So You Want a Swissy?

 

Ask yourself first, "Why do I really need to have a purebred dog?"  Is it merely because you like their beautiful looks?  Or because you've  been led to believe they're the perfect family dog?  Have you reconciled yourself with the fact that millions of dogs are euthanized in shelters every year?  Whether you believe the HSUS, and that number is 3-4 million, or the studies which attempt to debunk HSUS myths and say it's only about 2 million -- the bottom line is that millions will die this year, unwanted and unloved in the inappropriately named "shelters."  And many of those are very adoptable dogs, whether puppies from unplanned litters or family members surrendered by owners who just got too busy or were "moving."  They are just as deserving of your love as any dog you'd buy from a breeder.

Please consider adopting from a shelter.  But if you must have a purebred dog, then please make a lifetime commitment to that dog.  And please spay or neuter your pet.

 

If you haven't already, PLEASE read the article, "Is the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Right For You?"  You absolutely cannot do too much research before deciding to add a Swissy to your family, and you'll want to research every aspect, from whether the GSMD is well-suited to your lifestyle to the kind of breeder from whom you would ultimately like to get a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog puppy. But as much as you read, there is no substitute for meeting and spending time with actual Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs and people who live with them. I, and most reputable breeders, would NEVER place a Swissy puppy with a family who has not made the effort to really know some adult Swissies.

Once you've done your research, and you know that you could live with the shedding, the barking (the kind that can be scary and rattle your windows at times), the interminable housebreaking, the potentially heartbreaking and expensive health issues, and are willing to accept the responsibilities that come with Swissy ownership, only then is it time to find a  Swissy puppy...from the right breeder.

      

WHERE TO SEARCH FOR YOUR GREATER SWISS MOUNTAIN DOG PUPPY:

  • NEVER buy from a broker, wholesaler or pet shop.
     
  • Talk with as many breeders as possible and visit them if you can so you have the opportunity to meet them in person, see the types of dogs they have and the conditions in their home and kennel. It is very important to spend the time to look for a breeder with whom you feel comfortable.   It is usually easier to be more objective and critical if you visit a Swissy breeder before they have puppies, as those cute Swissy puppies may tempt you to overlook some things that would otherwise give you pause.
     
  • Don't settle for the first breeder you talk to just because they happen to have Swissy puppies available right now. Reputable breeders really should have homes lined up before they breed a dog, as this gives them the ability to carefully screen potential buyers, etc. and not find themselves in a desperate position of having to find homes in a hurry.  Greater Swiss Mountain Dog puppies should be placed with great care in homes that are deemed appropriate, never in haste or on an impulse.
     
  • Don't let your location or that of the breeder be an obstacle to getting a quality Greater Swiss Mountain Dog puppy. Many breeders will gladly send you photos or videotape of a litter you are interested in. When the time comes to pick up your puppy, do it in person even if it means a weekend drive or a plane trip. While it may mean a little more time and money invested in your puppy, if it means getting a better quality puppy from a breeder you like and trust, that cost in time and money is a mere drop in the bucket over the lifetime of your Swissy.
     
  • A note about the Internet: Technology has made it much easier to research breeds of dogs and to locate breeders. Many breeders do, in fact, maintain excellent websites that not only promote their current litter(s) of puppies but also contain in-depth information about their dogs, pedigrees, health clearances, show records, etc. Some will even provide the most honest Good, Bad and Ugly information you need to know about Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, the frustrations that can come with raising a Swissy puppy, and the heartbreak that can come with this breed. Keep in mind though that a Swissy is not a commodity to be bought and sold via the Internet, but a living soul that will become a member of your family. There is no substitute for talking to your breeder and meeting them in person, as well as their dogs. Definitely BEWARE the numerous "puppy sites" that act as online classifieds or puppy clearing houses. These sites do NOT screen breeders and are common advertising vehicles for less-than-reputable breeders, wholesalers and brokers.
     
  • Most of all, be patient! You may have to wait for a while before you actually find a litter from which quality Swissy puppies are available. Be persistent in your search for an ethical, honest breeder. They are often very busy, are inundated with e-mails and phone calls, and it may take some time for them to get back to you, especially since many have real jobs (I'm talking about the hobby breeder here, not the "dog farmer.")  You will also be more likely to get a response if you tell the breeder something about yourself and why you're interested in one of their puppies, rather than merely asking, "Do you have puppies and how much do they cost?"

QUESTIONS TO ASK GREATER SWISS MOUNTAIN DOG BREEDERS:

  • Are both parents of the litter AKC registered?  Some breeders may tell you their dogs and puppies are registered with an alternate registry (a common practice among pet stores as well).  Lack of AKC registration is usually a sign that the breeder did not get their dogs from a reputable breeder.  There may be cases, as well, where the dog is AKC registered, but on a "Limited Registration"...which means the breeder who sold them the dog did not evaluate that dog as show/breeding quality, and therefore that dog should not have been bred.  It is important to note that if a dog has an AKC Limited Registration, and it produces puppies, those puppies cannot be registered with the AKC.
     
  • Ask the breeder WHY they are breeding?  Is it to better the breed and improve upon their breeding stock?  Are they breeding to fit the GSMD Breed Standard, in structure, temperament and working ability?  Does the breeder show their Swissies in conformation and have their breeding dogs finished their championships?  Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breeders should be showing their dogs in conformation and other events, where they can continuously test and evaluate their dogs in an effort to preserve and improve the breed.  It is also one of the only ways they can network with enough other breeders to really begin to understand bloodlines, and where various health risks exist in their dogs' pedigrees.  Breeders who breed in a vacuum will claim ignorance when it comes to things like epilepsy, urinary incontinence, and various orthopedic problems that plagues Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs.  But if they don't have time to show their dogs, or they claim not to have the money to do it, then they really don't have the time or money to be breeding.
     
  • Do both parents of the litter have OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) numbers, proving they are free from hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, AND shoulder OCD (see the "HEALTH" page for more info on these diseases)? Ask to the see the documentation.  Some breeders may tell you that Shoulder clearances are not standard (while it wasn't standard practice a decade or more ago, most reputable breeders are certifying shoulders and have been for the last five or more years).  Others may say they don't need to do Shoulder clearances because OCD is always symptomatic (simply NOT the case) and they would know if their dog had OCD.  An even more important reason to insist on shoulder clearances is this: OCD surgery has a very good success rate, and although AKC Rules forbid the showing of dogs who have had OCD surgery, there have been cases where that has been done.  If someone is willing to break the rules to show their dog, what would stop them from breeding that dog?  Since most reputable breeders these days are doing shoulder clearances, so you would be well-advised to insist on that in your search.  

    Be advised that a dog will not be issued an OFA number for Hips and Elbows until it is 24 months of age. Shoulder clearances may be obtained as early as 12 months of age.  You can confirm whether a dog has an OFA number by calling OFA (1-800-442-0418) or visiting the OFA website at www.offa.org.  Make sure you have the dog's REGISTERED name and/or AKC registration number before calling.  Breeders may now use PennHip to evaluate their dog's hips, rather than OFA (note: PennHip only evaluates hips, NOT elbows).  PennHip is not a pass/fail method of grading hips, but rather a numerical evaluation of the hips' Distraction Index (DI), which measures joint laxity.  They will also note any presence of Degenerative Joint Disease.  For an explanation of Distraction Indices and their implication for breeding dogs, visit www.pennhip.org.  Since the PennHip database is CLOSED, the only ways interested parties have access to PennHip DIs on Swissies is to ask the OWNER for a photocopy of the report.

My first GSMD, during a seizure cluster that landed him in the ER for 48 hours ($2600).  He died 9 months later on his 6th birthday.

  • Ask about the eyes of both parents.  Do they have a CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) number, indicating they have been cleared of eye problems?   Eye problems reported in our breed include Distichiasis, Entropian and Cataracts.  Some of these problems are not nearly as serious as others, and although a dog may have one of these problems, it may be possible for them to have a CERF number.  You can confirm whether a dog has a CERF number by visiting www.vmdb.org CERF information may also be found at the OFA site (www.offa.org) or the GSMDCA Health Database.  Breeding dogs should have their eyes checked and submitted to CERF annually if possible, as some eye problems can occur a bit later in life.  


  • Ask if the sire or dam have ever produced puppies with any serious health problems, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, OCD and epilepsy.  These are the main genetic health issues found in the Greater Swiss Mountaind Dog, and ALL breeders should be forthcoming in discussing them with puppy buyers.  Ask how many litters they have produced.  Be wary of any breeder who claims never to have produced ANY health problems (unless this is their first litter).  REGARDING EPILPESY:  It is my recommendation that Swissy puppy buyers ask breeders if either the sire, dam, or any dogs in the pedigree itself have EVER suffered a seizure (as opposed to asking if any of these dogs have been diagnosed with epilepsy).  The same should be asked about the littermates of the sire and dam.  It's just a question of semantics, but some breeders are not willing to state that a dog has epilepsy, even if the dog has had seizures with no known cause.  They may say things like, "well, he had a seizure, but we don't know what caused it."  Remember, seizure disorders without identifiable physiological or medical causes (such as a brain tumor, liver shunt, etc.) are by definition, idiopathic epilepsy.  The same goes for asking whether the dogs involved in the breeding have ever produced offspring who have had seizures, rather than asking if they've produced epilepsy. 
     
  • What is the general health history of related dogs?  Have any relatives died at a young age?  If so, what was the cause?  Have there been spleen issues, cancers, etc. in their dogs' bloodlines? 
     
  • How old are the parents of this litter?  How many litters has the dam produced?  The GSMDCA Breeder Guidelines recommend that breeders do not breed a dog until it's two years of age.  This is especially important because the OFA will not certify Hips or Elbows until a dog is two years old.  They also recommend a maximum of four litters for a bitch.  Be especially wary of breeders who breed bitches older than six as they may be jeopardizing the life and health of their bitch.  The GSMDCA also recommends that stud dogs be limited to a maximum of three litters per year for their first two years breeding, which helps allow for any genetic issues or predisposition to come to light.  There are GSMDCA member breeders who are breeding dogs before they're two years of age, and some who are breeding stud dogs 4 and even 5 times in their first year of breeding (by the way, that means in their first 12 months of breeding)!  If one of those over-bred stud dogs suddenly starts having seizures, who is left holding the bag?  The puppy buyers are, that's who.  JUST BECAUSE A BREEDER IS A GSMDCA MEMBER, AND EVEN LISTED IN THE GSMDCA "BREEDER CLASSIFIEDS" DOES NOT MEAN THEY ADHERE TO THE GUIDELINES. UNFORTUNATELY THERE IS NO ENFORCEMENT OF THESE GUIDELINES.
     
  • Have this dam and sire been bred to each other in the past?  If so, what health issues are present in any of the offspring from the first litter?  A good rule of thumb among responsible breeders is to wait until the first litter is at least two years of age before a breeding is repeated.  That gives the breeder the opportunity to x-ray the offspring from the first litter to determine the orthopedic health of those puppies.  Also, while epilepsy can show up as late as five years of age or more, it is not uncommon for it to show up in dogs two years of age or younger.   If the first offspring are only 6 months of age, or even a year old, and seizure-free at that age, this means NOTHING with respect to the risks of epilepsy.
     
  • Ask how the puppies are raised (in the home or in a kennel?)  It is important that a puppy get proper socialization from its mother and siblings for at least eight weeks, as well as regular exposure to humans and other animals.
     
  • Does the breeder take ALL puppies to the vet and have them thoroughly examined?  Many breeders do their own vaccinations, worming. Some will even remove dew claws themselves.  HOWEVER, unless your breeder is a licensed veterinarian, there is no excuse for a breeder NOT to take their puppies to the vet to have them checked for any health problems before sending them home with their new owners.
     
  • Does the breeder have a contract or health guarantee?  Breeders should guarantee against hip and elbow dysplasia and any other debilitating genetic disease.  At eight weeks, most problems have not surfaced.  A conscientious breeder will make a reasonable guarantee to the buyer and make the buyer fully aware of his responsibilities.  Guarantees on health should NOT depend on whether that dog was bought as a show dog or a pet.  Pets should also be guaranteed against any life threatening genetic disease.
     
  • BEWARE PUPPY PYRAMID SCHEMES.  Does the breeder expect you to breed your Swissy and give them back a puppy?  First of all, no breeder should ever require someone to breed their dog, which puts that dog's life in jeopardy, unless YOU are serious about becoming a breeder (which means spending years showing, studying pedigrees, understanding conformation, obtaining health clearances, etc.)  Second, when a breeder expects you to GIVE them back a puppy (or a Stud Service), you are in essence paying TWICE for your dog.  It's one thing for a breeder to reserve the right to BUY a puppy back from you, or to pay you for a stud service, but TAKING those things without paying is not really fair.  

    People often think "Oh, wouldn't it be nice for Princess to have puppies, she's such a beautiful dog and then we could also have one of her puppies too!"  All our Swissies are beautiful, but not all Swissies should be bred.  In fact, very few really SHOULD be bred if we're going to preserve and improve the breed.  Breeding does in fact put a dog's life at risk.  If all you really want is a Swissy as a family companion, your dog will be much better off being spayed/neutered at an appropriate age. Sadly, bitches can die from complications during c-sections which are not uncommon in this breed.  Keeping a bitch intact also puts her at risk for pyometra.  Dogs and bitches who remain intact are  at greater risk for reproductive cancers (prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mammary cancer, etc.)  If you would like to have another Swissy related to your Swissy at some point, go back to your breeder when you're ready and buy one.

The GSMDCA does have new Breeders Guidelines, as of 2007.  Please familiarize yourself with these new guidelines as they also give Puppy Buyers an idea of what to expect from a breeder.  You will notice that these Guidelines put great emphasis on disclosure and honesty when it comes to health clearances.  
So please do not be fearful if a breeder discusses their dogs' health issues with you...be fearful if they DO NOT.

 

 

 

 

    

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