Anyone interested in owning a Swissy should carefully consider the following:
The Swissy is a working breed and its disposition and temperament reflect this heritage. The GSMD was developed as a general purpose working dog. Swissys were used by farmers, small merchants, cattle dealers and itinerant peddlers as draft dogs, livestock drovers and watchdogs. All three of these characteristics are still very much evident in the breed. For the owner of a companion dog not involved in carting, weight pulling or herding, it is the Swissy's natural instincts as a watchdog that will become apparent when the dog begins to mature.
It is this natural instinct as a watchdog that makes the Swissy in general quite territorial and consequently protective of his home and people. Unlike in other breeds of similar origin, the protective behavior of the Swissy in general is non aggressive. A Swissy will bark and run up to a stranger but will become friendly as soon as the owner signals to the dog that the stranger is a friend and not an intruder. Because of his size, the intensity of his voice and his particular approach to strangers (a Swissy usually stops a few feet away from the stranger and barks loudly, often with hackles up), a Swissy can be quite intimidating. The protective instinct, i.e. the defensive demeanor in a clear situation of threat towards the dog and his owner, varies from dog to dog; it can range from a mild response to a distinct protective posture. In temperament tests, some usually very easygoing Swissys have demonstrated that they would react quite forcefully in order to protect the owner.
To the companion dog owner, the Swissy's heritage as a capable livestock drover becomes evident in the often highly developed prey drive. Swissys will chase small wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits and will kill them if they catch one. They will also often go after cats and small dogs if they are not accustomed early on how to live peacefully with other smaller house pets. For this reason, a puppy that will grow up and learn to properly interact with small pets is the best options for prospective owners who have cats or other small pet animals. On the other hand, because they were not bred or systematically used as hunting dogs, they might chase wildlife such as deer but they will neither pursue nor search for wildlife tracks.
Because of his origins as a dog working in constant and close relationship with his owner, the Swissy is a highly sociable breed that needs continuous interaction with humans. Swissys cannot be left to themselves confined in a backyard with a few minutes of attention a day during feeding time. Indifference to this human bond requirement can lead to excessive shyness or even aggressiveness towards people. Swissys must be kept as members of the family and included in as many activities as possible. While they absolutely love to live in the house, they do not to have to be kept indoors at all times. They can and will easily sleep in barns, garages or outbuildings provided there is sufficient shelter against heat or cold.
Swissys in general will make excellent family companions, however, they are not born as "family dogs". They will need early, consistent and frequent socialization and exposure to all kinds of different situations in order to learn how to properly interact with children, adults and other house pets. Like in humans, Swissy temperaments vary greatly, even among puppies from the same litter. It can range from the calm and laid back to the more active or even very lively and spirited. A temperamentally sound and properly raised Swissy is steady, friendly and tolerant; initial aloofness towards strangers is a normal, indeed even desired characteristic. Unaltered males and females may be dominant with other dogs of the same sex; while this is often typical canine behavior, dominance or unpredictable or unprovoked aggression towards humans is not and cannot be tolerated under any circumstance.
With all the above in mind, prospective Swissy owners should determine clearly if the Swissy is truly the breed that they want to become a part of their family. Remember, the Swissy is not a Golden Retriever in a tricolored coat. It is a working breed dog with characteristics that are often not compatible with first time dog owners or people who have never owned a large working breed dog.
In addition... before you decide that the Swissy is the dog for you, think about:
Time: This is not a breed for the casual pet owner unable or unwilling to invest a considerable amount of time and effort into a canine companion during all of its life. Furthermore, the time factor is especially important during the puppy phase; during the day, a puppy up to about 6 months should not be left alone for longer than 4 hours at a time.
Space: Because of their farm dog heritage and their size, Swissys in general are best suited for single family homes with a fenced yard. However, that does not mean that they cannot be successfully raised and live in an apartment. The dedication of the owner to provide the dog with the appropriate attention. and adequate daily exercise is ultimately more important than the owner's particular kind of dwelling.
Veterinary care: It is essential to have a good working relationship with a veterinarian who is thoroughly familiar with large breeds, and even better, with Swissys.
Money: Raising and maintaining a Swissy does not come cheaply. The purchase price is just the beginning. High quality food, training and veterinary care can add up in a hurry. In addition, medical care to correct conditions such as OCD or emergency treatment for GDV or splenic torsion will quickly amount to hundreds of dollars.