Is a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Right for You?
Written by Karen Conant
You've probably heard all of the great attributes of these striking, loyal companions, but please consider the following facts when deciding whether the GSMD is the right breed for you:
Properly raising a Swissy takes time. Does your job and lifestyle allow for the commitment to properly raise and train a working dog? Read on and then determine whether or not a Swissy matches your lifestyle.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are a large breed and require space. They also require moderate activity and regular exercise. A true working breed, the Swissy is most content when he has a job or purpose. Swissys are not lazy, lay--around-the-house dogs.
Swissys are most content in the company of their families. They are not well suited to kenneling and confinement away from the activities of the household. Though capable of withstanding the elements, the Swissy's nature is best suited to being a family member and house companion.
Swissys are alert and vigilant. This means that they will bark at neighbors, guests, and just about anything going on in the neighborhood! They have a natural protective instinct to guard home and family.
Most Swissys like the company of children, but NO large dog should be left unattended with young children. Due to the Swissy's robust size and active nature, they can easily topple children unintentionally.
Swissys have several major health problems to consider. In addition to the common orthopedic ailments of large breeds, such as OCD and hip dysplasia, the GSMD is afflicted by a very serious condition known as Gastric Dilation Volvulus, or "bloat". This is a life-threatening medical emergency that is all too common in our breed. Epilepsy is another very serious health concern. All of these conditions can be costly to treat and manage.
Swissys are strong dogs! They are powerful in physical strength and strong-willed and can often be a challenge to leash train. Swissys love to pull. Keep in mind that children (and for that matter some adults!) may have a difficult time walking a Swissy throughout the neighborhood.
Because many Swissys have a well developed prey drive, they require a fenced yard for safe containment. A neighbor's cat or unsuspecting squirrel can become the target of chase!
Swissy temperaments vary but are overall quite complex due to their working dog nature and development. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are NOT a good choice for inexperienced or first time dog owners. In the hands of an experienced owner, the Swissy can be a wonderful family companion.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs were originally bred as draft and guard dogs. Like many working breeds, the Swissy has a tendency for dominant temperaments and behaviors. In addition, Swissys tend to be "social climbers". Practicing effective pack leadership is necessary to prevent dominant behaviors from becoming problematic. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs must learn their place in the family social hierarchy. This takes time, effort and a good dose of patience.
GSMDs require diligent socialization at an early age. This means meeting many new people and being introduced to many new situations. Socializing a Swissy is a commitment not to be taken lightly. Some GSMDs may exhibit dog aggression, particularly intra-sex aggression in intact animals.
Swissys are slow maturing both mentally and physically. Because of orthopedic concerns related to large breed dogs, great care must be taken to prevent injury during growth stages. Despite their sturdy build, the breed is, in effect, quite fragile during these growth periods. The Swissy is not a breed that can sustain unlimited exercise or activities such as jogging at a young age.
Swissys shed!!! A common misconception is that the short coat of the GSMD sheds very little, and nothing could be further from the truth. The Swissy has a thick undercoat which sheds continually throughout the year and requires regular grooming.
If you are interested in breeding, you should know that the GSMD is prone to whelping difficulties and often require cesarean sections. They are not easy to breed!
Finally, Swissys need TRAINING! Prepare to devote the time and energy to ensure your dog has all of the "tools" it needs to become a good citizen.
This article may be reprinted in it's entirety - anywhere, anyplace and anytime- in effort to educate the public about the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) and Splenic Torsion:
1. Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), more commonly referred to as Bloat and torsion, is a very serious medical condition, which can be fatal. This is probably the leading cause of death of Swissys. To date researchers do not know the exact cause of bloat/torsion, and what part, if any, heredity factors play. The risk of bloat/torsion increases as a Swissy ages with the majority of cases occurring in dogs over five years of age, however, Swissys as young as one year have died from this condition. In bloat the stomach abnormally fills up with air, food or water and puts pressure on the other internal organs. Once filled, the stomach can easily rotate on itself, thus pinching off the blood supply. Once this rotation (volvulus) occurs and the blood supply is cut off, the stomach begins to die and the entire blood supply is disrupted and the dog's condition begins to deteriorate very rapidly. Immediate medical attention is imperative, as any delay at this stage can result in the death of the dog. Symptoms of GDV can include: abdominal swelling and tenderness, unsuccessful attempts to vomit, panting, excessive drooling, restlessness, whining, and/or pale gums. Even with treatment it is estimated that at least 35% of the dogs with gastric dilatation and volvulus die. Understanding the symptoms, prevention and need for prompt treatment will help reduce the risk of mortality if your Swissy develops this problem.
2. Splenic torsion can occur in conjunction with stomach torsion or may occur on its own. Splenic torsion occurs when the spleen rotates around its own axis, resulting in the spleen abnormally filling with blood. When this condition occurs the spleen can expand to several times its normal size. Signs of splenic torsion, without GDV, might include some or all of the following: general listlessness, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, low grade fever, tucked up abdomen, tenderness of the abdomen or slight abdominal distention, roached back and/or pale gums. As with GDV, the cause of splenic torsion is unknown, but we do know that it is very serious and requires immediate surgical attention as death is imminent.
Epilepsy is the term most experts use to describe the condition of frequent seizures. The intervals between recurring seizures may vary widely. Some dogs are seizure-free for weeks or even months, while others are not. Epilepsy can be inherited or acquired. Genetic epilepsy is an inherited predisposition toward epilepsy that shows up in certain bloodlines within some breeds. (Because it is difficult to trace genetic epilepsy, some people call it idiopathic epilepsy, epilepsy of unknown cause.) Epilepsy that is not inherited (acquired epilepsy) can stem from causes such as poisoning, infectious disease, trauma and brain tumors.
Idiopathic epilepsy appears to be present in all lines of Swissys. Seizures from genetic epilepsy generally start sometime between one and three years of age. At this point there is no test to identify carriers of this disease, but rather breeders will not breed a Swissy who has had seizures or has produced seizing offspring. There is on-going research to identify the DNA genetic marker for epilepsy being conducted at the University of Missouri/Columbia. We are all hopeful that this important research will eventually allow us to identify the carriers of genetic epilepsy, so that one day we might eliminate this frightening disease.
Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD):
CHD is the faulty development of the hip joint. This occurs when the muscle or soft tissue falls behind the rate of the skeletal growth, the muscles are unable to hold the joint together and the femur (thigh bone) partially dislocates from the acetabulum (hip socket), which can result in looseness of the hip joint and subsequent abnormal wear and arthritis. Events leading to CHD begin very early in life and are a result of both genetic and environmental influences.
Elbow Dysplasia (ED):
ED is the generic term to cover many different abnormal conditions of the elbow, which can include fragmented coronoid process (FCP), osteochondrosis (OC), ununited anconeal process (UAP) and degenerative joint disease (DJD). Due to the complex nature of these conditions an inheritance pattern has not been established. However, as with CHD it is predicted that breeding dogs with radiographically normal elbows will reduce the prevalence of ED.
Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD):
Osteochondrosis is a defect that occurs only during the growth period of the bone, when areas of joint cartilage do not remodel properly from the original cartilage of a puppy to the thin smooth cartilage of an adult. Thereby leaving thick areas in the cartilage that can eventually loosen creating an OCD flap. This OCD flap will move loosely in the joint resulting in severe pain and can cause arthritis in the joint. Affected joints can include the shoulder, elbow, stifle and hock, however in Swissys the most common site is the shoulder. The symptom seen is lameness, usually beginning at 5 to 10 months of age, worsening with exercise and improving with rest.
For more information please visit:
American Kennel Club (AKC)http://www.akc.org/
Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA)http://offa.org/
Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF)http://www.vmdb.org/cerf.html
Canine Health Information Center (CHIC)http://www.caninehealthinfo.org/
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America
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