergamasco

Bergamasco dog lies
Bergamasco dog lies

Some argue that this variety first appears in written records at the time of Christ's birth, although it is unclear which records they refer to. Presumably, at the same time the herding dogs of Northern Italy possessed a unique "coat" inherent in them. There is much controversy as to how the Bergamasco coat was bred.

For many years it was believed that the breed was either a descendant or ancestor of the Komondor and Puli, two similarly coated species native to Hungary. However, these dogs apparently already had a rope "coat" when they arrived on Hungarian territory from Eastern Europe. There is controversy among local fans as to whether such dogs came with the Magyars in 896 or the Cumans in the 1200s. One of the dates (about 1000 years old) would be too late, except for new genetic studies, and the possible links between the Bergamasco and these two breeds are largely discounted.

Nowadays, it is widely believed that bergamasco was first imported to Italy during the Roman Empire as a result of trade relations. The Romans were an important part of an ancient trading network stretching from Spain to Korea, and they had many relationships with various incarnations of the Persian Empire and a number of disparate Eastern European and Caucasian tribes.

At the time, huge flocks of sheep were brought into Italy to feed and clothe the powerful legions and satisfy the insatiable appetites of the Roman population. It was then common practice to sell dogs such as shepherd dogs at the same time as the herds that were under their care. Presumably, the ancestors of Bergamasco first arrived in those places in this way.

Most sources claim that their predecessors were from Persia, now known as Iran. For millennia, the country was a major producer of sheep and related products such as wool and lamb, and had major trade relations with Rome. However, if the ancestors of Bergamasco were imported due to trade, it could have originated from almost anywhere in the Ancient World.

Even if the dog came from the territory of Persia, this does not necessarily mean that it originated in the area that is now Iran. The Persian Empire was once much larger than the modern nation state of Iran, and at various points stretched from Egypt in the west to India in the east, from Arabia in the south to Russia in the north.

This huge state included huge tracts of the East European and Central Asian steppes, as well as seemingly endless plains, which were inhabited mainly by nomadic pastoralists until the last few centuries. It was from these same steppes that the Magyars and Cumans migrated to Hungary. The presence of ancient rope-covered herding dogs in Italy and Hungary may indicate that such dogs were once common throughout the steppe territories and were exported to Europe several times.

Although rarely mentioned, it is very possible that bergamasco was developed with the help of Italian shepherd dogs, with little influence from the arrival of the dogs. Shepherd dogs have probably been found in the area since the introduction of agriculture many thousands of years ago. It is possible that at some point a mutation occurred in the local dog, which caused the hair to twist into ropes.

Such a twisted "coat" provided additional protection from natural influences and predators, both for the then and modern breed representatives. By selectively breeding dogs with typical coat traits, farmers could end up breeding Bergamasco. It has also been suggested that the origin of these dogs came from the long-haired shepherd dogs introduced to Italy by the Phoenicians, but there seems to be no evidence for this version.

The uniqueness of bergamasco and their application

Bergamasco dogs on leashes
Bergamasco dogs on leashes

However, whenever the ancestors of a variety were first brought to northern Italy, they were highly prized by local shepherds. The breed was one of the few able to work in the region. Life in the Alps can be quite challenging, especially before the introduction of modern technology. The air temperature fluctuates greatly - below zero, worsening in winter. The mountainous terrain is often difficult to cross due to the frequent landslides and avalanches. The shrub vegetation of the area is often very dense and protected by sharp leaves or thorns. Strong gusty winds and heavy downpours hit the region.

In search of "fresh" places to graze herd, sometimes it was necessary to travel many kilometers, leaving the shepherds and dogs in the same conditions for several days in a row. Though rare today, the Alps were once home to large populations of wolves, bears, wild dogs and numerous thieves.

To operate in the region, the Shepherd must have the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, inclement weather, traverse the varied terrain found in alpine heights and valleys, and fend off attacks from wild predators and human villains. The unusual fur of Bergamasco provided the dog with great protection, both from natural influences and from other creatures, which allowed them to survive in an often unforgiving world.

The old and simple logic is that the more sheep a shepherd owns, the richer and safer his life can become. Large herds needed to be provided with plenty of land to graze. One farmer could not physically control such a number of livestock.

In order to cover predominant territories and, therefore, to own large herds, northern Italian shepherds bred Bergamasco, which were able to work independently. These canines were often left unattended for several hours, during which they were responsible for keeping their flock together, in a safe condition without the help of their owners. The species evolved into an expert and intelligent animal that was capable of solving problems and fulfilling its duty no matter what situations arose.

Even the most well-connected parts of the Alps, such as those around Bergamo, are relatively isolated. Travel is so difficult that it creates difficulties and obstacles for everyone except those with the greatest need or desire. As a result, the dogs of the region tend to remain very stable and unchanged over long periods of time. This was the case with bergamasco, which remained virtually identical until the 20th century.

Impact of world events on bergamasco

Bergamasco dog muzzle
Bergamasco dog muzzle

Changes are also taking place in the Alps, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. The introduction of modern technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries reduced the need for sheep. The industrialization of Northern Italy, combined with a number of other factors such as the growth of the sheep industry in Australia and New Zealand, has caused a severe decline in sheep in Bergamo. New dog breeds have been introduced to the region from all over the world. These changes meant that fewer and fewer local farmers bred Bergamasco, and many of the remaining ones overlapped with other species.

World War II was devastating to the Italian population and economy. During this period, dog breeding was almost completely abandoned and a large number of herders were recruited by the Italian military. By the time fighting ended, the Bergamasco was nearly extinct, and many, perhaps most, of the surviving dogs were not purebred.

Bergamasco revival history

Bergamasco dog with owner on a leash
Bergamasco dog with owner on a leash

Luckily for the bergamasco, a small number of local herders continued to support the breed during the worst of times. The reasons why they did this are unclear, but it was probably a combination of necessity and desire. Dr. Maria Andreoli became concerned that a valuable and ancient part of Italian rural life would be lost forever, and took it upon herself to save the species. She began collecting the last surviving individuals and established her own nursery, Dell Albera.

Renowned geneticist, Dr. Andreoli has unique knowledge and experience to develop diverse and healthy Bergamasco lines. Modern breed representatives exist in their current quality and standardization almost entirely due to her efforts. Maria Andreoli increased the number of breeders interested in the breed throughout Europe and helped to spread the variety throughout Italy and Western Europe.

In the mid-1990s, Donna and Stephen DeFalchis, a couple living in the United States of America, became interested in the breed at a time when it was known primarily as the Bergamasco Sheepdog. DeFalchis worked very closely with Dr. Andreoli to found the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America (BSCA). This man started importing bergamasco from all over Europe. With the assistance of Dr. Andreoli, they were able to select and purchase the best available specimens in Italy, Switzerland, Sweden and England.

Their goal was to create as much gene pool as possible in America and avoid genetically closely related interbreeding that has happened with a number of other rare species. Almost immediately after acquiring his first Bergamasco, DeFalchis toured the United States on several occasions, showing his pets at rare breed shows and other canine contests. At the same time they ran their own kennel, which achieved a very high quality of dogs. This amateur and his dogs have attracted the interest of a large number of Americans, as well as several serious breeders.

Bergamasco recognition

Bergamasco dog for a walk
Bergamasco dog for a walk

In general, dedicated to working dogs, the United Kennel Club gained full Bergamasco recognition in 1995, when there were very few of the breed in the United States. The Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America (BSCA) has worked very responsibly and has steadily increased the variety in America. Currently, more than six hundred representatives of the species live in the United States. The BSCA itself has grown and now has a fully functioning board of directors of over one hundred members.

The ultimate goal of the organization is to achieve full recognition of the breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Bergamasco was listed on the AKC Stock Register (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full recognition. In February 2010, the AKC selected BSCA as the official parent club.

At the same time, the AKC determined that the bergamasco sheepdog met sufficient criteria for the Miscellaneous Class category, into which these dogs were officially introduced on January 1, 2011. Membership in the "Miscellaneous class" allows Bergamasco to compete in virtually all AKC events with excellent external performance. Once the American Kennel Club determines that a sufficient number of requirements have been met, the variety will gain full recognition as a member of the herding group.

For what the Bergamasco dog breed looks like, see the following: