While the Bergamasco looks something like a rag mop with eyes, under that coat is a compact, muscular dog capable of impressive herding feats. Beneath its thick curtain of hair, the eyes are large, oval, and brown, with an attentive, calm expression. The ears hang down, with a triangular shape and slightly rounded tips. The teeth should meet in a scissors bite. The neck and back are strong and the loin is well muscled. There is almost no tuck-up to the belly.
The shoulders should be massive and strong; the feet should be oval and covered with hair. The tail is never docked and should be raised in a curve over the dog's back when he is working or excited.
The dog's most notable feature is his coat, which is formed of flocks (strands of hair weaved together, creating flat layers of felted hair) that protect the dog from weather and predators. The hair on the head is typically long and hangs over the eyes. The coat is made up of three types of hair: a short, oily, waterproof undercoat; a long, straight, but rough mid-coat (called "goat hair"); and a woolly outer coat.
The coat can be any variation of gray, including black. As hair in the flocks ages, it might turn a fawnish color, which is acceptable. White markings also are acceptable as long as they don’t cover more than one-fifth of the body.
The characteristic gait of this herding dog is a slow, easy trot, which helps him both cover ground and preserve energy.
Also known as the Cane da Pastore Bergamasco, this seemingly dread-locked sheepdog originated some 7,000 years ago in what is now known as Iran. Dogs migrated with groups of nomadic shepherds into the mountains of Europe, including Anatolia, the Caucasus, the French Alps, and the Pyrenees. These dogs developed a thick coat that felts into long, flat flocks of matted hair, including in front of the eyes. This dense coat protected the dogs against harsh winter weather and snow glare, as well as against attacks by predators of sheep flocks.
The Bergamasco developed in the Italian Alps, where these hardy, protective dogs worked one-on-one with shepherds in the mountains to manage flocks of sheep. The breed evolved into a very intelligent dog that both works well with humans and is capable of thinking for itself.
After World War II, wool production decreased in Europe, which led to a drop in the demand for sheepdogs. One Italian breeder, Dr. Maria Andreoli, is reputed to have single-handedly saved the Bergamasco by studying its bloodlines and carefully breeding the dogs for more than 40 years to create several lines of healthy animals. They were first imported to the United States in 1995 and accepted as Foundation Stock by the AKC in 1997. The breed became eligible to compete in the AKC Miscellaneous Class in 2011 and joined the AKC Herding Group in January 2015.