The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is one of the four Sennerhunde dogs from the Swiss Alps. They are considered the largest, as well as the oldest, among these breeds. While their large size, fearless nature and sturdy build make them excellent watchdogs, these dogs are very loyal and affectionate with their owners. They are particularly gentle with children and make great family dogs. They are even friendly with other household pets.
Originating in Switzerland, these large dogs were mainly guardians of livestock and draft dogs. They are thought to have descended from either the Molossian dogs or resulted from Mastiffs brought in by the Romans interbreeding with local dog breeds. Another theory about their origin claims that these dogs came with the Phoenicians who had reached Spain around 1000BC.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs were the most popular Swiss dogs at one time, spreading to other European countries and mixing in with respective local breeds. But they retained their guarding and herding instincts throughout. Nevertheless, they had significantly reduced in numbers towards the end of the 19th century.
The three other Swiss dog breeds namely, Appenzeller, Bernese, and Entlebucher, along with the Greater Swiss Mountain dog breed were collectively called “Metzgerhunde Dogs” and had similar physical features. They were thought of as a single breed until extensive research by Professor A. Heim discovered certain basic differences between them besides the differences in size and stature. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was recognized as a separate breed in 1908, but the World Wars affected their popularity, as in the case of many European breeds that were well known about this time.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breed was introduced to the United States only in 1968, and got recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1985. However, they were accepted into the Working Group only in 1995.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breed is large and muscular, reflecting its great physical strength. The dogs measure 25 to 29 inches at the withers and weigh up to 115 pounds. These dogs are slightly longer than their height, and have well developed chest. The large ears lie folded at the sides of the head and the long tapering tail is carried low, except when the dog is alert or in action.
Their thick, double coat is a combination of black, white and rust, a feature they share with other Sennenhunde breeds. They typically have a rust spot above the eyes. Some dogs may have liver and tan in place of black and rust, while some predominantly rust-colored dogs may be completely devoid of black.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is an active and sociable breed that has a special affinity to children. They like to stay close to their owners and seek physical contact. These dogs are intelligent and quick to learn, but has an independent and slightly stubborn nature. Early socialization and training to rein in their boisterous nature help bring out the best in these dogs.
Being working dogs, they need plenty of exercise and ample space. They are eager to please, and gladly do any job, be it herding, pulling weight or carting. They have great strength, but not as much stamina to work continuously. They like frequent rests to punctuate bursts of intense activity.
Grooming and exercise
The thick coat of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breed generally requires very little grooming. A thorough weekly brushing is sufficient except during the major shedding period when daily brushing will help keep the coat neat and reduce loose hair all over the place.
Being a working dog, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are always seeking something to do. They like to roam around in the cold climate, and their need for exercise and activity can be satisfied to a great extent by several brisk walks, or long hikes in the mountain trails whenever possible.
These dogs can live outdoors round the year in areas with mild climate. They are particularly at home in colder weather, thanks to their dense double coat. But these affectionate breed loves human company, and when kept as a family dog, it is better off spending the nights indoors with the family.
Common health issues of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breed
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breed is a relatively healthy breed compared to other dog breeds of this size. They are prone to hip dysplasia and a painful temporary condition called panosteitis during their rapid growth phase. Gastric torsion is risk in this breed, and requires immediate medical attention. Eye problems like entropion and distichiasis are occasionally seen. Urinary incontinence is very common in this breed. The lifespan of this breed vary greatly between 6 years and 12 years.