These massive, hardworking dogs may look intimidating at first because of their size, but it won’t take long to realize that these loving, amiable dogs really just want to make new friends.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, frequently shortened to “Swissies,” or “GSMDs” are named for the mountain range from which they hail. They were originally bred by the Swiss as working dogs, most frequently used on the farm for herding cattle and pulling heavy carts. However, their massive size and thunderous bark also made them useful watchdogs, a job many of them continue to have today.
If you’re looking for a big, loveable, energetic dog, then the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog may be the breed for you.
- Descendants from Julius Caesar’s legions’ war dogs which were brought over the Swiss Alps
- Closely related to the Bernese Mountain Dog
- A newer breed to the AKC recognized officially in 1995
- Frequently used as search and rescue dogs
- The oldest and largest of the Swiss Mountain breeds
Although the Swissy’s long history is slightly murky, we do know a few things about this magnificent breed. Most likely, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog’s ancestors were war dogs brought over the Swiss Alps by Julius Caesar’s legions. However, the Swissy didn’t retain a reputation as a war dog.
Instead, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs were used primarily on farms as working dogs. They were considered one of the most popular breeds in Switzerland up until the 1900s when their numbers began to go down as machinery and other breeds took over their work.
However, in 1908, researcher Albert Heim revived the breed when he saw two of these dogs at a Swiss Kennel Club jubilee. At the time, they were considered Bernese Mountain Dogs, but in 1909, Heim managed to get the Swissy to be considered a breed of its own.
The first Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs were brought to America in 1968, and the breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1995. Today, Swissies enjoy life as loving and gentle family members around the world.
Appearance and Vital Stats
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a huge breed, but don’t let the size intimidate you. Their keen, curious expressions show their truly kind and friendly natures.
At the same time, their muscular and sturdy bodies demonstrate that this dog is ready for hard work.
Dog Breed Group
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is part of the Working Dog Breed Group. These are dogs trained specifically for their strength as well as their intelligence. Dogs in this group generally make great watchdogs, but because of their energy levels and strength, they do best with knowledgeable owners and may not be well suited for beginners.
One of the Swissy’s defining features is its massive size. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are the largest of the four Alpine breeds, with males standing 25.5 to 28.5 tall, and females 23.5 to 27 inches tall.
Male Great Swiss Mountain Dogs generally weigh 115 to 140 pounds, while females weigh around 85 to 110 pounds.
Like many large dogs, Swissies live generally shorter lives than smaller breeds. You can expect your Greater Swiss Mountain Dog to live around 8 to 11 years.
Coat and Colors
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog sports a tricolor coat with the topcoat being black with accents of tan or rust on the face, legs, and chest, and white blazing on the head, chest, legs, and tail. The Swissy’s coat is dense, consisting of a topcoat about 1 ¼ to 2 inches in length.
The Swissy also has a thick and dense undercoat. This undercoat may be a different color than the topcoat and can be a dark grey, light grey, or tawny color.
During the majority of the year, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog will shed regularly, and won’t usually require more than a quick brushing once a week. However, like most double-coated dogs the Greater Swiss Mountain dog will “blow out” his undercoat twice a year during shedding season. During these periods, expect to need to groom your dog much more frequently. Investing in a good vacuum to clean up the massive amounts of fur around your house will be beneficial.
The Swissy’s tail is thick and tapers slightly at the tip. When the dog is relaxed, the tip of the tail will reach the dog’s hocks. If the dog is alert, he will carry his tail upright, and there may be a slight curve to it.
The Greater Swiss Mountain dog’s ears sit high up on the dog’s head. They are v-shaped with gentle rounding at the tip and fold over against the dog’s head instead of standing erect.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog may put off potential owners at first glance, purely because of their size. But the intimidating musculature of the Swissy belies a friendly, kind personality. These are gentle dogs who love to play, make new friends, and have fun.
However, it’s important not to forget about the Swissy’s alert and watchful nature. These dogs may be friendly and gentle, but their use as watchdogs in the past is still a huge part of their personalities. They don’t tend to be aggressive, but they won’t hesitate to let you know if they think someone is getting a little too close to their territory.
As for training, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is generally agreeable, like most dogs in the Working Dog Breed Group. Although they can be stubborn on occasion, a kind, patient owner who’s ready to put in the work will find themselves with a loyal, well-trained dog. Swissies tend to be extremely food-motivated, so having a pocketful of treats on hand will help too.
This is not a breed generally well-suited to life in an apartment. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are used to having a lot of space in which they can roam around, so a fenced-in yard is a must for these dogs.
Since Swissies are also watchdogs by nature, being in such close proximity to your neighbors may also be an issue if you’re thinking of bringing one of these dogs into your apartment complex. Your neighbors aren’t likely to appreciate the breed’s loud bark every time they feel something’s amiss.
Children & Other Pets
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are generally very patient animals. This makes them great companions for children, and their friendly natures make them well-suited for young companions. However, you should never leave your young children alone with your dog unsupervised. The Swissy especially, as a large dog, may easily knock over toddlers and younger kids without meaning to.
Swissies love the companionship of other dogs and will spend lots of time romping around and playing rough with any other dogs in your home. However, they may not tolerate small animals well. Prey drives within the breed vary greatly from individual dog to individual dog, and while some dogs can live happily with small animals like cats or rodents, other Swissies may struggle with their prey instincts.
As a large, active breed, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog will need about four to five cups of high-quality dry dog food every day. It’s best practice to split this into two separate meals to keep your dog feeling full throughout the day and prevent overeating.
The Swissy isn’t generally prone to obesity. That said, it’s still important to measure your dog’s daily caloric intake and give him appropriate levels of exercise to keep him at a healthy weight.
Throughout the majority of the year, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog will require minimal grooming. You’ll only need to brush him about once or twice a week, and the occasional bath every few months will help keep his fur and skin healthy.
Twice a year during shedding season, your Swissy will “blow out” his undercoat in preparation for the change in weather. During this period, daily brushing will be necessary.
You should also remember to trim his nails about weekly and check and clean his ears once a week using a vet-approved cleaning solution.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are fairly active animals who will need regular daily exercise to stay happy and healthy. Taking your dog for a brisk walk or a hike is a great way to keep up with his exercise needs.
In general, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are healthy dogs. They experience fewer overall health issues than other dogs of similar size, although like all breeds can be prone to certain health issues.
Like many large breed dogs, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is commonly affected by hip dysplasia. This is a condition in which the hip joint’s bones don’t fit together properly, which causes the bones to grate or grind together instead of sliding into place.
This causes degeneration of the joint over time, and can eventually result in arthritis or lameness of the affected leg. If your dog has hip dysplasia, you may notice him limping or favoring one leg. Depending on the severity, your vet may recommend corrective surgery.
This condition affects a significant portion of Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs. It’s unclear what exactly causes this condition, although gastrointestinal pain may the culprit. During a lick fit, your Swissy may begin frantically licking anything that’s in proximity. It tends to occur more frequently in younger Swissies, but older dogs can get it as well.
If your dog is experiencing the Swissy lick, your vet may recommend acid-reducing and gas-reducing medications.
Gastric Dilation Volvulus
Gastric dilation volvulus or bloat commonly affects large, deep-chested breeds like the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. This occurs when the dog’s stomach fills with food, gas, or liquid and then twists. It is a life-threatening condition.
If you notice your dog is suddenly lethargic, drooling, an enlarged or painful abdomen, or restlessness, then it’s important to get to your vet right away.
Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese Mountain Dog is the closest relative to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. They are generally the same size as Swissies and share similar colorations and markings. However, the Berner’s coat is longer than the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog’s and requires more frequent brushing.
Bernese Mountain Dogs were commonly used as working dogs on farms throughout Switzerland. These dogs still retain high levels of energy and will require regular daily exercise. Berners are also easy to train, as they are eager to please their owners.
As one of the four Swiss Mountain dog breeds, the Appenzeller Sennenhund is closely related to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. They are smaller than the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, though you’ll find the same types of colorings and markings on the Appenzeller Sennenhund.
These are incredibly spirited and lively dogs. In fact, if you own an Appenzeller Sennenhund, you might feel like they’re always on the go. For this reason, a properly fenced-in yard where your Appenzeller Sennenhund can run around is an absolute must.
If you’re thinking of adopting an Appenzeller Sennenhund, then the hardest part might be finding a dog in the first place. This is a rare breed, and locating a breeder close to you may prove to be quite the challenge. However, if you do manage to find an ethical Appenzeller Sennenhund breeder, you’ll be treated to a unique, loyal companion for life.
Entlebucher Mountain Dog
As one of the other Swiss Mountain breeds, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog’s coloring and coat are similar to that of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. However, these dogs are a fair bit smaller than the Swissy.
Entles are incredibly active dogs and will need a lot of exercise every day. Signing your Entlebucher Mountain Dog for dog sports is a great way to keep your dog active, as well as increase the bond between the two of you. They do particularly well with agility, which makes sense as they were originally bred to herd cattle in the mountains regions from which they hail.
Today, these dogs make fantastic family companions. As long as you can keep up with their exercise requirements, you’ll find yourself with a vivacious and faithful dog.