Named after the valleys of Bergamo, this old working breed is believed by some to come from the region of Milan in Italy, even though it has traditionally been found in the Alpine region of the country, most notably in Lombardy, but also a few neighbouring areas, where the Bergamasco was used for herding sheep and protecting livestock since ancient times, when the breed's ancestors were introduced to the area by the Phoenican traders and Persian settlers. True origins of the Bergamasco are not clear, but it is very likely that its ancestry is rooted in the great mastiffs, sheepdogs and wolfhounds of Central Asia, all of which counted bearded types in their populations, alongside the more common shortcoated and longhaired examples. Once isolated from other varieties and bred for recognizable physical traits on top of specific working qualities, dogs of this type have eventually become pure breeds associated with the regions in which they were developed, such as the famous Komondor and Puli of Hungary, for instance. While the connection between the Komondor and the Bergamasco may very well exist, it should be noted that in southern Russia, parts of Romania and Bulgaria, as well as throughout the rest of the Balkans, bearded shepherd dogs have always been common, leading some to link the Bergamasco to those roots, rather than to the Hungarian dogs. However, the overall appearance and temperament traits of the Italian breed which differ from the breeds sometimes believed to be its ancestors, coupled with the isolation of the gene pool, emphasis on the importance of purity, as well as the somewhat secretive breeding practices of the Alpine herdsmen which bred the Bergamasco exclusively for centuries, may also be seen as indicative of a separate and possibly older history altogether. Instead of being a derivative of a derivative of a derivative of the original population of working dogs from Central Asia, the Cane Pastore da Bergamasco could've simply been part of that original stock of dogs which, upon settling in the Italian Alps with the nomads, continued to develop independently and thrive on its own. The breed itself may have been influential in the developments of other European dogs of similar type, such as the bearded breeds of Poland, France and Great Britain.
After centuries of maintaing the working abilities, coat type, resilience, health and purity of the breed, the keepers of the Bergamasco noticed a decline in size of their dogs, due to the appearance of shorter legs and lighter frames in some lines, leading some of those breeders to resort to the practice of outcrossing in order to improve the size and health of their stock. However, the crossbreeding practices got out of hand soon, especially during and after the 2nd World War, when only a small number of pure Bergamasco dogs was left in existence, with the majority of other examples in the region having a fair ammount of German Shepherd blood in their background. This was also a period during which the need for sheep-herding dogs was minimal, due to the severe decline in demand for what was a primary economic resource in the region, this being production of wool. Abandoned by its traditional keepers during the post-WW2 modernization era, the Bergamasco was in danger of becoming extinct, but thanks to the dedication and hard work of a small group of breed fanciers, a sufficient number of dogs was collected and the revival programme was started in the 1960's, eventually proving successful in maintaining the traits which were still preserved and restoring the ones that had been lost. One of the most important figures of the revival programme was Luigi Guidobono Cavalchini, a celebrated authority on the Bergamasco and a respected breeder to this day, especially in Italy. Another great admirer of the breed, Dr.Maria Andreoli studied the genetic characteristics of the dogs in the region, worked on the establishment of a uniform type and became the most respected breeder of the Bergamasco Sheepdog in the world in the process. The breed enjoyed moderate support in its native country, but once the breeders started promoting their dogs outside of Italy, the popularity of the Bergamasco increased greatly. Thanks to the four decades of great commitment to the breed, Dr.Maria Andreoli is widely credited by non-Italian fanciers as the main reason that the Bergamasco still exists today, since most bloodlines in the world lead back to her own Dell' Albera kennel.
Independent, smart and resilient, the Bergamasco makes a good family companion, but it can be quite stubborn and overly protective, needing early socialization and training. Although not very tall, this is a powerful breed, with a strong neck, broad shoulders, a deep chest, sturdy legs and a fairly large, rounded head, with a powerful muzzle and jaws. However, this handsome sheepdog is most famous for its characteristic matted coat, which sets the Bergamasco apart from similar breeds. There are 3 distinct types of hair within what is regarded as the typical Bergamasco coat, all of which are to be found on the same dog.
Like the majority of longhaired breeds, the Cane Pastore da Bergamasco has an undercoat and an outer coat, but unlike most dogs, it also has a "middle coat", referred to as a layer of goat hair by the breed fanciers. While the dense undercoat is short and fine, the "goat hair" is long and rough, with the top coat being slightly softer and wooly. Because the top coat and the "goat coat" aren't evenly distributed, they form the large matted flocks all over the body that give the Bergamasco its trademark appearance. The accepted coat colours are grey, fawn and black, with or without small white markings. Average height is around 23 inches.