Several dog breeds around the world are considered mountain dog breeds, with most originating from the mountain regions of Europe and Asia.
There are four breeds of Sennenhunds, or dogs of the Switzerland mountains. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes three; the United Kennel Club (UKC) recognizes all four. Although there are differences between the breeds, those differences are small.
Bernese Mountain Dog
Named for the Canton of Bern, this is the only Sennenhund variety that possesses a long, silky coat. Affectionately known as the “Berner”, this hardy dog thrives in cold weather. It is considered intelligent, strong and agile. Those traits helped the breed conduct drafting and droving work in the mountains of its homeland, pulling carts to market, driving livestock, protecting the farm, and acting as a family companion. Today, this very versatile breed participates in conformation, obedience, carting, agility, tracking, and herding events as well as therapy work. A Berner needs plenty of exercise.
Like its Sennehund cousins, the Berner has a tri-colored coat, with patches of black, rust and white plus a white blaze and white-tipped tail. The double-coat tends to shed; therefore, regular brushing is required. Known for their intelligent, gentle, easygoing disposition and the desire to be close to their people, Berners make excellent family pets. They are also considered confident and alert, and are sometimes aloof with strangers.
These large dogs stand 23 to 28 inches (58 to 61 cm) tall at the shoulder and weigh 80 to 110 pounds (36 to 50 kg). Although they appear square, Bernese Mountain Dogs are slightly longer than they are tall. Unfortunately, these dogs can have a fairly short life expectancy due to the increased incidences of cancer; they generally live less than 10 years.
The AKC recognized the breed in 1937 as part of the Working Group.
Entlebucher Mountain Dog
The Entlebucher is the smallest of the four tri-colored Swiss Mountain Dogs. This compact and strongly muscled canine possesses a short, hard, smooth coat that is bright black with symmetrical markings of white located on the muzzle, chest, and feet. Often an inverted white cross appears on the chest. They also possess small, triangular ears.
Primarily a herding dog, the Entle, as it is called, helps farmers move livestock from pasture to pasture in the Alps. This all-purpose dog excels at competitive sports today. It is a medium-sized, lively and active breed that is often a willing and enthusiastic partner in various canine athletic activities. It is known for its extreme intelligence, speed and agility.
The breed was just recognized by the AKC in 2011 and is part of the organization’s Herding Group.
Confident, compact and strong-muscled Entles range in size from 16 to 21 inches (40 ½ to 53 cm) tall with a weight of 55 to 66 pounds (25 to 30 kg).
Entles are loyal and protective of its family and reserved with strangers. They are high-energy dogs, requiring above average physical exercise. They do best when they have a job because of their working heritage and personality. They are fairly easy to train and devoted to their people.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Developed in isolated areas of Switzerland, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (also called the “Swissy”) was originally used for draft work, as a farm guard dog, and for herding and guarding livestock. The breed was believed to have died out by the late 19th century, replaced by other breeds and machines, but it was rediscovered during the early 1900s.
The “Swissy” is a very social dog, enjoying the company of its human family. House-training requires patience and persistence; dogs may grasp the concept in a few weeks, but they may take months to be reliable. Daily exercise is necessary due to the working nature of this breed, but that exercise should be moderate due to its large size and dark, thick coat – a dog can overheat in high temperatures. The short, dense coat is black with symmetrical rust and white markings, it is easy to maintain, requiring a brushing just a few times a week. A white blaze is often present.
This dog is considered sturdy and confident, being robust and agile enough to conduct farm work in very mountainous areas. As a working dog, a Swissy likes having a job to do; it also enjoys being with its human friend, so this breed makes a great hiking and backpacking companion. It excels at canine events like carting, obedience trials, herding, and weight pulling.
A powerful dog, heavy boned, well-muscled with a broad chest, the Swissy ranges in height from 23 ½ to 28 ½ inches (60 to 72 cm) and weighs 130 to 135 pounds (59 to 61 kg).
The AKC recognized the breed as part of the Working Group in 1995.
The Appenzeller was recognized as a native Swiss dog breed requiring preservation in 1897. At the time, the dogs were scattered on farms where they were used for droving, guarding and general farm work. A breed club was established in 1906, and the official breed standard was developed in 1914. The AKC does not recognize this mountain dog breed, but the UKC does.
The Appenzeller is suspected to have some Spitz influence in its lineage from the curved tail over the back, its high energy level and watchfulness, and the more refined head and body features compared with its three Sennenhund cousins.
This is the rarest of the Swiss Sennenhunds and the most active. Its short, double coat is similar to the Entlebucher’s. It is also the most suspicious of strangers among the four Swiss Mountain Dog breeds.
Muscular and well-built, the Appenzeller is considered intelligent, lively, and loyal. It usually gets along well with other pets and children if socialized properly. However, the dog’s temperament is to bond closely with one person. It makes an excellent watchdog, due to its natural suspicion of strangers.
The active Appenzeller greatly enjoys the outdoors, and therefore, makes a great jogging and hiking partner. It also excels at agility trials and games of catch.
This breed stands 18 to 23 inches (46 to 58 ½ cm) tall and weighs 49 to 70 pounds (22 to 32 kg). Minimal grooming is needed for its short, double coat.
Because of its energy level and work ethic, the Appenzeller is not a good breed for small dwellings, like apartments. This dog should have acreage to work, run and play. An owner who does live in town needs to provide the Appenzeller with sufficient, active exercise to keep the dog stimulated physically and mentally.
The UKC recognized this breed in 1993 as part of the organization’s Guardian Dog Group.
Another dog of the Swiss Alps, the St. Bernard was originally used to locate stranded and lost travelers during snowstorms. It is generally believed that the dogs which became Saint Bernards were bred from canines previously existing in the Swiss countryside. The original Saint Bernard was a short-haired dog that was introduced to the Hospice (a refuge for travelers crossing the treacherous mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy) as a guard dog. It also became a carting dog and an avalanche rescue dog.
The Saint Bernard now uses its intelligence and strength in conformation and obedience competitions, as well as cart pulling and weight pulling events. Although powerful and muscular in build, a Saint, as the breed is affectionately called, possesses a gentle and dignified personality. This dog makes a wonderful family companion, especially with obedience training and daily exercise. However, due to its giant stature, a Saint may do better living in the country or suburbs than in a city setting.
This massive breed ranges from 25 ½ to 27 ½ inches (65 to 70 cm) and weighs 130 to 180 pounds (59 to 82 kg). Some tip the scale at 200 pounds (91 kg).
Coat length can be long or short, and colors range from deep brown to various shades of red. White markings are also part of the coloring and are usually found on the chest, feet and tip of the tail. Both long-haired and short-haired varieties shed and need regular grooming. Additionally, owners need to be prepared for drool; these dogs slobber!
This breed has been part of the AKC Working Dog Group since 1885 and part of the UKC’s Guardian Dog Group since the 1920s.
This breed hails from the mountainous region of southwestern Europe, from where it gets its name. These dogs were and still are used for guarding flocks. In addition to working alongside peasant shepherds, the Great Pyrenees dog was also cherished by nobility; it was appointed French court dog during the 17th century.
Regal and majestic in appearance with a kindly expression, this dog is an enthusiastic worker, faithfully guarding its flock no matter the weather or terrain. Its intelligence, scenting ability and excellent sight make this dog an invaluable companion to a shepherd. While affectionate with its human family and quiet and tolerant in general, the protection instinct can make the Great Pyrenees quite territorial. Because they were bred to work independently and make decisions on their own, these dogs can be strong-willed and aren’t always the most obedient.
A Great Pyrenees requires daily exercise, on leash or in a fenced area. This breed is prone to barking, especially at night as the protection instinct turns on to full alert.
The breed possesses an elegantly thick, weather resistant, often white coat that needs weekly brushing. Feathering is apparent along the back of the front legs and along the back of the thighs, giving a “pantaloon” effect.
The AKC recognized the breed in 1933; it is part of the Working Group.
The Great Pyrenees stands 25 to 32 inches tall (63 to 81 cm) and weighs 85 to 100 pounds (38 to 45 kg), some dogs weigh even more.
This breed’s natural inclination is one of confidence, gentleness, and affection. While it can be territorial and protective of its flock or family, the overall demeanor of this breed is one of quiet composure, being patient and tolerant as well as loyal and fearless.
This mountain dog breed originates in China, particularly isolated areas of the Himalayan Mountains. Serving primarily as a family and property guardian, this breed was traditionally kept confined during the day then let loose at night. When the flocks were moved to higher pasture, the dogs were left behind to guard the tents and remaining families.
A breed of great courage, independence and intelligence, the Tibetan Mastiff may have its own agenda, so for safety, it’s recommended a dog be kept constrained when exercised. The breed is highly protective of family and property, reserved and watchful of strangers, so it may be difficult to bring people into one’s home if a Tibetan Mastiff resides there.
This very athletic dog possesses a sturdy bone structure and a broad, strong-boned head. It features a solemn but kind expression and a heavy mane that’s created by its thick, coarse coat; it also has a wooly undercoat. The tail and legs are well feathered, and the tail is carried over the back in a single curl. The coat can be black, brown and blue/gray, with or without tan markings, as well as various shades of gold. Regular brushing of the dog’s double-coat is required.
The AKC recognized this breed in 2006 as part of the Working Group.
Powerful and extremely large, Tibetan Mastiffs stand 25 to 28 inches (61 to 71 cm) tall and weigh 140 to 170 pounds (64 to 78 kg) or more.
Considered an aloof and alert guardian breed, these massive dogs don’t always enjoy participating in organized activities such as obedience or agility due to their highly independent natures.
Estrela Mountain Dog
Another breed not recognized by the AKC but that is recognized by the UKC, the Estrela Mountain Dog originated in the mountains of Portugal. It is believed to be one of the oldest dog breeds of the Iberian Peninsula, used for guarding flocks and people. They also sometimes served as draft animals.
During the 1930s, Portugal experienced a revived interest in its native dog breeds; the first breed standard for the Estrela was created in 1933. The Estrela Mountain Dog was recognized by the UKC in 1996. It is part of the organization’s Guardian Dog Group.
Noted for its loyalty and affection for its owner, this breed is generally aloof toward strangers. It is considered an intelligent, powerful and alert breed, self-willed but trainable.
This very large dog stands 24 to 28 ½ inches tall (62 to 72 cm) and weighs 66 to 110 pounds (30 to 50 kg). It presents either as a long-haired or short-haired dog. Coat color is brindle, gray or fawn, oftentimes featuring a black mask, and possessing a long, furry tail.
The Estrela Mountain Dog is a strongly muscled, athletic dog and does best in an active home with lots of room to exercise and play. Known as a faithful watchdog, this breed is quick to react to danger.
Overall, mountain dog breeds have been used for guarding, herding, and drafting jobs, assisting their owners in work and providing them hours of loyal, loving companionship. These working dogs still occupy such service, and more, today.