Of all the herd dogs in Switzerland, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is undoubtedly the most commanding. He is much appreciated for his incomparable abilities. As a drover of cows, he dominates his charges completely, always keeping the herd in order and in the right territory. In addition, he is an exceptional guard of the cow shed and a prized protector of his master’s house and property. He seldom rests, sleeping at night with one eye open.
-from The Great Book of Dogs by Gino Pugnetti
The Große Schweizer Sennenhund (Greater Swiss Mountain Dog) is the largest of the four Swiss Sennenhund breeds. Senn is a term for the traditional alpine herdsmen, who used these breeds as all purpose farm dogs, draught dogs and cattle drovers. Ancestors of these dogs were widely spread across Europe, and several theories exist as to their exact origins. The Greater Swiss Mountain dog most certainly was once widespread in the mountainous areas of Switzerland, albeit with great variation in type and coloring. Frequently described as butcher’s dogs, these sturdy working dogs were widely known for their steady temperament and work ethic. They hauled carts laden with milk, drove cattle and livestock, and served as farm sentinels. By the late 1800s, mechanization may have replaced some of the need for these working dogs and as a result the once common dog of the Swiss countryside became scarce.
Professor Albert Heim
Bello v Schlossgut
It was not until the early 1900s that the breed was officially recognized. On a fateful day in 1908, Bello v Schlossgut was entered in the Berner Sennenhund class at the jubilee show to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Swiss Kennel Club (Schweizerische Kynologische Gesellschaft). His owner, Franz Schertenleib, had acquired the exhibit as a “short haired” Berner and was eager to show to judge Professor Albert Heim that day in Langenthal. This marks the beginning of official recognition of the breed, as Professor Heim proclaimed the dog as a distinct breed of his own, not a short coated Berner. His notes read: “Bello is a marvelous, old Sennen (Butcher) hund of the large, almost extinct breed.” It is at that moment that the name Grosse Schweizer Sennenhund became documented. The following year, they were recognized as an official breed by the Swiss Kennel Club.
The next several decades found fanciers searching for specimens of the breed in an effort to save the breed from extinction. Early development of the breed found inconsistency in coat and colorings. Finding suitable bitches was an early challenge, as many lacked size and substance. Thus the breed developed slowly due to challenges and low numbers of breeding stock. In the 1950s, some cross breedings with Berners occurred with poor results. A decade later, some 43 puppies were registered in a single year with the Swiss Kennel Club. Through efforts of the Swiss Kennel Club, slow and steady progress increased breed numbers.
Kastor v Fryberg
In 1968, Frederick and Patricia Hoffman of Indiana imported the first Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs to the United States after meeting the breed the prior year at the Frankfort, Germany show. The Swiss and Austrian breed clubs selected Kastor v Fryberg and Diana v. Urtenberg to be the first GSMDs to arrive in the USA. The Hoffmans whelped the first three litters of GSMD under the kennel name Carinthia beginning in 1970. Some of these puppies became the foundation of the Sennenhof kennel owned by Dr. Howard and Gretel Summons of Pennsylvania. The Sennenhof Kennel was instrumental in establishing the GSMD in the United States as were other early breeders. A decade after the first GSMDs arrived in the United States, there were a total of 70 Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs in the United States. The newly formed Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America set out to promote the breed and offer education, support and camaraderie for a dedicated and growing group of fanciers.
In October of 1985, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was added to the AKC Miscellaneous Class. Ten years later in 1995, approximately 1,000 dogs were entered as Foundation Stock and the breed was officially granted full recognition in the AKC Working Group.