Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

Introduction | History & Health | Temperament & Personality | Breed Standard

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

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Introduction

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, also known as the Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund, the Metzgerhund ("Butcher's Dog"), the Large Swiss Mountain Dog or affectionately the "Swissy," is one of the earliest descendants of the mastiff-type dogs that came to the Alpine region with the Roman armies. Known as a "draft and drover" dog, this breed is best known for being a bold, faithful and willing worker. It was eligible for full registration as a member of the American Kennel Club's Working Group in 1995.
Mature males in this breed should stand 25½ to 28½ inches at the highest point of the shoulder; adult bitches should be between 23½ and 27 inches in height. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs typically weigh between 110 and 150 pounds. Their short, smooth black topcoat, with rich symmetrical rust and white markings, is dense and moderate in length. The undercoat can range in color from dark gray (preferred) to light gray to tawny. Swissy's have a characteristically long tail with a distinct white tip. The breed is closely related to the Bernese Mountain Dog, which is lighter in weight and longer in coat but marked very similarly.

History & Health

History

The Greater Swiss was introduced to the remote and isolated areas of Switzerland centuries ago by the ancient Roman conquerors. It is the oldest and largest of the four Sennenhund breeds developed in Switzerland, which also include the Appenzeller Sennenhunde, Bernese Mountain Dog and Entlebucher Mountain Dog. "Sennenhund" means "dog of the Alpine herdsmen." The Swissy became adapted to livestock management (herding and guarding), being a farm sentinel and was popular with butchers. These dogs became especially adept at pulling carts laden with local produce, especially fresh milk, to cheese factories and to market, often working in pairs. It also contributed to development of the Rottweiler and the Saint Bernard.
In the late 1800s, the draft and herding work done by these dogs was increasingly replaced by other breeds, especially the Saint Bernard, and by the development of alternatives to drafting and carting. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog almost vanished. In 1908, however, Professor Albert Heim of Zurich – a Swiss canine expert of that era – was delighted to be shown a pure-bred Greater Swiss that Franz Schertenleib had discovered on a remote farmstead. These men dedicated themselves to finding other surviving examples in order to save the ancient Alpine breed. As a direct result of their efforts, the Swiss Kennel Club recognized the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog as a distinct breed in 1910. The first specialist Greater Swiss breed club was founded by a butcher in 1911. By 1923, there was a breed club in Germany, and the breed was on its way to recovery.
The first Greater Swiss came to the United States in the mid-1900s, after several dog fanciers saw them exhibited in Frankfurt, Germany. Interest in the breed grew slowly but steadily. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America was formed in 1968. Its stud book was transferred to the American Kennel Club in 1993, with roughly 1,300 breed representatives identified as foundation stock. The American Kennel Club accepted the Greater Swiss for full recognition as a member of its Working Group in 1995. Today's Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is sturdy, steady and strong. It retains its even temperament, is competitive in the AKC show ring and makes an excellent family companion. They also enjoy obedience trials, weight pulling, sledding, carting, hiking, herding and backpacking with their owners.

Health

The average life span of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), epilepsy, elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia.

Temperament & Personality

Personality

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was designed as a draft dog and was often referred to as "the poor man's horse." They are serious dogs who still enjoy pulling carts and sleds, but have grown to be faithful family companions. They are fiercely loyal to their families and require constant companionship to be happy. Families with children may shy away from such a large dog, but the Swissy gets along well with kids of all ages. Small children should be supervised, as they can easily get knocked down by an excited Swissy, but the dog never means to harm. They are alert watchdogs, letting everyone in a three-block radius know that a stranger is approaching, but they are not aggressive guard dogs and can be trusted to be polite to house guests, once properly introduced.

Activity Requirements

The Swissy was designed to pull carts in the Swiss Alps. They are strong and rugged, and need lots of exercise, but don't require a lot of running to be happy. Several long walks will suffice, and putting a backpack on him will make him feel purposeful on strolls through the neighborhood. In winter time, hooking him up to a sled to pull kids around the yard will keep a Swissy busy for hours.
Swiss Mountain Dogs are far too large and rambunctious to live in an apartment or condominium. They need lots of space to move, and their extended puppyhood gives them a "bull in a China shop" reputation.

Trainability

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are a challenge to train, even for experienced owners. They are willful and independent, and training should begin as early as possible. Once this dog hits adolescence, he will behave like a typical teenager, testing your boundaries whenever possible. Consistency and strong leadership is key, but a Swissy should never be treated harshly. Training should involve a lot of treats, as this is probably the only way to motivate this headstrong animal.

Behavioral Traits

Separation Anxiety is common among Swiss Mountain Dogs. They need to be with people at all times, and if left alone too long will become destructive. Proper exercise can help stave off separation anxiety, but it will not prevent it. They are therefore best suited for families with a stay at home parent or in a home where people's work schedules are not hectic.
Barking is a common behavioral complaint Swissy owners. They are alert watchdogs, but are quick to sound the alarm that they've seen or heard something. Their bark is loud, low and can be imposing. Proper socialization and training can lessen the barking problem, but will probably not stop it.
This breed experiences an extended puppyhood and can be rowdy and rambunctious well past adolescence. Potential owners should be prepared to deal with a large, bouncy, often clumsy animal for several years.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a Draft and Drover breed and should structurally appear as such. It is a striking, tri-colored, large, powerful, confident dog of sturdy appearance. It is a heavy boned and well muscled dog which, in spite of its size and weight, is agile enough to perform the all-purpose farm duties of the mountainous regions of its origin.

Size, Proportion and Substance
Height at the highest point of the shoulder is ideally: Dogs: 25.5 to 28.5 inches. Bitches 23.5 to 27 inches. Body length to height is approximately a 10 to 9 proportion, thus appearing slightly longer than tall. It is a heavy boned and well muscled dog of sturdy appearance.

Head
Expression is animated and gentle. The eyes are almond shaped and brown, dark brown preferred, medium sized, neither deep set nor protruding. Blue eye or eyes is a disqualification. Eyelids are close fitting and eyerims are black. The ears are medium sized, set high, triangular in shape, gently rounded at the tip, and hang close to the head when in repose. When alert, the ears are brought forward and raised at the base. The top of the ear is level with the top of the skull. The skull is flat and broad with a slight stop. The backskull and muzzle are of approximately equal length. The backskull is approximately twice the width of the muzzle. The muzzle is large, blunt and straight, not pointed and most often with a slight rise before the end. In adult dogs the nose leather is always black. The lips are clean and as a dry-mouthed breed, flews are only slightly developed. The teeth meet in a scissors bite.

Neck, Topline and Body
The neck is of moderate length, strong, muscular and clean. The topline is level from the withers to the croup. The chest is deep and broad with a slight protruding breastbone. The ribs are well-sprung. Depth of chest is approximately one half the total height of the dog at the withers. Body is full with slight tuck up. The loins are broad and strong. The croup is long, broad and smoothly rounded to the tail insertion. The tail is thick from root to tip, tapering slightly at the tip, reaching to the hocks, and carried down in repose. When alert and in movement, the tail may be carried higher and slightly curved upwards, but should not curl, or tilt over the back. The bones of the tail should feel straight.

Forequarters
The shoulders are long, sloping, strong and moderately laid back. They are flat and well-muscled. Forelegs are straight and strong. The pasterns slope very slightly, but are not weak. Feet are round and compact with well arched toes, and turn neither in nor out. The dewclaws may or may not be present.

Hindquarters
The thighs are broad, strong and muscular. The stifles are moderately bent and taper smoothly into the hocks. The hocks are well let down and straight when viewed from the rear. Feet are round and compact with well arched toes, and turn neither in nor out. Dewclaws should be removed.

Coat
Topcoat is dense, approximately 1-1/4 to 2 inches in length. Undercoat must be present and may be thick and sometimes showing, almost always present at neck but may be present throughout. Color of undercoat ranges from the preferred dark gray to light gray to tawny. Total absence of undercoat is undesirable and should be penalized.

Color
The topcoat is black. The markings are rich rust and white. Symmetry of markings is desired. On the head, rust typically appears over each eye, on each cheek and on the underside of the ears. On the body, rust appears on both sides of the forechest, on all four legs and underneath the tail. White markings appear typically on the head (blaze) and muzzle. The blaze may vary in length and width. It may be a very thin stripe or wider band. The blaze may extend just barely to the stop or may extend over the top of the skull and may meet with white patch or collar on the neck. Typically, white appears on the chest, running unbroken from the throat to the chest, as well as on all four feet and on the tip of the tail. White patches or collar on the neck is acceptable. Any color other than the "Black, Red and White" tri-colored dog described above, such as "Blue/Charcoal, Red and White" or "Red and White" is considered a disqualification. When evaluating the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, markings and other cosmetic factors should be considered of lesser importance than other aspects of type which directly affect working ability.

Gait
Good reach in front, powerful drive in rear. Movement with a level back.

Temperament
Bold, faithful, willing worker. Alert and vigilant. Shyness or aggressiveness shall be severely penalized.

Summary
The foregoing is the description of the ideal Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. Defects of both structure and temperament are to be judged more severely than mere lack of elegance because they reduce the animal's capacity to work. Any fault that detracts from the above described working dog should be penalized to the extent of the deviation.

Disqualifications
Any color other than the "Black, Red and White" tri-colored dog described above, such as "Blue/Charcoal, Red and White" or "Red and White." Blue eye or eyes.

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