The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a large, extremely strong worker famous for a dense coat of black, red, and white markings. Swissies descend from war dogs brought over the Alps by Julius Caesar’s troops. The Swiss used these mastiff-types when breeding their Alpine mountain dogs. Of these, Swissies are the oldest and the largest (or the “greater”).
In remote mountain regions, Swissies worked as herders, drafters, and pasture dogs specializing in hauling loads of meat and dairy to market in smartly outfitted dog carts. The Greater Swiss is related to the Bernese Mountain Dog and is a component breed of the Saint Bernard and the Rottweiler.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Appearance
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs range from 23 to 30 inches tall with their body length being slightly longer than tall. They are sturdy, heavy-boned, well-muscled, powerful, and confident.
Their coat is tri-colored black, red, and white. Their head and muzzle typically have a white marking (called the “blaze”), setting off a sweet expression. This is basically a “wash and wear” breed; no matter how dirty a mud hole they may find to play in, once dry the dirt falls off and their coat returns to its original shiny condition. Although they have a short-haired coat, they are double coated and do shed their undercoat usually twice a year. When this is occurring they benefit from a good bath and blow-out, followed by a thorough brushing with a rake or shedding tool. For the rest of the year the occasional bath and brushing usually does the trick. Most Swissy’s coats are odorless.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs life expectancy is 8 to 11 years. They are a happy, jovial breed with an enthusiastic nature and strong kinship to people and children. GSMDs are strongly dependent on people and crave attention and physical contact. As puppies, they can be quite boisterous and they require steady and reliable training to develop manners and physical self-control.
Swissys are great guard dogs with keen observation skills, but are accepting of non-threatening strangers. Whether the stranger is friendly or neutral, they are happy and inviting on approach. They are confident and comfortable in unfamiliar locations and stable around strange noises and unfamiliar people. They are reluctant to bite, doing so only under the direst of circumstances.
GSMDs are accepting of other dogs and cats. They have various degrees of herding instinct, some with very strong drive and others with moderate drive. Strong herding drive pairs closely with strong prey drive, leading to a desire to chase small animals as well as games of chase and tackle with small children if not directed and trained properly.
Swissys are capable of being quite athletic, but typically that activity is seen in bursts. Most Swissys are active for short periods of time followed by napping. Swissys want to be with their owners and want to participate so the activity level of the Swissy most often matches the activity level of the family. They are dependent dogs and need a strong leader in the home to avoid behavior problems.
Caring for a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog can thrive on many types of diet, from kibble to raw to a combination of both. The most serious issue with feeding the GSMD is overfeeding, which leads to many digestive problems, including loose stools, and also leads to obesity, which is one of the greatest health problems in the breed. All diets need to be appropriate for the dog’s age. To avoid an overweight Swissy, calorie consumption and weight level needs to be monitored. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. Of course, a veterinarian is the best resource when there are questions regarding diet.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog requires moderate exercise. A walk around the block or a swim will generally satisfy their daily exercise needs. Not all GSMD are like water, so take care to introduce water at a young age in a positive manner. Swissys are better suited for the person looking for a hiking companion than the person wanting a bicycling or marathon-running partner.
Young puppies should avoid extreme exercise; too much exercise interferes with proper growth of bones and joints. A Swissy puppy that is up and active needs the exercise and the puppy that just wants to lay down should be allowed to do so.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is capable of pulling carts loaded with 3000 pounds or more, and with this strength, they require training from an early age to respect a leash and must be taught not to pull as not to inadvertently injure a person. They should be very trainable and willing and able to learn repeated behaviors. The Swissy responds very well to encouragement and positive training, yet should also be able to handle reasonable correction. The Swissy is a breed that must learn proper manners such as not to chase small animals such as cats, squirrels and small dogs.
The most common health issues in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are distichiasis (extra eyelashes) and female urinary incontinence. Most often distichiasis causes no issues for the dog, but in some cases it can cause irritation that must be corrected. Allowing a female to have at least one heat cycle before sterilization has been demonstrated to help prevent urinary incontinence in this breed, though certainly it is no guarantee to avoid the problem entirely.
Uncommon but the most debilitating disease found in the GSMDs is epilepsy. The first signs of epilepsy generally occur between one and five years of age, and symptoms often increase as a dog matures and can be difficult to manage. Bloat/Gastric or Splenic Torsion are two life-threatening emergencies occurring when the stomach or spleen twists and fills with air, cutting off blood supply to the stomach or spleen causing the dog to go into shock and die very quickly. This is an emergency that requires immediate treatment.