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The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is large to giant purebred with talents in carting, weight pulling, tracking and guarding. It was developed in the Swiss Alps, hence the name, and is the oldest of the four Sennenhunde, or four Swiss mountain dog breeds. Senn meaning herders or dairymen in the Alps and hunde meaning dog or hound. It is a dog with a lot of physical strength but when well bred and raised is a calm and dignified dog. While it does well as a family dog it does like to be kept engaged, coming as it does from a working dog background.

Here is the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog at a Glance
Name Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Other Names Great Swiss Mountain Dog, Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund, Large Swiss Mountain Dog, Great Swiss Cattle Dog, Bouvier Suisse
Nicknames Swissy, GSMD
Origin Switzerland
Average size Giant
Average weight 85 to 140 pounds
Average height 24 to 29 inches
Life span 7 to 12 years
Coat type Medium, dense, thick
Hypoallergenic No
Color Tan, black, red, white and blue
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 78th by the AKC
Intelligence Average
Tolerance to heat Low – not good in hot or even very warm climates, take care it does not over heat
Tolerance to cold Excellent – can handle even extreme cold weather
Shedding Average – will be hair around the home to clean up
Drooling Low – not a dog known to be prone to drool or slobber
Obesity Fairly high – likes its food so watch what it eats and ensure it gets enough exercise
Grooming/brushing Easy to groom but brush at least three times a weekneeded
Barking Occasional – does bark and the bark is loud but it is not constant
Exercise needs Fairly active – needs a certain level of exercise to keep it fit
Trainability Somewhat difficult – experience will help
Friendliness Excellent when well bred – social breed
Good first dog Moderate – best with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Good with socialization – can have high prey drive
Good with strangers Good with socialization – usually wary or shy at first
Good apartment dog Low – too large, needs space to move around and a yard
Handles alone time well Good – can handle some time alone just nothing very long
Health issues Moderate – does have several health issues it can suffer from such as hip dysplasia, OCD, Bloat, Pano and eye problems
Medical expenses $485 a year for pet insurance and basic health care
Food expenses $270 a year for treats and a good quality dry dog food
Miscellaneous expenses $245 a year for toys, license, miscellaneous items and basic training
Average annual expense $1000
Cost to purchase $1500
Biting Statistics None reported

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog’s Beginnings

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, also fondly called the Swissy, comes from the Swiss Alps and there are a number of theories about its ancestors which include the Roman Mastiffs from 2000 years ago, the dogs of the Phoenicians, or a large dog from central Europe in the Neolithic period. Whichever it was the fact is native farm dogs were bred with some kind of large dog or mastiff which resulted in the Swissy.

It is not just the oldest of the four Swiss alp dogs it is the largest. The other three breeds being the Appenzell Cattle Dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Entlebuch Cattle Dog. The four are very similar in appearance apart from in size. It is not exactly known what went into the development of the breed though it has been around for several hundred years at least. It was bred to be a companion, but also as importantly to be a working dog on farms, it helped herd livestock, would act as a guard dog and was often referred to as ‘the poor man’s horse’!

By the 19th century they were used on farms not just in the Alps but also in central Europe. However in the late 19th century it moved from possibly the most popular breed in Switzerland and were now facing possible extinction. Farming had moved to use different machinery and that replaced the Swissy on the farm so demand for it declined dramatically. It is also thought that breeding was left too much to chance and that may also have contributed to their decline.

New Lease on Life

In the early 1900s interest was once again shown in the breed and several breeders worked to re-establish the breed. One expert who took a big role in that recovery was Dr Albert Heim who had seen them shown in a Swiss dog show and realized they were examples of a vanishing breed. In 1909 the Swiss Kennel Club recognized each of the 4 Sennenhund as separate breeds. In 1912 the first breed club was formed for the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. The numbers in Europe slowly grew again and during the second world war in Switzerland it was used by the Swiss Army.

In 1939 the breed received international recognition. In 1967 it was imported to the US and eventually a dog breed club was formed called the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America. The club promoted the breed as well as careful breeding. In 1995 it was fully recognized by the AKC. Today it is ranked 78th most popular registered breed by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

The GSMD is a large to giant purebred weighing 85 to 140 pounds and standing 24 to 29 inches tall. It is a muscular and sturdy dog with straight front legs, small round feet and a wide and deep chest. Its tail is thick at the base then thins to the tip, has a slight curve and hangs down when relaxed and up a little when alert. It has a double coat the inner being thick and the outer being medium and dense. Common colors are tan, white, black, red and blue. In some countries the dewclaws are still removed though that is banned in some places.

The head is broad and flat and the muzzle is blunt and big with black lips and nose. It has medium sized eyes that are almond shaped and can be chestnut to hazel. Its ears are set high, triangular, medium in size and hang down close with a rounded tip.

The Inner Greater Swiss Mountain Dog


The Swissy is a gentle, loyal and friendly dog, very cheerful, eager to please and keen to a part of family activities. It is an alert dog and is wary around strangers so is a great watchdog, it will bark to let you know of any intruder. Since it has moderate protective instincts too and is a brave dog, some will also act in your defense. However it does have a strong will and can be stubborn so is best for owners with previous experience.

Something to keep in mind with this breed is that it can take between 2 to 3 years for it to mature so you will have a puppy like dog in a very large body. It is important to set clear rules for it and that as its owner you are the clear boss or pack leader. It can be left alone for shorter periods of time without becoming anxious but this is not a dog you can leave for long periods, and it does need a lot of attention and physical affection.

It is a confident, independent minded dog, a hard worker if you are using it as more than just a family pet. It is of average intelligence and will need fairly active owners to ensure it gets the exercise it needs. It tends to enjoy its naps though but is happy to have a burst of energy in between them! This calm and steady breed will try to put its head in your lap or push you with their body when it wants attention, it can be a physically affectionate dog, would even try to be a lap dog if its size did not prevent it. Its barking may need some control with training.

Living with a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

What will training look like?

As mentioned this is a strong willed breed, used to working somewhat independently and that can mean it can be stubborn and harder to deal with when it comes to training. Experienced owners are likely going to have more success than new owners. Be patient, consistent, firm and in control. Also be fair, positive and encourage it, praise it and offer it motivation like the use of treats. You can always get help from professional training schools or professionals. Make sure part of its training includes controlling the physical pushing for attention, controlling the barking and leash training so it does not pull you everywhere.

Early socialization is very important, it will help learn what reactions are appropriate to what situations. Expose it to different people, children, animals and locations. No socialization can lead to suspicious dogs who over react with aggression and biting.

House training tends to be a slow process with this breed too. Set up a routine, consider using crate training to help and be prepared for a slow process. After a few weeks it may understand what it is meant to do but it will not be reliable about it for a few months. Some owners say it can take up to 6 months.

How active is the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog?

The GSMD is a fairly active dog, just with its size it needs a certain level of daily physical exercise to keep it healthy. It may like its naps but you still need to get it out for a couple of long walks a day at least. With its size this not a suitable breed for apartment living and it really should have access to some sort of land or a yard. It is happy to go out in very cold weather conditions but is less happy in warm or hot ones so take care it does not over heat.

Make sure when it is young that is not over exercised and that it does not run and jump too much on hard surfaces as that can damage its growing bones. Young dogs can get quite rambunctious so they will need more supervision and if alone and bored they can be amazingly destructive.

Caring for the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

Grooming needs

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog will need some care and maintenance but it is not generally a high level as its coat is easy to look after though it does shed an average amount. This means you will likely need to vacuum daily and there will be hair on clothing and furnishings to deal with. By brushing it regularly, about 3 times a week you can keep up with some of the loose hair while also removing debris from its coat and keeping it softer and healthier looking. It does have bigger blow outs though twice a year that will be more work. Only give it a bath though when it really needs one using a dog shampoo. If space to bathe is a problem, consider the hose in your yard or check for groomers who have bathing stations that can take larger dog breeds near to you.

It will also need its nails trimmed when they get too long, by someone who has knowledge and experience as dog nails have live blood vessels and nerves in part of them. Cut through those and it will hurt the dog and cause bleeding. Its teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week to keep them and the gums healthy and to prevent bad breath. Its ears too need to be checked for infection once a week and given a wipe clean. Do not insert anything into the ears.

Feeding Time

The Swissy will likely need somewhere between 4 to 6 cups of a high quality dry dog food each day but it should be fed to it in at least two meals to avoid problems with Bloat. How much exactly it needs can vary from one dog to another depending on its metabolism, activity, health, size and age. Make sure you are careful when it is a puppy that it has the right amount of food and the right type to help avoid joint and bone problems. Also an interesting thing about this breed is it will eat anything, even non-edible things like gravel for example. They also tend to slobber when eating and drinking.

How is the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog with children and other animals?

This breed is very good with children, it is very friendly and loves the attention and the play time. Early socialization helps as does being raised with them. Take care to supervise still when young toddlers are around as they can get knocked over by this breed, by accident just because of its size. Always teach the children how to play nicely and the dos and do nots of stroking and touching.

With other animals it is usually good with socialization and when raised with those pets in its home. In terms of prey drive some Swissys have higher prey drives than others so it may be prone to chasing small strange animals in its yard or when out and about, or it might not. Keep in mind if it does have a strong prey drive its size means it can kills smaller animals quite easily if it should catch them.

Around dogs with socialization it is usually very friendly again and enjoys having other dogs to play with. Just keep in mind that is with any dog if it has not been spayed or neutered it is going to be aggressive and dominant around dogs of the same sex.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

As a large dog the GSMD has a shorter life span than others, somewhere between 7 to 12 years, usually around the 8 to 9 mark. It does have a few health issues it is prone to such as epilepsy, bloat, hip and elbow dysplasia, eye problems, digestive problems, Pano, UI, Lick fit, rage syndrome, splenic torsion, OCD and Patellar Luxation.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks against people that did bodily harm over the last 34 years in the US and Canada, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is not mentioned. This does not mean it would never attack someone, unfortunately given certain conditions or situations any dog could snap and depending on its size will depend on the kind of damage it could do. A Swissy could become aggressive if from a badly bred line, mistreated or not fed and cared for, not trained or socialized. There is also the fact that rage syndrome has been seen in this breed.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Greater Swiss Mountain Dog puppy can cost $1500 or more from a good breeder for a pet quality dog. For something of show quality you can expect that to double or even go higher if using a top breeder. Should you be able to find one at a shelter or rescue then the price will be lower and you get the reward of giving it a second chance. Around $50 to $400 should get you a rescue but it is likely to be an adult rather than a puppy. Absolutely avoid buying from backyard breeders, pet shops, puppy mills or too good to be true ads.

On buying a puppy there are some things you need to deal with, items you will want at home and medical concerns to be dealt with. Items to get include a collar and leash, crate, bowls and such and that will cost about $200. Medical concerns include an exam by a vet, vaccinations, blood tests, deworming, neutering or spaying and micro chipping. These will cost about $300.

Annual costs for food and treats are about $270. For basic medical care like check ups, shots, tick and flea prevention and pet insurance this another yearly cost of $485. For other items like toys, basic training, license and other miscellaneous items the yearly cost is about $245. This gives a yearly total cost that starts at $1000.


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The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a great family dog, gentle, kind, fun, affectionate. But it is large and sometimes people with little experience underestimate what that size means. Make sure you are prepared for how strong it gets, how much it needs to eat and exercise, that you train and socialize it effectively. It can be strong willed so it needs an owner who can handle that, can stick to the rules and deal with it when it tests them. Also you need to be prepared for the shorter life span this breed has. You will love it completely and it will be completely faithful and devoted to you, but it will not be in your life for as long as some other smaller breeds.

Featured Image Credit: Zuzule, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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