The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, affectionately known as the Swissy, is a traditional favorite in, you guessed it, Switzerland. But what about over here in America? Well, he isn’t a common sight, that’s for sure. But he is becoming an increasingly popular pup over here for lots and lots of reasons.
And here in this guide, we are going to take you on a Swissy dog tour. From his history to how that affects his personality, his grooming regime to his nutritional needs, we cover it all and much more.
He is a handsome hound and as sweet as anything! But he isn’t the right dog for everyone. He isn’t the best choice for those with small apartments or those looking for their first dog. But for those looking for a large protective family dog or an energetic canine companion, he is right up there in the top canine picks. Let’s start our Swissy tour guide and help you discover whether he is the right match for you.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog dates back to the Roman era, and it is believed that his ancestors were Julias Caesar’s war dogs. Chosen for their size and defensive nature, these are attributes still seen in the Swissy today. It is also thought that this is why he is known as the ‘greater’ of the four Swiss dog breeds because he is the original Swiss breed. And if you’re curious, the other three breeds are the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Appenzeller Sennenhund, and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog.
Unlike the other Swiss breeds, the Swissy isn’t localized to a particular region in Switzerland. Instead, he is commonly found all over Switzerland and surrounding European countries. Particularly on farms used for hauling heavily weighted carts full of dairy, meat, and other produce. The industrial revolution nearly saw the extinction of these farm dogs because they were no longer needed.
Thankfully, a famous dog expert of the 1900s, Mr. Albert Heim, saved the Swiss breeds from extinction. In 1909, he lobbied for the Great Swiss Mountain Dog Breed Club to be established and for them to be recognized by a breed in their own right. In 1967, an American couple named Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman fell in love with the breed in a dog show in Frankfurt. A year later, they brought the first Swissy back to America.
He wasn’t officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until 1995. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs now consistently find themselves between the 70th and 80th most popular dog breeds in America. He is commonly mistaken for the Bernese Mountain Dog. And his breed also played a part in creating St Bernard (who is not an original Swiss breed contrary to popular opinion) and the Rottweiler.
Swissies are family-friendly dogs who are well-balanced and loving in nature. He is a true gentle giant, and those that choose him as a family pet often say that they’ll never have another breed again! The Swissy is people-oriented and craves companionship with his family. He is also pleasant and friendly with strangers, just as long as he gets good vibes from them. If he senses that his family is in danger, he will stand guard to protect them.
He is always alert, and this, combined with his protective nature, is what makes him a good guard dog. He is courageous and will bark at intruders, letting you know that there is someone around. His size and booming bark mean that not many people would dare enter your property with bad intentions. He is, after all, related to Caesar’s chosen battle breed. His protective nature is what sets him apart from the other Swiss breeds. And the reason why he needs an experienced dog owner. This breed thrives in a family environment with a leader to look up to.
He isn’t overly cuddly or needy, and this is one of his big appeals. Unlike some other dogs who are forever tripping you over, he is happy to lay by your feet as you watch the telly in the evening. Or chilling in the corner observing you making dinner in the kitchen. It also means that he is more independent than most and is happy to be left alone in the house for a few hours. When the mood takes him, he’ll happily climb onto the sofa with you for cuddles. And all that doggy weight makes him a fantastic canine hot water bottle.
He is a serious canine that takes the role of family guardian seriously. Thankfully, he also has a playful side, thanks to his energy and love of interacting with his humans. And he is known to make the most of puppyhood, often not maturing until he is around three years old. He needs lots of stimulation, and this is great for families looking for a fun furry friend in their life. He is mindful of children and his big size. But always supervise him when playing with kids just in case of an accidental bump.
Size & Appearance
Swissies are large to giant-sized dogs that top the scales at 140 pounds. The smallest of the breed weighs 85 pounds, and that’s not light by any stretch! They measure anywhere between 23 ½ and 28 ½ inches tall, from paw to shoulder. Generally, females weigh on the lower end of the scales than males, but not always, so don’t count on it! The Swissy is the largest of the four Swiss breeds.
The Swissy breed standard describes him as a powerful dog of sturdy appearance. Always confident looking and proud in his gait. He is slightly longer than he is tall and muscular. He has a larger head with a broad muzzle. His eyes are medium almond-shaped and always brown.
If you are looking to show your Swissy, he’ll need to conform to his breed standard. Unlike many other giant dog breeds, his dewlaps are relatively tight. Meaning not much doggy drool – hurray!
Coat & Colors
The Swissy is a striking canine, but not only for his grand size. His tri-colored coat is synonymous with all Swiss breeds, and it is black, white, and red. His topcoat is black, and his markings are rich rust-colored, and white. Usually, his coat is symmetrical, with a white blaze running up to his forehead. He commonly has a white cross across his chest, which almost matches the white cross on the Swiss flag.
Some Swissies are blue or charcoal, white and red, and some are simply red and white. But these dogs would be disqualified in the show ring. But their coloring has no bearing on their personality and is all equally as awesome.
His coat is short and shiny, and it is his coat that sets him apart from the Bernese Mountain Dog. The Swissy’s topcoat is around two inches in length, and it is thick and dense. His outer coat protects his undercoat from the elements. His undercoat is even shorter and fluffy.
This breed is a hardworking dog that has a fair amount of energy. He needs approximately one hour of exercise every day to keep him healthy and happy. His exercise doesn’t need to be intensive, and in fact, he isn’t going to make the best jogging partner if that’s what you are looking for. Instead, he likes long and steady walkies and exploring the local park or forest.
Without his daily exercise, you’ll quickly notice that he is a bored and restless dog. And mixing this with his size and sometimes dominant nature is a recipe for disaster. So, if you want a happy life with your Swissy, you need to be able to guarantee him this amount of daily exercise without fail.
If you can’t, he isn’t the breed for you. A bored Swissy is a destructive one for sure. To keep him entertained throughout the day, be sure to invest in a wide assortment of doggy toys for both interactive and solo play.
He is an independent but intelligent dog. Meaning that you’ll need to mix up his activities throughout the week to keep him interested. But you also need to take charge, otherwise, he’ll wander off and do what he pleases. A fab way to keep him stimulated and pleasant is to take him to the local doggy park to make new friends. He’ll love it, and you can sit back, relax, and watch him have fun.
The Swissy is a giant-sized pup who needs a large home to live in. Unfortunately for city dwellers, a small apartment is not going to cut it with this breed. Ideally, as an outdoorsy dog, he’d also prefer a yard to roam and chill in. As a Swiss dog, he prefers colder climates. But his shorter coat means he could happily live in a warmer climate.
His well-balanced and pleasant nature makes him an ideal family pet. His sheer size might not make him suitable for families with infants because of the risk of accidental bumps and swiping tail swings. But, many families find that with supervision, everyone gets along just fine.
He is also suited to multi-pet families and likes the company of other dogs and even cats. Be warned, he will chase non-family cats and birds away from his yard. So you best secure it with fencing, for everyone’s sake!
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are intelligent dogs who are relatively trainable. But (and it’s a big but!) he is equally independent, which can sometimes make him difficult to train. If you want a dutiful dog who is obedient most of the time, you need to be an experienced dog owner. Plus, you need to know how to handle stubborn dogs. You need to be the boss and not let him get away with naughty behaviors.
Most importantly, start his training young for the best results. The whole family needs to be on board with the training, and you need to stick to boundaries and rules. The socialization process from a young age is the most important aspect of any dog’s training.
A good breeder will expose him to different dogs, humans, and sounds, and it will be your job to continue this training. Not only will it build his confidence, but it will also ensure that he transforms into a polite pup that isn’t overly protective.
The positive reinforcement training method is the best. He will respond well to yummy treats or his favorite toys, so be sure to keep a few to hand to get the best out of him. His large size and power mean that you’ll also want to leash-train him from a young age. Because if he can pull wagons full of cheese with ease, he’ll be able to pull you over with no problem.
The Swissy is a relatively healthy dog breed. But unfortunately, like all giant dogs, he has a relatively shorter lifespan than most other dog breeds. So, it’s super important to keep him as healthy as you can to ensure that he stays with you for as long as possible. Keeping him fit with daily exercise and staying up to date with his medical examinations are some of the simplest ways to keep him healthy. As is feeding him the best quality nutrition that you can afford.
The Swissy, like all other purebreds, are prone to a certain selection of health problems more than others. And this is where you should start your research. Below are the most common conditions to affect the Swissy breed, but it’s worth remembering that it isn’t exhaustive.
Hip, Elbow, and Shoulder Dysplasia
Joint dysplasia is a common condition in large and giant breeds. And the Swissy is one of only a few that are commonly prone to shoulder dysplasia. Joint dysplasia is where the joint doesn’t form properly and grows unevenly. Mainly from the rapid growth period that they experience as a puppy. This uneven growth causes increased wear and tear and will eventually cause mobility problems. Symptoms such as stiff limbs and joints, unable to stand up properly or climb stairs, or general exercise intolerance are common with joint dysplasia.
The Swissy is prone to various eye concerns too. Some of the most common eye conditions include progressive retinal atrophy and age-related cataracts. Other common conditions are distichiasis, where eyelashes grow on the inner eyelid and irritate the eye. And entropion, which is the inward rolling of the eyelid. All eye problems are painful and will eventually lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated.
This is a common condition in large and giant dogs. It occurs when the stomach twists and essentially causes fatal shock. It is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. Never feed your Swissy immediately before or after exercise, as this can exponentially increase the likelihood of this occurring. Rapid breathing, retching with little coming up, restlessness, excessive drooling, and a swollen abdomen are crucial signs to act upon.
This is more uncommon than gastric torsion but affects the Swissy more than other breeds. It occurs when the spleen rotates, and is then filled with blood. It is not the same as gastric torsion, but it is just as life-threatening. Vomiting, pale gums, fever, and tender abdomen are symptoms to look for.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs will consume between four and five cups of high-quality kibble every day. Remembering the gastric torsion concerns, this should be split across at least two different sittings.
The amount that you feed him is unique to every dog, and it will depend on a host of factors. These factors include size, age, energy levels, and general appetite. The Swissy is a giant dog who needs to be kept trimmed because being overweight will put too much stress on his joints and cardiac system.
The kibble that you pick for him needs to be designed specifically for large or giant breed dogs. Large breed kibble has optimized calcium, phosphorus, fats, and vitamin D levels which control his rapid bone growth. The puppy stage is most important, with most large-breed puppy foods containing more nutrient-dense nutrition profiles.
Feeding your Swissy large breed kibbles, especially during puppyhood, is crucial in fighting skeletal abnormalities such as joint dysplasia. High-quality kibbles also provide a well-balanced diet to keep him as healthy as possible.
Large dogs also need kibbles that provide the right amount of healthy omega fatty acids and glucosamine. Omega fatty acids are one of the most important components of the Swissy diet. And they promote a healthy coat, cognitive and organ function, joint support, and overall wellness, to name just a few benefits. These nutrients can be found in meat meals, fish, flaxseed, fish oils, plant oils, and supplements. So be sure to look out for these ingredients.
This breed has a relatively simple grooming schedule, but this doesn’t mean his coat can be left to its own devices. He will need brushing twice a week throughout the year, and given his size, it will take around 20 minutes or so. Use a bristle brush or a slicker brush for the best results.
When it comes to the shedding seasons, he’ll need brushing most days to manage his shed. He will blow his coat, so you’ll need to keep on top of it and expect a tri-colored snowstorm. A high-quality deshedding tool will be your best weapon! Shedding seasons are in spring and fall.
The Swissy will need bathing once every six to eight weeks. His thick coat will benefit from a concentrated shampoo for a thorough clean. Otherwise, his undercoat will miss out on the soap suds. Always use a shampoo designed for dogs, and pick a natural dog shampoo product that will be gentle on his skin. Don’t wash him any more than once every six weeks. Otherwise, you’ll risk damaging his skin’s pH levels and natural coat oils.
The Swissy will need his nails trimming once every two weeks or so, or as often as you hear them tapping on the floor. He will need his brush cleaned once or twice a week with doggy toothpaste. This will keep his breath fresh (as fresh as a doggy breath can be!) and prevent periodontal diseases. His large ears may need cleaning once a week with an ear-cleaning product or warm water if they appear gunky inside.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
The breed is a relatively uncommon dog breed in America. For this reason, you need to expect that you’ll have to travel to find a good quality breeder. And most if not all good quality breeders will have a waiting list for pups. It’s important to work with a top-quality breeder because they do everything they can to produce healthy pups.
A good quality breeder will have experience in breeding Swissies. Look for lots of independent positive reviews on search engines or a professional website. Ensure that you meet the breeder and the pups in person, including the puppy’s mother. Ask to see health certificates, play with the pups and look for signs of good temperament and health. A great place to start your search for a responsible breeder is on the AKC’s Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breeder page.
An irresponsible breeder will often breed ill dogs who produce sick puppies. They will raise them without any love and attention and do the bare minimum when it comes to veterinary attention to save money. If a breeder pressurizes you into a sale, does not allow you to meet the pups together with their mom, or is unable to provide health certificates or answer questions, walk away.
The average price of a Swissy pup from a responsible breeder is around $2,000 and up. If you want a show dog or one from a famous bloodline, they might be priced higher than this. There are other costs to consider when buying a puppy. You’ll have to kit your house up with extra large dog beds, crates, harnesses, toys, etc. Plus, ongoing living costs such as food, vet bills, and insurance are costly and need to be met.
Rescues & Shelters
Not everyone wants to buy a puppy, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot have a Swissy. Why not look at adopting one? You have two options. Firstly, you can either head out to your local rescue center.
But because the Swissy is a relatively rare dog in the United States, there might not be many available for adoption in local shelters. Speak to the staff who might know of a Swissy at a nearby shelter as they often share information.
Suppose this is not an option or doesn’t work out for you. In that case, there are a few Swissy dedicated rescue organizations that rehome just Swissies and their mixes. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Rescue Foundation works hard to rehome Swissies all over the country. Head over to their website to fill in an adoption form to be considered, and start your Swissy journey.
As Family Pets
- The Swissy is a giant dog breed.
- They need plenty of room to roam and be happy.
- He makes a well-balanced family companion dog.
- He adores his humans and loves to spend time with them.
- The Swissy loves exercising, but can also enjoy a snooze on the couch.
- He’s not overly needy, and has an independent nature.
- He needs 60 minutes of exercise every day to stay fit and healthy.
- The Swissy needs a lot of playtime and mental stimulation.
- Without this, they tend to get themselves into trouble.
- He is a fantastic blend of fun and calm in the home.
- He is a protective dog who will bark loudly to announce everyone’s arrival.
- Once he gets to know people, he is friendly with them.
- The Swissy can be a dominant dog breed and needs an experienced owner.
- Swissies can be stubborn, and training needs to be consistent.
- He loves the company of other children and other pets.
- He needs brushing several times a week.
- Swissies can shed a lot during the shedding seasons.
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a wonderful dog breed that brings joy to everyone in the family. But as you can see from our guide, he isn’t the best pick for everyone. It’s important that you can give him what he needs if you want a harmonious relationship. But if you can provide him with what he needs, most Swissy owners will tell you that once you’ve gone Swiss, you’ll never go back!
January 8, 2023 at 11:16 am
Thank you Emma,
That was incredibly useful info on my favorite dog breed. Altho I live in the UK, it gives me a lot to think about. I love large dog breeds, having had enjoyed living with both German Shepherd and Doberman companions in the past. A Greater Swissy is definitely the right dog for me!