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Bernese Mountain Dog vs. Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: What’s The Difference?

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and the Bernese Mountain Dog are intensely similar with very few differences. If you are trying to decide between the two for your next canine companion, keep reading to find out which breed is better suited for your lifestyle!

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: April 18, 2021 | 8 min read

Bernese Mountain Dog and Swiss Mountain Dog in Snow

Comparing the Bernese Mountain Dog vs. the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog as your next family companion? The Bernese Mountain Dog, affectionately known as the Berner, is one of four Swiss mountain dog breeds. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, commonly referred to as the Swissy, is another Swiss mountain dog breed. Throughout this article, to save us from getting tongue-tied, we will refer to them as the Berner and the Swissy.

They are strikingly similar, and their personalities are too. But they must be slightly different to be considered individual breeds, right? You got it. And here in this breed comparison guide, we are going to discover each of the subtle differences. Because just one of them might be enough to help you decide which one is the better pooch for you and your family.

So, before we cheese you off with all these tongue-twisters, let’s jump straight into the details of these cheese-loving Swiss canines!

Breed Comparison

Bernese Mountain Dog

  • Height 25-29 Inches
  • Weight 75-115 Pounds
  • Temperament Affectionate, Friendly, Social
  • Energy Low
  • Health Below Average
  • Lifespan 6-8 Years
  • Price $1,000 and Up

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

  • Height 23-29 Inches
  • Weight 80-140 Pounds
  • Temperament Devoted, Good-Natured, Protective
  • Energy Medium
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 9-11 Years
  • Price $1,500 and Up

Breed History

The Bernese Mountain Dog and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog are very similar to one another, and this is because of their similar origins and pasts. But there are a few differences between them, which is what makes them separate breeds.

Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog Outdoors
The Bernese Mountain Dog has increased in popularity over the last several years.

The Bernese Mountain Dog hails from Bern, in Switzerland. Bern is an area famous for its dairy farms, making cheese, milk, and many other products. For centuries, the Berner was used as a herder, farm protector, and cart puller. Known to pull many times his weight, he was a valued part of the farm. But in the 20th century, his numbers started to dwindle because he was slowly being replaced by tractors and other vehicles.

Swiss breed lovers realized that they had to step into action to save the breed, and that is what they did. A professor called Albert Heim established the Berner breed club in 1907. But it wasn’t until 1926 that his American history began. A farmer from Kansas imported a pair, and the rest is history. In 2020, he is the 22nd most popular dog breed in America, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Outside
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a close relative to the Berner.

The Greater Swiss Moutain Dog is a much older dog breed than the Berner. And it is thought that the Swissy dates back to the Roman era. It is believed that his ancestors were Julias Caeser’s Mastiff-type war dogs, and this is why he is known as the ‘greater’ one.

He is also the foundation of the four Swiss breeds, and the largest too. The Greater Swiss is also a component breed of the Saint Bernard (who is not one of the four Swiss mountain breeds, contrary to popular belief).

He isn’t localized to a particular area, unlike the Berner. But similar to the Berner, he too was used for farm work. Being much bigger and more powerful, his specialist skill was to haul heavily laden carts packed full of meat and dairy to markets.

Again, like the Berner, his numbers dwindled with the rise of mechanical transportation. But Albert Heim, who created the Berner club, also established the Swissy club two years later and lobbied for them to be their own breed.

Appearance

Mountain Dogs Outdoors
Both breeds do look very similar to one another, minus coat length.

Their appearance is one of the main differences between these guys. It’s also the reason why they were first classified as separate breeds. The Berner is the smaller of the two, but he is by no means small. He weighs between 70 and 115 pounds, and he measures between 23 and 28 inches tall. Compared to the Swissy, who weighs between 85 and 140 pounds, and he measures just one inch taller.

The Berner has a longer and shaggier coat than the Swissy, whose coat is much shorter and tighter. They both have double-layered and thick coats, but the Berner is the more demanding of the two when it comes to his grooming. Both breeds sport the traditional Swiss colors, which are black, white, and rust. They both have the classic white blaze marking on their muzzle to their forehead. Because of the Berner’s shaggy good looks and similar size, they are often mistaken for a Saint Bernard with a black coat.

Temperament

Bernese and Greater Swissy Playing Outdoors
Both the Berner and Swissy have well-balanced temperaments.

Their temperaments are both similar and different. The first similarity is that they both make fantastic family dogs. They are both affectionate, loving and see themselves as lap dogs who can squeeze themselves onto your lap. We hope you like the feeling of dead legs!

They admire their human pack and would do anything to protect them. As with previous farm guards, you can find a fantastic guard dog in both of these guys. They might not necessarily pick a fight as such, but they’ll certainly finish it if someone tries to harm his family.

The Swissy is the most protective of the two breeds, and he has a more dominant personality. He needs an experienced dog owner, whereas the Berner could be taken on by a first-time dog owner.

The Berner is the more cuddly of the two breeds, mainly because he is slightly more laidback than the Swissy. This is one of the reasons why they are a popular parent breed for several designer Berner mixes.

If we had to choose which breed would win the gentle giant award, it would be the Berner for sure. As a harder working farm dog, the Swissy is the more serious one who needs a lot more interaction throughout the day to keep him entertained.

Exercise

Berner and Swissy Playing
Both Breeds need around an hour of exercise every day.

Both the Berner and the Swissy need an hour of exercise every single day. It doesn’t matter if there is snow on the ground (in fact, they would both love that). As giant dog breeds, they need long and leisurely strolls around the local nature reserve or park. They both love the fresh air and will get cabin fever if they are cooped up for too long.

As pups, neither of them should be exercised hard because of their large bodies and joints. Too much impact can cause developmental abnormalities, so it’s best to avoid intense activity altogether.

Being the more laidback pup, the Berner less interaction in the day time. He’s more than happy to snooze for a few hours, and you’ll certainly know about it when his loud snores start echoing around the house. The Swissy needs much more interaction throughout the day to burn off that extra energy of his. Think more intense playtimes, challenges, and a need for durable dog toys.

Training

Berner with Swissy in Their Elements
Both breeds are independent and will require consistent training from puppyhood.

The Berner and the Swissy are both very trainable and intelligent dogs. They both respond well to positive reinforcement training, with a weakness for yummy treats. And lots of them, which you need to keep an eye on. We’ll discuss this more in the nutrition section.

The main difference between their training is that because the Swissy is a much more dominant dog breed, he needs a more robust owner. His new owner needs to be experienced with large dominant dogs. And to be fair, but strict with the rules of the house. The Berner still needs consistent training, but he is not as intense as the Swissy.

As potentially protective dogs, it’s so important that they are socialized from a young age. Many owners are often worried about socializing such big dogs with other dogs, but it’s crucial. Otherwise, they can both become too much to handle when they reach their mature size. Expose them to as many dogs as possible, as well as other animals, humans, environments, and noises.

Health

Two Dogs Outside Running Quickly
Generally speaking, both breeds are very healthy, and not prone to many health conditions.

The Berner and the Swissy are giant breeds, and as such, you should expect that they have shorter lifespans than many other dog breeds. But, it might be surprising to learn that the smaller of the two has a shorter lifespan. Ther Berner is expected to live between 7 to 10 years, and the Swissy lives between 8 and 11 years.

Overall, they are relatively healthy breeds, but the Swissy is the healthiest of the two breeds. The Berner is prone to both elbow and hip dysplasia, as is the Swissy. But the Swissy being the heavier breed, is also prone to shoulder dysplasia, which is much less common than other joint dysplasias. They are also both prone to various eye concerns, such as progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts.

In addition to this, the Berner should be screened for various heart conditions, such as dilated cardiomyopathy. He is also susceptible to a condition known as Von Willebrand’s disease. A reputable breeder will screen for these conditions and only breed healthy dogs.

Nutrition

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and Bernese Mountain Dog in Grass
Both the Swissy and Berner are larger breeds and need a dry kibble that supports their rapid growth.

The Berner will consume between three to four cups of food every day, and the Swissy will consume between four to five cups a day. How much they consume is all dependant on their size, age, and energy levels. Be sure not to overfeed them both because they are prone to easy weight gain, especially the Berner with his laidback ways. Obesity can lead to further health problems, so it’s imperative that you keep an eye on their food intake.

They should both be fed a high-quality diet that provides them with well-balanced nutrition. A high-quality diet will include real meat proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy omega fats, vitamins, and minerals. Another key ingredient to look out for is glucosamine and chondroitin, which will help support their large joints.

As giant breeds, they should both be fed a kibble that is specifically designed for giant breeds, especially as puppies when their growth is quite rapid. These will contain the optimum nutrients that they need. This is particularly important during the development stage. Research shows that they can help to prevent or delay bone diseases such as hip, elbow, and shoulder dysplasia that both breeds are already prone to.

Grooming

Swissy and Berner Needing Groomed
Of the two breeds, the Berner will need more frequent grooming.

Their grooming needs are different, which is sometimes a main consideration for families trying to decide between the two breeds. The Berner is the only Swiss mountain dog to have a long silky coat. This means that his grooming schedule is more intense than the Swissy. The Berner needs brushing two or three times a week, and likely a need for de-shedding at least twice a year with a proper tool.

Compared to the Swissy, who needs to be brushed once a week. During the shedding season, you can expect to brush the Berner a little more than this to keep on top of his shedding. Additionally, they are both droolers, so you need to be okay with a bit of doggy dribble around the home and on your favorite outfits.

They both need bathing once every 8 to 12 weeks. The Berner would benefit from a shampoo with conditioning ingredients, as this will prevent any hair tangling. But with double coats, you should also consider a concentrated shampoo for both breeds as this will provide a deeper cleanse.

Puppy Prices

Mountain Dog Puppies
Of the two breeds, Swissy puppies tend to be more expensive due to their rarity.

The price of a puppy Berner starts from around $1,500. Which is slightly less than the cost of the Swissy, which starts at about $2,000. This is expected because the Swissy is a much rarer breed, and he is much larger too. If you are looking for a puppy from an award-winning lineage, you can expect to pay much more than this.

Always make sure that you work with a reputable breeder who will allow you to meet the pups and their parents in person before you make any financial commitments. They will breed healthier dogs, and they will also raise them with love and begin the socialization process too.

Final Thoughts

The Bernese Mountain Dog and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog are so similar because they are closely related. The Swissy is the oldest of the four Switzerland breeds, and he is the foundation of all four Swiss breeds. The Berner is a descendant of the Swissy, but he is localized to the Bern region. So, whether that makes him a cousin or a nephew, they are closely related.

It is often their coat, size, and trainability differences that often determine which breed you might choose. But whichever breed you decide to swing for, know that you’ll be getting a gentle giant that is perfectly suited to family life. Just be sure that you can meet their needs, and you’ll soon be saying that Swiss cuddles are the best!

Leave a Comment

6 Comments

Jim Falletti

June 15, 2021 at 12:47 am

Our Swissy Brody was a true gentle giant. He was affectionately known as Nana because of his love towards children. Seeing him would intimidate someone who didn't know him. Sadly just prior to his 12th birthday he succumbed to hip dysplasia. We were truly blessed having our puppy for as long as we did and enjoyed every day with him. He is missed by everyone whom he met and knew him.

Kelly Wilson

June 15, 2021 at 9:15 pm

Sounds like a great dog, Jim! Thanks for sharing your story and experience. It's always hard when one of our loved ones crosses the rainbow bridge. Good luck to you, and hopefully you will find the strength to welcome a new pup into your home when the timing is right.

Michael Brown

June 21, 2021 at 1:14 am

Our family has been blessed to have lived the last 20+ years with the presence of two great BMD's. Win (Winchester) 2000-2010 & Ruger 2010-2020 were absolutely the rocks of our family and constant companion of our kids since they were babies.

There is no other dog I would suggest for a family with kids than a BMD; they don't come any better. They just DON'T. Unfortunately, over the past several years the 1% "elite" has made the BMD what I call a "fad dog" and our family cannot afford the price of a pup from a breeder of best practices. Shame, regular folk will never know what a great, fantastic breed this dog is for the family.

Kelly Wilson

June 21, 2021 at 6:18 pm

Sounds like you've had a couple of amazing dogs, Michael. Yes, this has been happening across several breeds these days. Once the "fads" slow down though, prices have been known to recede, so hopefully we see the same with the BMD in the future. Thanks for commenting and sharing!

Deborah Maguire

July 21, 2021 at 12:42 am

We've had both a Berner and a Swissy. Our Berner, Mac, lived til 14. He was a loving and friendly dog. It broke all of our hearts when we lost him. We now have a Swissy, Brady. We live in a townhouse with no real yard. So, he's now with a friend who has a large yard and adores him. He's now 7 and he has a number of health issues, but, they don't slow him down. And it's absolutely true about both getting in your lap. They have no clue how big they are.

Kelly Wilson

July 21, 2021 at 3:49 pm

Hi, Deborah. We absolutely love our big pups and sounds like you've had two really great dogs. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and share your experience with both breeds!