Despite being relatively unfamous, the Greater Swiss Mountain dogs, aka Swissies, uniquely combine affection and performance. Inside homes, they serenely blend with kids and other family members. Yet if danger presents itself, they’ll use their hefty bodies to protect you at all costs.
Can any family raise a Swissy? Much to my annoyance, no. For one, Swissies need experienced owners that can provide well-balanced training. Also, you must carefully ration their food, or else they’ll rapidly put on weight.
Today, I decided to demystify the secrets of this breed. In this post, I’ll discuss things like history, care, dieting, health, and much more. Without any further ado, let’s get going!
Also Read: Large Dog Breeds List A-Z with Pictures[wpdatatable id=26]
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Breed History
Studying the breed history can instantly improve the way you understand dogs as intelligent as the Swissies. History will tell you the circumstances in which the Swissies developed, which indirectly details what they can and can’t do.
Experts believe that Swissies first appeared after the Romans invaded Switzerland in 58 BC. Julius Caesar’s legions brought massive mastiff-like dogs, which mated with the native Alpine breeds. This resulted in 4 closely related breeds: Appenzeller, Entlebucher, Bernese, and Greater Swiss — together, they’re known as Sennenhund breeds.
Since the Swissies excelled in terms of physical strength, farmers preferred them over the other Sennenhund breeds. Historical findings confirm that Swissies had enough stamina to haul carts loaded with milk and meat to be sold in markets. In addition to that, they herded livestock, protected homes, and helped in the daily farm chores.
When They Almost Went Extinct
After the industrial revolution, farmers replaced dogs with more efficient, less-demanding equipment. As giant dogs, Swissys didn’t fit as house pets. That’s why their population gradually declined until they were on the brink of extinction.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that Swissies arrived in the US. In 1995, the American Kennel Club officially recognized this breed. This directly promoted careful breeding that brought the Swissies back to their glorious state.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Physical Characteristics
Swissies have a distinctive tri-color coat that combines black, brown (or tan), and white. Black generally dominates on the body, while brown markings prevail over the legs. The white markings, on the other hand, don’t exceed the chest, neck, and muzzle.
Obviously, the Swissies’ hefty physical build places them well into the giant breed category. Male dogs reach a height between 25.5 and 28.5 inches and weigh between 105 and 140 pounds. Females don’t lie too far; they measure between 23.5 and 27 inches and weigh between 85 to 110 pounds.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Lifespan
According to the American Kennel Club, Swissies live between 8 and 11 years. Your dog may live a bit longer if you provide sufficient care and proper dieting.
If possible, try to trace your dog’s biological parents to see how many years they’ve lived; your dog probably won’t steer too far from this range.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Temperament and Personality
Despite being giant dogs, Swissies have gentle and fun personalities. However, you must pay special attention to their training. If poorly trained, Swissies will act on their own and show stubborn behavior.
Since Swissies used to herd livestock, they have impeccable alertness and observation skills, which make them excellent watchdogs. When they spot something strange, they’ll instantly notify you with their loud bark, but they’ll rarely embark on aggressive behavior.
If you’re thinking about adoption, consider getting a puppy. Not only are they insanely cute, but they also accept training faster than adults.
Just like most of the other breeds, Swissys show the best temperament if you socialize them to different people, sights, and smells when they’re still puppies.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Family-Friendliness
Swissies thrive well as family pets. They’ll love and protect kids as if they were members of a herd. Nevertheless, their muscular nature worries lots of parents. Although Swissies typically mean no harm, they can easily knock over kids and small babies. That said, you should never leave your young kids unattended with any dog breed.
And of course, your children must understand the proper way to treat such brawny, quick-witted dogs. Swissies may not tolerate ear/tail pulling, aggressive playing, disturbing their sleep, etc.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Pet-Friendliness
Herding livestock has hardwired a strong prey drive into the Swissies’ genes. However, after they arrived in the US, some breeders were able to eliminate this behavior for good. That said, you can’t expect how your Swissy would react to smaller pets: Some Swissies will bully other animals, yet some will provide a serene environment.
Ideally, you should get your dog from certified breeders that consider such factors. You should also meet the puppy’s parents to get a feel of how your dog’s temperament will turn out.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Shedding and Grooming
Since they originally lived in the freezing mountainous terrains of Switzerland, Swissies developed thick double coats that easily defy the harshest winters. Take them outside often; they love to romp in water puddles and snow piles.
However, during scorching summertime, Swissies should stay inside, preferably underneath fans or air conditioners. Never take them outside for vigorous exercise because they can easily develop heat strokes. If going outside is mandatory, limit it to early mornings and stay inside the shade.
Luckily, Swissies don’t shed that often. They typically experience shedding bouts twice a year. During these periods, you should brush their coats once or twice a week. You may also bath them once a month. During normal days, however, you can dial down the grooming since Swissies can naturally maintain excellent hygiene.
To save yourself the future hassle, begin grooming your Swissy as soon as you get him, even if there’s no actual need for grooming. Also, always flood your Swissy with lots of treats and praise while grooming him to establish a positive reinforcement.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Dieting
Since Swissies grew up in the rugged terrains of the Alpine region, they had to consistently eat large rations to be able to perform their jobs. Nowadays, although our pets don’t have to do the same strenuous efforts, they still have the same voracious appetites. This increases the likelihood of obesity, which is especially bad for Swissies.
How bad? Well, during active growth, if your dog put on extra pounds, the developing bones and joints will bear heavier stress. Not only will this increase the possibility of fractures, but it may also limit the growth at a premature level.
To avoid that, you must familiarize yourself with the proper dieting routine of this unique breed.
Swissy puppies will grow naturally if they eat a large-breed puppy formula until they become six months old. Some breeders extend this routine until twelve months of age to guarantee full bone growth.
Rationing the servings depends on the puppy’s age. As a rule of thumb, serve one cup per day for every month of age, and divide that amount over three servings. So by the age of six months, you should give your pup two cups of dry food three times per day.
Adults should eat a maximum of 6 cups of dry food per day. You can choose to divide this amount over two or three times per day, according to your dog’s activity pattern.
Any large-breed formula would work. Just make sure it contains 22–24% proteins and 12–15% fats; these percentages provide the optimal amount of energy without leaving a chance for sudden weight gain.
Foods You Must Avoid
Some dog owners serve occasional treats of human food to provide variety. Although they may seem harmless, the following foods can expose your pooch to a myriad of different risks:
- Chocolate, coffee, and caffeine
- Coconut and coconut oil
- Grapes and raisins
- Macadamia nuts
- Milk and dairy products
- Onions, garlic, chives
- Raw/Undercooked Meat, Eggs and Bones
- Salt and salty snacks
- Yeast Dough
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Health Problems
Luckily, Swissies aren’t famous for any particular diseases. However, they’re prone to some issues that many large breeds encounter. Although not every Swissy will get these diseases, familiarizing yourself with them can allow you to identify them before they worsen.
If your Swissy embarked on a fast growth rate, his thigh bones might lose the optimal contact with the hip joint. As a result, the dog may not be able to use one or both of his hindlimbs for the rest of his life.
In some cases, the space between the two bones can be mild enough to not cause any pain. Nevertheless, it may raise the probability of developing arthritis, which is equally painful in the long run.
The good news is, hip dysplasia is a hereditary disease. If you got your dog from a reputable breeder, he should be fine.
As I said earlier, Swissies love food. If you serve a big amount over a short time, your Swissy’s stomach might fill with gas rapidly. With movement, the stomach might twist on itself, thereby cutting off the blood supply.
If this condition wasn’t spotted early, the gas pressure might rupture the stomach, emptying the acidic content onto the vital organs. This condition is known as bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV).
What to Do
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do on your own; you must immediately take your dog to the vet to surgically correct the problem.
Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Bloated abdomen
- Extreme sudden lethargy
- Excess salivation
- Continuous retching
- Heavy panting
- Pale gums
- Refusing to eat or drink
Many Swissy owners have reported a seemingly strange behavior that was later known as “Swissy Lick.” All of a sudden, your Swissy might start frantically licking whatever comes his way, including carpets, floors, or even walls. In other cases, Swissies take a liking for non-edible things, such as grass, leaves, or carpet fiber.
Although the cause isn’t known yet, most people believe it has to do with gastrointestinal discomfort. Just like the bloat, you should take your dog to the vet once you notice any of the previous symptoms. After taking some anti-gas and acid-reducing medications, your pooch should become healthy again.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: Puppy Care
Just like most giant dogs, Swissies’ joints take about two years to fully mature. During that period, you must not engage your puppy in any form of agility training or vigorous exercise.
Why? Well, the soft joints won’t stand against forceful impacts. Without sufficient calcification, they may easily fracture, which can halt your puppy’s growth at an early point.
So How Much Should You Train Your Pup?
Don’t get me wrong. By the previous information, I’m not saying you should prevent your dog from any form of exercise. In fact, exercise deprivation increases the likelihood of destructive behavior.
Generally, Swissy pups should exercise for five minutes per each month of age. For example, six-month-old pups can exercise for 30 minutes, while nine-month-old ones can train for 45 minutes.
Preferably, these periods shouldn’t be spent on one go. Instead, sensibly divide them over the whole day to keep your pup entertained.
What Exercises Should You Avoid?
To put things into perspective, here’s a list of the activities that your pup shouldn’t perform:
- Avoid running down the stairs.
- Avoid jogging and running for long distances.
- Avoid throwing balls and frisbees too high.
- Avoid riding the bike next to your puppy.
- Avoid sharp turns at high speeds.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: General Care
In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the miscellaneous aspects related to the Swissies’ care.
Despite the absence of actual proof, plenty of Swissy owners confirm that this breed needs a longer time to housetrain. However, you shouldn’t let that discourage you. Carry out the training in its ideal routine and don’t dwell too much on the results. Even if your dog doesn’t respond during the first two weeks, he’ll pick it up eventually within a couple of months.
The giant mouths of Swissies will collect substantial amounts of food bits that will ferment and nurture harmful bacteria. This will manifest as caries, tartar buildup, gum diseases, and bad breath.
To prevent that, you’ll simply need to brush your Swissy’s teeth once per day. If you have a touchy dog, suffice by two or three times a week. You should also schedule regular visits to the vet to halt the progress of diseases.
If you exercise your Swissy for enough hours, his nails should wear down naturally. If this doesn’t happen, you’ll need to cut them yourself to avoid accidental cuts and tears that may lead to vigorous infections.
Unlike human nails, dogs’ nails have living tissue toward the base. If you extend your cut beyond that part, the nail will bleed, and your dog will whine in pain. The touchy nature of Swissies makes such incidents even more probable. That said, consider visiting a vet or a professional groomer for hassle-free trimming.
If you think you’ve got what it takes, get an electric nail grinder. Unlike normal clippers, grinders can fine-tune the cutting length, allowing you to stop as soon as you see a hint of blood.
Due to their floppy ears, Swissies have a high tendency to develop ear infections. If left unnoticed, these infections might aggravate and negatively affect your dog’s sense of hearing.
Therefore, you should check your Swisy’s ears once a week. If you notice redness or a bad odor, consult your vet as soon as possible. If everything seems fine, wipe the external ears with small cotton dampened with a pH-balanced ear cleaner to prevent bacterial buildup.
Can Swissies Live In Apartments?
Due to their large bodies and active nature, Swissies shouldn’t live in apartments. Plus, your neighbors won’t appreciate their high barking tendency.
Alternatively, Swissies need spacious homes with large yards where they can play and romp. Naturally, you must provide a sturdy, high fence that Swissies can’t knock or jump over. Otherwise, your Swissy will chase whatever animal that approaches his territory.
Just like any working dog, Swissys should spend their time participating in physical exercises. Take them to dog parks, sign them up for competitions, and spend lots of quality time in their company. You should also provide interactive toys that engage their powerful minds.
Frequently Asked Questions
A purebred Swissy will cost between $1,500 and $2,500. The price can go higher or lower according to the qualities of the parent dogs.
Swissies don’t shed that much throughout the year. However, they shed a significant part of their coats twice per year.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs energetic, outgoing, and friendly nature makes Swissies excellent family dogs
They are a rare breed, even today, both in the United States and their native Switzerland
To Sum Up
The greater swiss mountain dogs got this name to denote how they physically compare with their Sennenhund cousins.
Swissies’ unique personalities are what amazes me the most. Despite their beefy bodies, they show incredible affection toward their family members — young and old.
Remember, the Swissies’ ancestors used to roam through the mountainous terrains of Switzerland to herd livestock and complete farming chores. That’s why you shouldn’t keep them in small apartments where they can’t satisfy their exercise needs.[wpdatatable id=4 responsive= stack responsive_breakpoint=”phone”/]
Forrest is a lover of dogs, the wild outdoors, deep mysterious conversations… and coffee. He is the owner of several websites, including Canine Weekly. He resides in Austin, Texas.