Choosing A Breeder

Whether you choose Fireside GSMD or not, we want you to make an informed decision about who you get your puppy from. Much of this content has been generated from collaborating with breeders and Swissy puppy buyers. Visit Finding A Greater Swiss Mountain Dog on Facebook for even more great information and to join the discussion. There is a lot of information below - don't be overwhelmed. Take your time, ask questions, and learn at your own pace.


Some Considerations When Choosing a Swissy Breeder

Getting Started

First and foremost, please ask many, many questions.

Your choice of breeder is probably the most crucial decision that you will make regarding your new addition - not only in increasing the odds of a healthy and sound puppy; but, by supporting a responsible and ethical breeder, you are helping to improve the future of the breed. You are also (hopefully) initiating a relationship that will last a decade or more and may become an invaluable source of knowledge and support.

Finding a Swissy from a reputable breeder can be a very discouraging endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be! Before trying to get on a breeder’s list for a puppy, ask to meet some Swissys in your area. Most good breeders know other owners that are within a couple of hours from you, so ask for contacts to meet them. Ask for possible shows or events where Swissys might be near you.

I can’t stress this enough: please do your research! Several breeders have very extensive webpages on what it’s like to live with a Swissy and what health problems can arise. So, read everything you can and ask questions. There’s nothing better than an informed puppy buyer! You can stack the deck in your favor by doing enough research that you can speak knowledgeably about the breed and ask poignant questions. The best breeders are not only willing to answer all of your questions, but they will want to work with you because you’ve asked the tough questions!

Even some really exceptional breeders may not reply to your emails right away. Please understand that this is because we are producing litters out of love for the breed, not to profit as a business. Because of this, we have lives and careers and families. These are breeders who are aiming to improve the breed and are therefore breeding very carefully and selectively, so they may have only one or two litters a year. They also probably have a waiting list of prospective new homes for their puppies, so they can be very selective in their search for great homes.

It’s not uncommon to wait 6-12 months for a Swissy puppy from a good breeder. So, please be patient and do not be tempted to lean instead toward the proliferate breeder who wants your money and is therefore exercising better response times and sales & marketing.

While the focus is to help you to make the most informed decisions, we carry the assumption that you’ve already done enough research to have determined that you are committed to this breed as your new addition for his or her entire life, regardless of excessive shedding, food bills, the time and effort required in training, the potential costs of surgery after bloat or splenic torsion, or possibily even the emotional toll of seeing your dog in the midst of cluster grand-mal seizures because every pedigree contains some epilepsy.

So, considering that you will probably be paying $2000-$2500 for a puppy that will be a part of your home and a part of your life for the next 10 years or more, if you don’t want to do a little due diligence, then please consider rescuing a dog from your local shelter instead. If you do choose to embark on this rewarding journey, then follow the tabs on the left for a few helpful steps to get you started.

Expectations

It may be helpful to know what is expected of you before you begin contacting Swissy breeders. Most reputable breeders will expect of you:

  • Patience: Good breeders don't always have puppies available immediately. You should expect to talk to a couple of breeders to find a breeder that you like and then to wait a few months to a year for that breeder to have puppies available. Good breeders often have waiting lists and match puppies to the most ideal puppy buyer - this means you may not get a puppy from the soonest expected litter from that breeder. Trust that the breeders know how to make the best family-puppy fit, and if you have concerns about whether or not the breeder will make the best choice, go with another breeder.

  • Willingness to Research: Good breeders will help point you to valuable material to help you decide if the breed is right for you and also to gauge your commitment to the breed, your future puppy's health, and training. A good way to think of this is: a good breeder doesn't expect you to be an expert in the breed, but they expect you to want to be an expert on your puppy.

  • Transparency & Honesty: As much as you expect transparency and honesty from a breeder, a reputable breeder will also expect this of you. For example, if the breeder is asking about your performance plans for the puppy, and you plan only to have the puppy as a pet, be honest! This doesn't mean the breeder will disqualify you from their puppies - they want to know as much as possible to make the best match for both you and the puppy. Breeders will also expect you to be honest and open about which and how many other breeders you are talking to. This isn't so that they can downplay the other breeder(s), it is so they understand how committed you are not only to getting a puppy, but to getting a puppy from them specifically. Breeders spend an enormous amount of time considering your match to their puppies, and they want to know you are committed to a puppy from them, so that their time considering you is purposeful.

  • Flexibility: Most quality breeders have a full-time job in another field - when a breeder isn't breeding for financial gain as a priority, they must make an income elsewhere. This means your breeder may take longer to respond to your phone call or email inquiring about a puppy or litter. Consider also that they spend a lot of their time responding to current owners of their past litters answering their questions and guiding them through raising a Swissy and make those responses a top priority in their lives.
  • Visit Breeder Websites

    You’ve likely roamed the internet a bit to gather information about the GSMD. It’s a great starting point. Swissy breeders who are working to improve the breed work with each other and will be able to refer you to other breeders.

    Start reading their websites. You should find boatloads of information about breed-specific health conditions, health clearances, working activities, and more. You’ll start to notice differences in how different breeders portray the breed, but also how transparent they are in their breeding practices (e.g., are parents’ registered names and health clearances listed on the website, or is that information not available? How well are health conditions explained on sites… or is the information nonexistent?). Don’t stick with those in your own region only; it’s the internet, you can go anywhere! You’re just reading, so exposing yourself to as many different sites as possible will help you to get a clearer picture of the breed and to breeders’ practices.

    Don’t limit yourself to those breeders listed in club classified listings. There are very valid reasons why a breeder may not be listed as a breeder – and being listed as a breeder doesn’t mean anything more than a member has paid their dues and paid the fee to be listed. Speaking only for myself, I CHOOSE not to be a member of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America because I fundamentally disagree with the direction and leadership of the club. Many breeders listed in their breeders classified site do not perform sufficient health testing or do not disclose serious health and temperament issues. So, don’t rely just on the club listings. There are very good breeders out there who choose to distance themselves from these listings.

    Meet Swissys

    Many reputable breeders highly recommend meeting several Swissys prior to having lengthy discussions about getting on their list for a puppy. Meeting Swissys in different situations is strongly advised before falling in love with the breed. The best ways to meet Swissys include the following:

    Find Your Regional Club

    Fireside's regional club is: Southbound GSMDC. We are also members of the Lakeshore GSMDC.

    Most regions in the US have an active regional Swissy Club.  This can be a great way to meet local people and their Swissys.  They may have a weekend event coming up like a pack hike or a drafting trial or just a picnic.  Go.  This is where you can see how the dogs interact with you and with other dogs, and ask lots of questions of their people, such as where they got their dogs, if they would return to the same breeder again, what would they do differently next time, etc. (If there is one thing that Swissy people have in common, it’s that we love to talk about our dogs.)  If it is a working event, you will likely be able to see the type of work for which the breed was originally developed, which helps you to see why a particular temperament is correct for the breed. It also allows you to see breeders who are working to maintain this temperament and working ability.

    These are the current regional Swissy clubs by location. Reach out to any of the board members, and they can help you find an event to attend.

  • Cascade GSMDC - WA, OR, MT, AK
  • Chesapeake & Potomac GSMDC - VA, MD, DC, WV, Eastern PA
  • Crooked River GSMDC - OH, MI, IN, KY, WV, Western PA
  • Glacial Lakes GSMDC - MN, Western WI
  • Golden Gate GSMDC - Northern CA
  • GSMDC of the Rockies - CO, NM, UT, WY, NE, OK, Western KS
  • Gulf Coast GSMDC - TX, LA, MS, AL
  • Lake Shore GSMDC - Northeastern IL, Southwestern WI
  • Mid-Atlantic GSMDC - Eastern PA, NJ, DE, NY
  • Ozark GSMDC - MO, OK, AR
  • Southbound GSMDC - Southern U.S.
  • Swissy Club of New England - New England States
  • Go to Shows

    Even if you have no plans whatsoever to ever show your dog, you should go to a few shows to speak with breeders.  Hang out ringside and ask to pet their dogs.  Ask a question or two.  If you’ve spoken with any local breeders, ask if they will be at any upcoming shows.

    An easy reference for locating upcoming shows in your area is at InfoDog.com  Of course, you can also ask the contact person with your regional club for the next show with a good Swissy entry.

    Visit Swissys at Home

    Meeting a Swissy owner at a public event or watching dogs gait in the conformation ring can show you an ideal, but keep in mind that they are under tight control in these settings, and therefore may not give the best indication of the natural behaviors of the Swissy.  While visiting a Swissy in his or her home setting, you may observe responses to doorbells, jumping on furniture, dribbling water from the bowl across the floor, barking at passersby, stepping on feet, stealing toilet paper (yes), and realizing just how large and cumbersome they really can be – which is not as evident in a show or event venue. Because it’s important to meet Swissys in a more natural setting before adding one to your household, connecting with others to arrange home meetups will be very helpful. Most breeders either have puppies across the country or at least know someone who may be in your area, so ask for them to connect you to meet someone – most owners are more than willing to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly about owning a Swissy.

    Ask a Lot of Questions

    Download the "Questions to Ask Breeders" file from the "Finding A GMSD" group as a resource and worksheet to better facilitate the process of discerning between breeders (and expect as many questions from them). Some questions are breed-specific and some are general; as a whole, it should help to give you a better feel for your comfort level with not only each breeder, but the breed itself.  Talk with as many breeders as you can, but we suggest at least two or three before deciding on one. Also, don’t limit your search to your own geographical region.  A breeder several states away may be a great match for you and your family, and flying with an 8 week old puppy is actually really easy!

    Have fun with this research (choosing a puppy is exciting!), and please ask any questions that may come up for you during the process.

    Health Standards

    When we think of large breeds, we often think first of orthopedic issues such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and OCD (osteochondritis dissecans); however, conditions such as epilepsy, bloat, splenic torsion, and others may pose more acute and life-threatening concerns. Engage the breeder in discussions about these conditions in an effort to try to discern the level of risk in a pedigree.

    Ask the breeder for a complete family health history – it is very helpful to know what problems exist (and every pedigree has health problems). Find out the ages and reasons for family members who have died. Family health history is the best indicator of health of your future puppy.

    Breeding stock should be x-rayed for orthopedic structure and certified free of these conditions. While these health issues can be screened early, complete clearances are not finalized until after the age of 24 months. Certain eye conditions have also been observed in Swissys, such as distichiasis, ectropion, and entropion, so eyes should be certified free of heritable eye disease by a canine opthomologist. Experts recommend breeding only those dogs that have received a minimum passing grade for hips, elbows, shoulders, and eyes on clearances tested once the dog turns 2 years old.

    Ask for registered names and registration numbers of the breeding pair so that you can validate health clearances. Some breeders may obtain CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) numbers, but please bear in mind that a CHIC number is not a verification of passing clearances, but merely an indication that certain tests were performed.  Individual results of those various tests must still be obtained and verified. Results may be checked using the dogs’ registered names at the following sites:

  • OFA
  • Don't accept health clearances from breeders themselves. Independently verify them from the above website. The breeder should willingly provide an independent source for their health test results.

    Swissys are prone to gastric distress and many experience gastric dilitation volvulus (GDV), or bloat. This is an often fatal condition where the stomach actually twists, closing off the entrance and exit of the stomach and causing it to fill with gas until the dog goes into shock and/or cardiac arrest. The case becomes an emergency immediately upon torsion of the stomach, and the dog must be seen by a vet as quickly as possible. There are certain signs that you can watch for, and learning to identify them is crucial when living with a Swissy.

    Splenic torsion occurs when the spleen twists. Veterinarians do not see this condition often and must sometimes be convinced of its likelihood. As with bloat, familiarize yourself with the signs so that you can identify the signs and act promptly. A good breeder will provide you with information about this breed-specific problem that you can review and provide to your vet.

    Another condition afflicting Swissys is epilepsy. EVERY single pedigree contains epilepsy – THERE IS NO EXCEPTION, so good breeders will tell you where it has occurred, and they will share their reasoning for selecting breeding pairs to provide transparency. Epilepsy is a horrible disease for the owners to live with – and it’s very serious for the dogs. A couple of us have made it our mission to educate epileptic Swissy owners about the disease and to help them navigate this scary time, as we have lived with an epileptic Swissy and have dealt with the heartbreak of losing them to this disease. Feel free to contact me any time for advice or to discuss any concerns about epilepsy.

    Aside from specific health matters, breeders should be aiming to preserve proper structure and type to remain consistent with the breed standard. This is evaluated in AKC shows, and the breeder should therefore show in AKC conformation. Judges in the breed ring are evaluating more than just outward appearance; they are observing gait and other structural components of the dog as well as temperament. Although breeding for looks is important to remain consistent with the breed standard, health and temperament should take precedence.

    When asking about the incidence of the above conditions, ask about the relatives of the breeding stock, and the conditions that have been observed. For relatives of the sire and dam who have already died, what was the cause of death? Keep in mind that no breeding program is free of illness, and a breeder who says that he/she/they have not observed any health issues in their dogs may not be honest. Some breeders may offer a health guarantee, but please remember that no breeder can guarantee the health of any puppy.

    History

    Quality breeders will have EXTENSIVE histories on not only the dogs they own, but dogs they have owned, dogs they have used in their breeding programs (such as a stud dog), and puppies they have placed in homes. Don't limit this expectation to health clearances - good breeders will also know the temperaments, personalities, performance records, ease of training (in various areas), and quirks in personality, health, and temperament. Don't be afraid to ask a breeder questions on this topic, for example, "How easy was the sire of this litter to potty train relative to other Swissys?" "Have any dogs from this line exhibited inappropriate play with other dogs?" or "Have you ever produced a dog with a health condition you haven't seen somewhere in their lineage?"

    Reputation

    Reputation is definitely a factor in choosing a Swissy breeder, but it is important to understand the intricacies of reputation as a factor.

    Some breeders are known to dislike other breeders for various reasons such as differences of opinion on disclosing health and temperament issues, differences about breeding practices (such as breeding with/without all health clearances, breeding dogs under the age of 2 years old, breeding dogs with a high risk of a particular disease), and unfortunately, there is a great degree of personal issues and politics involved in the world of breeding dogs.

    The last reason, personal or political reasons, should be a red flag if it comes up when you are talking to a breeder. If a breeder is speaking negatively about another breeder and can't provide an ethical reason or breeding practice they disagree with AND give you a valid explanation, this should weigh negatively in your consideration of them.

    Another great consideration of reputation is when a breeder you are interested in refers you to another breeder. Typically, breeders will refer you only to other breeders with similar breeding practices and ethics. But, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do your homework to verify the second breeder even if you've come to a thorough conclusion on the referring breeder.

    You shouldn't be expected to take the referring breeder's word on the mentioned breeder. Continue to ask specific questions to the breeder you've been referred to, and avoid asking things like "Do you have the same health testing criteria as the breeder who referred me to?" Instead ask questions like "What is your criteria for health testing?"

    Deal-Breakers

    The following describes the minimum criteria of the litter that you want. If any of the following are missing, you may want to cross this breeder off your list:

  • Parents are at least 2 years of age
  • Parents have passing health clearances (a minimum of hips, elbows, shoulders, and eyes)
  • Breeder shows in AKC conformation
  • Litter is AKC registered
  • Puppies are reared in the house
  • Puppies are sold on contract, which the breeder offers for your review
  • Breeder only breeds purebred Swissys; never "hybrids"
  • The breeder includes verbiage in the contract indicating the Swissy can ALWAYS be returned to the breeder. Good breeders will require the Swissy be returned to them if the owner cannot keep the dog for ANY reason.
  • Breeder speaks freely about the known risks in the pedigree of this particular breeding regarding epilepsy, bloat, and other health issues

  • If a breeder offers excuses as to why one of these is not met, walk away; likewise if (s)he denies any chance of epilepsy, bloat, or splenic torsion in this breeding.

    Should you have any questions on why any of the above is important, feel free to ask either the "Finding A GMSD" group or myself for clarification.