Many wonderful breeds of dog have been brought to Switzerland, but none more popular than the large tricoloured Bernese Mountain Dog. These beautiful, affectionate dogs are well-suited for hard work. They are easily recognizable by their large size and stunning markings. There is another Swiss breed that has similar characteristics and origins. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, a loyal and strong member of the Working Group, is sometimes mistaken for the Bernese. Learn how to distinguish these two Swiss Alps dogs.
Similar Origins and Looks
Sara Karl is an AKC judge and delegate to the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America. She has been breeding and showing Bernese ever since 1986, under the prefix Vashem. When asked if people confuse the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Karl replied, “Only when it is out of hair!”
Karl, who has bred more than 100 champions, performance-titled Berners, and two National Specialty winners over the years, believes that the most commonality between the two breeds lies in their appearances and historical functions. They are large-breed dogs, which are white, black, and rust. Both were developed for pulling carts carrying goods to market and are Swiss dogs.
The Berner is a much more popular breed than the Swissy, so it is more familiar to most people. Liz Coit, the AKC breeder of distinction and president of Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America, made this point. People often wonder if the Swissy is a Berner or shaved” Berner. As puppies, the Swissy can be confused with a Beagle and as adults with Saint Bernard. It is, therefore, the Swissy’s inability to get along with the general population that is the problem.
Bernese Mountain Dog (left) and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (right).
Coit, the proud owner of three Swissies, including Shine, was named Ambassador for the Breed in 2020. She agrees with the similarities in their looks and origins as farm dogs. She said that both breeds are known for their distinctive tricolour coats and strong presence. They are loyal and devoted to their families, but they are also friendly enough to go to the market and greet friends and customers who visit the farm. They are both vigilant watchdogs, alerting their families to any danger or a shift in the wind direction.
There are differences in coat and personality.
While people mistakenly think the Swissy is the Berner, they have distinct physical differences. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog breed standard states that male Swissies can reach 28.5 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 115 to 140 pounds. The Berner is slightly smaller, with males measuring between 80 and 120 pounds and 27.5 inches tall.
Another difference is in the coats. The Swissy has a shorter, double-coated Bernese, while the Bernese has an extended coat. Coit says that both breeds have thick undercoats, so there will be a lot of shedgin. Coit explains that the Swissy and Berner standards differ in certain areas, such as markings (white or brown) and head shapes. The Swissy is more tolerant of variations in markings than the Berner breeder. Our coat, however, is not as distinctive as the Berner.
Both breeds are good with children and are attached to their families. However, the Swissy is more outgoing and has a more intense work ethic. Berners are described by the Bernese Mountain Dog breed standards as “alert, good-natured,” while the Swissy breed standard calls them “alert, vigilant”, and the Berner is known for being aloof around strangers. However, the curious Swissy is more open to making friends with people new and different. Karl states that both are good with people and easy to train. However, the Bernerse is slightly more gentle than the Greater Swiss.
Dogs that are loyal and dedicated
The Berner was created in Switzerland as a farm dog for all purposes. Karl claims that farmers used the Berner to transport dairy cattle to different pastures, pull milk carts to market, and guard the farm. This sweet, loving breed is likely due to its close relationship with its farmer.
Karl values their beauty, stockiness and devotion as a breed’s characteristic. Living with a Berner will bring you lots of hair and shedding. She recommends leather furniture and a vacuum cleaner. She says that these dogs enjoy going on long walks and enjoying the cold weather. However, they do not like being left outside for too long. They don’t like high temperatures. You can allow them to live in warmer climates, but they should be kept out of direct sunlight during the day.
Coit states that the Swissy (Swiss mountain dog) is the oldest and most large of the Sennehund breeds. These dogs were also developed to be all-purpose farm dogs. They are responsible for driving stock to market and hauling milk carts. The Swissy’s watchdog heritage means that it still functions as a sentinel, with a deep bark of alert and warning.
They are loyal and loving dogs who want to be with their families. Coit states that they don’t like to be busy and are happy to walk every morning or evening. You can take them hiking or teach them to herd. They will love it. They will be a herding breed and will often gather children. It is important to teach them loose leash walking skills.
Both owners who are willing to learn more about large breeds can be wonderful companions. Make sure to research potential breeders before you bring your pet home. Karl recommends Bernergarde.org for researching potential Berner breeders. Whether or not you are a fan of one of these Swiss breeds, you will be able to appreciate the differences between them once you meet one.