A few months after our unexpected loss of Mr. Boggs, we realized we missed having an oversized four-legged friend. So my online search for our next dog began late last year with words like best, dog, seniors, friendly, and non-shedding. This search for a non-shedding dog well-suited to an aging pair of humans with a small very spoiled dog resulted in a short list of dog breeds, including the Bergamasco Sheepdog. The Bergamasco is known for its large size, gentle yet brave and intelligent temperament, and a show-stopping hairdo.
The ancient Bergamasco is a rare dog. Originating in the Alpi e Prealpi Bergamasche of Italy as a herding dog for sheep and cattle (Shepherd Of The Alps), a dog of this type was exhibited at the first Italian dog show in Milan in 1881. Then, after the Second World War, the purebred Bergamasco almost became extinct. Dr. Marie Andreoli of Italy is credited with having saved the breed. She spent 45 years developing a diverse genetic pool and establishing the future for Bergamascos, ultimately sending puppies to the U.S. as well.
Choosing a purebred wasn’t easy when rescuing a mixed breed from a shelter is considered nobler these days. About half of our dogs over the years have been rescued dogs. Our beloved Mr. Boggs was a mixed breed rescue. Even still, I am enamored with this intriguing dog. So, we found a U.S. Bergamasco breeder with puppies available and sent our deposit.
Every day, leading up to the time we would bring him home, we practiced a possible name for this baby. We’d think of a name, call out the name, and sometimes scream the name to judge how easily it rolled off the tongue. When my husband sat up on the edge of the bed every morning, he’d say, “Good Morning, _______” using that day’s name to see how it sounded.
Isabelle is the Grand Dam of Blue Ridge Bergamascos, the breeder that has the puppies available. They call her Izzy. That nickname seemed to fit the hairdo best. So, we decided on the name Isidore – we’d call him Issy. However, the evening before bringing Issy home, we learned he needed an additional first name that must begin with a “B.” After all these weeks of calling out so many names, Blu was the only B-name that came to mind. Only when we received his paperwork did we realize his complete name.
Issy came home at eight pounds with a black and white blanket and a stuffed duck. To this day, that duck is never far away. Eventually, we resorted to throwing it directly into the washing machine to clean it up, sanitize it – or both, I suppose.
He was slightly smaller than Bentley for several weeks, and I can only imagine Bentley’s horror as Issy continued to grow larger. Poor Issy cried the first two nights, which was heartbreaking, but he soon settled down and began sleeping through the night. Unfortunately, his internal clock still rings at 6:30 a.m., about thirty minutes earlier than ours. But let’s talk about that hairdo.
The Bergamasco coat is forever changing but begins with a beautifully soft and fluffy puppy coat. It is this undercoat that makes him look like a doodle. The flocking starts around 8-9 months to one year. Flocking is a polite way to say the tangled and messy stage. The ‘flocking’ occurs from the hair weaving itself together in a flat lock (as opposed to twisting into a ‘cord’). This messy stage lasts until about their second birthday. Then, finally, at three years old, the look we’re waiting for finally arrives.
This final stage marks the emergence of all three types of hair. The undercoat is fine, dense, and oily (not greasy) to the touch, forming a waterproof, protective layer. The second layer is goat hair, which looks like thin gray strands. It is solid and harsh similar to the coat of a goat. Finally, the woolly top coat is fine and soft to the touch. The wooly hair weaves together with the goat hair to create the flock. There is some work in separating the locks initially, but then the hairdo is relatively carefree. It can take up to five years for the Bergamasco coat to fully develop into layers of flocks extending from the dog’s shoulders to their paws and up to eight years before the flocks reach the ground. I’m thinking it’s probably a good thing that we will have time to adapt.
When we tell Issy to find a toy, he goes to the basket of toys we tote from room to room and rummages through to find the specific toy he wants. He has the cutest way of sleeping with his back legs behind him, and his front paws turned out. He gardens with me in the afternoon. I put weeds into the garden bucket; he takes them out and scatters them across the garden.
He walks along the lake for his daily exercise, where the children find him irresistible. He sits down when they approach him. Sometimes he lays down and rolls onto his back while they play on top of him. Recently, when a toddler’s mother told her she would have to say goodbye to Issy, she grabbed him on each side of his head and kissed him on his lips. That’s our Isidore.
Fauno Dell’Albera: 01/12/95, Born Vercelli, Italy.
Fauno was the first Bergamasco Sheepdog brought to the U.S. by Donna & Stephen DeFalcis of Silver Pastori Bergamascos.
In 1995, Donna & Stephen DeFalcis of the U.S. discovered the Bergamasco in a magazine and contacted Dr. Andreoli, who sent them Fauno, their first Bergamasco. Dr. Andreoli continued to send Bergamascos from different lineages to the DeFalcis, one at a time, over the next ten years. This thoughtful transfer of puppies and knowledge allowed the DeFalcis to establish the Dell Albera Bloodline in the U.S.
Click here to read their fascinating story.