"Dogs of Form and Function"
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
As with any breed, the key to understanding the Swissy is in considering the dog's historical function. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was developed in Switzerland as the multi-purpose farmer's assistant. They are a draft dog, built strong to pull heavy carts. They are a droving dog, built athletic to drive dairy cattle from field to barn. They are protective of their master to keep him from being trampled. They are a working dog, able to get up and go whenever there is work to be done, but also able to relax, rest, and wait for the next task. They are a watchdog, noticing and alerting to changes in their environment. They are a family dog, possessing sound, gentle temperament suitable for all members of the family. They are a true companion, thriving on attention and consistent training. They are working dogs, demanding a relationship with their human and thriving with a job to do. They are a dog that requires socialization, guidance, and training.
Swissys are a heavy boned, athletic dog that can be prone to injury as youngsters and must be managed to help prevent that. Things such as racing up and down stairs, sliding on slick floors, rough housing and wrestling with people and other dogs, and jumping off high places are potentially dangerous for the young developing bones and cartilage of the Swissy. That said, it is equally important for young Swissys to play, exercise and use their growing joints. Puppies raised strictly in crates without routine exercise cannot possibly grow and form their joints correctly.
The Swissy does not need a large yard. With proper exercise the typical suburban yard is adequate for most Swissys. They do not like to be left alone for long periods and prefer to be with people. Whether inside or outside, they really like to simply be with you. To stay fit, Swissys need to get out for a good walk on a daily basis. They can tend to be lazy and a couch potato if allowed, but good body conditioning and good muscle tone is essential as the Swissy develops and as the Swissy matures. Excessive exercise is not good for developing bones and cartilage, but neither is inactivity or carrying extra pounds, so a middle ground must be kept in exercising the youngster. Proper physical conditioning is key to good health during adulthood and on into maturity. Swissys can be quite enthusiastic and must be taught physical control to prevent accidents such as bopping you in the face, banging into you, and knocking down small children. Swissys are physically capable of pulling 4000 pounds or more, and with this strength comes the ability to pull any person off their feet in the blink of an eye. Swissys MUST be taught to seriously respect the leash from a very young age. Pulling on lead is simply not an option for a Swissy, and they must learn that. Proper leash behavior is key to preventing serious injury.
Swissys are normally very good with children, and are often very gentle. But, they are a very large dog and must be supervised around children at all times. Any large dog has the potential to do unintended physical harm to small children by knocking them over, stepping on them, bouncing into them, etc. Swissys often have a strong herding instinct that may entice them to chase and tackle when playing. A Swissy that has learned to rough house and wrestle with teenagers and adults will not automatically know that behavior is not acceptable with younger, smaller children. The Swissy is a constant shedder. They shed all year round, and then even worse twice a year during "shedding season". Their double coat makes for a lot of dog hair on your carpet, your couch, your clothes and in your kitchen. Considered a dry mouth breed, most Swissys do not drool. However, they are by no means a clean or tidy dog. Swissys often love to get dirty, love to slosh their water out of the bowl, will often head for the nearest mud puddle, and love to track whatever they can onto the clean bedspread in your room! If you like a tidy household, you will have your work cut out for you. Swissys can be very hard to house train. It is not at all unusual to have a 7 month old puppy that still just doesn't get it! Patience and diligence and a routine schedule is what it takes with a Swissy. Swissys bark, bay, and baroo. Though they most often are not constant barkers, they are true alert barkers and they will bark at anything new, and anything going on. They will tell you when the neighbors are home, when a dog walks by, etc. They can also bark to get attention. Your Swissy should be taught "quiet" from the beginning of your relationship. Proper socialization is extremely important for the Swissy. They must be introduced to all types of experiences and all kids of people. A good rule of thumb with a young Swissy is to meet at least three new people in their own environment every week, and to go to people events or places at least twice a week. Young Swissys need to experience many new places. Petsmart is great, but more experiences are necessary as places like Petsmart become familiar territory very quickly. New experiences such as other stores, ball games, church picnics, etc help keep your Swissy confident and outgoing. Training is a must. Any dog as large as a Swissy can be a dangerous dog if not trained properly. They must be taught proper behavior in different situations. They must be taught proper etiquette around other dogs. They must be taught not to chase small animals such as small dogs, cats, rabbits or squirrels. They must be taught basic manners such as don't jump up, and don't knock people down, when play behavior is appropriate and when it is not.
Swissy temperaments vary but are overall quite complex due to their working dog nature and development. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are NOT a good choice for inexperienced or first time dog owners. In the hands of an experienced owner, the Swissy can be a wonderful family companion.
Helping your Swissy to become a respectable member of your home and community is an ongoing project but with proper care and training your Swissy will become a wonderful pet and family member.
by Anna Wallace (edited by Rita Rimler)
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