Allegra, who lives on the edge of the Lake District, is one of very few Bergamasco dogs in the country 

Pauline McCahill believes her pet, Allegra, is the only one of its type in the region. ‘The Bergamasco breed is rare, and there are only 70 in this country,’ said Pauline who waited years to welcome a Bergamasco into her home. 

‘Twenty five years ago, I saw a rescued Bergamasco on Animal Planet and became obsessed with the dog,’ she said. ‘For various reasons I was unable to have a dog until years later. After doing a lot of research, with the help of my boyfriend, we found a litter of Bergamasco pups in Holland. Having passed through a lengthy vetting process, which guaranteed we knew all about the breed and could give her a good home forever, we brought her home.’ 

Great British Life: Pauline with Allegra and StarPauline with Allegra and Star (Image: Pauline McCahill)

An ancient breed, Bergamasco sheepdogs were trained by Italian shepherds as herding and guarding dogs. These intelligent dogs quickly learned their job and were able to work with shepherds or independently. They were also used to herd cattle during the summer in the alpine pastures and in the lowlands during winter. 

Their distinguishing feature is their heavy coat which is made up of three different textures that weave together to form mats or flocks which makes it different from any other dog.  Bergamasco, which takes its name from the town Bergamo near Milan, is a hardy breed, well suited to the harsh terrain of the Alps. Flocked coats protect them both from the elements and from injury, while exceptionally long eyelashes help to protect their eyes from snow and sun. 

Pauline, from Whitehaven on the edge of the Lake District, says she keeps nine-year-old Allegra’s coat trimmed up to her stomach and avoids sandy places and swimming. Instead, they enjoy walks in woodland and on the fells where Allegra attracts a lot of attention. ‘When we go camping my boyfriend will have put the tent up and I will still be talking to people who want to know all about her. She has the herding instinct so will round up our friends who are camping with us and bring them over. She loves to herd our other pets at home too,’ laughs Pauline. 

‘She’s as good as gold and happily gets along with my other pets; a British short haired cat and a Turkish Van cat, Drax – another unusual pet, being the only domestic cat that loves swimming. Allegra will sometimes walk around with Drax hanging on to her coat which looks funny. 

‘We’ve also just got a Labrador pup and if the puppy does something wrong Allegra will bark or growl to alert me to take appropriate action. She’s a smart girl. She’s also incredibly laid back, loyal and a very sturdy, healthy dog. She’s so laidback that we had to train her not to eat lying down when she was young. She’s good with other dogs, loves people and is very popular at our local pub. She’s such a joy and I feel very privileged to have her.’ 

Great British Life: AllegraAllegra (Image: Pauline McCahill)

Back from the brink 

The breed’s numbers began to dwindle after World War Two but breed associations have worked to keep it alive. The American Kennel Club first recognised the Bergamasco in 2015, and it is still a rare dog breed around the world. It was imported into the UK in 1989 and recognised by the Kennel Club in 1999. It is still possible to find Bergamasco working in Italy and Switzerland, although they are more mongrelized than the pure breed.