What to Know About Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on May 02, 2022
8 min read

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are dependable members of the working group. They’re strong, agile dogs that were bred to work outside all day. 

These dogs are highly trainable and will eagerly take on any number of jobs. They also make for loving companions and will quickly become a member of your family if you choose to bring one home. 

Body size. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs can be quite big, but they’re not considered a giant breed. The average Greater Swiss Mountain Dog size is slightly larger for males than females. 

A normal male will range from 25.5 to 28.5 inches tall, and a female can be anywhere from 23.7 to 27 inches tall at their shoulders. 

There’s a range of healthy weights for this breed. What counts as under- or overweight depends on your dog’s overall size and body shape. Healthy males can weigh anywhere from 115 to 140 pounds. Healthy females weigh anywhere from 85 to 110 pounds. 

You should keep this larger size in mind before bringing one of these dogs home with you. They’re not easy to transport and need a decent amount of space in order to be happy. Make sure that this dog’s needs fit your lifestyle well. 

Body shape. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs have sturdy, well-boned bodies. They’re slightly longer than they are tall. They should be well-muscled. 

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog traits include broad skulls and blunt muzzles. Their ears are set high on their skulls and look like rounded triangles. The tops of their ears should be level with the top of their skull. 

The dogs have straight, thick tails that barely taper toward the tip. The tail hangs low when the dog is at rest and can curve upward when they’re active. But the tail is never curvy and never arches up over the back. 

Lifespan. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog lifespan is normal for their large size. On average, these dogs live for eight to 11 years. This means that you’ll have just about a decade with your pet if you adopt them when they’re still a young puppy. 

Coat. These dogs' coats are smooth, short, and dense. At most, the outer coat should be about 2 inches long. 

Some of them have double coats, but the shorter undercoat isn’t always present. This coat tends to be most prevalent around their necks and is sometimes found on the rest of their bodies. 

These days, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog's tricolor coat is a standard part of its looks. Almost all of the recognized dogs in this breed are red, white, and black. The white coloring tends to form a distinct pattern on their heads and muzzles known as “the blaze”. 

Eyes. The dogs' eyes are medium-sized almonds. They come in a range of browns, but darker brown is the preferred breed standard. They should be evenly set into the skull. 

Personality. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog personality is a mix of faithfulness and friendliness. They’re very dependable dogs that will get the job done — whatever that job may be. 

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog's temperament is bold, alert, and vigilant — all excellent qualities in a guard dog. They’re never overly aggressive, and, conversely, they shouldn’t be too shy.   

The American Kennel Club rates the dogs 5 out of 5 for their affectionate behavior with their families. 

Grooming. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs need very little grooming for most of the year. You can wash them whenever you think that they’re too dirty or smelly, and then they’re good to go. 

About twice a year, the dog's undercoat will shed. So you’ll want to spend a bit more time on them at this point. Brush them thoroughly to remove the dead hair. 

To finish off their grooming routine, you can: 

  • Check their ears regularly and remove any debris that you find
  • Trim their nails as needed
  • Brush their teeth daily

Feeding. Make sure that clean water is available for your dog at all times. 

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs can eat kibble. Large breed-specific commercial brands are the best. You’ll need to figure out the diet that’s best for your individual pet. 

Talk to your veterinarian about the best foods to include in any homemade meals. Homemade food can be an intensive and exacting process, so make sure that you’re willing to commit to the time, labor, and cost requirements before choosing this option. You’ll need to follow your veterinarian's advice perfectly to keep your dog healthy and happy. And make sure that you know what human foods are safe for your dog to eat before giving them anything out of your kitchen. 

The breed does have problems with obesity, so keep treats to a minimum and pay attention to how your dog grows. Talk to your veterinarian about dieting techniques if your pet consistently struggles with being overweight

Exercise and mental stimulation. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs only need a moderate amount of exercise. Taking them on a daily walk or a hike through the woods is a great way to get enough physical activity into their routine. 

These dogs are strong and have good endurance but aren’t built for long-lasting fast-paced activities. They vastly prefer a leisurely hike out in nature instead of trying to keep up during a bike ride or marathon-type run. 

They also need a reasonable amount of mental stimulation. Playing games with you or other dogs is a fun way to engage them both mentally and physically. They also excel at agility and herding trials and could enjoy participating in these events. 

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine all of the vaccinations that your pet needs — but all dogs should get a core set. 

This includes vaccinations for:

These can begin as early as six weeks of age. Talk to your veterinarian about the best vaccination schedule for your pet. 

There are also other noncore vaccinations that you can discuss with your veterinarian. These recommendations will be made based on your breed of dog and location in the country. 

Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight and used as needed. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors.

Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your vet to figure out the best one for you. These days, heartworm medication is also recommended year-round in all parts of the U.S.

For their size, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are a healthy breed. But there are some health issues that your pet could have, many of which are common for large breeds. 

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog health issues can include: 

  • Splenic torsion. This condition is more common in this breed than in other large dog breeds. It’s when the spleen becomes twisted with surrounding blood vessels. 
  • Gastric torsion or bloat. This is when there is twisting in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract — specifically in the stomach. Your dog’s stomach fills up with gas, food, or liquid and then twists, creating an often sudden and life-threatening situation. Signs include an enlarged abdomen, retching, and drooling. It’s typically treated with surgery. It can be life-threatening. 
  • Eye conditions. Examples include cataracts, entropion, and distichiasis. Cataracts can cause blindness. Entropion affects your dog's eyelids and can cause discomfort. Distichiasis is a problem where your dog has extra eyelashes that can damage their eyes. Depending on their severity, all of these conditions could require surgery for treatment. 
  • Orthopedic issues. Examples include hip and elbow dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is where the ball and socket of your dog's hip do not fit or develop properly as they grow. Instead of sliding smoothly, the bones grind against each other, wearing down and eventually making it difficult for your dog to move. Your veterinarian can evaluate your dog’s joints and see how likely they are to cause problems throughout your dog’s life. Elbow dysplasia is a comparable condition at the elbow joint. 
  • Urinary incontinence. This is most common in spayed females and in puppies. 
  • Idiopathic epilepsy. This is a little-understood condition that can occur in all dogs. It causes seizures for unknown reasons. 

You should take your dog to the vet immediately whenever you suspect that they have a life-threatening condition, have any symptoms that concern you, or have symptoms that are clearly distressing the dog. 

This breed in particular is known to get lick fits. This is when the dog frantically starts to lick — either due to gastrointestinal distress or due to acid reflux. You should get your dog to the vet if you notice any behaviors like this or symptoms of any of the conditions listed above. 

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are large animals that were bred to stubbornly complete specific tasks, like herding sheep on difficult terrain. This means that you need to take control of your dog from a young age, or they’re likely to become your boss instead. 

For the best results, start training your pet as soon as possible. They’re a highly food-motivated breed — so treats are a great way to control and encourage them. Just make sure that you don’t overfeed your dog when using this technique. 

Also, make sure not to use a body harness with this breed. They’re fantastic at pulling carts — so they’re much more likely to pull harder and try to do work if you attempt to harness them in this way. 

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are good with strangers and young children, but they don’t always like other dogs. Make sure that your dog is comfortable with any new animals before leaving them alone together. 

The dogs only drool and bark a moderate amount.  

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a part of a group of dogs called Sennenhunds. These are all Alpine mountain dogs that were bred by the Senn or Senners — dairymen and herders that lived in the Swiss Alps. 

No one knows exactly when this breed came into existence, but all of the Alpine mountain dogs seem to have descended from the mastiff-type breeds that the Romans favored in war. Julius Caesar most likely brought the ancestors of this breed over the Alps with his conquering army. 

Instead of continuing to use these large dogs for war, the Swiss put them to work on their farms and in their pastures. Of all of the Sennenhunds, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are supposed to be the oldest and largest breed — hence the word “greater” in their name.

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs were specifically bred to be fantastic herders that are strong and agile enough to navigate difficult mountainous terrain. They’re also great at drafting and are sometimes called the “poor man’s horse”. They traditionally carried meat and dairy products to market using carts that were specially fitted for dogs. 

The breed is closely related to Burmese mountain dogs and was used to create additional breeds — including the St. Bernard and the Rottweiler. 

Despite their popularity in the 1800s, these dogs weren’t brought into the official breeding world until 1913. This is when a geology professor named Dr. Albert Heim first brought them to the attention of dog breeders. Few written references exist for this breed prior to 1907. 

Today, according to the American Kennel Club, they’re the 88th most popular dog breed.