The Bergamasco's coat is its most striking physical feature: three kinds of hair combine to form dense, flat, felt-like mats that continue to grow over the course of the dog's life, reaching the ground at approximately 5 years.
The coat is striking and unusual in appearance, but is actually a very efficient protection system for the dog: The mats protect from cold and wet - the Bergamasco can tolerate freezing cold without becoming uncomfortable- but it is also a thermo regulator, keeping the dogs cooler in the heat of summer and protecting them from sunbruns. In addition, the coat protected them from the attacking bites from wolves, and in modern times can protect them from bites from other dogs, it also protects them from insect bites and is an afficient shied for tics to get to the skin. The matting does not extend all the way down to the skin, and so the mats do not pull at the dog's skin. Also, air is able to circulate down to the skin in between the mats, allowing the skin to breathe.
Contrary to what many first-time observers think, the coat is not at all difficult to maintain. In fact, it requires less care than coats that need brushing. There is a puppy coat for the first year, which is soft and not unlike an English Sheepdog. As the dog nears its first birthday, coarser "goat" hair and fuzzy "wool" begin to appear. At approximately age one, the coat must be "ripped" by the owner into the mats. This process can take a few hours, or at most a few evenings, but once it is done, it's done for life. For the next six months, a weekly check to make sure the mats have not grown back together is all that is required. After that, the mats stay separate, and become dense enough that very few things get caught in them. Even after rolling in leaves and pine needles, a mature Bergamasco can simply give a good shake and there is nothing left stuck in its coat.
Bathing is not required more than 1-3 times a year. As the coat gets longer, it takes longer to dry, but a crate surrounded by box fans does an excellent job of drying, and fortunately, Bergamascos love wind!
The matted coat is an integral part of the Bergamasco, and although the development of the mats is a process that takes several years, most people find the coats are amazingly easy to care for once the mats have set. There is no brushing required. The Bergamasco does not shed, in that it does not "throw a coat." While, as with any dog, there will be some hairs found here and there on the floor or furniture, this is far less than with many other breeds. Many people who are allergic to other dogs find that they are not bothered by the Bergamasco's coat.
It is not recommended to shave a Bergamasco as the re-growing process can be a mess of mats, and the dog would loose it's ability to thermo regulate its body from heat and cold. If a full long coat is not desired, the Bergamasco's coat can be trimmed to a shorter length of 4 to 5 inches , but always allowing the coat construction with the strands of flocks to be present so the coat does its function.
Stages of Coat Development
Birth to 10-12 months (puppy coat)
The hair is soft and short. The coat does not show felting tendencies. Regular brushing with a steel toothed brush is recommended until true felting/matting begins. Felting should not be confused with regular matting at this point which can occur in any longer haired breed. Real felting/matting does not being until the undercoat begins to grow in conjunction with moulting of the puppy coat and wooly coat and goat hairs combine. True felting/matting can begin as early as 7 months in some dogs but more commonly closer to a year old.
12 Months - 2 years
Hair will begin to change in texture. The puppy hair begins to mix with the incoming undercoat while simultaneously moulting. The wooly coat begins to appear on the tail and withers and the third coat, the goat hair also begins to grow over the withers and the saddle. The various hairs begin to mesh and formless clumps appear. This is the most important part of the flocking process and requires the most care. There is a fine line during this time between refraining from brushing and starting to work the clumps by hand. It is important to not fully rip the flocks too soon to avoid premature setting and weakened flocks in the adult coat. It is best to use your hands to keep the clumps fairly separated without fully dividing them down to the skin until the puppy coat has moulted. During this time, the Bergamasco may appear to shed, the tumbleweeds you will find around your house are temporary. Bathing is not recommended during this time as it can cause the developing coat to shrink and tighten and without full flock separation, air can not circulated through and around the flocks for proper drying.
Three years and on
After the adjustment period the coat requires very little care except for maintaining that the flocks stay separated. Flocks that are too wide can be further divided if needed and the coat can be washed if necessary. At this point skin should be visible around each well separated flock. Flocks will remain with feathering on the bottom of each rounded end and goats hairs will be visible throughout the coat. It is important to note that black coated dogs have less goat hair and in general, have softer coats than merle dogs.