Meet the Breed
Built to Last: The oldest of the four Sennenhund breeds, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog assisted farmers in the snowy Alps to earn its place by the fireside.
Kim Campbell Thornton
Throughout Europe, one can see remnants of Roman influence: ancient roadways, aqueducts, bridges, walls, baths, town names. Not even the Alpine heights of Switzerland escaped the empire’s reach. There, they left living traces of their presence in the form of the Swiss mountain breeds. Mastiff-type dogs accompanied Roman legions when they invaded the Alps in 15 B.C., and it’s thought that they were the ancestors of the Swiss Sennenhund breeds, of which the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is the oldest.
Farmers, herdsmen and merchants kept the large, muscular dogs to pull loads and protect property. They were sometimes called Metzgerhunde, or butcher’s dogs. Most often they had a tricolor coat of black and white with tan markings, but some were red and white or black and tan. Through the 19th century, they were popular working dogs, but by 1900, the advent of mechanized vehicles started to put them out of work.
Canine researcher Albert Heim recommended that the “shorthaired Bernese Mountain Dogs,” as they were billed at the 25th anniversary show of the Swiss Kennel Club in 1908, be recognized as a distinct breed. The Swiss Kennel club did so the following year, calling them Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund (Greater Swiss Mountain Dog).
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