Great Swiss Mountain Dogs

Breed characteristics....

The Great Swiss Mountain Dog is the largest of four Swiss mountain dogs.  They were originally used for guarding, herding  and draft work. The Swissy is an extremely robust dog with powerful hindquarters ideally suited to pulling carts traditionally loaded with dairy products.  A true working breed, the Swissy needs to be kept active with regular exercise and plenty of space. 
Swissies are real family dogs and enjoy human company.  They do not do well confined to kennels and are happier being household companions.  They do however moult and need regular grooming.
Swissies are alert and vigilant and make excellent watch dogs.  They have a natural instinct to guard and protect their family.
Most Swissies like the company of children, but NO large dog should be left unattended with young children.  Due to the Swissy's size and lively nature, they can easily topple children unintentionally
Swissies are slow maturing both mentally and physically.  Because of orthopaedic concerns related to large breed dogs, great care must be taken to prevent injury during growth stages.  Despite their sturdy build, the breed is, in effect, quite fragile during these growth periods.  The Swissy is not a breed that can sustain unlimited exercise or activities such as jogging or going up and down stairs at a young age.
Swissies are very intelligent and are eager to learn.  Correct handling and training is important at all stages of their development. You may like to read this article by Dori Likevich, or this article by Catherina Caspers which cover many aspects of owning a Swissy.

Great Swiss Mountain Dog - Proposed New Interim Breed Standard (1st April 2010)

Introductory Paragraph:   A Breed Standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function.  Absolute soundness is essential. Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed.  From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely, and judges and breeders are requested to refer to the Kennel Club website for details of any such current issues.  If a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present in the right measure.

General Appearance:  Distinctively marked, tri-colour dog.  Sturdy, agile, well-muscled with heavy bone.   Marked difference between the sexes.

Characteristics:   Multi-purpose working dog capable of draught duties; devoted to those around him.

Temperament:  Self-assured, alert and watchful.  Even natured.  Confident with strangers.

Head and Skull:  Skull strong, broad and flat without coarseness.  Skull and muzzle of approximately equal length.  Width of skull approximately twice that of muzzle.  Moderate stop, slight furrow.  Strong, square muzzle, greater in length than depth.  Lips well fitting, not pendulous.  Full black pigmentation.

Eyes:  Hazel to dark brown, almond shaped, of medium size.  Well-fitting eyelids.  Eye rims black.  Alert expression.

Ears:  Medium sized, set on fairly high.  Triangular in shape, lying flat in repose. When alert, brought slightly forward and raised at the base. Well covered with hair.

Mouth:   Jaws strong with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite.
Neck:  Strong, muscular, of moderate length.  Without dewlap.
Forequarters:  Shoulders long, strong and sloping.  Well muscled, close fitting to the body and forming a distinct angle with the upper arm.  Forearms well boned and straight when viewed from all sides.  Slight slope to the pastern.

Body:  Slightly longer than height at withers,  measured from point of shoulder to point of buttock.  Fore chest well developed.  Broad, oval chest, ribs slightly rounded with depth of brisket reaching at least to the elbow.  Back strong and level with broad, well muscled loins.

Hindquarters:  Croup long, broad and gently sloping. Well developed first and second thigh with moderate bend of stifle.  Hocks broad, strong and distinctly angulated.  Viewed from behind, hocks turning neither in nor out.

Feet:   Well arched, round and compact.  Strong nails.

Tail: Set on follows the line of the croup. Heavy, pendulous in repose, reaching to the hock. Raised when alert or moving but never curled or carried over the back.

Gait/Movement:  Reaching out well in front with good drive from the hindquarters. Balanced stride in all gaits.

Coat:  Dense, close lying double coat. Outer coat of medium length with grey or black undercoat.

Colour:  Tricolour.  Main colour black with symmetrical tan markings and clean white markings. The tan colour is situated between the black and the white markings on the cheeks, above the eyes, on the inside of the ears, on both sides of the fore chest, on all four legs and underneath the tail. The white markings are on the head (blaze and muzzle), running down unbroken from the throat to the chest, also on the feet and the tip of the tail. Between the blaze and the tan markings above the eyes, a band of black should remain. A white patch on the neck or a white collar around the neck is tolerated.

Size:  Height: Dogs 65-72cm (25 -28 ins), bitches 60-68 cms (23 - 26   ins).

Faults:  Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.

Note:  Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.


As with all breeds and especially, large breeds, Swissies may be prone to health problems. When choosing breeding pairs it is important to consider all aspects.  Temperament, health and breed standard all come in to the equation.  Before we breed any of our dogs we look to see what they can offer the breed.  For instance, we would breed a dog with a fabulous temperament and conformation but with an elbow score of 1.  A dog or bitch with a higher than average hip score could still be bred to a dog or bitch with a much lower score.  Please bear in mind that health tests only prove the soundness of that particular dog or bitch, it does not guarantee all the puppies will be sound.  We have known a breeding pair, both with x rayed clear shoulders (OCD), to produce OCD in both shoulders in one of their offspring. We have also known of a dog with elbow grade 2 producing clear elbows in offspring.

Overfeeding, too much exercise and trauma can all contribute to joint damage so great care must be taken with puppies until adulthood.

With most UK breeders importing quality stock into the UK from reputable breeders, the health of the UK Swissy population is currently very good and an overview is defined below.
Please note these are not just Springhaze dogs but all the UK dogs.

Hip Dysplasia (HD) - Currently all the UK dogs and bitches that have been scored have very good results. The best one scoring 0/2, total 2, and the worse one scoring 5/11, total 16.  Currently the mean score for our breed in the UK for hips (HD) is 8 (combined total) which is very low in comparison to other breeds.

Elbow Dysplasia (ED) - Currently most of the UK dogs and bitches that have been scored have 0 elbows with a couple scoring 1 and one scoring 2.                                                                                   

Ostechondrosis Dissecans (OCD) - Currently all the UK dogs and bitches known to be scored are Free (0).  The BVA do not recognise this test so there is no scoring available in the UK.  No other breed in the UK scores for OCD.  The x rays can be sent to Switzerland or Germany for scoring under their systems. 

Gastric Dilation Volvulus (Bloat) - This can be fatal if not treated immediately.  A small number of the UK imported dogs and bitches have suffered and died from this complaint. To date none of the dogs and bitches bred in the UK are known to have suffered from bloat.  Immediate veterinary action is necessary to prevent fatality. 

Epilepsy - There is much talk in the Swissy world of epilepsy.  Idiopathic, which means there is no known cause, epilepsy (IE), affects all breeds of dogs including mongrels.  No one knows what causes it but there is thought to be a genetic influence, as some lines seem to produce it more often than others.  There is no test available to ascertain who carries the disease and the only way you find out is when you produce a puppy with IE. To read further about this condition please click here....

Eyes (Cataracts, Distichiasis, etc) - Currently all of the UK dogs and bitches that have been eye tested are Clear with the exception of one having Distichiasis and one having late onset cataracts.

Swissy Lick  - Many, especially young Swissies, suffer from this, some grow out of it.  It can be habit forming and diet and stress can play a part.

Splenic Torsion -   To date there are no known incidences of any UK Swissies that have suffered from this.

Cancer -   Cancer can affect any breed of dog. To date there has only been one case of cancer in the UK Swissy population.
Accurate at March 2014


The Swissies are generally very loving and loyal.  They can, however, become dominant and need firm and careful handling.  They can be lively and energetic but also very kind and gentle.  They are a natural guard dog and make a lot of noise when confronted by strangers. They are not considered to be aggressive towards humans and should never be bred from if they show excessive signs of aggression of this nature.