The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, or Swissy for short, is the forerunner of the Swiss Sennenhunden: Bernese mountain dog, Appenzeller Mountain Dog, and Entlebucher Mountain Dog. In fact, the Swissy is the largest of all four Sennenhunden breeds.
Find out all about the Swissy’s mysterious beginnings, temperament, and other facts in case you are planning to adopt or buy a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.
Fun facts about the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
- The reason why the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog’s (GSMD) history is mysterious is owing to the fact that no official records of its origins exist. Historians believe that the breed is nearly 2000 years old. The dogs were probably developed from the Molossers or mastiff breeds that were brought to the region by Julius Caesar’s army. Another theory is that the Phoenicians who inhabited Spain in 1100 BC also might have contributed to the GSMD and the St. Bernard and Rottweiler are also thought to be its ancestors.
- The Entlebucher Mountain Dog and the Appenzeller are the other two Sennenhunden that are closely related to the GSMD.
- When mechanized farming became popular in the early 1900s, the breed became almost extinct. During the World War, only 400 of these dogs remained. It was revived again by Dr. Albert Heim in 1908, in Zurich. Today, the GSMD is still a relatively rare breed but you might still find these dogs competing in show rings around the world.
- Compared to the other Sennenhunden, Bernese mountain dog, Appenzeller Mountain Dog, and Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Swissy is the oldest and largest. The word Sennen comes from the Senn herders in the region. These herders called the Swissy the ‘poor man’s horse’ as they performed the hard work of pulling carts just like horses. In fact; the GSMD were mainly bred as draft dogs to pull carts filled with goods to and from shops and farms.
- In the United States, it has mainly taken on the role of a family dog or household pet.
- The Swissy is actually very agile and known to compete in agility events. Many also participate in search and rescue missions, conformation, therapy work, weight pulling, tracking, pack hunting, and versatility events.
GSMD is a large, tri-colored breed just like the other three Sennenhunden. The three colors in the coat are white, brown, and black. The undercoat is insulating and thick and varies in colors from tawny, to light gray, to dark gray. Some dogs also have reddish markings. The brown or red markings are usually present over the eyes, underside of the cheeks, the bottom of the tail, and the paws. They have almond-shaped, brown eyes, and short ears.
Height and weight
Males weigh between 105 and 140 lb while females weigh between 80 -110 lb. The height is between 25 and 28 inches for males and between 23 and 27 inches for bitches. They are certainly not delicate dogs and have a muscular structure with powerful hind legs that enable them to pull carts with ease.
Temperament and personality
Owners of the Swissy describe them as loyal, hardworking, devoted, strong, and temperamentally stable dogs. They are usually very eager to please and will go out of their way to impress their owners. This trait makes training easy, but some dogs also tend to have an independent streak which is known to challenge owners.
Swissy typically is good with children and other dogs. However, the manners a dog exhibits outdoors and indoors greatly depend upon the amount of exercise, obedience training, and socialization to which they have been exposed to by their owners. GSMD is known to show aggression towards cats other dogs if they are not socialized from a young age. Their loud barking can also be troublesome to neighbors.
Swissy is gentle with kids but owing to its large, muscular structures, they could accidentally ‘hit’ a toddler with their tail. This could be frightening to a young baby. Therefore, you must always supervise all interactions between kids and Swissies.
While they are devoted and loving with their family members, they tend to be wary with strangers. This quality actually makes them great watchdogs as they immediately alert their owners about intruders.
GSMD loves to work and he will show his happy, friendly-nature while herding cattle, pulling carts, and also while he plays a game of fetch with the kids in the backyard. Today, most American bred Swissies are used as household pets or companion dogs but they still need to exercise twice a day and won’t be happy living the life of a couch potato.
House-training a Swissy tends to take time and this can be frustrating to a pet owner. Begin training your puppy the moment you bring him home. Your young puppy is likely to show signs of ‘wanting to go’ and you must learn to recognize these signs so you can take him out when needed. Younger puppies need to ‘go’ at least 6-8 times a day. So make sure you let him empty his bladder several times in a day, especially before nap times and after meals.
You can house-train and crate-train your pet simultaneously. After your pet is 3-4 months old, you can start with clicker training to teach him commands such as Sit, Come, Heel, etc. Always keep training reward-based and positive. Never shout or hit your pet as that would only make him aggressive or shy.
Exercising a Swissy
Before you purchase or adopt a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, you must understand that this is not a dog bred to be a couch potato. No, this is a dog that needs to be given a job to do. If you own a farm, no doubt you can assign him plenty of work. Work closely with a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breeder as some of them help train working Swissies.
In case you are only purchasing or adopting a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog with the intention of keeping him as a house-pet, then you must make sure you exercise him daily for at least an hour. This will prevent unwanted behavioral issues like chewing furniture, digging, excess barking, or tearing up the linen. A tired dog is a happy dog and this is especially true in case of a hardworking breed like the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. So take him out on walks, hikes, or simply play a game of fetch in the yard.
For many owners, the texture and the length of Swissy’s coat are ideal because it can stay clean and attractive with very little maintenance on the owner’s part. GSMD tends to blow its coat twice a year but it is otherwise easy to care for and maintain. Regular brushing can keep it in fine shape. Perform a weekly brushing using a natural boar bristle brush as that will help stimulate natural oils and make the coat smooth and silky. You must also inspect your pet’s eyes and ears, trim his toenails, and brush his teeth regularly as part of regular grooming.
Health issues and lifespan
Problems like hip and elbow dysplasia, eye issues, bloat, and epilepsy are common in the GSMD. The average lifespan of the GSMD is 8-10 years.
Where to find a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Always try to adopt a dog before you shop. This way, you can save a life! Start your search at local animal shelters or rescue homes. But if you insist on a purebred GSMD then look for a reputed breeder. There are about 40-50 ethical GSMD breeders in the United States. You can visit the website of the GSMD Club of America for more information.