Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs (GSMD) are attractive, large, tri-colored draft dogs. They are usually very docile and gentle dogs -- good with children and other animals. They have an easy to maintain coat and no "doggy" odor. The breed is very old, dating back to ancient Roman conquest times. It is thought that the Greater Swiss or Grosser Sennenhunde, as well as their other Swiss cousins-- the Bernese, Appenzeller, and Entlebucher Sennenhunden -- were descendants of the mastiff-type dogs left behind by the Roman soldiers on the march north across Europe. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a cart-pulling or draft breed and should have the structure, size and especially temperament to do this type of work. A Swiss dairyman or farmer that puts all of his worldly goods in a cart pulled by a GSMD would only trust healthy, confident, calm dogs. A shy, nervous, hyper or aggressive Swissy would not be tolerated for this kind of work. The breed in the United States has been relatively free of major health problems and had been carefully bred since 1968. There are, however, questions you should ask before you buy a GSMD, because as the breed gains popularity, so too does it gain zealous "breeders" quick to try to "cash in" on this newly acknowledged breed.

Questions to ask GSMD Breeders

 1. Ask to see OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) Numbers and documentation on hips and elbows. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia are crippling diseases that are not very prevalent at this time in our breed. There are sufficient dogs in this country with sound hips. There is NO reason to continue to use animals in any breeding program that do not have certifiable hips. If a breeder tells you their animals have "always produced good hips", ask to see the OFA Numbers, don't just rely on their opinion of what "good" and "sound" mean. You may call the OFA yourself to ask if a dog has been issued a number at 1-800-442-0418.

 2. No dogs or bitches should be bred before they are 2 years old. The OFA will only certify dogs at 24 months or older. In addition, GSMD do not finish growing until they are about 3 years old. Certain unwanted characteristics and/or diseases such as epilepsy do not become apparent until the animals are mature. Anyone breeding their dogs before they are 2 years old is not keeping the best interest of the dogs in mind and is not concerned with certifying their animals with the OFA. Go elsewhere.

 3. Ask to see both parents if possible. Can you touch them? Can your children play in a yard or room with them? If the breeder hesitates or acts weird about the adults being handled, RUN -- don't walk away from that situation. GSMD should be manageable by children and should walk nicely on a leash and play appropriately with humans and other animals.

 4. Ask about the eyes of the parents you are considering getting a puppy from. Most GSMD's have condition known as Distichiasis (pronounced Dis-Tic-Kie-A-Sis) or extra eye-lashes. Most of the time this condition is non-symptomatic and there for most people will not even know their dog has these lashes, sometimes it is symptomatic and causes extreme tearing or rubbing against the eye and must be fixed by a veterinarian. If a breeder tells you their dogs don't have Distichiasis or if they don't even know what it is, stay clear of them. Most GSMD that have been tested by CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) have some degree of Distichiasis and are cleared for breeding because they are not symptomatic. Entropion and Ectropion (turning in or out of the eyelids) is also a problem with some dogs. Be suspicious if a breeders seems to sidestep your questions. Copious weeping or irritated eyes are very often a conspicuous sign of SYMPTOMATIC Distichiasis and/or Entropion.

 5. If you are buying a puppy for a pet and not as a show dog, don't just assume you must take a lesser quality animal. A pet must be just as healthy and live just as long as any show dog. He may have a blue eye, smaller head, missing teeth or crooked tail, but he should still come with written guarantees concerning life threatening diseases such as hip-dysplasia, epilepsy, etc. the markings of the GSMD do not necessarily make a dog a show or pet quality. If a dog has very unusual markings -- either very irregular or maybe the dog has no white on the face or some other very odd coloration, he may be considered a pet. But a white patch on the back of the neck or a white collar, does not automatically make a dog a pet quality dog. Breeders who place TOO much importance on markings are probably not paying enough attention to the MORE IMPORTANT aspects of the breed.

 6. Ask if both parents are still living. If not living, what was the dog's age and cause of death. Ask if any grandparents, older siblings, half-siblings or other close relatives have died. If so, of what? Most GSMD's live to be 10-12 years old and have very few problems with their health. If a dog closely related to your future puppy has just died of something possibly hereditary you should be made aware of that so that you can watch your puppy carefully for symptoms of a similar disorder. It is not a disgrace to lose a dog to some disease but it is unfair to keep secrets from people who hope to include a related dog in their family. I trust breeders who disclose all problems more than those who claim that their dogs are "perfectly healthy". Beware.

 7. There is some incidence of epilepsy in this breed. Most breeders are very concerned about not perpetuating this life-threatening disease. Ask breeders if any of their dogs have ever had any type of epileptic seizures - either grand-mal or the more common "fly-biting" type. Do their dogs live in the house or in a kennel or "out back". Those dogs not living inside with the family may not be noticed when they are having seizures. Beware!!! Be suspicious of anyone telling you that epilepsy does not exist.

 8. Don't be in a hurry for a puppy. Those who have puppies "all the time" are not breeding for the betterment of the breed. They may produce a good dog now and then, but they are not breeding for perfection, health or suitability. Raising puppies is expensive to do and a lot of work -- if done correctly, it is nearly impossible to raise more than one or two litters at a time and properly socialize all of the puppies.

 9. Ask how the pups are raised. Are the raised underfoot in the house or out in a kennel where they would be more "convenient" for the breeder? Puppies should have access to their mother and littermates until they are at least 8 weeks old. The bitch should be the one to decide when to wean the puppies - NOT THE BREEDER. Puppies learn from their mother and littermates how to be compliant and to not bite hard. Any breeder that separates the mother dog from her puppies for any reason other than a medical one is making a very poor decision. Puppies learn a lot from their mothers about hierarchy and about gentle play and it is very important to keep them together, puppies removed too early tend to be fearful, very nippy and sometimes grow to be aggressive adults.

 10. You will probably be asked personal questions about your life and history with other animals. Many responsible GSMD breeders will not sell to people who have never owned dogs before, or that don't have a fenced yard, etc. Some will make exceptions if your lifestyle is such that you have the time to properly care for a large dog in a townhouse or apartment, etc. These large dogs don't need much space because they are generally lazy and calm, but they must still be walked and socialized each day. Most good breeders will ask you for references from your veterinarian or dog trainer. Don't be alarmed by these questions! They are asked with the intention of ensuring that you are the right person for someone's very carefully planned puppy. If a breeder seems to be more interested in your checkbook balance than your dog sense or history as a pet owner, try to find another breeder.

 The breeder from which you buy your special Swissy will be your lifeline in the future. You may encounter problems or questions throughout your best friend's life and that breeder should be able to help you and guide you. You should not feel alone or have to rely soley on a veterinarian or other dog professional for advice -- they may never have seen a GSMD before either. Some have had conflicts over what their knowledgeable breeders have told them and what a veterinarian or dog trainer has suggested. It is best to follow what those who are familiar with the breed and those who have raised a few dogs know about feeding, exercise, growth problems, etc.

 For example, GSMD should NEVER, EVER be fed a high protein puppy food, Most breeders know this and they start weaning 3-4 week old puppies on soaked adult food. Feeding a high protein diet, such as most brands of puppy food, can cause rapid growth and subsequent weaknesses in either the joints or long bones of a very heavy and quickly growing puppy. Some Swissy puppies have been known to reach 100 lbs by 7-8 months even while eating low protein foods. At 7-8 months a GSMD puppy's bone structure is not mature enough to maintain that weight without injury while just running and playing. Some well meaning but ignorant people may suggest supplementing your giant puppy with certain vitamins and calcium tablets, this practice has been linked to GSMD's developing OCD (Osteochondritis Dessicans) a crippling condition that usually affects the shoulders or elbows. OCD is considered to be partially hereditary in that large, rapidly growing breeds of dogs are more prone to develop this problem, but OCD is usually attributed to over-feeding, over-supplementation, over-exertion or injury or a combination of all four.

 GSMD's have special feeding requirements, they should be fed on a raised platform, they should not play immediately before or after a meal. They should be fed a high-quality/low-protein food at least twice daily all of their lives. You should know what Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (Bloat/Torsion) is and know how to recognize the symptoms and try to prevent its occurrence. Any breeder that doesn't know about these things or acts like they are not a problem is not knowledgeable about the breed and cannot properly instruct you on how to care for these rare but wonderful dogs.

 The Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs is one of the very best breeds in the world for family companionship and they are gentle, calm and very loyal dogs. If it is what you are looking for, please ask as many questions as possible, ask breeders for references from their veterinarians and from previous puppy buyers. Talk to as many breeders as possible and try to find the one who seems to work the best with you . Show records and consistency in the breed ring is important but, don't choose your future family member on JUST show wins, hype and publicity. Show dogs should be pets first and their breeders and owners should be able to show you something other than just ribbons on the wall. Remember that temperament & health are the most important aspects of our breed. See the dogs for yourself and choose carefully and you will be pleased with your new friend for many years to come.

 Copyright 1995, 1997 Sharyl Mayhew

Sharyl Mayhew, Precious Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs (703) 754-0158 email:

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