Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, also known as the Swissy, is a dog of large size that originated in the Swiss Alps. This dog breed was believed to be extinct but it was rediscovered again at the beginning of the 20th century. What is interesting is the fact that this large dog belongs to the group of indigenous dogs and it was probably brought to Switzerland by foreign settlers who developed it by mating various large mastiff dog breeds and types. Besides the fact that the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is one of the oldest, it is also one of the largest but with a big heart. In this article we are going to go over some of the most important characteristic and some interesting facts about this wonderful dog breed. Whether you are interested in getting a puppy or simply satisfying your curiosity, read on to find more about the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog!

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog Breed Group:Working Dogs
Height:1 foot, 11 inches to 2 feet, 4 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:Generally 85 to 140 pounds
Life Span:7 to 9 years

When it comes to adaptability, the most important thing you need to know about the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is that he is not a dog suitable for apartment living. He is a dog breed of large size that needs a lot of space and there is no apartment big enough to suit his needs. Additionally, this dog has in its genes a need for working and spending lots of time outdoors, which means that if you decide to keep him in a spacious apartment and take him out a couple of times, that would still not be enough. A dog of this size needs a big yard or even better, a huge yard in the countryside. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is not suitable for a novice.

The main reason for this is that this dog is not trained easily and he can be very stubborn. Inexperienced owners would need to have a strong will and patience, but even that would not be enough. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog can be a real challenge in the terms of trainability and exercising, so you should think twice before purchasing a puppy because this is certainly not a lap dog! When it comes to his level of sensitivity, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is not a sensitive dog; moreover, he is a sturdy and hardy dog breed that is used to harsh weather and hard working. Additionally, he tolerated cold weather and low temperatures amazingly well due to his thick coat; but he does not tolerate hot weather at all.

You should keep this in mind if you live in a place which has scorching summers. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is also not very sensitive when it comes to being alone; of course, that does not mean that he should be ignored or left out outside alone for a long period of time, it is just that it is a dog breed used to working in the field on his own.

Besides being a hard-working dog, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is also known as being a gentle and affectionate family dog. He may be huge and big; but his heart is gentle and filled with love towards his owner and other family members, especially children. He should not be left alone with toddlers because he can accidentally step on them; but even trained and socialized properly, he can be great not only with kids but also with other dogs and, more or less, strangers. He is naturally suspicious of unfamiliar people, but with proper socialization he may overcome it.

Speaking of health and grooming, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is known for his thick and warm coat. It sheds moderately and you should not worry about the grooming because it is not difficult and you won’t need a professional groomer. Additionally, this dog does not drool much or at all, which is another plus. However, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog has a very poor health in general, something that can be partially be contributed to his great size. Some of the conditions that affect this breed are: eyelash issues, epilepsy, lick fit, dysplasias, urinary incontinence etc. This breed also has a huge potential for weight gain so you should be careful never to overfeed your pet.

When it comes to trainability, everything is more or less moderate when it comes to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. This dog breed is not easy to train due to its stubbornness and the intensity of exercises. With moderate intelligence and potential for mouthiness, the training should start as early as possible. This dog breed also has a moderate prey drive, wanderlust potential and tendency to bark or howl. Nothing extreme, but it can worsen if the dog is not trained properly. Having in mind that the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a working type of dog that loves being useful and hard-working, that means that you need to work with him every day.

Speaking of exercise needs, they are high. A dog of this size needs high intensity exercises that would satisfy his energy level which is also very high. Having in mind that he loves being playful, it should not be very hard to engage him in a variety of positive reinforcement games and exercises. However, if you want your Greater Swiss Mountain Dog to compete in dog sports or do the actual work in the fields, you will need to do much harder and to teach him with more patience.

Main Highlights
  • The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is not suitable for living in an apartment due to his large size and exercise needs.
  • Obedience training and positive reinforcement would be the best possible approaches to training this dog breed. The Swissy is used to working really hard, so his energy should be met.
  • The Swissy is known as a great family dog, but he should not be left alone with toddlers because he can accidentally step on them or even knock them over.
  • This dog breed does not handle high temperatures and summers at all. He can overheat which almost always results in death. Do not purchase a puppy if you live in an extreme climate with scorching summers. Always hydrate your dog and keep him in air-conditioned rooms.
  • The Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are prone to chasing smaller animals and being suspicious of strangers; therefore proper training and early socialization are a must.
Breed History

The exact origin of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is not really known and there is more than one theory regarding the origin of this beautiful and large dog breed. It is believed that he is a descendant of the Molosser and other huge Mastiff-type dogs that date back to the Roman legends, 2000 years ago. However, there is also a theory that the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog we know today is a descendant of an indigenous dog breed to central Europe during the Neolithic Period.

Even if we cannot be 100% sure, it is certain that the Swissy is a descendant of huge Mastiff-like breeds that were used by farmers, herdsmen and other merchants in Europe. A dog of this size was used for a variety of jobs that were not easy at all. They were pulling heavy carts, guarding and moving around cattle, guarding homes, being watchdogs and family companions as well. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs were brought to the USA in 1968 while the Swiss Kennel Club was officially formed in 1908. The American Kennel Club recognized this breed as official in 1995. After the World War II when the machines started replacing animals and people, it was believed that this breed died out; however, its popularity emerged once again by the end of the 20th century and it is even today used for work.



The Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are dogs of large size. The males are bigger than females and they stand 25.5 to 28.5 inches (65–72 cm) tall and weigh 132.3–154.3 pounds (60.0–70.0 kg). The female’s stand 23.5 to 27 inches tall (60–69 cm) and weigh 110.2–132.3 pounds (50.0–60.0 kg).

Personality and Character

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a fun, affectionate, gentle, kind, alert and loving dog. He is never a pushover or easygoing; however, they are confident and protective of their family. They are not easy to train because of their stubborn personality and that is one reason why are they never recommended to novice owners.

He can be a great watch dog since it is in his blood, and he is also great around children due to his gentle personality but he is not suitable for toddlers and small children who do not know how to behave around a big dog.

The Swissy needs to be trained and socialized from an early age otherwise they would not go along with other smaller animals, especially birds. They might even become timid around strangers and other dogs unless they have not been exposed to various factors. If you decide to go for this dog breed, you should know that this is a dog that needs constant physical and mental training in order not to become boring thus depressed.

Health and Potential Problems

Speaking of health, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are not considered very healthy dogs and their life span is a bit shorter than the span in other dog breeds. They are affected by various conditions and diseases more than the others. Some of them are:

  • Hip Dysplasia is an inherited condition which is when the thighbone does not fit properly into the hip joint. It can be diagnosed with X-ray screening. Some signs include lameness and pain. These dogs should not be bred as well. Arthritis might be one of the consequences of hip dysplasia.
  • Elbow Dysplasia is similar to hip dysplasia in the sense that the joint bone of the elbow is weakened and it also may result in arthritis and lameness. It can be treated with surgery as well, including medications.
  • Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) is an orthopedic condition caused by the improper growth of cartilage in the joints which usually occurs in the elbows, but it has also been noticed in the shoulders as well. If severe, a dog is unable to bend his elbows at all. It is believed that overfeeding your puppy with proteins might cause this condition.
  • Entropion is a condition caused by the lower eyelid folding inward toward the eye which results in the irritation of the eye that is chronic. It can be treated with surgery.
  • Lens Luxation is a condition that is usually inherited and it affects the lens of the eyes which are not properly placed in the eyes. It can be either partial or complete and sometimes it can be treated with surgery or medications. However, if the case is severe, the eye may need to be removed.
  • Gastric Torsion also known as Bloat is a dangerous condition that can kill your dog if not treated on time. It is a result or overfeeding, drinking rapidly after eating and exercising after eating. If you see that your dog is unable to vomit but has distended abdomen, call a vet immediately.
  • Other: Patellar Luxation (slipped stifles), Splenic Torsion, Cataracts, Distichiasis, Panosteitis, Swissy Lick, Rage Syndrome, Epilepsy, Urinary incontinence etc.
Care Features

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are large dogs so as we already stated above, they need to be kept in big yards. The amount of exercise depends on your dog’s general health and personality. However, all Swiss Mountain Dogs love running and satisfying their working needs. You should also keep in mind that putting your dog off leash can be potentially dangerous, especially in unknown places and in the wild. Swiss Dogs love being busy and working, so they need daily stimulation.

Feeding Schedule

When it comes to a recommended daily dosage of food, it should be 4 to 5 cups of high-quality dog food per one day (for adult Swiss dogs), which should be divided into two meals, usually breakfast and lunch. Puppies need slow and specific diet that is only for large dog breeds and this is very important because if you feed them too much they might develop conditions such as hip dysplasia. Never give them too much of protein, fat, and calorie amounts.

However, according to your Swissy’s energy level, metabolism and the intensity of exercises, you should give your pet more if he spends more energy or less, if he is more of a lazy dog type type. Make sure to avoid any extremity because each can lead to health problems. Make sure to always buy food of high quality and include vitamins, vegetables and proteins.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Swissy has a very thick and dense out coat and he also has a very thick undercoat suitable for the harsh weather. When it comes to the color it is very specific – the outer coat is black with rust and white markings on the rest of the body and head.

Grooming this dog is not complicated at all, he needs brushing more than grooming in order to be clean. Other important care features include: teeth brushing, bathing, nail trimmings and regular checks to see if there are any injuries or fleas.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is known as a great and gentle family companion who, if trained and socialized from an early age, goes great with children. However, he is not recommended for being alone with toddlers and small children who do not know how to behave around dogs because of his size – he can accidentally step or kick them.

A well-mannered dog will go well with other dogs and if raised together with other smaller animals, he won’t chase them. However, the prey drive is more or less there and your Swissy might go after smaller pet he does not recognize or know. Never keep him off leash in unfamiliar places.

To sum up, we have covered the most important characteristics of a dog breed called the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, also known as the Swissy. This dog breed is a very large and active dog with high energy level who requires daily physical and mental stimulations. Additionally, he loves spending time with his owner, but he is not suitable for novice owners due to his stubbornness and high exercise needs.

If you live in a small and cramped apartment then this dog breed is definitely not for you. The grooming is not very difficult even if this dog has a warm and thick coat; however the health is not the best. The Swissy can make a great watch dog and family companion and he would definitely prefer the countryside.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.