Breed Information


Beautiful, large, powerful, loud, loving, goofy, loyal, protective.  These are all qualities that make the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog such a captivating, special breed.  Originally known as the "poor man's horse" of Switzerland, they were bred as an all-purpose farm dog that could guard the farm, pull the milk wagons to market and drive the stock.  Their natural instinct is in large part what forms their personality and some of their behavioral challenges.  As a guard dog, they can be naturally wary and "alarm bark" at anything or anyone that is unfamiliar -- hence the need for intensive socialization.  Because they are large powerful dogs, programmed to pull, Swissies without the proper training will pull you off your feet...no doubt about it.  Their herding and droving instinct, if not shaped properly, can reveal itself in nipping, grabbing and at times a prey drive that will lead them astray.

Although they are a true working dog, it is critical to remember that Swissies are very much a people dog.  They bond very closely to their family, and the work that they were bred to do was at the side of their master.  A Swissy is NOT a dog who enjoys spending time outside alone.  In fact, they don't much enjoy spending time more than 6 feet away from your feet and you better be prepared to have them follow you EVERYWHERE...hence their nickname as the "velcro dog."  If you want a dog that will spend time alone outside, this is probably not the breed for you.  

The GSMD is not a breed for everyone, and we typically do NOT recommend them to the first-time dog owner.  They CAN make a wonderful family dog, but please realize that they are a LOT of work and a LOT of dog!!! (my girls range from 95 to 120 pounds, and my boys from 125 to 150 pounds of solid muscle).  If you are not prepared to dedicate at least two years to the socialization and training of your Swissy, this may not be breed for you.  Ask yourself if you're physically capable of handling a large, strong, exuberant dog that can be challenging and slow to train.  Can you say "no" and mean it?  Can you be consistent and fair in the training of your Swissy?  Will you be tolerant of a large dog who sheds, and at times sheds a lot -- as in tumbleweeds of hair under your furniture and in every corner?  While not "yappy" in the least, the Swissy is known for a deep, booming "Barroo" which is a loud deep bark with a touch of a "howl" mixed in.  It comes from down deep, they're not afraid to us it, and it can scare the hell out of someone who doesn't know your dog.   A
lthough not hyper, and not a breed that needs to run, the Swissy does have both physical and mental energy that is best served when they have a "job" to do...and that's a job that will involve you as well, whether it's obedience training, hiking, rally, carting, herding, etc.  Are you up for it?

Swissies are also a breed with their own unique health challenges, many of which can be expensive and sometimes heartbreaking to manage or face.  For this reason, pet health insurance is a must for many Swissy owners.  Aside from the expected "large breed maladies" (such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, other orthopedic injuries, bloat/torsion), Swissies also have a higher than normal incidence of idiopathic epilepsy, which can be devastating.  Females in this breed also have a higher than normal incidence of spay incontinence, although it usually can be managed with meds.   Many Swissies also have sensitive tummies for some reason, and a high quality (more expensive), grain free food is a must.  Even flea and tick preventatives and heartworm meds are more expensive for large/giant breed dogs.

If you are willing to put in the time and training that a Swissy requires, you will be rewarded with an devoted family member that will make you wonder how you could possibly even live without a Swissy.  In fact, don't be surprised if you find yourself with more than one Swissy in your home down the road!  


 

WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?

Swissies are NOT easy.  The breed standards describes them as bold, vigilant, large and powerful dogs. To that I would add willful, often energetic and boisterous.  For the first two years they will go through many periods of "testing" your leadership as well as your patience.  They definitely require strong and in-charge leader who will be dedicated to socializing them and completing several levels of basic obedience with them.  NOTE:  Sending your Swissy off to a trainer is not advised nor effective as it establishes a stranger as your dog's leader/alpha but does nothing to reinforce YOUR leadership position in the home.  

Establishing leadership comes much easier through the "Nothing In Life is Free" (NILF) approach to raising and training your Swissy.  You can read more about it 
here, but in a nutshell it's all about making your Swissy earn privileges...whether it's playing, eating, or merely walking through a door.  This reward-based approach to training keeps your Swissy focused on you as the provider of all things that are good and enjoyable, while at the same time making them work for your attention. We often say that Swissies need a job, and that a tired Swissy is a more trainable Swissy.  While carting or pack-hikes, or rally and obedience all come to mind first, ANYTHING that you can teach your dog -- even if it's just to do party tricks or to wait five minutes in a down stay before attacking their dinner -- all constitutes "a job" in the mind of a Swissy.

I have found that the best training methods for a Swissy incorporate a mix of positive reinforcement/reward, AND some correction when necessary.  While you want your Swissy to be open and receptive to training and learning good behaviors, they do need to understand what behaviors are not acceptable and when they've crossed a line.  That said, a steady regimen of harsh corrections is never effective with a Swissy, and will likely just escalate the battle to a war you can't win.  You want a dog that WANTS to please you.  Consistency is key and mixed messages will get you in trouble; if you don't want your dog to take over your couch or your bed, then no matter how tempting it is to cuddle with that 10 week old puppy on the sofa, DON'T DO IT!  

While well-trained and socialized Swissies are usually not destructive adults, as puppies they will chew sticks, rocks, and anything they can put in their mouths (that goes for your hands and ankles too!)  They have a natural prey drive, and can be very mouthy and "grabby" as puppies...so if you can't stomach the thought of them biting/tearing your favorite pair of pants, put the pants in moth balls for a year.  

As adults, Swissies can be very well-mannered members of your family...but they don't get there without a lot of hard work on your part.

SOCIALIZATION

What do we mean by socialization? Simply put, it's the process whereby dogs learn to relate and react positively to strange people, pets and situations through positive experience. It is the single most important gift you can give to any dog. It's the most important building block required to raise and train a happy, confident Swissy. The GSMD, even more than many other breeds, requires diligent and constant socialization throughout the first two years of its life. As an all purpose farm dog, the Swissy was bred to be vigilent and wary...it's in their DNA.  It's not unusual for Swissies to bark at anything that is new to them, or out of THEIR ordinary...and that can be anything from a garbage can that wasn't there the day before, to unfamiliar people, to people on skateboards and bicycles, and just about anything with which they aren't accustomed. 

Socialization begins in the whelping box, from the time the puppies' eyes and ears are open. As a breeder, I am constantly exposing my puppies to new and different situations, people and noises, traveling with them in the car and taking them places as young as 4 weeks of age. I put them on new and unusual surfaces, give them obstacles to overcome and generally rock their world as much as possible while they are in my care. However, because all dogs experience fear imprint or "impact" periods through the first two years of their lives, it is incumbent upon every owner to continue socializing their Swissy well into adulthood.

We always want socialization to be about GOOD experiences. Therefore, you must be in tune to your dog and prepared to turn a fear response into a positive experience...without reinforcing the fearful reaction. For example, if your puppy responds fearfully to a large man in a uniform, don't offer a comforting "It's okay" unless you think it's okay for your puppy to have a meltdown every time he sees a policeman!  Instead, ignore your puppy's reaction and calmly approach the uniformed man as if he's an old friend, to let your puppy see it's the person who is okay...not his response to the person.  Ask the person if he'll feed your puppy a treat. If the puppy relaxes and accepts the treat, you've won that one. But don't push. Accept the victory and walk on. It's through repeat exposure that he will learn to read your cues...if you're good with it, he should be too. Finally, don't go anywhere without treats! Swissies are very food motivated, and treating your puppy every time he has a positive, appropriate response to a new experience will go a long way to cementing those behaviors.

Despite your best efforts, be prepared for your Swissy to Barroooo (a loud, deep and prolonged bark that almost sounds like part "howl") any time they want to let you know that something is afoot. Even some of my most "bomb proof" Swissies will rattle the windows when the delivery truck rolls down the driveway or a deer wanders onto the property.  

 

 

 

 

    

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