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The Great Swiss Mountain Dog is considered the oldest of the Swiss breeds. There are several theories regarding the ancient origins of the Swiss Sennenhund breeds.
The most popular theory states the dogs are descendants from the Mollosian, a large Mastiff-type dog that accompanied the Roman Legions on their conquest of vast areas of Central Europe in the 1st century B.C.
Another hypothesis is that a large canine breed was brought to Europe by the (about 1100 B.C.) when they settled down in Spain. It Supposedly, these dogs later migrated eastward and influenced the development of the Spanish Mastiff, Great Pyrenees, Dogue de Bordeaux, Great Dane, Rottweiler and others as well as eventually the large Swiss breeds such as the Saint Bernanrd and the Great Swiss and Berner Mountain Dogs.
Yet another speculation assumes that a large breed was already in existence at the time of the Roman invasion of the alpine regions of central Europe. The Roman dogs would have been crossed with indigenous dogs. In Switzerland, these cross breedings eventually would have led to the development of the Saint Bernard and the two large Sennenhunde breeds, the Swissy and the Berner.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a tri-colored large dog. The height is about 23-27 inches, the weight is 80-110 pounds. The coat is black with symmetrical markings of rust and white; white blaze on the chest being required by the breed standard. The coat is thick, moderately long and slightly wavy.
The coat needs daily brushing. This breed sheds heavy.
Temperament and Personality
The Berner Sennenhund is a good-natured, friendly, master-devoted dog with natural watchdog abilities. These dogs are intellegent and easy trained. They are very agile and even boisterous in young age till they are about
three years old but later get the poise for which this breed is famous.
Early History in Switzerland
(Summary from the book "Swiss Canine Breeds")
The ancestors of the Great Swiss Mountain Dog are of the type previously widely spread across Central Europe and frequently described as butchers' or slaughterer's dogs. They were strong, tricolor, sometimes black and tan or yellow dogs, popular with butchers, cattle dealers, manual workers and farmers, who used them as guards, droving or draught dogs and bred them as such.
On the occasion of the jubilee show to mark the 25 years of the founding of the «Schweizerische Kynologische Gesellschaft» (Swiss Kennel Club) SKG, held in 1908, two such dogs, called «short-haired Bernese Mountain Dogs», were for the first time presented to Professor Albert Heim, for his assessment. This great promoter of the «Swiss Mountain and Cattle dogs» recognized in them the old, vanishing, large Sennenhund (mountain dog) or butcher's dog.
They were recognized as a definite breed by the SKG and entered as «Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund» in volume 12 (1909) of the Swiss Stud Book. In the canton of Berne, further exemplars were found which measured up to Heim's description and were introduced systematically into pure breeding stock. In January 1912 the club for «Grosse Schweizer Sennenhunde» was founded, which from then on took over the care and promotion of this breed.
For a long period the breed reservoir remained small as it was particularly difficult to find suitable bitches. Only since 1933 could more than 50 dogs annually be entered into the SHSB (Swiss Stud Book). The Standard was first published by the FCI on February 5th, 1939. Recognition and wider distribution came along with the breed's growing reputation as undemanding, dependable carrier or draught dogs in the service of the Swiss army during the second World War, so that by 1945 for the first time over 100 puppies could be registered, which was evidence of the existence of about 350-400 dogs. Today the breed is bred also in the adjacent countries and is appreciated universally for its calm, even temperament, especially as a family dog.
- 1945 to present day
In the 1950s, an attempt was made to improve structure, color and markings of the breed by crossing some Swissys with Berners. These crossbreedings brought the anticipated betterment of coat color and markings. However, this experiment did not improve the structure, in general the crossbred pups had poor gaits and often bad bites. It also had a detrimental effect on the temperament, nervous behavior and shyness replaced the steady and calm disposition of the GSMD. Most well-known Swiss breeders discontinued using the crossbred lines and concentrated on purebred stock.
By the late sixties, the breeding population had decreased to the point that in 1967 only 43 Swissy pups were registered with the Swiss Kennel Club. The national Swiss Swissy club, the "Klub fuer Grosse Schweizer Sennehunde", attributed this decline primarily to the fact that the
GSMD was always much less popular with the dog fanciers than the Berner, quite possibly because the Swissy is less flashy and eye catching than the Berner with its much more uniform color, markings and long coat.
The Swiss club began to work on spreading the image of the Swissy as a reliable, low maintenance family companion with excellent watch dog qualities.
By 1985, an average of about 20 litters were again registered annually. However, this increase in numbers had come at the expense of the overall health of the breed. Decades of inbreeding and close line breeding, coupled with the overuse of and dependency on a very small number of stud dogs, had led to increasing incidences of hereditary diseases such as Ostechondrosis in the shoulder joints and epilepsy. Many breeding animals showed clear signs of inbreeding depression such as low conception rates, whelping difficulties and small litter sizes in bitches and fertility and breeding performance problems in dogs. Alarmed by these developments, the Swiss club established a comprehensive breeding management program. This agenda includes a follow-up of every Swissy born in Switzerland from birth on during its entire life, a data bank of available stud dogs to assist breeders, mandatory screening for OCD in the shoulder, strict control of all line breeding and limiting the number of common ancestors in the first 3 generations of breeding pairs.
Note: Like with many Swiss pure breed clubs, Swissys can only be bred if they pass the mandatory breeding certification exam which consists of health, structure and temperament tests. Only the offspring of animals that have obtained their respective breed club's breeding certification will be registered by the Swiss Kennel Club.
Today in Switzerland, the Swissy is still among the relatively rare breeds. However, the numbers of litters have remained quite steady with about 18 to 25 litters registered every year. And most importantly, thanks to the efforts of those concerned club members who recognized the dangerous situation the breed was facing in the mid-eighties, the overall health situation has improved considerably. The number of OCD and epilepsy cases and other hereditary diseases are decreasing steadily, the performance of stud dogs and brood bitches has and is constantly improving, and very rarely does a stud dog sire more than a couple of litters per year.
Bernese Mountain Dog in Germany - pictures