Anyone interested in owning a Swissy should carefully consider the following:
The Swissy is a working breed and its disposition and temperament reflect this heritage. The GSMD was developed as a general purpose working dog. Swissys were used by farmers, small merchants, cattle dealers and itinerant peddlers as draft dogs, livestock drovers and watchdogs. All three of these characteristics are still very much evident in the breed. For the owner of a companion dog not involved in carting, weight pulling or herding, it is the Swissy’s natural instincts as a watchdog that will become apparent when the dog begins to mature.
It is this natural instinct as a watchdog that makes the Swissy in general quite territorial and consequently protective of his home and people. Unlike in other breeds of similar origin, the protective behavior of the Swissy in general is non aggressive. A Swissy will bark and run up to a stranger but will become friendly as soon as the owner signals to the dog that the stranger is a friend and not an intruder. Because of his size, the intensity of his voice and his particular approach to strangers (a Swissy usually stops a few feet away from the stranger and barks loudly, often with hackles up), a Swissy can be quite intimidating. The protective instinct, i.e. the defensive demeanor in a clear situation of threat towards the dog and his owner, varies from dog to dog; it can range from a mild response to a distinct protective posture. In temperament tests, some usually very easygoing Swissys have demonstrated that they would react quite forcefully in order to protect the owner.
To the companion dog owner, the Swissy’s heritage as a capable livestock drover becomes evident in the often highly developed prey drive. Swissys will chase small wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits and will kill them if they catch one. They will also often go after cats and small dogs if they are not accustomed early on how to live peacefully with other smaller house pets. For this reason, a puppy that will grow up and learn to properly interact with small pets is the best options for prospective owners who have cats or other small pet animals. On the other hand, because they were not bred or systematically used as hunting dogs, they might chase wildlife such as deer but they will neither pursue nor search for wildlife tracks.
Because of his origins as a dog working in constant and close relationship with his owner, the Swissy is a highly sociable breed that needs continuous interaction with humans. Swissys cannot be left to themselves confined in a backyard with a few minutes of attention a day during feeding time. Indifference to this human bond requirement can lead to excessive shyness or even aggressiveness towards people. Swissys must be kept as members of the family and included in as many activities as possible. While they absolutely love to live in the house, they do not to have to be kept indoors at all times. They can and will easily sleep in barns, garages or outbuildings provided there is sufficient shelter against heat or cold.
Swissys in general will make excellent family companions; however, they are not born as “family dogs”. They will need early, consistent and frequent socialization and exposure to all kinds of different situations in order to learn how to properly interact with children, adults and other house pets. Like in humans, Swissy temperaments vary greatly, even among puppies from the same litter. It can range from the calm and laid back to the more active or even very lively and spirited. A temperamentally sound and properly raised Swissy is steady, friendly and tolerant; initial aloofness towards strangers is a normal, indeed even desired characteristic. Unaltered males and females may be dominant with other dogs of the same sex; while this is often typical canine behavior, dominance or unpredictable or unprovoked aggression towards humans is not and cannot be tolerated under any circumstance.
With all the above in mind, prospective Swissy owners should determine clearly if the Swissy is truly the breed that they want to become a part of their family. Remember, the Swissy is not a Golden Retriever in a tricolored coat. It is a working breed dog with characteristics that are often not compatible with first time dog owners or people who have never owned a large working breed dog.
In addition… before you decide that the Swissy is the dog for you, think about:
Time: This is not a breed for the casual pet owner unable or unwilling to invest a considerable amount of time and effort into a canine companion during all of its life. Furthermore, the time factor is especially important during the puppy phase; during the day, a puppy up to about 6 months should not be left alone for longer than 4 hours at a time.
Space: Because of their farm dog heritage and their size, Swissys in general are best suited for single family homes with a fenced yard. However, that does not mean that they cannot be successfully raised and live in an apartment. The dedication of the owner to provide the dog with the appropriate attention, and adequate daily exercise is ultimately more important than the owner’s particular kind of dwelling.
Veterinary care: It is essential to have a good working relationship with a veterinarian who is thoroughly familiar with large breeds, and even better, with Swissys.
Money: Raising and maintaining a Swissy does not come cheaply. The purchase price is just the beginning. High quality food, training and veterinary care can add up in a hurry. In addition, medical care to correct conditions such as OCD or emergency treatment for GDV or splenic torsion will quickly amount to hundreds of dollars.
Swissys are beautiful, intelligent, loyal, hard working, lovable dogs and with the proper socialization, training and love make wonderful family dogs. They love their people unconditionally and fiercely. They are gentle and sweet with children and will make you laugh all day with their goofy tendencies.
ORIGIN OF THE GREATER SWISS MOUNTAIN DOG:
The Great Swiss Mountain Dog is considered among the oldest of the 13 original Swiss canine breeds. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund) is the largest of the four Swiss Sennenhund breeds, the others being the Berner (Bernese Mountain Dog), Appenzeller and the Entlebucher.
- The most popular theory states that these dogs are descendants of the Molossian, a large Mastiff type dog that accompanied the Roman legions on their conquest of vast areas of Central Europe in the 1st Century B.C.Another hypothesis is that a large canine breed was brought to Europe by the Phoenicians about 1100 B.C. when they settled in Spain. Supposedly, these dogs later migrated eastward and influenced the development of large Mastiff type dogs such as the Spanish Mastiff, Great Pyrenees, Dogue de Bordeaux, Great Dane, Rottweiler and others as well as eventually the large Swiss breeds such as the Saint Bernard and the Great Swiss and Berner Mountain Dogs.Yet another speculation assumes that a large breed was already in existence at the time of the Roman invasion of the alpine regions of Central Europe. The Roman dogs would have been crossed with these indigenous dogs. In Switzerland, these cross breedings eventually would have led to the development of the Saint Bernard and the two large Sennenhunde breeds, the Swissy and the Berner.
The ancestors of the Great Swiss Mountain Dog are of the type previously widely spread across Central Europe and frequently described as butchers’ or slaughterer’s dogs. They were strong, tricolor, sometimes black and tan or yellow dogs, popular with butchers, cattle dealers, manual workers and farmers, who used them as guards, droving or draught dogs and bred them as such.
On the occasion of the jubilee show to mark the 25 years of the founding of the “Schweizerische Kynologische Gesellschaft” (Swiss Kennel Club) SKG, held in 1908, two such dogs, called “short-haired Bernese Mountain Dogs”, were for the first time presented to Professor Albert Heim, for his assessment. This great promoter of the Swiss Mountain and Cattle dogs recognized in them the old, vanishing, large Sennenhund (mountain dog) or butcher’s dog.
They were recognized as a definite breed by the SKG and entered as “Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund” in volume 12 (1909) of the Swiss Stud Book. In the canton of Berne, further exemplars were found which measured up to Heim’s description and were introduced systematically into pure breeding stock. In January 1912 the club for “Grosse Schweizer Sennenhunde” was founded, which from then on took over the care and promotion of this breed.
For a long period the breed reservoir remained small as it was particularly difficult to find suitable bitches. Only since 1933 could more than 50 dogs annually be entered into the SHSB (Swiss Stud Book). The Standard was first published by the FCI on February 5th, 1939. Recognition and wider distribution came along with the breed’s growing reputation as demanding, dependable carrier or draught dogs in the service of the Swiss army during the second World War, so that by 1945 for the first time over 100 puppies could be registered, which was evidence of the existence of about 350-400 dogs. Today the breed is bred also in the adjacent countries and is appreciated universally for its calm, even temperament, especially as a family dog.
(Courtesy J.M. Paschoud, “The Swiss Canine Breeds”, Berne 1994)
The Swiss named the breed “Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund”. “Grosser” translates into “big, large, great”. The word “Senn” cannot be translated directly. It stands for an age-old agricultural occupation found in all alpine regions of Western and Central Europe. A Senn is a seasonal alpine dairyman. “Schweizer” and “Hund” simply mean “Swiss” and “dog”, respectively.
Quite understandably, the founding members of the “Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America” could not name the breed “Seasonal alpine dairyman’s dog”. And since the precedent to translate satisfactorily at least a part of the name existed already with the translation of the “Berner Sennenhund” into “Bernese Mountain Dog”, it was reasonable to use this also for the Swissy.
Those early club members then translated “Grosser” into “Greater”. According to one of the members, Patricia Hoffman, the club chose “Greater” over “Great, Large, Big” to differentiate the breed from others with the adjective “Great” in their names, such as the Great Dane or the Great Pyrenees. While the good intentions of these GSMDCA members are not in question, their understanding of the historical and grammatical context remains doubtful. In addition, it is highly unlikely that any dog fancier would confound a Swissy with a Dane or a Pyrenees just because they have the same adjective in their names…
When the venerable Dr. Albert Heim gave the breed its name at that fateful dog show in Switzerland in 1908, the other three Sennenhunde breeds had already been labeled as Berner, Appenzeller and Entlebucher Sennenhunde. Indeed, these breeds were named after the geographic regions in Switzerland where they originated from, i.e. the size was not the determining factor. And while the Swissy originally was more heavily represented in the canton of Bern, Dr. Heim did not choose to compare it to the other breeds based on geographic origins. Had he done so, he might have called it “Greater Bernese Mountain Dog”, or in German “Groesserer Berner Sennenhund”. He deliberately set the breed apart from the others and probably called it “Grosser” because it was a large Sennenhund of a type of dog commonly found in many rural areas of Switzerland outside of the canton of Bern.
Hence, the translation of “Gross, grosser, grosse” into “Greater” (“Groesserer” in German) is historically as well as grammatically incorrect. The Swiss Kennel Club, in its translation of the name, calls it “Great Swiss Mountain Dog”. The “Federation Cynologique Internationale” (FCI), the umbrella organization for national kennel clubs worldwide except the AKC and the British KC, also translated the German name into English as “Great Swiss Mountain Dog”.
As a native German speaker from Switzerland, Brigitte has used the term “Great Swiss Mountain Dog” in all her own written and spoken communications since becoming a member of the GSMDCA in 1989. However, at this time, the AKC approved name for the breed remains “Greater Swiss Mountain Dog” and for web search purposes, throughout this new version of the BCF website, the AKC approved name is used.
TRAINING YOUR GREATER SWISS MOUNTAIN DOG:
Because of the character and temperament of the breed, puppies will need early and intensive socialization and training in order to develop into a well adjusted adult. Depending on the individual owner’s situation, i.e. single, adults without children and families with kids, the socialization and training process can be approached in many different ways:
In order to familiarize the pup with new situations and people, take it out to the park, your kids’ ball games, the supermarket parking lot, to a pet store that allows pets to visit, to a friend’s house, etc., as often as you can.
To get the pup comfortable around other dogs, enroll it in puppy classes at an obedience training center. These classes offer excellent opportunity for the pup to interact with other dogs and to pick up a few basic obedience skills
To achieve a higher level of good manners and obedience, attend at least a couple of regular obedience classes, they are usually open for dogs over 6 months. Remember, it might be cute when your 25 lbs Swissys jumps up on you but it definitely is not anymore when your pup has grown into a 120-lbs adult! Also, continuous socialization with other dogs is very important for the balanced development of your Swissy. Note: If all possible, shop around for obedience instruction. Ask for references and talk to people who have attended classes. Like in any other field, there is a wide variation in the quality of these services.
The ultimate goal of socialization and basic good manners training is to end up with a confident and well behaved adult Swissy who is a joy and pleasure to live with for all family members, small or big, young or old.
Because of their generally rather placid disposition, Swissys require a moderate level of exercise. However, there are some basic guidelines regarding this subject:
Puppies: Exercise requirements for puppies differ from those of adults! Most young puppies get plenty of exercise from normal daily activities such as playing and interacting with family members or other dogs and regular potty outings. As the puppy grows, short walks can be included. Remember, a puppy is a baby and will need plenty of rest!
There are some important points to observe regarding exercise for Swissy puppies. Because Swissys are a large fast growing breed, their bones and joints are particularly prone to injuries. A dog carries most of its weight in its forequarters, and jumping down, slipping and sliding and rough play can all contribute to muscle, tendon and joint injuries. Hence,
Do not let a puppy run or jump down stairs, into or out of vehicles or other elevated objects such as furniture etc. When going down stairs, either carry the pup or keep it on a leash and make it walk slowly
Do not let a puppy routinely play or run on slippery surfaces such as bare floors
Do not let a puppy roughhouse and play with much larger and stronger dogs
Most puppies will clearly indicate when they have had enough action and want to rest. Hence, letting a pup exercise at its own pace is the best approach for any Swissy youngster.
Older pups, teenager and adults: Starting between 8 and 10 months, Swissys will need regular daily exercise i.e. they will need more structured exercise than during puppy hood. Routine access to a large yard does not necessarily guarantee that a Swissy gets enough exercise! Because Swissys are so people oriented, their primary objective is to be with their owners at all times. Hence, even with a big yard a Swissy owner must see to it that the dog actually uses it for more than just the usual bathroom trips.
Another dog in the household usually helps to increase the activity level for both, provided size and age do not interfere with regular active interaction such as playing and running.
One of the best, cheapest and most readily available exercises is of course walking. A brisk daily walk of 20-45 minutes will keep most Swissys in good shape. Off-leash walks will increase the amount of exercise but are often not feasible especially in suburban settings.
For people who do not have the time or do not like walking in inclement weather, an ordinary treadmill may be the solution. Most dogs will learn quickly how to walk on a treadmill. A wooden frame made of plywood enclosing the front and the sides will keep the dog from stepping or jumping off. 15-30 minutes of brisk treadmill work a day usually are quite adequate.
Generally, Swissys are quite easy keepers if a few basic recommendations are followed:
Feed a high quality (grain free if possible) food. Some examples are: Natures Domain (Costco), Blue Buffalo, Wellness, Evo, Taste of the wild, Canidae, Natural Balance, Solid Gold, Innova, Kirkland (Costco). You must be aware that kibble is a processed food and therefore not always the best for a dog, however it is the most economical and if used correctly it is just fine for a dog to eat throughout its life.
It is a good idea to add digestive enzymes and pro-biotics to your dogs’ food to help him better assimilate his food. Some dog nutritionists recommend putting water on dry kibble to help digestion. Additives like fish oil, and raw eggs are great for your dogs coat and skin.
If your budget allows it a ‘RAW’ diet is great (in our, BHS, opinion) for your dog. Raw diet products come in the form of either frozen, freeze dried, or dehydrated patties. Some examples of good Raw products are Stella and Chewys, Primal, The Honest Kitchen and others. The theory behind a Raw diet is the idea that dogs are still very similar to wolves, especially when it comes to digestion. Dogs do not handle grain and carbohydrates like people and ruminant animals do, they cannot adequately digest them. Please ask us for more information on Raw diets.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is characterized by its large, muscular stature and beautiful tri-colored markings. Males stand approximately 25.5 to 28.5 inches at the withers and weigh anywhere from 105 to 130 lbs. Females stand 23.5 to 27 inches, with weight ranging from 85 to 110 lbs.
Swissys as well as other large/giant breed dogs are prone to several health issues: Distichiasis/Entropian, Lick fit, Epilepsy, Bloat/Torsion, Splenic Torsion, Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, OCD of the shoulder. For more information about these medical issues go to www.gsmdca.org and look up health issues.
A dog is a living being and not a piece of machinery that can be guaranteed to be free of defects
most of the hereditary diseases are not just simple recessives but polygenic often making the prediction of eventual occurrence in a puppy an educated guess at best. We cannot guarantee the health of our puppies. What we guarantee is what we will do in case a genetic defect crops up after the pup has gone to its new home. Please do keep in mind that while breeding phenotypically sound animals will increase the odds for producing healthy progeny, it is not a foolproof guarantee that every single offspring will remain free of genetic disease as well. This is mainly due to the often complex mode of inheritance of many of the genetic diseases affecting Swissys.
While Swissys are perfectly happy to be simply family companions, there are many activities available that can be a lot of fun for owners and dogs. Some are held under the auspices of the AKC, others by the GSMDCA and/or other organizations. The rules and regulations of these events are listed on the respective web sites like www.gsmdca.org and gsmdca.org
AKC sanctioned events and activities: (usually requires your dog to be registered)
– Conformation Shows
– Junior Showmanship
– Obedience, Traditional and Rally style
GSMDCA sponsored activities, the GSMDCA has developed its own rules, regulations and titles for these 3 performance events:
– Weight pulling
– Pet Therapy
– Assistance Dog
– Search and Rescue
– Recreational carting