Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

Switzerland has four varieties of farm dogs, and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is the largest of them. On the farm, his jobs included guarding and herding livestock and pulling carts. He's a giant breed, with males weighing 105 to 140 pounds, females 85 to 110 pounds.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

When he has been appropriately socialized and trained, the adult Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is calm and devoted to his family. He doesn't reach maturity until he's 4 or 5 years old, though, and the long puppyhood of a large breed such as this definitely has its trying moments.

Puppies are highly active, mouthy and rambunctious, so purchasing a Swissy puppy may not be the best decision for a family with young children. That long march to maturity also means that the Swissy does not housetrain as quickly as some breeds. Be patient, be consistent in scheduling potty times, and provide plenty of supervision until you're sure he's reliable in the house.

Because of their heritage as a working breed, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are confident, even in the face of unusual situations or the presence of people they don't know. They should not be shy or aggressive toward strangers or other dogs. They may, however, chase cats or other animals, and their herding instinct can kick in around children as well. Teach them that bumping, chasing and tackling children are not permitted.

Begin training as soon as you bring your Swissy puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. He likes having a leader and will learn quickly if you teach him to look to you for guidance. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards.

Like any dog, Swissy puppies are inveterate chewers and because of their size can do more damage than puppies of other breeds. They are prone to ingesting items such as socks and dish towels, resulting in veterinary visits or even surgery for intestinal blockages.

The Swissy has moderate exercise needs and is adaptable to his family's lifestyle. In general, plan to give him a long walk daily or several short walks throughout the day, avoiding strenuous exercise when it's hot outside. He's a great hiking companion and can excel in activities such as agility, drafting (pulling a cart or wagon), herding, obedience, rally or tracking. Greater Swiss also make excellent therapy dogs, having a gentle, mellow temperament as well as the perfect height for standing at a bedside and being petted.

While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs love their people, especially children, and will pine without human companionship. They should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, the Swissy should be with them. It's also important to remember that the Swissy does not tolerate heat well, so during hot weather he needs to be kept in a cool place with ready access to fresh water

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs have a short, easy-care coat. Weekly brushing--more often during shedding season--will help to keep loose hair under control. Clean the ears and trim the nails as needed, and bathe the Swissy when he's dirty to keep his tricolor coat gleaming.

Because the puppies are extremely appealing, be on the lookout for puppy millers and irresponsible breeders. They'll be very happy to cash your check or run your charge card, but not so happy to answer your questions about health testing and temperament in their dogs. Buying a Swissy from a reputable breeder can take several months or even a year or more, but the wait is well worth it to get a happy, healthy specimen of this breed.

Health Issues Common to Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons.

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, other orthopedic problems such as panosteitis and osteochondritis dissecans of the shoulder, an eye disease called distichiasis, gastric torsion, epilepsy and urinary incontinence in females.

Not every Swissy will get all or even any of these conditions, but knowing about them beforehand will help you in your search for a breeder. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Swissy to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA certification for elbows, OFA or PennHIP certification for hips and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. An optional test is an OFA shoulder evaluation. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC's website to see if a breeder's dogs have these certifications.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Greater Swiss Mountain Dog before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Elbow Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$4,000
Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder Medium $2,000-$4,000
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) Medium $1,500-$7,500
Panosteitis Medium $200-$800
Distichiasis Medium $1,500-$2,000

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Puppy

Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. Start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America, which maintains a referral list of breeders.

Purchase a Swissy puppy only from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Swissy by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an adult dog, most of them can be ruled out. Swissies can live to be 10 to 12 years old.

Puppy or adult, take your Swissy to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

Pet insurance for Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are a great deal more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.