Great Swiss Mountain Dog


The Great Swiss Mountain Dog (Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Grand Bouvier Suisse) or affectionately known as "Swissy," is the largest and probably the oldest of all the Swiss dog breeds. It originated from a type of Molossian dogs brought by the Romans, although its exact origin is not completely explained. It was used for various purposes in all Swiss cantons. In many cynological books, it is described as the most beautiful dog in the world.

First pictures od GSMD, around 1600

It was a butcher's dog, used in harness to pull agricultural and artisan products, and was a popular guard of farmyards. In one book, we read that "the dogs worked like horses" – for meager food. Indeed, the life of these dogs was hard, often pulling loads that exceeded their strength. Therefore, in some cantons, they tried to improve the life of these dogs with special regulations. For instance, in the canton of Minderstrithohen, it was stipulated that a dog used for pulling should be at least 55 cm tall and at least 18 months old. A dog could pull a load weighing up to 150 kg. The form of the harness was also regulated. In one of the cantons, for example, they prohibited the use of female dogs for pulling. It should be mentioned that the females of the GSMD are unusually fertile, having litters of up to 18 puppies.

GSMD as a Draft Dog

Once, Great Swiss Mountain Dogs were called "Old Blaze." Around the year 1800, the breed faced a crisis, with its numbers diminishing in favor of other breeds, especially the Saint Bernards. These red and white dogs were becoming increasingly popular, and various dogs were interbred, with all those that were red and white being called Saint Bernards. By the turn of the last century, only a few Great Swiss Mountain Dogs remained, isolated on farms where "dog fashion" hadn't taken hold.

The greatest credit for the creation and preservation of this breed goes to geologist and avid cynologist Professor Albert Heim. The first GSMD was brought to a dog show in Langenthal by Franz Schertenleib in September 1908. Schertenleib had purchased the large, short-haired, black-white-brown dog from a farmer. He brought the dog to the show just to see what the judge would say about it. The owner registered the dog among the Bernese Mountain Dogs. The judge at the show was Professor Heim, who soon realized that the dog did not belong to any of the then-known Swiss breeds and was likely a descendant of the Swiss "butcher" dogs, which were very widespread in the first half of the 19th century but had almost completely died out. Professor Heim gave it its current name and classified it among the Swiss breeds.

Professor Albert Heim

First written document

Apparently, the GSMD made such an impression on Prof. Heim that he published the physical assessment he wrote at the show in a newspaper for hunting and dog enthusiasts (Centralblatt für Jagd und Hundeliebhaber). In the assessment sheet, he wrote, among other things: "Bello (the dog that was the first to be entered in the Swiss pedigree book) is a type of the old Swiss large mountain (butcher's) dog, a representative of an almost extinct breed not yet entered in the Swiss pedigree book.

Bello, the first GSMD redorded in the Swiss predigree book

"I would have gladly given him the highest physical rating, but I rated him as quite good because he was registered at the show as a Dürrbach dog (now Bernese Mountain Dog)." Professor Heim's assessment sheet is the first official document proving that large dogs with harsh and short hair still existed in Switzerland. It was fortunate that Professor Heim was the one to evaluate the dog. Had another judge been in his place, the GSMD might have long since become a forgotten Swiss breed, as the judge would likely have described him as an atypical Dürrbach dog.

The origin is still unclear

The origin of the Great Swiss Mountain Dog is still not completely explained. It would be incorrect to be satisfied with the theory that it is a descendant of Roman Molossians. Just as the Swiss are descendants of various peoples, it is likely that the GSMD was created by crossbreeding farm dogs and dogs brought by travelers who traveled through the country or even settled in it. Switzerland was cut off from events in Europe for several hundred years, until the era of Napoleon. Even in dog breeding, there was primarily crossbreeding of animals in the local environment, thus creating individual types of Swiss dogs. We can only talk about the pure breeding of Swiss dogs at the beginning of the 20th century. However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, so-called butcher's dogs (Canis familiaris laniarius) were widespread throughout Europe. All had harsh fur, with a coat that was brown, yellow, or black with white or brown markings.

The rebirth of the GSMD

Dr. Heim knew that the breed was almost extinct, so he began to present it in newspapers and magazines, encouraging dog lovers to search for representatives of the breed on remote farms where they still served their original purpose. By 1910, a little more than ten representatives of the breed were found, which was a modest foundation for its development. Nevertheless, in 1910, GSMD enthusiasts achieved a very important goal: the breed was entered into the Swiss pedigree book. The first club for the GSMD was established in 1912, with the help of Prof. Heim. Pedigrees for the breed began to be issued only in 1930. In the first year, more than 50 GSMDs were already entered into the pedigree book. During World War II, they were used by the Swiss army as draft dogs, so in 1945, there were already 350-400 GSMDs and about 100 puppies registered. In the following years, their number did not change much, as the Swiss dog club set very strict conditions for obtaining breeding permits.

Prof. A. Heim with one of the first clubs for GSMD (Great Swiss Mountain Dog).

GSMD as a Military Dog

Spreading all over the world

The breed was internationally recognized in 1939, and the first GSMD was imported to the USA in 1968. Today, the GSMD is rapidly spreading throughout Europe and the USA, with some representatives also found in Canada. Among European countries, the GSMD is most prevalent in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

Description: The Great Swiss Mountain Dog (GSMD) is a tri-colored (black-white-brown) dog. It has brown markings around the muzzle, cheeks, and above the eyes. The nose and ears (which are triangular in shape) are black. There is a white stripe down the middle of the forehead, continuing around the muzzle. This should not extend beyond the corners of the mouth. The paws (round and compact) are white, with brown color around the ankles, blending into black towards the top of the strong legs. The chest is white, and the back is black. The tail is also black, ending with a white tip. The coat is about 3 to 5 cm thick.
Temperament: The GSMD is eager to please, obedient, excellent with children, devoted to its owner, generally good with other pets, and not aggressive. It is an intelligent breed, quick to learn, but can also be stubborn and determined. It is an excellent guard of its home, owner, and family, barking only when hearing something unusual. The “Swissy” quickly welcomes guests with its warmth and gentleness.

This large breed matures slowly both mentally and physically. They are not happy when confined to just a dog’s life; they also want to enjoy life with their family. They crave attention and physical contact. They are confident and adapt well in unfamiliar places. They are not afraid of strange sounds or unknown people.
Size: Males range from 65 to 72 cm, females from 60 to 69 cm. There is no standard weight. Males typically weigh between 45 and 64 kg, females between 36 and 52 kg.
Health: The GSMD is relatively healthy, with fewer health problems than similar breeds in its class. Possible issues include epilepsy, digestive disorders, and hip dysplasia (a developmental abnormality of the hip joint).
Lifespan: The GSMD lives for about 10 to 12 years.
Living conditions: Like all large breeds, it prefers a lot of space. It will also be comfortable in an apartment with a large yard.
Activities: The activity level of the GSMD varies. Only moderate exercise (e.g., long walks) is necessary. It is active for a limited time, after which it prefers to nap. It often adapts its activity level to that of the family.
Grooming: Due to its short coat, grooming is very simple. Regular brushing is sufficient.

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