Bernese Mountain Dogs are growing in popularity, around the Hawkesbury and beyond

IF you’ve never seen a dog pulling a cart before, it really is something to behold. North Richmond resident Beatriz Insausti’s six-year-old pooch, Emma, is used to having a small cart strapped to her, and helping her owner in the garden.

“It is really cool that a dog is happy to work with you, it is extra cool if you can work your dog to help with everyday jobs, moving gardening stuff, firewood or feed,” Ms Insausti told the Gazette.

But Emma isn’t just any dog: she’s a Bernese Mountain Dog, and pulling carts (this is called ‘drafting’) is one of her breed’s specialities.  

A large-sized working dog originating from the Swiss Alps, Bernese used to accompany alpine herders and dairymen, pulling feed for cattle and rounding up cows for milking.

Drafting in Australia

Competitive drafting as a dog sport has recently been recognised with the Australian National Kennel Club (ANKC), but it developed from real-life work the dogs did years ago.

Today, real-life drafting is more common overseas, but Ms Insausti uses Emma to pull mulch around her garden, and her friends in Tasmania put their Bernese to work pulling firewood around their property in the winter.

“Bernese are multi-purpose farm dogs, they love to work and pulling a cart is in their nature. As an owner I like to see that my dogs can do what they were originally bred for, both physically and mentally,” she said.

Compared with one of our country’s most popular working dogs, the Border Collie, Bernese are slower and more methodical, Ms Insausti said: “They’ll work dairy cattle, but unlike border collies who run around, they’ll push the cows and guide them.”

Emma competes in dog shows, does herding, obedience, and of course, drafting. Ms Insausti also owns a six-month-old Bernese named Kate, who will be entering the dog ring soon.

“There used to be very few Bernese in Australia, but they’re becoming more popular,” Ms Insausti said, adding that there are three registered breeders in NSW.

Ms Insausti is a full panel herding judge and also a draft test judge with the ANKC, and has been a member of Dogs NSW since 1991. After spending time with drafting dog communities in the USA, she started the submission process to have drafting officially sanctioned here (this was approved in 2015), and she is now the chairperson for the national Draft Test Committee.

Bernese Mountain Dogs six-year-old Emma (right) with owner Beatriz Insausti from North Richmond, and 7-year-old Quincey with Marion Garnham from Richmond, pictured at Hanna Park. Picture: Geoff Jones

Bernese Mountain Dogs six-year-old Emma (right) with owner Beatriz Insausti from North Richmond, and 7-year-old Quincey with Marion Garnham from Richmond, pictured at Hanna Park. Picture: Geoff Jones

Who are they suitable for?

Ms Insausti and her husband adopted their first Bernese in 1991. “We just fell in love with the look of a Bernese - they’re quite a striking, pretty-looking dog. We did more research, and their temperament, workability and family-orientated nature suited us,” she said.

“They’re very affectionate with those in their family circle, and a bit aloof with strangers. They’ll welcome people into the family if the family welcomes them, but they’ve got a bit of protectiveness in their nature.”

Ms Insausti said Bernese are suitable for families with young children, but not small children as they can be a bit boisterous.

They do quite well in suburbia - Ms Insausti lives on a normal building block - as long as they get out for exercise every day. However they’re definitely not the type of dog to be left outside on their own all the time - they get lonely and this can lead to mischief, or “making their own adventures”, Ms Insausti said.

“They’re highly intelligent, and very trainable. If you want a dog to do tricks and obedience, they’re very well in tune with that.

“They’re not barkers - they’ll only bark to let you know something is there.”

Bernese grow to about the same size as a Golden Retriever: adult females generally measure 58-65cm at the shoulders, and males grow to 64-70cm.

Ms Insausti runs a small drafting training group once a month at the Dogs NSW complex in Orchard Hills. For more information, join the Draft Dogs Australia group on Facebook.