Also known as a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog or a ‘Swissy’, this breed was developed to do all sorts of work: herding, pulling carts, standing guard, etc. They are large, playful dogs that love being active so they might not be the best option for a novice owner looking for a couch potato or those in an apartment/condo. These dogs were developed in the Swiss Alps and are well suited for colder climates. But they’re not great with long periods of alone time and prefer being with their families so this breed doesn’t do well as a strictly outdoor dog.
The Great Swiss Mountain Dog is a descendent of Molossians, mastiff-type dogs brought to what is now Switzerland by the Romans, and Alpine mountain dogs (also known as Sennehunds). There are now four Sennehund breeds: the Great Swiss Mountain Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Entlebucher Mountain Dog, and Appenzeller Sennehund. Swissies, as a breed, often worked in remote mountain passes with farmers and butchers and in addition to helping with livestock, these dogs would help pull carts of meat and dairy. Another nickname they got that highlighted their important relationship to these workers was Metzgerhunde, which means “butcher’s dogs” in German.
Because of their history as working dogs and pulling carts, these dogs are energetic and love to be active but need to be taught leash manners from an early age. One or two daily walks is the least amount of exercise a Great Swiss Mountain dog needs but they also excel in activities like drafting (pulling a cart/wagon), agility/obedience trials, backpacking, and hiking. If you’re in need of a herding dog on your farm, this might be the breed for you!
- Some Great Swiss Mountain Dogs can pull 3,000-4,000 pounds in a cart!
Great Swiss Mountain Dogs do really well with families and cold weather, as they’re affectionate, friendly, and double coated. Their outer coat is only about one or two inches in length so the short coat makes it seem like they’d do well in hotter climates. But that tri-colored outer coat is dense and their undercoat is thick so hot temperatures are hard for them. Weekly brushing should suffice for most of the year but will shed a lot during their biannual ‘blow-outs’ when their undercoat sheds.
Additionally, these dogs do not do well with a lot of alone time. They love attention and company so they’ll want to be with their families and they often love spending time with other dogs. Their gentle and loving nature makes them great with young, respectful kids. Because of their size, these dogs might cause a few accidents so make sure to keep an eye on them if there are really small children. Their size and high energy also make them unsuited for apartments or condos.
Generally, this breed is pretty healthy but prone to some health conditions, like hip or elbow dysplasia, osteochondrosis dissecans (improper cartilage growth in joints, causing pain stiffening in elbows or shoulders), patellar displacement, and bloat. They also might deal with eye issues like cataracts and an inward rolling of the eyelid. There’s even a specific but mysterious issue called the ‘swissy lick’, where a swissy will start to franticly lick or swallow anything in sight. The cause is unknown but treated with gas/acid-reducing medications.
Ultimately, the Great Swiss Mountain Dog would make a great companion on hikes or backpacking trips or with active families! You’ll need to be mindful of hot temperatures, as these dogs do not do well in the heat because of their thick, dense double coat. Care can be relatively for these large dogs and their fun personality makes them great to be around.