About the Breed
There are three stories we’ve heard about how the Greater Swiss Mountain or the Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund came about. First, the Romans brought the dog with them to Swisserland about 1 B.C. where a few stayed. Two, the Romans brought a mastiff type dog to Switzerland that bred to local dogs about 1 B.C. Third, the Phoenician traders brought the dog with them to Europe a few centuries before the Romans used them. You may choose the story you like. The Swiss used them as herding and cart dogs. The numbers of Swissy declined over the centuries as man discovered smaller dogs could probably herd larger animals as well as the larger dogs could. With the invention of modern technology, people found easier and faster ways of doing things than dog power. By the way, a Swissy holds the cart pulling record. He pulled a few pounds over 4000 lbs. on the flat. (Trucks may be faster, but considering the truck’s purchase price and the cost of gas, there may be a case for the Swissy to get its old job back making deliveries.)
Regardless of which story is true, the experts of the time declared the breed extinct in the late 19TH century. Then in 1908 a dog owner named Franz Schertenlieb entered his dog (an extinct Swissy) into the Swiss Kennel Club. The club called in Dr. Albert Helm, a famous dog expert, who agreed that Mr. Schertenlieb did have a Swissy and should be admitted to the Club. He also declared that the Swissies were not extinct. At the urging Dr. Helm and a few others, they began an extensive search of Switzerland to locate other GSMD. They found a few Swissies were still alive. They were able to purchase about 25 dogs. They started a breeding plan to bring the dog back. The Swiss Kennel Club did recognize the GSMD in 1910.
J. Frederick and Patricia Hoffman imported the first GSMD to America in 1968 after seeing them in a Frankfurt Germany exhibition. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America was formed in 1968 for the expressed purpose of obtaining AKC recognition. On March 17, 1993, the GSMDCA stud book was transferred to the AKC listing 1300 dogs as foundation stock. Full AKC recognition was granted on July 1, 1995.
Life with a GSMD
Living with a GSMD is a great experience. Their kind and loving nature makes them pleasant to be with. We have heard stories about aggressive Swissies. But in over 17 years around the breed, we have never met one (this does not mean there are not some out there - it simply means we haven’t met one and we have met many GSMD). They are very loving dogs and like to be with you. (Especially if it means going somewhere in a car where they can meet other people) They love small children. But as with any large breed dog, small children should be supervised when with them. The wagging tail of a happy Swissy can knock over a small to medium sized child. This not intentional and the Swissy will quickly look around trying to see who hurt the child. They don’t even realize it was something they might have done because they would never hurt such a small thing as a child.
This brings us to the most dangerous part of a GSMD: THE TAIL. It will clear off coffee tables, end tables, night stands, desks, parts of a kitchen table, knock over small children and has bruised the legs of owners. None of this is intentional. They will look around trying to see who came up behind them and did this damage. Do not put valuable items in low places. Please beware of the wagging tail. I will guarantee you the Swissy is not aware of what their tail can do.
If you want to make a Swissy happy, take out their leash. The GSMD loves to go out and be with people. We have found that one Swissy brings several people over to see the dog. Two draw a crowd. The most commonly asked question is “Is that a cross between a Rottweiler and a Saint Bernard?” This is to the point of my threatening to get a T-shirt made that says “No, It’s a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.”. But, the people’s intentions are good and it is a chance to explain about the breed. Education is always good. Isn’t it? The Dogs love all the attention.
The real reward is at the end of the day when they curl up beside you. They think they are lap dogs even if only the head fits. When they want to be petted, they are not above placing a nose your under hand and flipping it in the air to land on their head or body. In general, they are loving loyal friends.
Health & Related Issues of GSMD
Probably because of the small number of dogs available to restart the Breed certain heath problem are prevalent. Epilepsy, early cancers, bloat, and stomach torsion are the major problems. Do not hesitate to talk about these problems with the breeder. A reputable kennel will discuss these problems and how they affect their lines. With the increase of the gene pool and solid breeding practice, these problems are on the decline but not gone from the lines. There are medical procedures that can minimize the effects of some of these problems. Epilepsy can be controlled with proper medications. There are a couple surgical procedures, used for all breeds, that can be done to reduce the possibility of bloat occurring. Talk to your breeder or your veterinarian.
Our policy is simple. We will not breed or breed to a dog that has Epilepsy, early cancers, bloat, or stomach torsion. If any of our breeding stock produces a Puppy with these problems, they will be removed from the breeding program. The purchaser will receive another GSMD puppy (from the next available litter) as long as feeding and conservative Vaccination protocols are followed. The purchaser may keep or return their original GSMD to us. With the exception of the first dog we purchased, we have not had any of these major problems. But there is always a chance of it happening.
A GSMD puppy grows quickly but matures slowly. If a puppy is overweight, this can lead to too much pressure on the joints resulting in joint damage. If GSMD is fed a dog food with corn as a major ingredient, it can cause a build up of gas in their digestive system leading to stomach torsion or worse. (See Food Protocols) If the puppy is permitted to jump down stairs, out of cars, off decks or porches, this can lead to damage of the growth plates and/or damage to ligaments or tendons. If the puppy is kept on slippery surfaces, it can lead to damage to ligaments or tendons.
The GSMD can have a negative reaction to certain Medications or anesthesia. Please check with your Veterinarian. If he\she is unsure, check with your breeder. Most breeders are willing to provide information about the effects of medication, anesthesia, etc. on Swissies to your veterinarian.
Training your Dog
The Swissy is an intelligent but stubborn breed. If something does not work the way they think it should the first time, they will try it three or four times more just to make sure. (Even if it means getting their head stuck between the porch railings each time) For the most part, they like praise and try to please the owner. The owner needs to let them know what is good through verbal reinforcement and occasional food reward when they do something good. Soon they will adopt the behavior as one of their rules and Swissies very seldom break their own rules. This does on occasion take patience on the owner’s part.
Dogs of any breed need to understand that the owner is in charge, not the dog. A puppy, raised with proper training and consistent rules, will grow up respecting the rules. A GSMD, once they learn something, expects consistency both from the owner and themselves. The Swissies likes everything in their proper place and things done at the proper time. If you change the place where you put the trash can, they will spend a long period of time looking at the trash can and barking to tell you it was put in the wrong place. The GSMD do adapt to changes as long as the owner is consistent in the change and their expectation from the dog.
House Breaking Your GSMD
Several sites will state that house breaking a Swissy is difficult. We have found that not to be completely true. With two important differences, we have been able to house break them in the same amount of time as any other breed we’ve had. Between 15 to 16 weeks, all of our Swissies have been able to hold their water, while in their crate, for about 6 hours at night,
The first difference is a Swissy comes to the owner not the door to tell you they have to go out (when they do, they mean it). They are not always running over to tell you they love you or just to say hello. They may be telling you they have to go out. There is a difference in their approach. The owner can learn to tell the difference, after some close observation and a few wet spots. The second difference is that a Swissy, despite rapid growth in size, is a slow maturing breed physically. This goes for the bladder as well. At times, when they start to play or become intensely interested in something, they tend to tighten the muscles around the stomach area. This puts pressure on the bladder and they start leaking. Sometimes the puppy is not aware of the leaking and continues to play. Other times they realize it and run to the back door leaving a trail behind them. We do give the purchaser of puppies (or anyone who asks about it) the procedure that we believe limits this problem. We have not found nor known of anyone who has found a solution other than having the puppy grow older and then gain more control over the bladder. The number of incidents becomes less frequent as the puppies grow older. Most Swissies I’ve known, seldom have this problem once they reach the age of 6 to 9 months. However, if you don’t want to or can’t deal with this; you may want to look at another breed.
We have found that leash training of a Swissy is easier than with most breeds. We can usually accomplish this with a couple days of work. The training sessions are 3 to 4 time a day, 5 to 10 minutes at a time. We do this while the puppy is outside learning to be house broken. We share this method with anyone who is interested. This does not mean your puppy is obedience trained. It simply means your puppy will walk with you, in the same direction, without struggling with the lead. We do recommend you take your puppy to a good training class
We will give you links to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America and the AKC. The standards are there and so is addition information about Swissies.