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Greater Swiss Mountain Dog – is it for you?

GSMD has been bred and used to herd cattle, pull heavy loads, guard homesteads and farms day and night regardless of season or weather. They were equally at home in the barnyard or mountain meadows, in winter cold and summer heat – these diverse conditions made them uniquely resilient to the elements. Willingness to work and trainability were traits bred for from the very beginning and through numerous generations. Dogs were selected for substantial dominance and territorial instinct to make them effective watch- and guard dogs as well as capable of working stock – need be - on their own, without their master’s guidance. They were known for being immediately respected and obeyed by livestock and knowing boundaries of their master’s holding even with no visible landmarks like posts or fences. These dogs would unfailingly bark to deter intruders or announce any visitors without immediate aggression – skill that required mentally well balanced, reasonable mind and remarkable versatility to follow
direct commands exactly at one time and make own judgement and decision another.
They were expected simultaneously to work hard and be obedient and devoted to their master but without following commands blindly or expecting them all the time.
As a protector of a farm and homestead GSMD is more of watchdog than a guard – as it would not let stranger in but without applying direct aggression. It would assertively bark and protest with body language and stand its ground yet avoiding physical force for as long as possible –with breed’s imposing size it is usually enough to send any marauder looking for easier target. However due to GSMD forming exceptionally strong
attachment to its human family it is plausible in case of immediate danger to any of it’s member GSMD would actively and violently handle an attacker if all other measures have failed. This particular sensibility is reflection of main purpose of the breed – gently yet effectively controlling movement of large farm animals and safely obey and coegzist with people of different ages. This breed is a hands-on working dog – fine-tuned for sheep and cattle herding independently on the range yet happily obeying their masters in confined spaces of fenced pastures, both tasks requiring brains and diversity as well as gentleness and low aggression. Versatility is necessary when GSMD is called to other jobs – they are often used to pull loaded carts and are expected to be watching over property while providing pleasant company to family members.

Bred with these traits in mind GSMD can only shine when all of his admirable characteristics are developed and used daily. Its stunning looks may deceive someone into considering GSMD as fancy home decoration or fashion accessory to their own detriment. These dogs need and love to work – as companions they are respectful and loving to children and persons with disabilities (there is good number of them as therapy dogs), they work as guide dogs and even avalanche dogs. GSMD need to be close to their people and thrive to be part of everyday life following each family member around. Left alone at home would patiently and quietly wait saving all their energy and exuberance for greeting their people coming back. GSMD will simply wither mentally and suffer physically if permanently confined in a pen or left to live outside - without lots of contact with their humans or without a purpose.

Should it be your idea of owning a dog – please do not get any, much less a working breed such GSMD. Perhaps good security system is a better choice here and as for a pet I’d suggest a goldfish or potted plant. Or a pet rock. In a nutshell – if you dont like dog following your every step, a wet nose pushing up at your elbow for a caress, exuberant greeting every time you come back home – be it an hour or a day - or giving some serious lovin’ after you just called his name or looked at him, a typical GSMD might be too much fun for you. All that are just traits a lot of people actually enjoy and
seek out - and there is much more when comes to a Swissie...
All desirable qualities of GSMD produced as extensions to number of other traits need to be taken into consideration. Originally expected to do quite exhaustive work daily now these dogs need to alter their herding and protective instincts into behaviour acceptable in modern environment. Some traits can be diverted into positive activities – such as their natural need to follow master’s every move - to play game of “hide and seekt; on your
walks. In safe environment, away from traffic, hide behind a tree or some bushes and watch the dog notice your absence and start looking for you; before he gets worried call him out, show yourself or in some way reveal your hiding place - and accept his love and joy seeing you again. This may help to make him pay attention to you and keeping close while outside – his natural desire to be near you will win over his another natural desire
to sniff around and practice “selective deafness” described next.
Like other intelligent dogs, some Swissies may develop so called “selective deafness” – like teenagers sometimes do – and so disregard commands inconvenient to them at that particular moment. This simply is a reflection of their unique ability to evaluate every situation, come to conclusion and make independent decision. In everyday life this may translate into refusing to drop found object (often something gross to human sensibilities), return to heel, return from playing with another dog or quit barking at suspicious (in dog’s mind) passersby. This is not disobedience or dominance but
independent thinking required from this breed and is the reason for some GSMDs having aspiration being best watchdogs in the world - these will bark up a storm at any pretext.
They seem to be doing this just to feel important or for the kicks – no problem is you live in the country away from civilization, big problem if not. Some of GSMD can be true foodies – anything needs to be checked for flavour. Hence be mindful where you place your groceries before your dinner goes AWOL thanks to your Swissy. My very own Koka as 5 months old managed to swipe a whole loaf of freshly baked bread before I
wrestled half of it (and not a better half) from her voracious jaws. But like mother- like son, later her pup Boston in one fell swoop devoured 2 kg of raw herring peacefully thawing at neighbour’s terrace. Still, Monsun topped it off by eating one crocheted angel with a chaser of a rubber glove. Amazingly none of them suffered any unpleasant consequences after such an extraordinary feast !

Swissies need plenty of top quality nutrition. Make sure it is from trustworthy, well known and veryfiable source. It is best to follow advice from the breeder for brand and quantities recommended. Puppies need balanced diet promoting first bone development before building up muscles later – they need nutrients more than empty calories so skip cheap grocery store brands and carefully read dog food labels to be sure you are feeding
your Swissie right. Many GSMDs experience gastric upset by wrong or poor quality diet and they let will you know right away about your - by emitting from their rear end odours strong enough to make paint peel off the wall. So should you go cheap on your noble Swissie be prepared not to inhale for couple of hours after they ate. Proper diet is crucial not only for growing puppies but in all life stages to keep your dog in best of health and looks. Also – providing premium food you save big on vet bills and aggravation having a subpar, sickly, or flatulent dog. Extra bonus – output to clean up on
your walks would be a lot smaller.
Besides diet it is important to remember that all large, long-legged and deep chested breeds are prone to poorly understood but deadly propensity to gastric torsion (bloat).
This condition must be treated IMMEDIATELY by veterinary intervention (surgery) to save dog’s life. It is caused by stomach and/or spleen twisting on their axis (entrance and exit opening of a stomach) and cutting off circulation thusly quickly causing damage to them. Please educate yourself about this horribly painful condition and call your emergency vet if you have a slightest suspicion this happening – it is easier to pay for false alarm then have preventable death of your precious dog on you conscience. To limit chances of this happening do not allow your dog to run, jump up or down, walk down or up stairs or play vigorously alone or with other dogs or people for minimum 1-2 hours after feeding or drinking large quantities of water. Feed few times a day in smaller quantities instead of one large meal and make your dog lie down for quiet time after.
Observe his behaviour and pay attention – anxiety, unproductive retching, panting and vocalizing can mean life-threatening danger, have your emergency vet service handy and call without delay.
GSMDs need extra care in their first year when growing long bones and joints. It is best for them to completely avoid walking stairs until your puppy is at least 5 months old.
GSMD growth rate is such that 4 months old weights about half of its adult weight. Even dogs kept lean can damage their fragile leg bones and joints (hip, elbow) with very severe consequences if exerted. It might be necessary to carry your dog up and down stairs until safe – yes, it would hard but on bright side think of all the muscles you’d be sporting after short few months of lifting up a 20-30 kg pup few times a day !
As sort of breed peculiarity Swissies rather dislike water. It is rare to convince a Swissie to enter the water deeper than to the elbows (theirs that is)– personally I know a single GSMD enjoying short swims – Megi, daughter of Koka and Conan, sire of Ginger’s second litter- and no any other. They would nervously pace on water’s edge at the most, all the while nagging and complaining and acting like a big baby but no power in this world would make them get in and get wet. Well, they are MOUNTAIN dogs after all - capiche? But again – plus side is no wet dog reeking of dead underwater things in your car on the way back home!
Properly developed GSMD is very strong – one of common jobs originally performed was pulling heavy milk carts. This means they can do exactly that - pull hard regardless
what’s the load – milk pails or a human being. Before this happens it is necessary to train your Swissie to heel without fail on and off leash. Be prepared to give it extra time and attention as pulling on any resistance is an bred-in quality and much appreciated in the past – it will take time and practice to perfect it but is absolutely crucial for your safety and enjoyment. Note: start early when your pup is younger and smaller and be patient,
use only positive enforcement. No punishment under any circumstances – seek professional dog trainer is making no progress. Best results are obtained by short, few minutes long lessons few times a day. Never train your dog when you are upset, angry or worried – he will pick up your vibes and lose focus. Never train your dog when he is tired, just fed, frightened or unwell as he will not pay attention - it’s just common sense.
GSMD needs daily exercise. As a working breed they are designed to move – without it they tend to get heavy, unhappy and unhealthy (think of those hips and elbows slowly destroyed by carrying loads of blubber). Daily exercise –aside walks – can be a lot of different fun things no many other dogs can do. You can get for instance a comfy harness like those used in dog sledding (think Alaskan Malamute size) and get your Swissie pull
something like a garden cart with your homegrown produce, perhaps grocery shopping, load of firewood for your wood stove or even your kids’ toboggan in the winter.
GSMDs are friendly. They might even seek attention themselves and being so flashy and large they attract attention – be ready for strangers striking long conversation again and again, often in quite inopportune moments and frankly after a while this may occasionally become a tad annoying. There will be people all ages and manners asking to pet your Swissie – and some, like I’ve met – complaining how come such a huge dog is walking
around with no muzzle on him (reason: because Swissies like people best but not to eat).
Please be gracious and accommodating – you might have grown used to see this gorgeous dog of yours but to many people it looks unreal. I know it took my breath away when I saw GSMD first time – and you certainly remember yours. So multiply this by number of people who stopped you and asked about your dog! Bright side: you and our dog will fell like celebrities. Minus paparazzi…………………………………………..

Who would be perfect for GSMD? It would be you if…..
1. You have strong, balanced personality and enjoy dogs even when they are not at
their showring best (i.e. muddy paws, stray hair, “musky” scent at times etc)
2. You have spacious home and outdoor place for exercise and runs off leash for
your dog
3. You have time and stamina to exercise and play with your dog out of doors and
off leash at least for an hour every day
4. You can provide long walks daily
5. You have previous experience with dogs or are willing to educate yourself in
proper methods of training and care for your puppy and adult dog. This is an
ongoing education and you need to have means to pay necessary expenses (books,
classes, doggy daycare, dog walking service etc.)
6. You have financial means for cost of premium dog food in large quantities,
veterinary care and equipment (leashes, collars, dog toys, beds, utensils and
grooming supplies, towels and dog cosmetics)
7. You need your dog to be your companion as well as watch/guard dog or planning
to train him//her in other fields – not status symbol, fashion accessory or alarm
8. You are looking for sensible, friendly family dog safe with all family members
and fond of children
Please reconsider your choice of GSMD and chose another dog breed or different species
of animal for pet if…….
1. You expect fierce and aggressive guarding reaction with unstoppable combat and
physical interaction to subdue any intruder or suspect
2. You want a coach potato buddy to vegg out on a sofa
3. You live in an apartament
4. You want a backyard dog to protect your place and permanently living in a dog
house with standard run and limited human contact
5. You expect total obedience immediately, unfailingly and every time in every and
all circumstances
6. You want a beautiful dog to complement your house, car or outfit or to get noticed
Please do not get GSMD – or perhaps ANY dog at all for any of these purposes. You will do yourself a great favour and spare one beautiful animal soul a lifetime of pain and unhappiness at the same time. There is a lot of other ways to enjoy pleasure of owning a pet without so much responsibility and eventual disappointment.
Thank you.