The Schweizer Laufhunds are a group of scenthounds native to Switzerland. Most kennel clubs and canine organizations treat these breeds as a single breed with multiple varieties. There are four currently recognized varieties: the Bernese Hound, Bruno Jura Hound, Lucernese Hound, and the Schwyz Hound. One type, the Thurgovian Hound, is definitely extinct, and another, the Jura Type Saint Hubert Hound, is being either revived or recreated depending on who is believed. Switzerland is a nation with four official languages and the name of each variety is known by a few different English translations, meaning that this is a breed with many names including the Swiss Hound, Swiss Scenthound, Chien de Courant Suisse, Berner Laufhund, Bern Hound, Bruno Jura Laufhund, Bruno Hound, Bruno Laufhund, Jura Hound, Jura Laufhund, The Saint Hubert Hound Jura Type, the French Jura Type Saint Hubert Hound, the Jura Type Saint Hubert Hound French Type, the Jura Type French Saint Hubert Hound, Lucerner Laufhund, Lucerne Hound, and the Schwyz Laufhund.
The Schweizer Laufhunds are very old breeds whose history has largely been lost to time. Since these breeds were developed long before written records were kept of dog breeding, it is impossible to make any definitive statements about their ancestry. What is clear is that the Schweizer Laufhunds are among the oldest of Europe’s many scenthound breeds and that they have long trailed all species of game in the mountains and valleys of Switzerland.
Many claim that the Schweizer Laufhunds date back to Roman Times. Murals from the Roman Province of Helvetia (an area that once comprised most of modern day Switzerland) depict dogs very similar to the Schweizer Laufhunds. Given the lack of additional information, it is impossible to say whether or not these Roman dogs were Schweizer Laufhunds. In the opinion of this author, these drawing probably do not represent the modern Schweizer Laufhund breed but may depict its ancestors. If the Schweizer Laufhund does date back to Roman times it is almost certainly descended from either Italian/Mediterranean scenthounds or the Keltenbracke, better known in English as the Celtic Hound. Prior to Roman occupation, Switzerland was inhabited by Celtic tribes and the scent hounds of neighboring Austria are thought to descend from the Keltenbracke. Even if the Schweizer Laufhund can trace its ancestry back to Rome, the breed has surely been heavily influenced by German, Austrian, and especially French hounds since.
During the Dark and Middle Ages, hunting with scenthounds became the most popular and important sport among the European nobility. Most nobles of even moderate stature kept large packs of hunting dogs. Hunting became more than just a sport; it became a crucial part of social and political life. Decisions were made over the hunt that would impact the lives of millions of people. Because of the value and social prestige associated with high quality hunting dogs, many nobles and their masters of the hounds were avid breeders, always trying to improve the quality of their dogs. It was not just men of noble blood who kept hunting packs, many clergymen did too. It was in a monastery in modern day Belgium that the earliest known organized dog breeding program took place. Sometime between 750 and 900 A.D. the monks at the Saint Hubert Monastery near Mouzon developed the Saint Hubert Hound (better known in English as the Bloodhound) after years of careful breeding.
It became a tradition for the monks of Saint Hubert to send several pairs of their dogs to the King of France every year as a tribute. The King of France would then send these dogs to his vassals across the kingdom. The Saint Hubert Hound would go on to become incredibly influential in French hound breeding and for many centuries the breed was well-known throughout French-speaking lands. During this period, the Swiss were famous throughout Western Europe for their prowess as mercenaries, and Swiss soldiers were hired to fight in constant conflicts throughout the centuries. Many of these conflicts were fought in France where the mercenaries encountered the Saint Hubert Hound. They were so impressed that they returned to their homeland with a number of specimens. These specimens were crossed with pre-existing Swiss dogs to improve their sense of smell and other hunting abilities. There is a debate among Schweizer Laufhund fanciers and canine experts as to whether the modern breed is primarily descended from the Saint Hubert Hound crossed with older Swiss hounds, primarily descended from older Swiss dogs with some contribution from the Saint Hubert Hound, or a roughly equal combination of the two.
However the Schweizer Laufhund came into existence, it became very highly regarded as a hunting dog. The breed was so prized in Switzerland that until very recently very few other scenthound breeds were used in the country. For several centuries the breed was also highly sought after by French and especially Italian hunters. Many of these dogs were imported into those regions where they were used in local breeding efforts. Although there is some debate as to what the original Schweizer Laufhund looked like, most experts believe that it was very similar to the Jura Type Saint Hubert Hound.
Switzerland is almost entirely composed of the mountainous terrain of the Alps. High mountains with steep sides and snow covered peaks stand in between fertile valleys. Prior to the introduction of modern technology, travel between neighboring settlements was very difficult in even the best conditions and became virtually impossible in the winter. This meant that many Swiss communities were very isolated. Such isolation meant that many regions of Switzerland developed their own distinct and unique types of Schweizer Laufhund, and at one point there may have been dozens of such varieties. This would begin to change as technological advances in transportation made is much easier to transport dogs from one location to another; as a result Schweizer Laufhunds of all varieties began to be increasingly interbred. This interbreeding greatly reduced the former diversity exhibited by the Schweizer Laufhund. By the time that the breed was first recognized by the Swiss Kennel Club, only 5 varieties remained: the Bernese, Bruno Jura, Lucernese, Schwyz, and Thurgovian. Each of these varieties was named after the region where it was primarily found. The Bernese, Lucernese, and Schwyz were named after the major Swiss cities of Bern, Lucerne, and Schwyz, respectively. The Thurgovian was named for the northeast canton of Thurgovia, and the Bruno Jura was named for the Jura Mountains which separate Switzerland from France. There is also some debate among experts as to whether any examples of the older form, now known as the Jura Type Saint Hubert Hound, managed to survive.
Although they were kept purebred by owners and breeders for many centuries, the Schweizer Laufhunds were not pedigreed until the 1880’s. In 1882, a written standard was published for each of the five recognized breeds. These standards were updated in 1909, at which time it was noted that the Thurgovian Hound had become extinct. Unlike its neighbors, Switzerland remained neutral in both World Wars, despite being completely surrounded by warring nations during both conflicts. Although the Swiss economy was hard hit, the nation did not experience anywhere near the damage that was seen in the rest of Western Europe and the Schweizer Laufhund was not impacted to the extent that most other European hunting breeds were. Adolf Hitler allegedly owned one of these dogs, which he named Schweizer Luftwaffe. On January, 22nd, 1933 the FCI decided that the 4 surviving types of Schweizer Laufhund should be consolidated into one breed for full recognition and a single, unified standard was written up.
For the last several decades, a number of French hunters have been attempted to revive/recreate the Jura Type Saint Hubert Hound. It is debated whether these modern dogs are complete recreations or whether they descend from the last surviving representatives of the older breed. This current population of this breed is very small, and almost all members reside in a handful of hunting packs in France and Canada.
Although at one time the Schweizer Laufhund was very common in its homeland and well-known in France, Germany, Italy, and Austria, the last few centuries have seen the breed continuously decrease in popularity. As hunting with scenthounds becomes increasingly unpopular in Europe, the breeds used for this purpose declined in popularity. Additionally, foreign hunters have increasingly favored more recently developed native breeds. Currently, the Schweizer Laufhund is almost entirely restricted to its homeland and immediately adjacent regions. Over the last few decades, the breed’s foreign presence has been increasing and a few individuals have made their way to other countries, including the United States. However, the breed has yet to become well-established elsewhere and is considered very rare. In the United States, the Schweizer Laufhund is currently recognized by the Continental Kennel Club (CKC) and a few other rare breed registries but has not yet achieved recognition with either the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United Kennel Club (UKC). Unlike most modern breeds, the Schweizer Laufhund remains almost exclusively a working dog, and the vast majority of breed members are either active or retired hunters.
There are currently four recognized varieties of the Schweizer Laufhund. These varieties are virtually identical in appearance with the notable exception of coat coloration. All four varieties come in a standard and a miniature size although there is a single unified standard for both. Most males stand between 19 and 24 inches tall at the shoulder, and most females stand between 18½ and 23½ inches. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, gender, and condition, most breed members weigh between 30 and 45 pounds. Most breed members are noticeably longer than they are tall, a tendency which is greatest in the miniature examples. The Schweizer Laufhund is a well-muscled and sturdily constructed breed, although most examples are somewhat more lightly constructed than the average scenthound. As a working dog, this breed should be free of any exaggerated features which would impede its ability to perform its job. The tail of the Schweizer Laufhund is medium-to-long in length, tapers strongly towards the end, and should always be carried with a slight curve.
The head and face of the Schweizer Laufhund are very similar to those found in many other scenthounds, particularly those of France. This breed is considerably more refined in appearance than most working scenthounds. The head itself is long, narrow, and rather rounded. The head connects to the muzzle very smoothly in a manner more reminiscent of a sighthound than a scenthound. The muzzle itself is very long, either the length of the skull or slightly longer, although it is also quite narrow. The nose of all Schweizer Laufhunds should be black regardless of variety or coloration. The upper lips of this breed do completely cover the lower jaws, but they are not especially pendulous and would never be described as jowly. The ears of the Schweizer Laufhund are very long. They droop down very low, and often curl and twist. The eyes of the Schweizer Laufhund are slightly oval, medium sized, and either dark or light brown depending on the color of the dog’s coat. Most breed members exhibit a gentle, calm, and soft expression.
All five varieties of Schweizer Laufhund possess very similar coats. Their coats are short, smooth, and dense, although the hairs on the head and ears are very short and fine. The primary distinction between the types is coat coloration and pattern.
The Bernese Hound should be primarily white, with black patches and/or a black saddle. There should also be tan markings over the eyes, on the cheeks, inside of the ears, and around the vent. The white coloration of this variety may be very slightly ticked with black, although this is not necessary.
The Bruno Jura Hound and the Jura Type Saint Hubert Hound come in two different patterns. They may either be tan with a black saddle. Such dogs may or may not also have a black overlay. These varieties may also be primarily black with tan markings over the eyes, on the cheeks, on the ears, and on the lower parts of the legs. Either coloration may or may not have a small white marking on the chest. This marking may be very lightly speckled with black or grey.
The Lucernese Hound is usually described as being blue. This blue coloration results from black and white hairs being heavily interspersed over the body. The Lucernese Hound should also exhibit solid black patches and/or a solid black saddle (A black blanket is also permitted). All Lucernese Hounds must also posses tan markings over the eyes, on the cheeks, on the chest, around the vent, and on the lower portions of the legs.
The Schwyz Hound is white with orange markings and/or an orange saddle (An orange blanket is also permitted). The white portion of the coat may be slightly ticked with orange.
Occasionally a Schweizer Laufhund of any variety will be born with incorrect coloration, such as solid black or solid white. Such dogs are ineligible in the show ring and should not be bred but otherwise make just as excellent working dogs or companions as any other breed members.
The Schweizer Laufhund has been bred almost exclusively as a scent tracking dog and has a temperament very similar to that of most other scenthounds. This breed is known to be very affectionate, often fawningly so, and these dogs have a tendency to become strongly attached to their families. Most of these dogs are cuddlers and face-lickers. This breed wants to be in the constant company of its family, although it is generally not especially needy. Although only rarely kept as a family dog, the Schweizer Laufhund usually is very gentle and affectionate with children once it has been properly trained and socialized. Many owners in Switzerland claim that this dog does very well in a family environment.
The Schweizer Laufhund is generally a very friendly breed. Once properly trained and socialized, most breed members are very tolerant of strangers, and many are eager to meet them. Some breed members are alert enough to make decent watchdogs, although they barks are definitely more alerts than they are warnings. This breed would make a poor guard dog as most breed members are more likely to warmly greet a guest than show them aggression.
The Schweizer Laufhund was bred to work in packs of up to several dozen other dogs and was traditionally kept in one room with all of them. Even the slightest dog aggression would be intolerable in such an environment and as a result most of these dogs exhibit low levels of dog aggression. When properly trained and socialized, most Schweizer Laufhunds will have few issues with other canines and would greatly prefer to share their homes with at least one, and preferably several other dogs. As a hunting breed, the Schweizer Laufhund has a strong natural urge to hunt other animals. However, this breed tends to be less animal aggressive than most similar breeds and the majority of Schweizer Laufhunds will be trustworthy with cats and other pets with which they have been socialized.
Because the Schweizer Laufhund is only rarely kept for other purposes than hunting, there is not much information available as to the breed’s trainability. Like most dogs bred for hunting, the Schweizer Laufhund quickly learns how to hunt, and many young puppies naturally exhibit hunting behaviors. In general, scenthounds have a reputation for being very difficult to train anything other than basic manners, socialization, and hunting because they tend to be very stubborn and often have selective hearing. Although it is not clear if the Schweizer Laufhund is similarly challenging to train, it is very likely. If so, the breed probably responds best to training methods that emphasize rewards.
The Schweizer Laufhund was bred to trail quarry over some of the most challenging terrain in Europe, without stopping for a break. As one might expect, this breed has quite substantial exercise requirements. The Schweizer Laufhund should receive a minimum of 45 minutes of vigorous daily activity. This breed makes an excellent jogging or bicycling companion, but truly craves an opportunity to run around off leash in a safely enclosed area. If a Schweizer Laufhund is not properly exercised it will probably develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, hyper activity, over excitability, and excessive barking. All that being said, the Schweizer Laufhund has significantly lower exercise needs than many working scenthounds and this breed adapts well to life as a companion dog if provided sufficient exercise. This breed is usually relaxed in the home but would not be described as a couch potato. Although the Schweizer Laufhund does best in a rural environment, it can adapt well to suburban life.
Like many hounds, the Schweizer Laufhund was bred to bay when it was on the trail of game, both to alert its handler that it had scented something and to allow him or her to follow the dog if it ran out of sight. Because of this, the breed is both very vocal and extremely loud. Although training and proper exercise will greatly reduce a Schweizer Laufhund’s barking, they will not eliminate the problem, and keeping this breed in an apartment is likely to result in noise complaints.
The Schweizer Laufhund is a low maintenance breed. This dog should never require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Owners do have to thoroughly clean the ears of a Schweizer Laufhund on a regular basis. Otherwise, dirt, grime, food, and water can get lodged in the breed’s drooping ears, which can lead to irritations, infections, chronic ear infections, and in severe cases even deafness. There do not seem to be any reports on the Schweizer Laufhund’s shedding, but it is almost a certainty that this breed is a shedder, and most likely a very heavy one.
It does not appear that any health surveys have been conducted on the Schweizer Laufhund which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about the breed’s health. Most seem to believe that this breed is in relatively good health, which is similar to the case with many other breeds that are bred almost exclusively bred for work. This breed may be at risk for a number of genetically inherited conditions because its gene pool is fairly small, but this has not been confirmed. Most seem to believe that the life expectancy for this breed is between 10 and 14 years, although it is unclear what that estimate is based on.
Although skeletal and visual problems have not thought to occur at high rates in this breed 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.
Based on what is known about the Schweizer Laufhund and similar breeds, this dog may be at risk of developing the following conditions: