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Breed information

Group: Working
Life span: 10-12 years
Height male: 60-72 cm/ 23-29 inches
Height female: 60-72 cm/ 23-29 inches
Weight male: 59-61 kg/ 130-135 pounds
Weight female: 59-61 kg/ 130-135 pounds
Character: Alert, Devoted, Fearless, Good-natured, Protective, Self-confidence


The origin of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is not definitively known. The Swiss people themselves cannot be clearly defined as belonging exclusively to one of the European tribes; they are inhabitants of a typical transit country. Beginning in 1515, the remote valleys of Switzerland were more or less isolated from world history for three centuries. Specific dog breeds were created by inbreeding, and puppies were given to neighbors and family members.

There are several theories regarding the origin of the four Sennenhund breeds. The most popular theory states the dogs are descended from the Molosser, a large Mastiff-type dog, which accompanied the Roman Legions on their invasion of the Alps more than 2000 years ago. A second theory is that in 1100 BC, the Phoenicians brought a large dog breed with them to settlements in Spain. These dogs later migrated eastward and influenced the development of the Spanish Mastiff, Great Pyrenees, Dogue de Bordeaux, and Sennenhund breeds.

A third possibility is that a large dog breed was indigenous to central Europe during the Neolithic Period, when humans grew wild and domestic crops and used domesticated animals. Whether or not a domesticated large breed existed in the Alpine area when the Romans invaded, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are almost certainly the result of the mating of native farm dogs with large Mastiff-type dogs brought to Switzerland by foreign settlers. The early ancestors of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog were used by farmers, herdsmen and merchants in central Europe. The breed was bred as a draught dog to pull heavy carts, to guard and move dairy cattle, and as a watchdog and family companion.


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.


Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence (UI) is defined as involuntary urination, and most often occurs in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs as leaking of urine while sleeping; it is a non-life-threatening condition. It seems that more than 20% of the females are affected, usually after being spayed. Incontinence is occasionally found in males as well. Incontinence can occur for many reasons, such as a weak bladder sphincter – generally the most common cause in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs – urinary tract infection, excessive water consumption, congenital structural defects and spinal cord disease.

Eyelash issues

The two most common eye issues that Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs face are distichiasis and entropion, with distichiasis being the most common issue. Distichiasis is the presence of extra eyelashes along the eyelid. Distichiasis has been reported in 19%, of the breed and in the vast majority of cases it is non-symptomatic and does not cause an issue for the dog. Extra eyelashes can be seen along the eyelid; sometimes extra eyelashes grow so that they irritate the eye. Treatment varies from vet to vet, some choosing to freeze the affected hair follicles and others choosing to use electrocautery. Entropion, found in about 3% of the breed, is the rolling in of the eyelids, which causes the eyelashes to irritate the eye. Entropion is a condition that often requires surgery to fix, but once corrected causes no future issues for the dog.

Lick fit

Lick fit is the frantic licking in which Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs can be prone. This has been reported in 17% of the breed. When in the middle of a lick fit, the dog will lick anything they can — carpet, floors, walls — and will eat anything they can find, including grass, leaves, dirt, carpet, and will gulp air and swallow constantly. Their actions make it obvious they are in severe gastrointestinal discomfort. Many owners are able to prevent lick fits by ensuring the dog never has an empty stomach by frequent, smaller meals and large dog biscuits as between meal snacks.


Idiopathic epilepsy (IE) is the condition of frequent seizures with no identifiable cause. Seizures occur when nerve cells in the brain become hyperexcited and send rapid-fire messages to the body. Treatment of IE depends on the severity of the case and may involve daily administration of anticonvulsant drugs. IE is present in all Greater Swiss Mountain Dog lines; it typically surfaces between the ages of 1 to 3 years, but it can become evident as early as 12 months and as late as 5 years.

Abdominal health issues

Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), also known as bloat, is the greatest killer of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. GDV occurs in deep-chested breeds and requires immediate veterinary care. It can be caused by wolfing down too much water, too much food too fast, exercise after eating, stress or unknown conditions. Symptoms are distended abdomen, excessive salivating, depression and lethargy. When GDV occurs it cuts off the esophagus, and blood supply to the heart is lessened causing low blood pressure as well as other cardiac problems; the dog can go into shock. Organ damage can occur as well and the stomach may rupture causing peritonitis to set in. If not treated, the dog may die.

The spleen is located in the left cranial abdomen and is held loosely in place by ligaments. Primary diseases of the spleen are splenic torsion and splenic tumors. Splenic torsion occurs when the spleen twists along the axis of the blood supply. Symptoms of splenic torsion include lethargy, abdominal distension and pale mucous membranes. One theory for the development of splenic torsion is that for dogs with chronic intermittent gastric dilatation, the dilation causes the spleen's ligaments to stretch and increases the spleen’s mobility within the abdomen. The spleen becomes torsed because it is no longer anchored in its correct location. In a normal Greater Swiss Mountain Dog the spleen is smooth and uncreased; it is about 6 to 8 in (15 to 20 cm) by 2 in (5.1 cm), and less than 1 in (2.5 cm) thick. Most of the spleens removed from Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are 18 to 24 in (46 to 61 cm) by 8 to 10 in (20 to 25 cm) and very thick. This size spleen is not an abnormal finding in this breed. It seems apparent that many dogs of the breed suffer enlarged spleens for no obvious reason other than the spleen may have been constantly twisting, folding and unfolding.


Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is the irregular formation of the joint that joins the femur – the longest bone in the body – to the hip socket. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint and the femoral head must fit well into the socket for the joint to function properly. Early signs of CHD include a reluctance to go up and down stairs or to jump; difficulty rising or lying down; and bunny hopping when running – both hind limbs move together. CHD is among the principal orthopedic diseases in the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog; it is rarely severe and crippling. Unless x-rays are taken many owners are not aware that they have a dysplastic dog. A goal for raising a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog from puppyhood is to feed them so they mature more slowly than smaller breeds to help avoid hip and other orthopedic problems in adulthood. The form of Canine Elbow dysplasia most often diagnosed in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs appears to be a degerative joint disease – a slowly progressive form of cartilage degeneration usually caused by trauma or abnormal wear on the joint. Evidence suggests that most dogs of this breed diagnosed with degenerative joint disease by x-rays of the elbows have the mildest form Grade I. They don't display clinical signs such as pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion or lameness.

Osteochondrosis is a disturbance in the normal development of cartilage; cartilage becomes abnormally thickened, and small fissures and cracks may develop. Dissecans is when cartilage becomes dissected resulting in cartilage flaps, which may remain attached or become loose and fall into the joint space. In Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs most of these cases occur in the shoulder joints and occasionally in elbows and hocks. Except for very mild cases without flap development, the clinical signs are persistent or intermittent lameness. The dog may be stiff after resting and the lameness is usually aggravated by exercise. It is diagnosed by x-rays, and treatment depends on the severity of the case. Mild cases without cartilage flaps may be treated and heal with several weeks of rest and treatment with medication and supplements. Many cases require surgery to remove the flaps and loose fragments, and scraping and smoothing of the defective surface. Surgical repair of the shoulder usually has excellent results, surgical results involving other sites are not as predictable.

Rage Syndrome

Sudden Onset Aggression (SOA) or Rage Syndrome has been reported in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs.


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.


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.

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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.


Grooming the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is easy. Brush once or twice per week to keep shedding under control, though Spring and Fall will mean brushing several times per week. Bathe only as needed, which typically amounts to every four to six weeks. Check the dog's ears regularly for signs of irritation, infection, or wax buildup. Clean the ears with a cotton ball and a veterinarian-approved cleanser. Brushing teeth weekly (or more), can keep tartar from building up, promote gum health, and keep bad breath at bay. If the dog does not wear down his toenails naturally, trim the nails once per month. If they make a clicking sound on hard floors, they are too long.

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