Height: 23” – 28.5”
Weight: 110 -154 pounds
Life Span: 8-11 years
Coloring: TRI-Black, Tan and White or Black, rust and white
Area of Origin: Swiss Alps
Similar Breeds: Bernese Mountain Dog, Appenzeller, Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Boxers, Bullmastiffs, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Great Pyrenees, Komondors, Kuvaszes, Mastiffs, St. Bernard and the Rottweiler.
History and Origin:
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is believed to have been developed from the mating of various indigenous Mastiffs in the Swiss Alps. The Mastiffs were brought to the Alps by outside settlers. The breed traveled from the height of popularity in Switzerland to the low of almost becoming extinct by the end of the 19th century. The reason for the decline in the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was that their role as herder and protector of livestock was taken over by other large ‘mountain dogs’.
Early in the 1900’s it was discovered that the breed had not died out and the Swiss made the effort to ensure that they did not. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a heavy boned, large dog with surprising agility for its size and strength. The breed can still do the work of herding and protecting that they were designed for. They are usually black with white and rust colors on their coat. They are a calm, social, and dignified breed that really loves to be with their people and apart of the family unit.
There are actually 4 types of Swiss Mountain Dogs and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is considered to be the oldest and the largest of these. In fact though, the origins of the breed are not entirely known. What is known is that in the 1500’s the peoples of the remote valleys surrounded by the Swiss Alps created various breeds of dogs by cross breeding all the indigenous dogs in the area.
It is believed that the four Swiss Mountain Dog or Sennenhund breeds actually came from a large Mastiff dog called the Molosser. These dogs were brought to the Alps by the Romans while building the Roman Empire. Many don’t believe this theory, but rather believe that in 1100 BC a very large breed of dogs was brought to Spain by the Phoenicians. These dogs migrated to the east and were prominent in the development of many mountain dog breeds including the Sennenhund breeds, Dogue de Bordeaux, Great Pyrenees and the Spanish Mastiff.
Another theory about the breed is that there was a large indigenous breed in central Europe as humans began to grow crops and domesticate animals. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs were created when native farm dogs bred with large Mastiff-types that the settlers brought to Europe and specifically to Switzerland. Farmers, merchants and herdsman took advantage of the skills and talents of these large mountain dogs. Their jobs included drawing heavy carts, moving and protecting the herds. They also served as guard dogs and family pets.
As time passed more and more selective breeding led to certain breeds performing certain functions, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog became a drafting and dover herding the farm livestock. They are a strong multi-purpose dog that could pull carts, herd livestock, protect the animals and the human family. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was so good at this they became known as “the poor man’s horse”. However by the time of World War I, the breed was on its way to extinction as other dogs and machines took over their jobs.
Then in 1908, Franz Schertenlieb took two short-haired Bernese Mountain Dogs to meet Professor Albert Heim. He claimed the Bernese was representative of the vanishing Swiss mountain dog. Heim was an expert in the Sennenhunds and single handedly worked to reestablish these breeds. In 1909 he succeeded in getting the dogs recognized by the Swiss Kennel Club. All four of the Sennenhund breeds were saved from extinction by the efforts of Schertenlieb.
In 1912 the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breed club was formed. Before 1913 there was very little documented about any of these four dogs. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is documented by Dr. Heim alone. Heim believed that the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was the most popular among the mountain peoples of Switzerland during the late 1800’s.
There are some who dispute this saying if it were true the breed would not have been nearly extinct some thirty years later. This leaves the origins and the history of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog up for grabs. No one is really sure how the breed got to where they were in the early 1900’s when Heim came to their rescue.
There was a dog in Germany known as the butcher dog or Metzgerhund. Many believe these are ancestors to the Sennenhunde as they served as draft dogs, guard dogs, and herder/drovers, The description of these dogs as having rough, short coats in brown, yellow or black with white and brown, fits the early descriptions of the Sennenhunde as well. Both Heim and Schertenleib chose the best looking of all these dogs, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog to begin its development as a pure breed. St this point in their history the breed was rougher and stockier than they are today. The coloring of these original dogs was off as well with a yellow mixed in with the black.
The 20th century has seen a time of great growth among the mountain dogs even as they grew slowly. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is still rare in both Switzerland and the United States. They were used as draft dogs by Switzerland yet there were only 350 to 400 dogs in existence. It took until 1968 for the first GSMD to be imported to the United States. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog of America Club was formed in 1983 and held its first National Specialty (GSMDCA). At that time there were 257 registered Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs and it was not until 1995 that the American Kennel Club granted the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog full recognition as members of the Working Group.
These Swiss breeds included the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, The Bernese Mountain Dog, Appenzell Cattle Dog and the Entlebuch Cattle Dog. These four breeds of dogs share the same marking and color. They were all used as herding, guarding and drafting dogs. It is believed that the GSMD was influential in the development of the St. Bernard.
As the oldest of the Swiss breeds, the GSMD is also the largest and shares the same markings and colors as the others. The Bernese Mountain Dog is closest in looks and size to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. The Bernese is the only Sennenhund with a long coat and the male is 25-27inches tall compared with the Swissy at 26-28.5 inches tall. The Swiss Mountain Dog usually outweighs the Bernese by 10-15 pounds.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs take longer to mature than other breeds doing so in 2-3 years instead of 1.5-2 years.
Personality and Temperament:
The personality and temperament of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is what makes him such a joy to be around. They are happy and enthusiastic dogs that love children and people in general. They are a calm yet active breed, a dignified canine.
They need to be with their people and are not happy if you leave them in a crate or in the yard. They need human companionship and affection. Because of this they are eager to please and the greatest reward you can give a Greater Swill Mountain Dog is physical affection.
Even though they are working dogs they are not as aloof or self-contained as many other breeds of mountain dogs and herding dogs. They are self-confident, intelligent and learn quickly. They are great with kids and other dogs or other pets, even though they can be stubborn. They are good watchdogs but they will quickly accept anyone you accept into your house or pack.
Their watching consists of barking when they perceive that something is not right. Yet they are protective and loyal. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is incredibly observant and they notice the details in their world and when something is out of place, they will bark an alarm. They will then stand their ground and appear incredibly intimidating to whoever they see as the threat, whether it be another dog, a wild animal or a person.
Exercise & Training:
Being a larger breed the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog won’t have the energy of a Jack Russell Terrier but they will need at least moderate exercise. Walk them daily and for at least an hour if possible. Use this as training time in that you need to teach him to heal so he learns that the person is his leader and he is not the leader. Don’t overheat him.
As he is intelligent and quick to learn he is also stubborn and determined to do things his way. They have issues around housebreaking and some Swissies will take a few weeks while others might take up to 6 months. You will also want to teach them not to chase cars and animals, nor to eat anything they see.
They are after all working dogs and need to have a job.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog needs to be brushed at least once or twice every week. They have a double coat with the inner coat being the same length as the outer coat. They do shed or blow their undercoat seasonally and during this time more grooming and brushing is needed.
Nails need to be clipped and ears need cleaned every 40-8week. Flush any foreign matter out of the ears. You will only have to bath your Greater Swiss Mountain Dog every few months or even just a couple times a year. When you do bath your GSMW you will need to do so twice. First is a normal bath with your basic shampoos in order to remove any normal dirt. After your dog is clean and depending on the time of year you might have to wash him again – when shedding use a shedding shampoo such as SimpleShed Shampoo.
You might also need a comb, brush and undercoat rake for deshedding your GSMW.
Health and Wellness:
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a fairly healthy breed. They have many less health issues than other breeds of a similar size, but they do have some issues. These issues include distichiasis and entropion of the eye, urinary incontinence, epilepsy, licking behavior, bloat, dysplasia/degenerative joint disease, spleen tumors, Osteochondrosis, and hip dysplasia.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is part of a group of large working dogs that are susceptible to bloat. Bloat is the number one cause of death among the GSMD breed. These dogs have deep chests and if they eat too much food or water too quickly, or exercise too much after eating or undergo a lot of stress, bloat can quickly occur. Bloat displays with a distended abdomen, lethargy, depression and excessive salivating. Bloat will shut down the supply or blood to the heart and block up the esophagus. The dog can then goes into shock and die quickly.
Females can have urinary incontinence while sleeping. This is obviously not a life threatening condition. About 20% of the female GRMDs are susceptible to this. This is also the cause of many Urinary Tract Infections as well.
Another potentially very serious health issue is Idiopathic Epilepsy with no cause that can be found and frequent seizures. Some cases of this are very serious and some are not. It can show up between the ages of 12 months and 5 years.
Interesting Facts About the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
- Other names used for the Swiss Mountain Dogs include the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund, Swiss Cattle Dog, Sennenhund, and Great Swiss Cattle Dog.
- The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog has held a variety of jobs including as a guard or watchdog, herding dog. They notice all the details in their surroundings and if they sense anything unusual they will alert their people.
Organizations Dedicated to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America
- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Rescue Foundation
- Rescue Me! Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Rescue