The Greater Swiss was introduced to the remote and isolated areas of Switzerland centuries ago by the ancient Roman conquerors. It is the oldest and largest of the four Sennenhund breeds developed in Switzerland, which also include the Appenzeller Sennenhunde, Bernese Mountain Dog and Entlebucher Mountain Dog. “Sennenhund” means “dog of the Alpine herdsmen.” The Swissy became adapted to livestock management (herding and guarding), being a farm sentinel and was popular with butchers. These dogs became especially adept at pulling carts laden with local produce, especially fresh milk, to cheese factories and to market, often working in pairs. It also contributed to development of the Rottweiler and the Saint Bernard.
In the late 1800s, the draft and herding work done by these dogs was increasingly replaced by other breeds, especially the Saint Bernard, and by the development of alternatives to drafting and carting. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog almost vanished. In 1908, however, Professor Albert Heim of Zurich – a Swiss canine expert of that era – was delighted to be shown a pure-bred Greater Swiss that Franz Schertenleib had discovered on a remote farmstead. These men dedicated themselves to finding other surviving examples in order to save the ancient Alpine breed. As a direct result of their efforts, the Swiss Kennel Club recognized the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog as a distinct breed in 1910. The first specialist Greater Swiss breed club was founded by a butcher in 1911. By 1923, there was a breed club in Germany, and the breed was on its way to recovery.
The first Greater Swiss came to the United States in the mid-1900s, after several dog fanciers saw them exhibited in Frankfurt, Germany. Interest in the breed grew slowly but steadily. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America was formed in 1968. Its stud book was transferred to the American Kennel Club in 1993, with roughly 1,300 breed representatives identified as foundation stock. The American Kennel Club accepted the Greater Swiss for full recognition as a member of its Working Group in 1995. Today’s Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is sturdy, steady and strong. It retains its even temperament, is competitive in the AKC show ring and makes an excellent family companion. They also enjoy obedience trials, weight pulling, sledding, carting, hiking, herding and backpacking with their owners.
The average life span of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), epilepsy, elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia.