The following are articles written by long term active members of the Swissy Community, and published in the National Club magazine, the Senntinel.
Our Role as Breeders
As breeders who bring these Swissy puppies into the world, we have the responsibility to start with the best possible foundation that we can for temperaments, which is selecting a breeding pair with sound temperaments, and genetic lineage for sound temperaments.
Our next responsibility is to give our puppies the best possible foundation for successful integration into their families and society. Steps we take as breeders include:
1) In addition to constantly assessing the individual temperaments on a day-to-day basis, each puppy is also temperament tested at 7 weeks old using the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test by an objective third party trained in these assessments. This test, combined with our observations as breeders, help us create a whole picture of the character strengths and weaknesses of a particular puppy, and consequently what family environment will best suit that puppy as well as what training and socialization strategies might benefit the puppy's growth once with the owner.
2) We raise our puppies using the Puppy Culture Program, which is a deliberate series of training exercises and exposures at specific key points in the puppy's development that help build confidence, bid-ability, and the ability to recover quickly from and adapt to new situations. We also raise our puppies in our living room, front and center, with all of the busy activities of our children and visitors. Each puppy will experience at least three car rides before they go home, meet many new faces, and experience many new objects, surfaces, and training exercises. This is the scaffolding piece of the puppy's development.
3) We send each family home with a binder of training resources, recommended training schedules, as well as remain available for the life of the puppy for any questions or concerns regarding temperament, training, or health. If a situation is not working out for a puppy we place in a home, we will always take the puppy/dog back to determine training needs, home/re-home suitability, and next best steps for that dog.
Is a Swissy Right For You?
All pure bred dogs were bred for a specific form and function, which includes temperament tendencies that help a dog excel at its given purpose. Temperament is partially what defines a breed and sets it apart from other breeds. Swissies have some of the most amazing and versatile temperaments in dogs. Originally bred to be "the all around farm dog" of the Swiss Alps, and sometimes referred to as the "poor man's horse," Swissies were bred to have an array of specific characteristics that made them the perfect farm and family companion. They are built to haul a cart many times their body weight up and down the steep mountain roads of the Swiss Alps, delivering milk, meat, and other goods to village markets. They were entrusted to guard both their carts and their homes, but always with vocally alerting their owners, never with aggressive action. They have the instinct and drive (sometimes referred to as prey drive) to assist in herding and bringing in the livestock of the farmer from the fields. However, they were also bred to stay close to their owners and families, for companionship, protection and warmth. As the AKC standard states, they are "a large, powerful, confident dog of sturdy appearance; Bold, faithful, willing worker. Alert and vigilant."
In modern day, they excel at activities ranging from therapy dog work to drafting, agility, weight pull, barn hunt, rescue work, and many others due to their loyalty, bid-ability, intelligence, structure, and overall health. While the AKC touts them as being "an ideal family dog," most breeders would qualify that statement with "for the right type of family." Families that are active, confident, and invested in developing a relationship with their dog through training, activities, and other engagement make ideal Swissy homes.
They are also known for being quirky, goofy, stubborn at times, and requiring a firm, confident, but loving owner. They can be obstinate like a teenager in their early years, and sensitive as well. Most are very food motivated, but they also pick up on when you run out of their favorite treat. If not mentally and physically engaged, and if left for long periods of time alone, they have been known to cause trouble - mostly of the self destructive nature - such as the ingestion of non-food items in the house. Without proper socialization and training, they can become insecure, overly cautious towards strangers, and some have regrettably even been known to be dog aggressive or resource guarders.
Genetics are a very important component of canine temperament. As with any large or giant breed whose breed origins arise from mastiff lineage, there can be tendencies towards caution with strangers, and even aggression. These are not considered correct temperaments for the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and while genetics and temperaments of the parents play a large role, so also is how the puppies are raised, specifically in the first 12 weeks, and how that is built upon in the first year. Like people, dogs go through various phases of growth and interaction with their environments. Specific events that occur during these phases can have a lasting imprint on temperament for the life of the dog. Think of the genetics like the foundation of the building, the first 12 weeks of development, socialization, and training (mostly done with the breeder) as the scaffolding, and the first year of training, socialization, and development the final outer structure (mostly done with the owner).