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Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Breed Info: Pictures, Traits & Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Greater Swiss Mountain

Height: 23-28 inches
Weight: 85-140 pounds
Lifespan: 10 to 11 years
Colors: Black, red, white, tricolor
Suitable for: Families, farmers, as general working dogs
Temperament: Sensitive, alert, loyal, bold, intelligent, devoted, protective, gentle, dignified

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (GSMD) is one of Switzerland’s oldest breeds, first developed in the Swiss Alps. At one point, they were one of the most popular breeds in the region, but their numbers dropped in the early 19th century due to the prominence of other farm dogs and machinery. They slowly made a comeback but were only officially recognized by the AKC in 1995. These dogs are confident and devoted animals, and with this headstrong character can come a fair bit of stubbornness. Also affectionately referred to as a “Swissy,” this dog has a long working heritage but nowadays, is mostly kept as a loving companion animal.

This is a giant breed, and although their powerful stature and big energy may be intimidating at first, in reality, they are gentle and loving dogs. That being said, they are large and powerful animals that may not be well-suited to novice owners. This large size paired with a deep and loud bark makes them ideal watchdogs, and despite their enormous proportions, they only need a moderate amount of exercise. These dogs love to have a job to do and will excel when presented with a challenge. They love agility and obedience training and take to it quickly, which makes them frequently used as search and rescue and service animals. Due to their large size, they are not well suited to apartments or small homes and will do well in a home with a fenced yard.

These dogs can be a challenge with their large size and stubborn character, but those who are prepared to take on the challenge will be rewarded with a loving dog with unmatched loyalty and devotion. If you feel like you could be up for it, read more below about this gentle giant.

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Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Puppies

greater swiss mountain dog puppy
Image Credit: hc1225, Shutterstock

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog has a comparatively long puppyhood. These dogs are slow to mature, both physically and mentally, and may take up to 3 years before they are fully grown out of puppyhood. They grow rapidly between 4 and 7 months, so be prepared to up their protein intake substantially. Early socialization and obedience training are essential with these giants, as they are a handful. A dog this size is not to be taken lightly, and they’ll need a firm but gentle hand in training from the beginning.

They are usually a beautiful tri-color mix of black, brown, and white, with drooping ears and contemplative brown eyes. Their coat consists of a dense outer coat over a thick undercoat, with a smooth sheen and minimal shedding. They are well suited to cold climates with their Swiss heritage and are thus highly sensitive to heat and should not be worked too hard in the sun.

These dogs are big and in character and are a worthy companion for any owner up for the challenge.

Temperament & Intelligence of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog 🧠

Loyalty, devotion, and protection are the hallmarks of Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs. These qualities, combined with their gentle and loving nature, have made them a popular choice as companion animals. They are strong dogs, with a large presence physically and energetically. They are remarkably agile despite their large size and incredible power, having spent years navigating mountain terrain.

They are bold and confidant animals, and this trait can lead to stubbornness at times, making training a challenge for novice owners. Added to their large stature, they can be a handful. They are highly alert, with a constant look of awareness on their face and always calmly observing their surroundings. While these dogs aren’t overly energetic, they have the endurance and stamina of a small horse! They can move at a constant pace through any terrain for hours on end, even though a sprint will swiftly tire them.

Swissies have an abundance of enthusiasm and joy for any activity you involve them in — especially mealtimes! Despite their rescue in the early 20th century, they are still a fairly rare breed, and if you manage to get one, they are sure to turn heads.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 🏡

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are great family dogs, and despite their heritage as working animals, they are mostly kept as companion pets nowadays. They are highly loyal and dedicated to their “pack” and will make one of the best guard dogs out there with their keen alertness and loud, booming bark. Their dedication to their pack means they will not enjoy being left alone at home for extended periods, so having other dogs for them to be around is highly recommended. While they are gentle giants, they are boisterous and are likely to knock over small children unintentionally.

They are friendly and amenable enough to be perfect family dogs yet protective and territorial enough to compare with the best watchdogs.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets? 🐶 😽

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog will get along with other family pets, as they do not have a very powerful prey drive or hunting instinct. Even so, early socialization is key to ensuring a good relationship between the family and pets. Once this is established, other pets will likely be seen as a part of your Swishy’s pack!

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog in winter
Image Credit: Liliya Kulianionak, Shutterstock

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Things to Know When Owning a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are big and powerful animals with a matching appetite. They are highly motivated by food, which is great for training; however, they are prone to overeating. These massive pooches will need around 6 cups of high-quality kibble a day, ideally divided into two meals. The kibble should ideally be a low-calorie, high-protein variety to keep up with this powerful dog’s metabolism and prevent obesity issues.

These dogs will benefit from a diet rich in animal or fish-based protein. Lean meats and occasional organ meats are a great addition to their regular diet, as feeding them on meat exclusively can be prohibitively expensive. The kibble you choose to feed them should be free of any fillers like wheat or corn, as this can quickly cause them to become overweight. Obesity is one of the biggest concerns with these dogs and can have a domino effect on poor health. Large dogs like the Swissy are prone to hip and joint issues, and being overweight will exacerbate the problem exponentially.

Exercise 🐕

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are not extremely high-energy animals and thus, do not require any major exercises to stay healthy and happy. That being said, like all dogs, they do require some form of regular exercise every day. An hour or two a day will suit your Swissy just fine. This can be a brisk walk or jog in the park or some mentally stimulating play in the back yard.

However, these dogs have a long history as working animals and have endurance and stamina to match any other breed. This makes them an ideal companion for a wide variety of activities, including drafting (pulling a cart or wagon), agility, herding, obedience trials, and search and rescue.

A word of caution, though: They were developed in the cold mountainous regions of the Swiss Alps and are accustomed to cold but highly sensitive to heat. They can quickly overheat in the summer sun, so extra precautions need to be taken into consideration. Make sure there is plenty of water to drink and shady spots for them to rest in when exercising if you live in hot climates. They also love to swim if they get the chance.

Greater Swiss Mountain by the lake
Image Credit: VillaNiyati, Pixabay

Training 🦮

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog has a reputation for being independently minded, and this can lead to stubbornness that can present a challenge when training. When they feel so inclined, they will pick up commands quickly due to their high intellect. But if your Swissy is not in the mood, best of luck to you!

Another challenge with training this breed is that they are slow to mature, staying in the “puppyhood” stage for up to 3 years. This is why early socialization is essential, as is beginning basic forms of training from the moment that you bring them home. Making training as fun and interactive as possible and a regular part of the daily routine will help establish the fundamentals of an obedient Swissy. From day one, make them sit for food, sit for exiting the house or entering the house, and eventually stay when leaving too. These simple commands are the basis of good training, and they can be incorporated into your everyday life with your dog. Try and keep actual training sessions short, around 15-20 minutes. It’s better to have two small sessions a day rather than one long one, as this will lessen the chance of them becoming bored or distracted.

Grooming ✂️

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog has an attractive short and coarse coat that doesn’t require any special attention to maintain other than a weekly brush to remove any dead hair. You may need to brush more frequently during shedding seasons, but these dogs are not known to be heavy shedders. Other than that, regular teeth brushing and occasional toenail clipping are all that’s required.

Health Conditions ❤️

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs have a lifespan of around 10 years or 12, in rare cases. This is partly due to their large size but also partly due to several genetic disorders and health problems that the breed is prone to suffer from.

Obesity is, unfortunately, a common problem with this breed. The health concerns that can snowball from this include digestion issues, hip and joint problems, and back issues, to name but a few. It is a condition that is easily avoided yet can have drastic health problems if left to get out of hand. Regular exercise and a healthy low-calorie diet will go a long way in preventing this issue.

Gastric torsion is common in large dogs with deep and narrow chests, leaving your GSMD particularly susceptible. When the stomach bloats, it can twist on itself and fill with gas, cutting off the blood supply to the stomach.

Hip and elbow dysplasia are common in these large, weighty dogs and are further accented by obesity and lack of exercise. These are inherited diseases in which the joints do not form correctly, potentially leading to arthritis.

Lick fits is a term used by GSMD owners to describe the incessant licking that these dogs can be prone too. The dogs will obsessively lick anything that they can find and gulp air and constantly swallow for a few hours at times. It is more common in younger dogs and is thought to point at some kind of underlying gastrointestinal problem. Feeding your Swissy several small meals in the day as opposed to one large meal should help prevent this unique phenomenon.

Minor Conditions
  • Allergies
  • Heat stress
  • Bloat
  • Obesity
  • Dental disease
  • Lick fits
Serious Conditions
  • Cancer
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Gastric torsion
  • Epilepsy
  • Arthritis

Male vs Female

These dogs thrive living in packs, so we recommend having at least one other dog in your home to keep your GSMD company. The dogs you already own will make the choice of a male or female easier, as having dogs of the opposite sex will usually result in a more peaceful household, as it lessens the chance of competition. If your Swissy is spayed or neutered, however, this should not be a problem.

In general, male GSMDs tend to be more outgoing and playful than females and not prone to the mood swings that can often occur in females. The males tend to be slower to mature, sometimes resulting in a clumsy dog that is not aware of their size. This makes females quicker to learn during training and less easily distracted than males.

These are generalizations, however, and all dogs are individuals that are highly influenced by their upbringing and environment.

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3 Little-Known Facts About the Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

1. They have exceptionally powerful pack instincts

With their herding and working heritage that often involved several dogs, Swissies have a strong pack instinct. They are protective of their pack and will become highly distressed if one member wanders off. Of course, in your home, you and your family will become your Swishy’s pack, and they will become attached and protective of everyone. They will quickly aim to establish themselves as the pack leader, so early training is essential for them to learn their place.

2. They are one of the oldest of the Sennenhund family of dogs

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a part of the Sennenhund family of dogs, which includes the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Appenzeller, and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog. This family of dogs is all similar in appearance and temperament but vary widely in size, the Swissy being the biggest and oldest. The name Sennenhund refers to the Swiss herdsman associated with the dogs, called the Senn or Senner.

3. They almost became extinct

These large and powerful dogs were used primarily for pulling carts through mountains and on farms and at one point, were one of the most common dogs found in Switzerland. At the beginning of the 19th century, the need for dogs to pull carts declined drastically due to horses and machinery. Luckily, they were saved by a dedicated group of breeders and are now popular companion and search-and-rescue dogs. They are believed to be genetically linked to the St. Bernard due to their similar build and temperament.

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Image Credit: FotoshopTofs, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are a rare breed, and you should count yourself lucky if you manage to find one. They are strong yet simultaneously kind and gentle dogs that make great family pets. These dogs will love to be put to work and will take well the challenge of obedience training and agility sports. That being said, their large size and boundless power and energy can make them a challenge for novice dog owners, not to mention the stubborn streak that they can exhibit at times. They can make for great guard dogs, with an intimidating size and booming bark, but are generally non-aggressive animals.

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a somewhat challenging breed to own, but the effort is well worth owning one of these majestic animals.

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Featured Image Credir: insitedesigns, Pixabay

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