By Macy Gen Veterinary AssistantMacy Gen Last updated: 27th October 2022

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

By

Macy Gen Veterinary Assistant Macy Gen
Last updated: 27th October 2022

One of the four Sennenhund breeds, the Greater Swiss mountain dog, indigenous to the Swiss Alps, was developed as a working breed, employed in farms. The once-popular breed neared extinction during the 19th century as their importance lessened with the advent of machines.  However, by the 20th century, their numbers revived to a certain extent. These mighty dogs stand out for their big size, perhaps having a weight close to that of a mid-sized human.

The Swissy is heavy-boned and robust, yet agile that perhaps helped them perform their duties with ease like herding a folk of sheep along the steep mountain slope. Their identifying physical features include almond-shaped brown eyes, high set triangular ears, a large muzzle, and a thick tail tapering slightly to the tip.

Though working dogs by origin, they make for great family pets because of their dignified, friendly, and calm demeanor.

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Pictures

Quick Information

Other NamesGrosser Schweizer Sennenhund (in German);
Grand Bouvier Suisse (in French); Swissy , GSMD
CoatDouble coat: Dense topcoat varying from fine, straight, and short to coarse, wavy, and long; while the undercoat is mostly thick
ColorBlack and white; black, red, and white; red and white; blue, white, and tan
Breed TypePurebred
GroupLivestock Guardian Dogs
Average Life Span10 – 11 years
SizeLarge
HeightMales: 25.5 – 28.5 inches;
Females: 23.5 – 27.inches
WeightMales: 115 – 140 pounds;
Females: 85 – 110 pounds
Litter Size4 – 5 puppies
Behavioral CharacteristicsAlert, protective, devoted, calm, dignified, good-natured
Good with ChildrenYes
Barking TendencyModerately low
Climate CompatibilityCannot live in a hot climate
Apartment CompatibilityModerate (do better in big homes with a yard)
Do they ShedModerate
Are They HypoallergenicNo
Competitive Registration Qualification/ InformationFCI (Fédération Cynologique International), AKC (American Kennel Club), UKC (United Kennel Club), CKC (Canadian Kennel Club), CKC (Continental Kennel Club)
CountrySwitzerland

History and Origin

The GSMD is one of the oldest breeds of Switzerland, and there are several theories behind its origination. The commonest of them all is that they descended from giant mastiff-like breeds brought to Switzerland by the Roman legions during their invasion of the Alps 2000 years back. The mating of these mastiff-kind dogs with the indigenous breeds might have led to the development of the GSMD.

Their ancestors, equally large and muscular, known as Metzgerhunde, served as all-purpose farm dogs, and were also responsible for developing St. Bernard and Rottweiler. The GSMD followed their forefather’s footsteps and emerged as efficient working dogs. They were primarily used by merchants, farmers, and herders for several purposes like pulling carts, guarding dairy cattle, and even keeping a watch on their property.

There was a significant decline in their numbers during the 18th century as their jobs in Swiss farms were eventually taken over by machines and other dog breeds. In 1908, Albert Heim, a geology professor, and dog researcher, identified two of the long-haired breeds shown as Bernese Mountain dogs to be a part of this breed. Helm went on to work towards the revival of the GSMD and took the initiative of giving them a distinct breed status. His efforts bore fruits, and in 1909 the Swiss Kennel Club recognized them as a separate breed. In 1912 the first breed club evolved in promoting this breed.

They reached the United States in 1968, and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America developed eventually. In 1985, they obtained entry in the AKC’s Miscellaneous Group and in July 1995 recognized in AKC’s Working Group. In 2020, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog ranked 78th in the AKC’s Most Popular Dog Breeds list.

Though their population has increased, they are still rare not only in the U.S., but also in their country of origin, Switzerland.

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog vs. Bernese Mountain Dog

Both breeds belong to the group of Sennenhund dogs originating in Switzerland. The GSMD is the oldest of the four dogs. The Berner and Swissy look similar in appearance and even match in temperament. One of the major distinguishing features is their size, the Swissy being larger than the Berner.

Greater Swiss Mountain DogBernese Mountain Dog
SizeBigger (85 – 140 pounds)Comparatively smaller (70 – 115 pounds)
LifespanLives longer (10 – 11 years)Lives for a shorter span (6-8 years)
Activity levelModerately highLow (as they are lazy dogs)
TemperamentAlert and vigilantAlert and good-natured
Stranger-friendlyHighSlightly low
TrainabilityEasy to moderately difficultEasy
PopularityLess familiarMore familiar

Temperament

When it comes to the temperament of these big dogs, everything positive seems associated with them since they are calm, dignified, and immensely friendly. They form a strong bond with their family and detest living all by themselves in a kennel or a crate.

Confident, vigilant, and alert about their surroundings, they make for great watchdogs, emitting a loud and clear bark upon sensing danger. Their big size, and loud vocalization, would be enough to drive any burglar away. They might appear scary to people, yet these canines don’t fall under the category of aggressive dogs. 

They have a decent and friendly approach towards children but shouldn’t be left unsupervised with little ones. Even in pursuit of play, these big dogs might knock down the kids, leading to accidents.

The Greater Swiss mountain dog also shares a comfortable rapport with other dogs. Though, proper socialization is needed as they, particularly the puppies, could get quite boisterous with their fellow mates during play. If you have cats or rabbits, don’t keep them with the Swissies since they could start nipping or chasing the former.

Care

Exercise

They have moderate exercise requirements, with a 30-40 minute walk a day sufficing to keep them physically fit and mentally content. Since they used to do tedious jobs, these dogs make for a good backpacking and hiking companion. Though they don’t need too much space irrespective of their size, most Swissies do better in homes with a yard or garden rather than a confined space of an apartment. Do not take it out without a leash, as if these big dogs get into their chasing mode, it could result in a hazardous situation.

They are prone to many health conditions, gastric dilatation-volvulus or bloating being one of them. Hence, make sure not to exercise it right after its meal, as that could aggravate this condition and even prove fatal in extreme cases. They aren’t comfortable going out when it is too hot as their dark coat might overheat in high temperatures leading to discomfort.

Grooming

This is a low maintenance breed, requiring brushing at least two times in a week, alongside a bath once in every month or a little earlier if it has gotten dirty. These double-coated dogs blow their coat two times a year, before the onset of summer and winter. They need a proper bath with a vet-approved shampoo during this time, succeeded by a thorough brushing using a shedding tool or rake. Also, follow the regular grooming regime like brushing its teeth three to four times a week, trimming its nails monthly, and cleaning its eyes and eyes regularly. Like other Swiss Mountain dogs, they too are messy when drinking, slobbering water all over. Hence, ensure to wipe their mouths well with cotton strips after a meal.

Health Problems

The common health problems they may suffer from include abdominal disorders, mainly bloating, and urinary inconsistency, alongside other ailments like epilepsy, hip dysplasia, and elbow dysplasia.

Training

Their loyalty and eagerness to please their masters make these dogs easy to train. However, their stubbornness could sometimes come in the way, making the training process a little challenging. They would need someone to handle them firmly and tactfully and implement positive reinforcement techniques in the training process.

Socialization: This should start as early as possible, perhaps in a few days after you bring the puppies home. Make them interact with different types of people, and even take them to many new places. This would help them gather experience, eventually helping o distinguish the good from the bad and a friend from a foe. If you have other dogs, make your Swissy live together with them since their puppy days. In this way, they will eventually shed off their territorial nature and learn to mingle peacefully with their fellows.

Obedience: Teaching them to follow basic commands like ‘Stop’, and “No’ may help the Swissies overcome their stubbornness, mainly triggered by their territorial nature. Also, hearing a firm ‘No’ from you the moment they get chasing or start doing something they shouldn’t, might make them stop their action.

Housetraining: The Greater Swiss Mountain dog is a little challenging to housetrain. So, begin to potty train them since the time they are puppies. Fix a schedule, like after every meal and before and after bedtime. Ensure that they are going to a fixed spot to eliminate; otherwise, it may create confusion. Also, teach it a particular command to relate to this action like “Go potty,” and at the end reward him with praise or treat after every successful move. In case of accidents, never be harsh on him, as it could negatively impact the training process.

Leash training: This is needed to keep its inherent chasing instinct under control.

Feeding

The Greater Swiss Mountain dog needs a good quality of dry dog food containing adequate protein, carbohydrate, and other essential nutrients. You may even give them a homemade diet of chicken and veggies, though consult your vet once before you do the same. Overfeeding is a strict no-no for these dogs as it could trigger a digestive disorder they are highly prone to.

Interesting Facts

  • The GSMDs have occupied a prominent place in media, featuring in different platforms. Mouse, hailing from Austin, Texas, was Keep Austin Dog Friendly’s mascot. Oscar the Grouch, another Greater Swiss Mountain dog, once featured in the Wall Street Journal’s front page.
  • These dogs have participated in weight pulling, and their present wheeled record pull is over 4800 pounds.

FAQs

Q. Do Greater Swiss Mountain dogs drool?

Yes, they drool because of their loose lips.

Q. Do the GSMDs swim?

They don’t swim but would paddle when placed in shallow water.

Q. What are the mixes of the GSMD and Rottweiler called?

Greater Swiss Rottweiler

Q. Do Greater Swiss Mountain dogs attack?

There are hardly any known instances of these dogs’ attacks as they are non-aggressive and have a low possibility of biting others.

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