The Breed History
Thought to have been brought by the Romans to the Alps, these dogs and those of the Swiss Sennenhund group derive from Mastiff type dogs (Mollasian or Molloser). The Greater Swiss Mountain dog is the oldest and the largest of the Swiss working dogs. It was not until 1908 that the breed was rescued from a slow decline; first registrations occurred in the Swiss Kennel Club a few years later. Numbers did not rebound until well after the Second World War. This breed contributed to the development of the Rottweiler and Saint Bernard. The Bernese Mountain dog is also related. First specimens were exported to America in 1967. The AKC first accepted Swiss Mountain dogs into the studbook in 1993, with full breed recognition assigned in 1995.
Breeding for Function
This was an all purpose farm dog bred to help with herding, droving, guarding, and draft (cart pulling etc.).
Height at Withers: female 23.5-27" (59.5-68.5 cm), male 25.5-28.5" (65-72.5 cm)
Weight: females 85-110 lb (38.5-50 kg), males 115-140 lb (53.5-63.4 kg).
Coat: Double coated, the inner coat is thick and short, the outer coat is dense and hard (< 2" long). Coat color is a tri-color; a base of black with rust and white markings. Symmetrical rust markings of brows, cheek and chest, on the four legs and tail, with white highlights of muzzle and blaze are standard. On the chest, a cross, and the tail tip and feet white markings are also important; also on the neck a collar marking is permitted.
Longevity: 7-9 years
Points of Conformation: Being a powerful draft dog, the constitution is that of a heavily muscled and boned dog. The skull is broad and flat, and the muzzle is blunt, and there are only minor flews. The medium-sized ears are triangular with rounded tips, and are high-set and folded so that the ears lay close to the head. Eyes are dark brown with a gentle expression, and they are medium in size, with closely fitting black palpebral margins. The nose is also black. The neck is moderate in length and muscularity, without throatiness. The topline is level, and the thorax is deep with well-sprung ribs. The tail reaches the tarsus and is carried low at rest, though during exercise it is elevated to topline. Legs are straight boned, feet are round and the toes are well arched. Rear dewclaws are generally removed. Gait should reflect power and be ground covering, and for their size this breed is very agile.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Bold, faithful, willing worker, alert, vigilant, can be argumentative with other dogs (especially inter-male aggression) though he is gentle with people. Not suitable for apartment living. During shedding, grooming needs are high, but the rest of the year the Swissy requires brushing only once or twice per week. They are slow to mature and these dogs require close human contact. The Swissy tends to be slow in housetraining. Needs suitable work or play to prevent boredom. He requires early socialization and obedience training and has moderate exercise needs. Low exercise intensity is recommended until skeletal maturity. The Swissy has a well-developed alarm barking tendency (and a very loud, booming bark) and strong guarding instinct. His strong prey drive may mean that small pets are seen as prey. Some dogs have a tendency to dominance. Due to their size and strength, they are generally very strong on the leash and as such, may be best for experienced dog owners, and in homes with older children. Not considered ideal for a seniors due to size and strength. These dogs have poor tolerance of high ambient temperatures.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Breeding females can have difficulty whelping, and may require a Cesarean section.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 19.1% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 11.3% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 0.5% affected.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 31.82% of Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Urinary Incontinence: Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs have increased risk to develop urinary incontinence. Treat with DES (for females) or phenylpropanolamine. Reported at a frequency of 11.0% in the 2000-2001 GSMDCA Health Survey, with a frequency of 20.0% in females.
Humeral Osteochondritis Dissecans: Polygenically inherited cartilage defect of the humeral head. Causes shoulder joint pain and lameness in young growing dogs. Mild cases can resolve with rest, while more severe cases require surgery. Reported at a frequency of 5.4% in the 2000-2001 GSMDCA Health Survey. Diagnosed in 15.3% of Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs who had shoulder radiographs taken. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Umbilical Hernia: Congenital opening in the body wall from where the umbilical cord was attached. Reported at a frequency of 9.6% in the 2000-2001 GSMDCA Health Survey. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Cataracts: Anterior cortex punctate and posterior cortex intermediate cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 8.12% of Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Greater Swiss Mountain Dog with a cataract.
Gastric Dilation/Volvulus (GDV, Bloat): Life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate veterinary attention. Reported at a frequency of 5.3% in the 2000-2001 GSMDCA Health Survey. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Inherited Epilepsy: Grand-mal seizures. Control with anticonvulsant medication. Reported at a frequency of 4.6% in the 2000-2001 GSMDCA Health Survey. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 3.97% of Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 3.7% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Fly-biting Seizures/Partial Seizures: Seen at an increased frequency in the breed. Control with anticonvulsant medication. Reported at a frequency of 1.3% in the 2000-2001 GSMDCA Health Survey. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Lumbosacral Transitional Vertebra (LTV): The breed has a significantly greater incidence of LTV than other breeds. This can lead to pain and neurological impairment from cauda equina syndrome.
Panosteitis and von Willebrand's Disease are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Pemphigus Vegetans: A 4-year-old male Greater Swiss Mountain Dog presented with multifocal cutaneous verrucous and crusted papules and pustules, as well as skin and mucosal erosions and ulcers. Histopathology revealed hyperplastic intraepidermal pustular and suprabasal acantholytic dermatosis resembling human pemphigus vegetans.
Tests of Genotype: none
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip and elbow radiographs, and CERF eye examination. Optional recommended tests include shoulder radiographs, and anecdotal data on epilepsy, splenic torsion, and gastric torsion.
Recommend thyroid profile including autoantibodies, patella evaluation and cardiac evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Swissy, Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund, Swiss Mountain Dog, Great Swiss Cattle Dog, Great Swiss Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain dog.
- Registries: AKC, CKC, NKC (National Kennel Club), FCI.
- AKC rank (year 2008): 89 (715 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America: www.gsmdca.org
Great Swiss Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain: www.gsmd.org.uk
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