Majestic, hard-working mountain dog breeds have traditionally been used as working dogs for centuries. The typical mountain dog is large with a thick double coat and has protective instincts. While some of these dogs are still utilized solely for working in mountain ranges to herd and protect livestock, as well as their owners, many now serve as affectionate family pets.
In this article, we will list 13 well-known (and perhaps not so well-known!) mountain dog breeds; describe why they were bred for the mountains, and briefly explain each breed’s characteristics and traits.
Why were these dogs bred for the mountains?
Mountain dog breeds share common traits that make them well-suited for navigating the treacherous and dangerous conditions they typically encounter. Naturally, mountain dogs have thick coats that insulate them from the cold. While not all mountain dogs are large breeds, many of them are.
Mountain dogs are watchful dogs that are always on the lookout. They can be territorial if something – or someone – invades their space, and they won’t hesitate to act. This natural instinct must be kept in check if you plan to bring a mountain dog home as a family pet. Early socialization is a must to ensure they become good-natured dogs who don’t show aggression towards humans and other pets.
All of these traits make these dogs excellent choices for enduring the harsh conditions often experienced in mountainous regions – whether to protect livestock, or to keep their owners safe.
1) Bernese Mountain Dog
One of the most popular dog breeds, the Bernese Mountain Dog, is a large, tricolored dog breed. Their coats have a natural sheen and require daily brushing to control shedding. The breed is one of the four breeds of Swiss mountain dogs with origins in the Swiss Alps. Like many other mountain dogs, they were bred to be farm dogs to protect and herd livestock.
Despite their inherent desire to protect, the Bernese Mountain Dog is hardly ever aggressive. Their calm temperament and intelligence make them easy to train, and they can make excellent family pets with early socialization. They do best in large families with multiple people they can bond with, and can suffer with separation anxiety if left alone for too long. The Bernese Mountain Dog is a great dog breed for families who want a gentle giant.
2) Great Pyrenees
The Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, or Pyrs, is a livestock guardian dog with a bright white to cream coat. They were originally bred in France to protect flocks from predators. The Great Pyrenees has a thick, weatherproof double coat that can shed heavily.
They are watchful dogs with protective instincts. Like many other mountain dogs, Pyrs are affectionate but independent in nature. They need early socialization to behave well around strangers and other dogs. To avoid unwanted behaviors, owners of Pyrs can greatly benefit from basic obedience at an early age.
3) Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is closely related to the Bernese Mountain Dog, originating in Switzerland. They have a tricolor, dense double coat. This dog breed can be a truly loving family pet with its calm temperament and openness to other dogs and strangers.
Although they are usually friendly to strangers, they 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.
4) St. Bernard
The Saint Bernard is one of the most recognizable dog breeds across the globe. Originally bred for rescue work and protecting people living in mountainous regions, many St. Bernards enjoy their life today as family pets.
Saint Bernards are patient, affectionate, and loving pets that do well around young children. Their love for their family is as big as their size, and like the other mountain dogs, they are watchful. The breed doesn’t require a lot of exercise, but this doesn’t make the St. Bernard a low-maintenance pet – they shed and drool a lot. Regular grooming to maintain their thick coat, along with a towel to clean up after slobbering all over the place, is a must.
5) Entlebucher Mountain Dog
The Entlebucher Mountain Dog is one of the smallest mountain dogs on this list. This mountain dog belongs to the same breed group as the Appenzeller Sennenhund, Bernese Mountain Dog, and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.
This breed was only recognized by the AKC in 2011 and is one of the rarest dog breeds in the United States, but is popular in Switzerland. The Entlebuchers are affectionate and adaptable dogs with high energy levels, requiring a lot of exercise. They are independent-natured dogs that thrive when given a job to do.
The Kuvasz is a mountain dog with ties to Hungarian royalty. They have a snowy white coat with a soft undercoat that protects them from the cold. The Kuvasz is a working dog breed, mainly upholding the duties of guarding.
This dog breed is quite territorial and fiercely protective of its family. Although these are perfect traits for some, it doesn’t make the ideal family companion for most people. The Kuvasz is very suspicious of strangers and other animals. They are best utilized as working dogs unless provided with expert training and extensive socialization early on.
7) Tibetan Mastiff
With origins in the Himalayas, the Tibetan Mastiff is said to be the guardian of the mountain range. They are the ultimate guard dogs and are extremely protective of their territory and owners. Combined with their size, this can make Tibetan Mastiffs a difficult choice for first-time owners.
The Tibetan Mastiff is a working dog. They often prefer sleeping during the day and staying active at night, keeping predators and intruders at bay. They can make family pets only with early training and a large area to roam. Their size and independent traits often mean the Tibetan Mastiff is not a good choice for families with young children.
The Newfoundland is the ultimate cuddly gentle giant, with a sweet temperament at the forefront of its breed standard. Newfies are affectionate dogs that are friendly to strangers and other dogs.
The Newfoundlands were originally bred to be working dogs alongside fishermen in Canada. They are excellent swimmers who don’t mind the cold waters. When on land, they are expert hikers. Newfies are incredible family dogs, especially for families with young children. Their calm temperament and watchful eyes have earned Newfies the nickname ‘nanny dogs’.
The Leonberger is a German giant with a long, coarse coat and a black mask. Although it wasn’t purely bred to be a working dog, its physical features, intelligence, and adaptability make the Leonberger suitable for many jobs.
The Leonberger, like other mountain dogs, is affectionate to their family. They tend to like people more than other dogs, and quickly bond with their humans. It is an ideal dog breed for large families that want just one big pup. The Leonberger is easy to train, adaptable, and moderately active.
10) Anatolian Shepherd
Also known as the Turkish Kangal Dog, the Anatolian Shepherd is Turkey’s traditional livestock guard dog. With thousands of years of sheepherding in its DNA, the Anatolian Shepherds are experts at their jobs. This dog breed is also employed by African herders to keep cheetahs and other big cats away from flocks.
They are independent thinkers and act with their instincts to protect flocks from predators. Their short but thick and dense double coat insulates them from harsh, cold conditions. Although they are expert herding dogs, their independent and reserved nature with territorial instincts can make training an Anatolian Shepherd difficult, even for expert dog trainers.
11) Icelandic Sheepdog
The only native dog breed to Iceland, the Icelandic Sheepdog, is the smallest mountain dog on our list. The breed originates from the dogs brought to Iceland by the Vikings.
The Icelandic Sheepdog has short and long-haired varieties, with both having a thick double coat that provides insulation from the bitterly cold conditions in their homeland. Their muscular and agile bodies enable them to navigate through the rough terrain. The breed makes good family pets. They are watchful and patient with kids, and their rather small frame doesn’t pose a hazard around younger children.
12) Karakachan Bear Dog
The Karakachan Bear Dog is a strict livestock guard dog originating from Bulgaria. Closely related to the Anatolian Shepherd, the Karakachan Dog is independent thinking. It acts with instincts to protect livestock.
The Karakachan Bear Dog is wary of strangers. This dog breed considers the herd its territory. The Karakachan is quick to act when sighting predators or someone trying to take an animal from the flock. They are best left as working dogs, but they can make good guard dogs for families with large open spaces who can give them a purpose.
13) Appenzeller Sennenhund
The Appenzeller Sennenhund is the third-largest of the Sennenhunds. Like the others, the Appenzeller Sennenhund is a working dog used for herding cattle and protecting property. They do well with other dogs but are wary of strangers and tend to be vocal about it.
The Appenzeller Mountain Dog can adapt to living in any environment, but they do best when provided with a large, fenced area to roam. Their high energy and independent temperament can make them unsuitable for families with young children.