The Appenzeller Sennenhund is a multi-purpose farm dog originating in Switzerland. This breed was used to herd and drive cattle, pull carts, and defend its home and family. The Appenzeller Sennenhund is the least common and well-known one of four closely related Swiss Mountain Dogs, the others being the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund), Bernese Mountain Dog (Berner Sennenhund), and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog. This breed is considered by many to be the most distinctive of the Swiss Cattle Dogs, and is sometimes classified as a type of Spitz. The Appenzeller Sennenhund is also known as the Appenzeller Sennenhunde, Appenzeller, Appenzeller Cattle Dog, Appenzeller Mountain Dog, Appenzell Cattle Dog, and Appenzell Mountain Dog.
Very little is known for sure about the history of the Appenzeller Sennenhund as it was developed before written records were kept of dog breeding and was primarily kept in remote mountain valleys. What is clear is that the Appenzeller Sennenhund was developed no later than the 1850’s (and probably much earlier) and that it is native to the Alpine region of Appenzell, located in the far northeast of Switzerland. The Appenzeller Sennenhund is one of four closely related breeds of Sennenhund, also known as Swiss Mountain Dogs or Swiss Cattle Dogs. The other three Sennenhunds are the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Entlebucher Mountain Dog, although sometimes the Saint Bernard and Rottweiler (the two breeds generally considered to be most closely related to the Sennenhunds) are included as well. There is substantial debate as to how the Sennenhunds should be classified, with many sources placing them with the Mastiff/Molosser/Alaunt family and just as many placing them with the Pinscher/Schnauzer family. The Appenzeller Sennenhund is sometimes considered to be so different from the other Sennenhunds that it is classified alongside the Spitzen.
There is substantial dispute as to the origins of the Sennenhunds. These breeds are clearly very old, and reports of them can be found for as long as written records have been kept in what is now Switzerland. Several theories have developed to explain their ancestry. One theory holds that they are the descendants of very ancient Alpine dogs. Archaeological evidence has shown that Spitz-type dogs have been present in the Alps for many thousands of years. Dog researchers studying modern breeds have also concluded that the earliest Swiss farmers probably possessed massive, white-coated, livestock-protection dogs similar to the Great Pyrenees and Maremma Sheepdog. Such dogs have recently been classified as Lupomolossoids. These dogs were kept by the Celtic tribes found in Switzerland prior to the Roman occupation and probably the mysterious and essentially unknown peoples who preceded them. It has been suggested that the Sennenhunds are the direct descendants of these ancient dogs, although no evidence seems to exist to support this, and later origin theories seem much more likely.
After the city of Rome subdued the entire Italian peninsula, one of the first areas it turned to for conquest was the Alps which bordered the Empire to the north. Over the course of several centuries beginning in the 2nd Century B.C. the territory of modern day Switzerland was brought under Roman control, a process which allegedly required the subjugation of more than 40 tribes. The Romans have long been considered among history’s greatest dog breeders, and possessed a number of unique dog breeds. Two such dogs were the Molossus and the Roman Cattle Droving Dog which may have been distinct breeds or merely two varieties of the same breed. There is substantial debate as to the nature of these breeds, especially the Molossus, but most think that they were Mastiff-type dogs. The Molossus was the primary war dog of the Roman Army, feared throughout the ancient world for its ferocity and courage in battle. The breed was also known to be an excellent hunter, herder, and property guardian. The Roman Cattle Droving Dog herded and drove the vast herds of semi-wild cattle needed to supply the Roman armies with meat, milk, and fuel. These two dogs accompanied the Roman legions wherever they went around the world, including to the Alps and what is now southern Germany. The vast majority of experts believe that the Sennenhunds are the direct descendants of the Molossus and Roman Cattle Droving Dog, an opinion that seems to have the greatest amount of evidence to support it.
For numerous reasons, the power of Rome eventually began to fade, and the power of a number of Eastern nomadic tribes began to grow. One such tribe (or possibly a confederation of many tribes) was the Huns. The Huns attacked the Germanic tribes who lived along the Roman Empire’s northern and eastern borders, forcing them to either invade Rome or be exterminated. So many Germans settled in what is now Switzerland that most of the country became inhabited by German-speakers. Since time immemorial, German farmers have possessed multi-purpose farm dogs known as Pinschers (a family which also includes Schnauzers). Pinschers were primarily tasked with vermin eradication, but also were used to drive cattle, guard property, and as watch dogs. It is almost certain that the Germans who settled in Switzerland brought Pinschers along with them, just as those who settled in what is now Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium did. German-speakers were also known to keep Spitz-type dogs, which have been very popular for centuries. Many claim that the Sennenhunds are actually descended from these Pinschers. The truth of Sennenhund history is probably a combination of these theories. These breeds are most likely primarily descended from the Molossus and Roman Cattle Droving Dog, but with heavy influence from both Pre-Roman and Germanic dogs as well.
However they were first developed, the Sennenhunds were very well-known throughout Switzerland no later than the Middle Ages. Most believe that the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was the original breed and that the other three were descended from it. A few have suggested that the Appenzeller Sennenhund is either just as old or older than that breed, but there does not seem to be much evidence to support this. These dogs were kept by dairy farmers across Switzerland earning the name Sennenhund, which loosely translates to, “Dairy Farmer’s Dog.” Their primary task was to drive cattle from the remote countryside to population centers where they could be sold and butchered, although they also served the same purpose on the farm. The Swiss farmers who kept the Sennenhunds could not afford to keep a dog as large as a Sennenhund that performed only one task that was only needed occasionally. The developed their dogs to be extremely versatile. As horses fair extremely poorly in the mountainous terrain of the Alps, Swiss farmers began to use their dogs as beasts of burden. Sennenhunds began to pull carts, helping their owners take their goods across the farm and to and from the market. As the centuries wore on, cart pulling became just as important as cattle droving and probably more so. The remote Swiss valleys in which these dogs lived have long been home to dangerous creatures such as wolves and human thieves and other wrongdoers. Farmers greatly preferred dogs which were willing and able to protect their families from such dangers, or at least warn them of their approach. As a result, the Sennenhunds became highly protective and very skilled guard dogs.
The Alpine terrain found throughout most of Switzerland made travel between valleys very difficult until very recently. As a result, the dog population of neighboring valleys was often quite distinct. At one point, there were probably dozens of distinct varieties of Sennenhund. Perhaps the most distinctive such variety was that found in the two cantons of Appenzell, also known as Appenzellerland. Dogs of that region were usually described as being very Spitz-like. Because of this, the breed is usually believed to be the result of crossing other Sennenhunds with Spitzen, although whether they were Celtic or Germanic Spitzen is unclear. It is quite possible that at one point, the Appenzeller Sennenhund was considerably more Spitz-like than the modern breed, although this is not clear. The Appenzeller Sennenhund has clear evidence of its existence as a uniquely recognized variety, earlier than most other Sennenhunds. The breed first appeared in the written record in 1853, in a text entitled Tierleben der Alpenwelt (Animal Life in the Alps). That work described the breed as, “high-pitch barking, short-haired, medium size, multicolour cattle dog of a quite even Spitz type, which can be found in certain regions and is used partly to guard the homestead, partly to herd cattle.”
For many centuries, and possibly millennia, the Appenzeller Sennenhund and its relatives faithfully served the farmers of Switzerland. They were being actively used considerably longer than similar breeds found in other countries, as modern technology came to the Alps later than almost anywhere else in Western Europe. However, change eventually comes to even the hardest to reach Alpine valley, and by the end of the 19th Century the Sennenhunds were being replaced. New methods of transportation such as the train and automobile began to render the Sennenhunds obsolete. Because such large dogs are very expensive to keep, many owners stopped keeping them. Many different varieties disappeared altogether, and eventually only four remained. The Appenzeller Sennenhund began to decline as well, but never reached quite the desperate state of the other three breeds. The breed was definitely benefitted by the fact that its homeland of Appenzell is as far from most major Swiss cities such as Bern and Lucerne as it is possible to be while still remaining in Switzerland. It also had a dedicated protector in head-forester Max Siber. Siber was a major promoter of the breed and he became greatly concerned by its increasing rarity. In 1895, he formally requested the aid of the Swiss Kennel Club to save the breed. The Canton of St. Gallen, which surrounds Appenzell and has occasionally included it, was very interested in preserving the local breed. Public funding was given for the breeding and raising of Appenzeller Sennenhunds. The Swiss Kennel Club formed a special commission at a fair in which 9 male and 7 female breed members were exhibited. The club decided on essential breed characteristics and began including Appenzeller Sennenhunds at its shows in the new class specifically created for Cattle Dogs. The breed’s first recorded appearance at a multiple breed dog show took place shortly thereafter at Winterthur, with 8 breed members being exhibited.
At around the same time that Max Siber was trying to save the Appenzeller Sennenhund, the internationally renowned scientist Doctor Albert Heim was doing the same for the other surviving Sennenhunds. Heim and his supporters collected the last examples of the Bernese Mountain Dog and Entlebucher Mountain Dog and began to breed them. Shortly thereafter, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was “rediscovered” after it was believed to have gone extinct, and this breed was added to Heim’s efforts. From a very early date, Heim was also interested in preserving the Appenzeller Mountain Dog and greatly aided the breed’s recovery efforts. In 1906, Heim organized the Appenzeller Sennenhund Club to promote and protect the breed in its “natural state.” Studbooks were kept for the first time in the breed’s history, and the Appenzeller Mountain Dog also first became pure bred in the modern sense at the same time. In 1914, Heim wrote the first written standard for the Appenzeller Sennenhund. Although originally limited to Appenzell and St. Gallen, Appenzeller Sennenhunds quickly spread throughout Switzerland where they found a sizable number of fanciers interested in preserving the native breed.
For a period during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the Appenzeller Sennenhund may have been the most numerous of all Swiss Mountain Dogs. However, this situation changed dramatically as the 20th Century wore on. In Switzerland, the other three Sennenhunds gradually became more popular, especially the Bernese Mountain Dog. This situation was greatly magnified outside of Switzerland. By the middle of the 20th Century, all four had been introduced to other nations, primarily those of Western Europe. The Federation Cynologique Internationale recognized the Appenzeller Sennenhund as a member of the Group 3 (Pinschers/Schnauzers/Molossers/Swiss Cattle Dogs) Section 2 (Swiss Cattle Dogs), although that organization uses the English name Appenzell Cattle Dog. As was the case in Switzerland, the Bernese Mountain Dog became by far the most popular of the breeds, especially in the United States. Although the reasons are unclear, the Appenzeller Sennenhund never reached the popularity of the other three Sennenhunds outside of Switzerland. It is quite possible that the breed is just too similar in form, function, temperament, and use to breeds that are already much more popular outside of Switzerland such as the Rottweiler. In recent years, the Appenzeller Sennenhunds numbers have been increasing outside of Switzerland, but only slowly and the breed is still considered to be quite rare.
The first Appenzeller Sennenhunds began to enter the United States in the last decades of the 20th Century. However, the breed remains very rare in that country. In 1993, the United Kennel Club (UKC), the second largest purebred dog registry in both the United States and the world, granted formal recognition to the Appenzeller Sennenhund as a member of the Guardian Dog Group, under the name Appenzeller. A small number of Appenzeller Sennenhund fanciers and breeders in the United States and Canada got together to form the Appenzeller Mountain Dog Club of America (AMDCA). The eventual goal of the AMDCA is to earn the breed full recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC), a status that has already been achieved by the other three Sennenhund breeds. By 2007, the Appenzeller Sennenhund had been entered in the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service Program (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full recognition with that organization. If the AMDCA and the Appenzeller Sennenhund breed can reach certain benchmarks, eventually the breed will move forward with full recognition. The Appenzeller Sennenhund remains a very rare breed in the United States and its future in that country remains quite insecure. Bred as a multi-purpose working dog, the Appenzeller Sennenhund still excels at a number of tasks such as competitive obedience, agility, schutzhund, and weight pulling. However, the vast majority of Appenzeller Sennenhunds alive today are now companion animals, show dogs, and protection animals, and it is highly likely that the breed’s immediate future lies in those areas.
The Appenzeller Sennenhund is generally similar in appearance to the other Swiss Mountain Dog breeds, but is the most unique of the four. The Appenzeller Sennenhund is medium to medium large in size. Most males stand between 20 and 23 inches tall at the shoulder, and most females stand between 18 and 21 inches tall. The average breed member weighs between 40 and 70 pounds with males typically weighing 55-70 lbs. This is a generally well-proportioned breed, although they tend to be roughly 10% longer than they are tall. This is a very powerful and very muscular breed, but one that should never appear massive or stocky. The Appenzeller Sennenhund has a deep chest and straight back. Overall, the Appenzeller Sennenhund is the most athletic looking and most lightly constructed of the Sennenhunds. The tail of the Appenzeller Sennenhund is perhaps the breed’s most defining characteristic. When the breed is in motion or standing, the tail is carried very tightly curled over the back in a manner similar to most Spitzen. When the breed is at rest, the tail may either remained curled or in a variety of other positions.
The head and face of the Appenzeller Sennenhund are proportional to the size of the body and form a slight wedge-shape. The head is relatively flat and somewhat broad. The muzzle and head are not clearly distinct from each other and blend in very smoothly. The muzzle itself is fairly broad and tapers only marginally towards the end. The almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the ....-shaped eyes are somewhat small for the size of the dog and set obliquely. Darker eyes are preferred but brown-coated dogs may have lighter brown eyes. The ears of the Appenzeller Sennenhund are small to medium in size, triangular in shape, and have rounded tips. They fold down close to the cheeks when the dog is at rest but move forwards when the dog is at attention.
The Appenzeller Sennenhund is a double-coated breed with a soft, dense undercoat and an outer coat that is short, smooth, shiny, and thick. Some waviness on the neck and withers is acceptable but not desirable. Coloration and pattern are very important to the Appenzeller Sennenhund. Appenzeller Sennenhunds should always be tri-colored. They may have a base coat of either Havana brown or black, although black is considerably more common. A specific set of rust and white markings must accompany the base coat. Rust markings must be found over both eyes, on both cheeks, on both sides of the chest, on all four legs, and under the tail. The rust markings must always be located between the black and white markings. A white blaze must be found that extends from the skull to the muzzle and may partially or completely cover the muzzle. White must also extend from the chin unbroken to the neck and chest. White markings must also be found all four feet and the tip of the tail. A white marking on the back of the neck which may extend into a full white collar is acceptable but greatly undesirable. Appenzeller Sennenhunds which do not exactly match these coats are ineligible in the show ring and should not be bred but otherwise make just as good pets and working dogs as other breed members.
The Appenzeller Sennenhund has retained the highest working drive of any of the four Sennenhund breeds, and in many ways has a temperament similar to that of a small Rottweiler. This breed is extremely devoted and affectionate with its family, often effusively so. This breed wants nothing more than to be in the constant company of its family which can lead to separation anxiety. Although this breed will be loyal to all members of a family, most breed members have a very strong tendency to closely attach to a single person. When raised by an individual, this breed usually becomes a definite one-person dog. When properly socialized, most breed members are gentle and tolerant of children, although young breed members may be too boisterous for very young children. Appenzeller Sennenhunds may develop dog aggression and animal aggression issues, although the breed is not especially known for having them. Socialization and training are very important for one of these dogs to develop the proper behaviours around other animals, and caution should always be exercised when introducing them to a new creature.
For many centuries, one of the primary responsibilities of the Appenzeller Sennenhund was to be a guard dog. This breed is naturally suspicious of strangers, and some are highly suspicious. Proper socialization is absolutely necessary for this breed to become a discerning protector rather than a dog that views everyone as a potential threat. With proper socialization, most breed members will be polite with strangers although they will very rarely be friendly with them. Without proper socialization, aggression can be an issue. This breed is not only protective but highly alert and makes an excellent watch dog. Appenzeller Sennenhunds make excellent guard dogs that will not allow an intruder to enter their property unchallenged. This breed also has a tendency to become very strongly territorial. When the situation demands it, an Appenzeller Sennenhund is a courageous and determined guardian that possesses surprisingly immense power.
Appenzeller Sennenhunds are both highly intelligent and extremely driven to work. This breed has a tendency to learn quickly, and this breed can become fabulously trained. These dogs have competed with great success at a number of canine events such as competitive obedience and schutzhund, as well as performed dozens of jobs throughout the centuries. Experienced owners who take the proper time and effort are likely to end up with a very obedient and well-trained Appenzeller Sennenhund. However, this breed is not necessarily the easiest to train. Although most breed members will not constantly challenge their owners’ authority (some will), this dog is more than capable of determining that its owner is not in control and will gladly take charge if permitted to do so. For this reason, Appenzeller Sennenhund owners must maintain a constant position of dominance to avoid behavioural problems. Additionally, some breed members have a tendency to be stubborn.
This is a working dog through and through, and possesses both the physical abilities and desire to perform. The Appenzeller Sennenhund is a very athletic and energetic dog and requires a substantial amount of physical activity. One of these dogs should probably get at least an hour of vigorous activity every day, and preferably more. This breed makes an excellent walking and jogging companion, but greatly prefers an opportunity to roam freely in a securely enclosed area. Breed members that do not receive sufficient exercise are very likely to develop behavioural problems such as extreme destructiveness, hyper activity, excessive barking, over excitability, nervousness, and aggression. This is a breed that greatly prefers to have a job, or at least a regular task that exercises its mind as well as its body. Those looking for a dog to compete in agility, obedience, or schutzhund events will probably be very satisfied with one of these dogs, but those looking for a house pet may be annoyed by the dog’s regular demands. The high energy level of this breed is quite desirable to families looking for a dog that will accompany them on long and arduous adventures through the mountains or the snow. Appenzeller Sennenhunds are truly country dogs who prefer to have as large of a yard as possible, and most breed members fare very poorly in an apartment environment.
Appenzeller Sennenhunds are a generally low-maintenance breed. They do not require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Other than that, only those routine maintenance procedures that every breed needs, such as nail clipping and teeth brushing, are necessary. Appenzeller Sennenhunds do shed, and they can shed very, very heavily. This shedding is usually worst when the seasons change and the dog changes coats. Regular brushing will help reduce shedding, but this breed is still more than capable of covering clothes, furniture, and carpets with hair.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Appenzeller Sennenhund. As a result it is very difficult to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health. Most fanciers seem to think that the breed is in relatively good health. It does not seem that the breed suffers from any health problems at significantly higher rates than pure bred dogs in general. The life expectancy for this breed is claimed to be at between 12 and 13 years, roughly average for a dog of this size, but it is unclear what this estimate is based on.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in related breeds (hip dysplasia is quite commonly seen) it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Although health studies have not been conducted on the Appenzeller Sennenhund, they have been for a number of closely related breeds. Based on these studies, the breed may be susceptible to the following conditions: