The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was developed in the Swiss Alps as a product of Swiss dogs bred to Mastiffs brought in by foreign settlers. The breed has had its ups and downs, from being the most popular breed in Switzerland to nearly going extinct as many breeds have or did during the rise of the industrial revolution. During this period, many labor jobs were replaced by machinery. The additional decline in desirability was related to the popular movements of people moving into cities to escape farm life in search of alternative employment opportunities.
Theories on the development of the breed credit the Romans with their Molossers breeds being used in breeding during the Romans period of world domination 2,000 years ago. Also, it is speculated that the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog could have been the product of the Phoenicians with their influence on the development of the Spanish Mastiff and Dogue de Bourdeaux during their period of exploration and conquests.
During the development of the breed, it was bred for primarily farm work such as herding, guarding, and due to its size, the ability to pull carts, which led to the nickname "the poor man's horse."
Nearing extinction in the late 1800's Albert Heim, an expert on Swiss breeds, took a greater interest in the breed and began promoting its revitalization to local breeders, including Franz Schertenlieb, who helped play a key role in their comeback.
Not until 1968 was it imported to the US by J. Frederick and Patricia Hoffman, where today they are now ranked in the top 100 most popular of breeds.
Urinary incontinence can be an issue while the dog is sleeping. This condition is most often found in spayed females. Too often, people are goaded into spay and neuter of their pets by the animal activist community under the claims of over-population. Too often sterilization is encouraged without properly educating owners on many of the potential negative side effects of such procedures, such as changes in temperament, increased risk of certain cancers, and other health-related issues. While evidence supports an overpopulation of mix-breed dogs, the over-population of purebred breeds is a myth. Other options for sterilization if litters are undesired are strict inside keeping, only allowing the dog out on a leash, and proper confinement behind fences.
Due to its large size, it is often afflicted by the same issues as other large breeds face, such as hip dysplasia, heart issues, breathing issues, gastric issues, and climate-related issues such as easily overheating.