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Saving the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Without Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

4 min read

greater swiss mountain dog extinction

How One Man Saved the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog From Extinction Without a Telephone or SocialMedia! 

When I say, "Saint Bernard" what comes to mind? A glorious Saint Bernard with a huge cask of adult beverage hanging from his neck as he prepared to risk life and doggy limb to save travelers from avalanches in the Swiss Alps.

Everything about the Saint Bernard's story is oh-so glamorous. You've got big, adorable dogs doing brave stuff. You have monks adding a bit of the spiritual into the mix and you've got danger with the threat of avalanches thundering down the mountains. There are the makings of several blockbusters in those couple of sentences alone!

Needless to say, the Saint Bernard dog was the Golden Child of the Swiss country. Everyone wanted to know more about the glamorous and noble Saint Bernard. And with good reason, they were working hard and saving lives. I must say, the Saint Bernard had great buzz!

But what about the hard working Swiss Mountain Dogs? The Bernese Mountain Dog, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Entlebucher, and the Appenzeller? The classic dogs that had been the backbone of the Swiss farming families for so long were getting lost in the shuffle.

The more popular the Saint Bernard became, the less people were interested in the Swiss Mountain dogs. The Industrial Revolution brought more automation to the farmers and they needed working farm dogs even less.

In 1883 The Swiss Kennel Club decided to focus on the Saint Bernard and a few other higher profile breeds. The Swiss Mountain dogs were soon only found in a few remote villages.

swiss mountain dogs history

The Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Entlebucher, and the Appenzeller

The four Swiss Mountain dog breeds would have disappeared into the history books if not for the valiant efforts of one man -  Franz Schertenleib. He was an innkeeper who fondly remembered his grandparents telling stories of the versatile and beautiful Swiss Mountain dogs. He dedicated himself to resurrecting the noble breeds of Switzerland and began his campaign to save them.

He zig zagged back and forth across Europe searching for good specimens of these noble dogs and proclaimed their good qualities everywhere he went. Franz was going to take the Swiss Mountain dogs viral, before he had a telephone!

Professor Albert Heim of Zurich, a leading g fancier in Switzerland, connected with Franz Schertenleib in 1908. Franz had found a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog in a remote village and the two men united to save the Swiss Mountain breeds.  By the mid-1900s all four breeds were pulled back from the brink of extinction and well on their ways to being known worldwide.

Professor Albert Heim wrote the following report on the health of the breeds in May of 1936. 

Dear Friends of the Big Swiss Mountain Dogs*
You have most kindly invited me to your meeting and the twenty-fifth birthday festivity. I thank you! How I would like to have come to you! But I am in my 88th year of life and too weak to attend. As part of the festivity I am sending you a few written words which I would have spoken if feeling healthier. Please have them read to the group.
(Auf Rothöhe**) From Rothöhe, Switzerland
"Be it known to all of you, my dear friends of the Mountain Dogs, that you are standing here on the grounds, surrounded by the park and  house of the late famous animal lover, who:

"In 1892 brought the `Dürrbächler´ (i.e. the ancient name for the Bernese Mountain Dog) to Burgdorf, Switzerland, and then again exhibited them in1912 in Bern, Switzerland. He then became a successful breeder of those dogs for many years.

"In 1912 he brought the Entlebucher and exhibited them in 1913 in Langenthal, Switzerland, for the very first time. 
And that he was the one who rescued the Big Swiss Mountain Dog from extinction!
"That was Franz Schertenleib of Rothöhe, Switzerland. Thanks be to him!

"How did this happen? As late as 1850 the Big Swiss Mountain Dog could be found all over Switzerland. Then, imported dogs of famous names and with pedigrees replaced him - he, "the common butcher´s dog without descent and name of breed." One did not see the fact that he was to be found everywhere: proof the animal to be a balanced, indigenous native old race of better, higher content, better than the displacers. By 1880 he was almost totally undiscoverable.
Then, on a journey, our friend Franz Schertenleib met in Schöntannen, Switzerland, between the towns of Schwarzenberg and Gurnigel a big dog like he never had seen before. Colored as the Dürrbächler but with short hair and a stronger, bigger build.
"Franz Schertenleib was so impressed by the animal that he bought it and brought it to the judges-ring together with his Bernese in September 1908. He wanted to know, if the dog was something special, he expected no evaluation, he said. I, the judge looked at the dog strictly, then I joyfully shouted, "there, you have recovered the big `Bläß´***(bläss or blaze), believed lost!! The Big Swiss Mountain Dog." And with that remark I gladly gave him a rating of   "vorzüglich" excellent  and the first prize. Possibly this breed was to be rescued.
"And with these words the race was baptized, and the SKG (Schweizer Kynologische Gesellschaft-Swiss Cynological Society) was the baptismal maid. Today, "Bello vom Schloßgut" would still be a winner. Soon Franz Schertenleib, the eager searcher, looked for, found and brought other Big Swiss Mountain Dogs, like "Barry" for Mr. Imhof, and "Belline" for Mr. Jaussi and some others. The ancestors of a whole race now were together! Good luck to you, multiply!
Off course, if we wanted to rescue the old breed we could not be modestly silent. At first they were discussed in the judges´ reports and requested for further search for the still existing breed, then exhibited. At a following exhibition there were 4, then 8, then 10 "Big Swiss" presented. Our president now estimates the number at about 300. Some 28 years ago we, the deceased or decrepit, found our breed again and recognized it. All of you have now, for a quarter of a century bred, educated, and practically held her and raised her.
"My hearty thanks to all of you and especially the leaders of our clubs together with this plea: Be faithful to our club and our breed, faithful as the Big Mountain Dog."
May l,1936   Albert Heim