St. Bernard in the Swiss Alps

St. Bernard in the Swiss Alps (Photo by EmmepiPhoto on Shutterstock)

Dogs have the well-deserved reputation of being humanity’s oldest and best friend. As civilization spread across the world, dogs rapidly adapted to suit many varied climates. Mountain dogs are herders, companions, and rescuers. These remarkable canines are perfectly suited for snowcapped slopes. Our list of the top five best mountain dog breeds includes amazing pups that are renowned for their strength and stamina.

Apart from being warm, soft and capable of inspiring our unconditional love, there are a number of unique characteristics that set dogs apart from other animals. One such trait is known as hypersocial behavior. We all know those golden retriever-type dogs that appear absurdly delighted to meet any new social being. It’s hard not to be taken in by their infectious friendliness. These furry, hypersocial creatures have some key genetic differences even to other domestic dogs.

What traits make for great mountain dogs?

Mountain dogs, with their majestic size, gentle nature, and unwavering loyalty, have captured hearts for centuries. But what makes these magnificent creatures so special? Let’s dive into the defining traits that set these gentle giants apart:

  1. Built for Brawn and Beauty:
    • Strength and Size: These breeds weren’t given the “mountain” moniker for nothing. Bernese Mountain Dogs, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, Newfoundlands, and Saint Bernards boast impressive stature, reaching up to 180 pounds and standing over 27 inches tall. This strength made them invaluable working partners in the Alps, pulling carts, herding livestock, and even performing mountain rescues.
    • Thick Double Coats: Their luxurious double coats, often adorned with stunning tri-color patterns, are more than just beautiful. They provide crucial insulation in harsh mountain conditions, protecting them from snow, wind, and cold temperatures.
  2. Gentle Guardians:
    • Devoted Demeanors: Despite their imposing size, mountain dogs are renowned for their gentle and loving nature. They form strong bonds with their families, offering unwavering loyalty and affection. Their calm temperament makes them excellent companions for children and seniors alike.
    • Protective Instincts: Their protective instincts, honed through centuries of guarding livestock and property, make them wonderful watchdogs. They’ll alert you to anything amiss, but rarely resort to aggression. 
  3. Playful Pursuits:
    • Boisterous But Balanced: Don’t let their size fool you! Mountain dogs, especially puppies, can be bundles of playful energy. They love frolicking in the yard, fetching toys, and engaging in games of tug-of-war. However, their gentle nature prevents them from becoming overly rambunctious indoors.
    • Adaptable Amici: Though bred for the mountains, these versatile canine companions can thrive in diverse environments. With proper exercise and stimulation, they can happily adapt to apartment living or sprawling suburban homes.
  4. Big Boned and Big Needs:
    • Exercise Essentials: Their large size comes with big needs. Mountain dogs require ample daily exercise, including walks, playtime, and opportunities to explore. A fenced yard is ideal for them to burn off energy and satisfy their natural curiosity.
    • Grooming Considerations: Their thick double coats demand regular brushing, especially during shedding seasons. Be prepared for some fur tumbleweeds around the house!

Remember, every dog is an individual, so even within breeds, personalities can vary. Spend time with your potential mountain dog pup to ensure a perfect match. By understanding their unique traits and needs, you can welcome a magnificent mountain dog into your life, creating a lifelong bond filled with love, loyalty, and unforgettable adventures. Dogs certainly are amazing animals. With so much variety in breeds of dogs, we needed our sources to help rank out the top five best mountain dog breeds that were recommended most. Let us know your favorite mountain dog breeds in the comments below!

The List: Best Mountain Dogs, According to Canine Experts

1. Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese mountain dogs are the gold standard for mountain breeds and are highly ranked among our sources. They exhibit all the best traits that are associated with the mountain category. Great Pet Care raves, “Farmers depended on them to drive cattle, guard farms and pull carts. Berners might be large—the dogs can tip the scales at 115 pounds—but these are true gentle giants with great dispositions. Bernese Mountain Dogs are known for developing strong bonds with their owners.”

black, tan, and white dog resting on snow covered land
Bernese moutain dog (Photo by Anastasiia Tarasova on Unsplash)

Where are these cute fluff balls from? “Bernese mountain dogs get their name from their region of origin—Bern, Switzerland. Their roots in this region are ancient—like Roman times ancient. They made their way to the United States in the 1920s and were registered by the American Kennel Club in 1936. They are widely known to be uber tough, able to pull as much as 10 times their own weight,” praises Daily Paws.

This breed is not alone. Medium adds, “The Bernese Mountain Dog is one of four breeds of Sennenhund, or Swiss Mountain Dogs. These four breeds are all similar in appearance and have distinctive rust-colored and white markings on a black base… Bernese are typically docile and friendly with children, making good family pets.”

2. St. Bernard

St. Bernards are perhaps one of the most famous mountain dog breeds. Wag! says, “The prototypical picture of the St. Bernard with a small barrel of restorative brandy tucked under its chin is familiar everywhere… These pups are great pets, gentle with children, and are sure to attract the neighbors’ attention.”

Saint Bernard
Saint Bernard (Photo by Ethen Dell on Unsplash)

The idea of a powerful rescue dog on the mountain slopes instantly evokes the image of this majestic breed. The Labrador Site says, “These great-hearted mountain dogs take their name from… St. Bernard Pass, the 49-mile, treacherous, snowy mountain gateway they have patrolled since the mid-15th century. Their job? To sniff out snowed-in travelers and facilitate rescues!”

According to AZ Animals, “St. Bernards evolved into rescue dogs once the monks discovered how adept they were at finding wandering tourists. Today, Saints are sociable dogs that enjoy associating with people. They are dependable and often serve as a ‘nanny dog’ for kids. Relaxed, quiet, and large, they only need a few quick walks a day to get exercise, but many are willing to do more.”

3. Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

Greater Swiss Mountain dogs are close cousins to the other dogs on this list. Reader’s Digest comments, “The Greater Swiss Mountain dog is a high-energy, majestic breed built for herding sheep on the Swiss Alps, hence its name. This hardworking breed is especially known for its steadfast loyalty and deep affection for its family.”

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (Photo by Dan Eastman on Shutterstock)

These dogs can be standoffish with strangers but are reputed to be quite loving with their humans. “The oldest of the Swiss Mountain Dog breeds, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a giant canine that held similar roles of farm work… Fantastic as watchdogs, this breed will be quick to alert you to suspicious activity, but this trait also means they tend to be wary of strangers, so they will need a great deal of training and socialization as puppies,” adds Purina.

Need a guard dog on the mountain? Look no further. “The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog… can also be trained to be good protection dogs and alert their owners with their low, powerful voices. These dogs need moderate exercise, with at least 30 minutes of daily walks. They are playful and agile and love going for hikes. Because of their size, they aren’t a good fit for intensive exercise that can stress their joints,” details Highland Canine Training.

4. Appenzeller Sennenhund

The mountains of Switzerland are the origin of many of the greatest mountain dogs. The Spruce Pets explains, “The Appenzeller Sennenhund, also called the Appenzeller Mountain dog or Appenzell cattle dog, was primarily used to herd cattle, and guard the farm. They have high exercise and training needs, are apprehensive of strangers, and are best left to expert-level owners.”

Appenzeller Sennenhund puppy
Appenzeller Sennenhund puppy (Photo by betti_meer on Shutterstock)

The Swiss Alps have historically been a biome of powerful nature, and the dogs native to the region have adapted to thrive there. “The charming, medium-sized Appenzeller Sennenhund is known for its agility, [spirit], and lean muscular build. This breed is another that tends to thrive during training thanks to their intelligence, adaptability, and eagerness to obey their owners. Given that, Appenzeller Sennenhunds can serve as fantastic watchdogs, driving dogs, farm dogs, or house dogs,” offers Reader’s Digest.

These are versatile pups fit for any adventure! “Bred to work as a livestock herder and draughter, this is an incredibly strong breed that’s used to work pulling very heavy carts (so you can imagine the need for proper lead training). Perfect companions for active families or individuals, Appenzeller Sennenhunds are very high energy due to their working roots,” states Purina.

5. Caucasian Shepherd Dog

Caucasian Shepherd Dogs hail from the mountains between Europe and Asia and are highly adapted for herding and homestead life. The Spruce Pets claims, “The Caucasian shepherd dog originated in the Caucasus Mountain range… The breed guarded livestock and protected the homestead. It takes a bold, fearless, self-confident, and fierce stance when defending its flock.”

Caucasian Shepherd Dog
Caucasian Shepherd Dog (Photo by Tatianasoba on Shutterstock)

Though considered very loyal, they can be a challenging breed to train. Daily Paws relates, “While they may love to crush you as a heavy lapdog, Caucasian shepherds also need their exercise and would adore you if you gave them a fenced-in backyard to romp around in. They’ll pay you back with undying dedication and love.”

The Labrador Site also adds that “The Caucasian Mountain Dog can weigh in at 99 to 170+ pounds and live for 10 to 12 years. These dogs are intelligent and powerful in both strength and personality and are not considered suitable for first-time dog owners.”

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  1. David Friedman says:

    How about Great pyrenees ?

  2. Denise Halpin says:

    I also want to know why the Great Pyrenees wasn’t on the list I’ve had 3 and they are the best Mountain Dogs