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Get to Know the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog: An Ancient, Giant Breed From the Swiss Alps

The largest and oldest of the Swiss Mountain Dogs, many owners would say he's also the greatest!

Caroline Coile  |  Dec 28th 2015


The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is the dapper dog of the Swiss Mountain Dog family. Bold and courageous, he’s loyal to his loved ones. But this is a giant breed; they don’t call him “greater” just because he’s from a large area. 

More interesting things about the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

  • This is an ancient breed developed in the Swiss Alps to guard and move dairy cattle, protect the home, and pull carts. Later they helped as butcher’s dogs.
  • They’re called Swissies for short.
  • The Swissy is considered a giant breed, weighing from 85 to 140 pounds, with males much heavier than females.
  • Swissies may be confused with the Bernese Mountain Dog, but the Swissy has short hair. Or they may be confused with the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, but the Swissy has much longer legs. They be confused with several other large dogs as well, but the Swissy is always black with tan points and white trim.
  • The Swissy is the oldest and largest of the four Swiss Mountain Dog, or Sennenhund, breeds. The other three breeds are the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Entelbucher Mountain Dog, and the Appenzell Mountain Dog. All have similar tri-color coat pattern, and a basic molosser or Mastiff build. Among other differences, the Bernese Mountain Dog has a rough coat, and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog is much shorter. Until the late 1800s, all these dogs were considered to be of the same breed or landrace. Professor A. Heim then undertook a serious study of the native Swiss mountain breeds and discerned enough differences between them that he categorized them into four distinct breeds.
  • The year 1908 is considered the breed’s “official” modern birthdate, despite its ancient lineage. It was then that Heim spotted an impressive shorthaired dog entered in a Bernese Mountain Dog contest. He dubbed it the Greater Swiss because of its resemblance to the sturdy butcher’s dogs in the area.
  • Its non-English name is Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund.
  • It has also been called the Great Swiss Cattle Dog.
  • And it has sometimes been referred to as “the poor man’s horse” because he took the place of a horse in pulling carts and wagons.
  • During World War II, the breed was used as a draft dog by the Swiss Army.
  • The first Swissy came to America in 1968.
  • The AKC admitted it to the Miscellaneous group in 1985 and fully recognized the breed in 1995. It is a member of the Working group.
  • It has competed in the Westminster dog show since 1996, but none has yet to win Best in Show or even place in the group there.
  • It is the 74th most popular AKC breed, up from 101st five years ago.
  • The Swissy’s striking coloration comes from the interplay of two gene loci. One codes for a black and tan (tan-pointed) pattern, while the other overlays an “Irish-marked” or “Boston” pattern, in which the muzzle, feet, tail tip, forechest, and sometimes collar are white.
  • Some Swissies have been used in search and rescue work.
  • We’ve not located any celebrity owners. That doesn’t seem right at all!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier