White Swiss Shepherd

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult White Swiss Shepherd

Though only a recent addition to the Kennel Club’s register, the White Swiss Shepherd’s history is intertwined with that of its very close cousin, the German Shepherd. In fact, it was only because of a fallacious belief that the white offspring occasionally seen within the German breed were genetically inferior, and thus unworthy of pedigree registration, that the White Swiss came into existence in the first place. While it shares many of the characteristics, physical and behavioural, of its better-known relation, being loyal, protective, intelligent, and highly work-driven, the White Swiss is generally described as a more mellow and less highly strung dog, which can only add to its appeal.

Many of these malleable dogs are employed in the emergency services, and they are ideally suited to the demands of search and rescue or policing duties. As one might imagine, they need to be kept busy and stimulated if living solely as pets. Under-exercised or bored White Swiss Shepherds can be expected to be noisy, destructive, and hyperactive, and owners should provide plenty of exercise, for the sake of both their own and their dog’s sanity. The thick white coat needs regular grooming to maintain its good looks, and it leaves its mark in the form of a hairy trail around the home. The breed suffers most of the health problems seen in the German Shepherd, with joint disease being a particularly prevalent problem, but it nonetheless, has a very good life expectancy for a large-breed dog at around 12 to 14 years.

About & History

The story of the White Swiss Shepherd is identical to that of the German Shepherd until the recent past. These dogs were developed through a series of close breedings between the male Horand Von Grafrath and successive generations of his offspring to create a line of large, obedient, and energetic herding and guardian dogs. Horand’s lineage was extraordinarily well documented, and it is known that he carried genes for the white coat colour from one of his grandfathers. Therefore, these early German Shepherds often sported the colour to a greater or lesser degree – this was long considered a normal feature.

However, in 1959, the German Shepherd’s parent club in Germany erroneously declared every all-white dog an albino, and banned the registration and breeding of any dog with greater than 50% white markings. This belief and practice spread around much of the world prior to the introduction of DNA or other techniques that could disprove the theory. As a result, the number of white German Shepherds plummeted in many countries, with the United Kingdom and United States two of the few to continue to recognise them. In 1967, a Swiss national named Agatha Burch began a deliberate breeding programme to select for all-white dogs, using a male named Lobo and a female named White Lilac as her first two exemplars. Initially governed by the “Swiss White German Shepherd Dog Society”, the new offshoot gained Federation Cynologique Internationale recognition as a breed in its own right under the name White Swiss Shepherd in 2011, and it was finally granted pedigree status by the UK Kennel Club in October 2017.

Appearance

White Swiss Shepherd Large Photo

The White Swiss Shepherd is a medium-to-large, powerful, well-muscled dog with harmonious lines. It has an elongated rectangular outline, with the true length of the spine being visually exaggerated by the sloping hind limb stance it shares with the German Shepherd. Its long, wolf-like head is cleanly wedge-shaped, with little in the way of brow or cheek arches, and even the line of the stop is subtle where the forehead slopes to the muzzle. The breed’s almond-shaped eyes are a dark brown colour and sit a little obliquely, and the lips, eyelids, and nasal cartilage should all have strong black pigmentation to sit in stark contrast to the brilliant white colour of the coat. This intelligent and watchful breed has large, triangular ears that are held erect and directed forward.

The neck and back are strong and long, with pronounced arching over the withers and the muscular loin. The White Swiss has a moderately narrow but deep chest that also extends well back, giving it a large capacity, and the lean abdomen is reasonably well tucked. Its long, bushy tail is held sabre-like at around the hock level most of the time, although it will be raised when the dog’s attention is aroused. As previously mentioned, the rear end is sloped through the hip and thigh; this should not be exaggerated, as it can predispose to hip and stifle problems due to exceptional stresses during exercise.

The double-thickness white coat is extremely dense throughout, and can be either medium-length or long, with slight waviness being considered acceptable. Male White Swiss Shepherds are between 58 and 66 cm tall, while females stand 53 to 61 cm in height; their respective weight ranges are 30–40 and 25–35 kg.

Character & Temperament

Highly intelligent, energetic, and watchful, the White Swiss lets very little escape its attention. Although it tends to be less skittish than the German Shepherd, it makes an excellent watch dog, and will put on a good show to deter intruders. However, it is generally mellow enough to warm to strangers quickly, particularly once they have been introduced.

It is a dog that loves being at the centre of family life, and pines dreadfully if left alone or locked outside for any length of time. White Swiss Shepherds will happily accept dogs and other pets as part of their family pack, but can exhibit aggression towards other dogs they do not know so well.

Trainability

Photo of White Swiss Shepherd puppy

That the German Shepherd is the dog of choice for many working roles speaks volumes for its trainability, and this is a strength that the White Swiss also possesses. For a trainer to succeed, it is vital that the dog recognises the human’s dominant position, and so confidence and assertiveness are key to handling the dog’s strong personality.

However, one must never resort to harsh or corrective approaches to training. These are counterproductive with a highly intelligent breed such as this, and a White Swiss will dig its heels in and become uncooperative should it feel its efforts are not being appreciated.

Health

There are a number of common health issues in the breed that anyone thinking of acquiring a White Swiss Shepherd should be conscious of. As we all know, prevention is better than cure, and by far the most effective approach to reducing the incidence of these problems is through responsible breeding. For this reason, anyone buying a pedigree pup should always be prepared to quiz the breeder on his/her dogs’ health, and to request veterinary certificates where appropriate – for example, hip or elbow scores – and to walk away empty-handed should the breeder appear evasive or uncooperative. Only by refusing to buy recklessly bred puppies can one influence the behaviour of their breeders.

  • Allergies – Skin allergies and food intolerances are common complaints, with many White Swiss being particularly sensitive to changes in diet. Symptoms such as skin redness and itching, vomiting and diarrhoea are seen, and in addition to managing the symptoms, it is important to identify and eliminate the responsible allergens where possible.
  • Cruciate ligament rupture – Degeneration of this ligament that is responsible for stabilising the knee joint is a common cause of hind limb lameness in young adult and older dogs. Requires surgical repair in this and other large breeds.
  • Elbow dysplasia – An inherited growth deformity of the elbow joint, causing one or more of its bony components to be misshapen. This, in turn, causes pain and lameness, with the abnormal wear forces leading to early onset arthritis. Elbow replacement surgery is increasingly available, but remains an expensive and invasive intervention.
  • Epilepsy – A neurological abnormality causing intermittent seizures. These can vary in severity, though the episodes tend to follow a similar pattern within individual dogs.
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency – Decreased levels of digestive enzyme secretion from the pancreas, a gland that sits alongside the stomach and small intestine, reducing the dog’s ability to digest nutrients. This typically manifests as emaciation despite a ravenous appetite, poor coat quality, and the passage of greasy, pale, and foul-smelling faeces. Easily treated with supplemental enzymes and vitamins, but requires lifelong care.
  • Haemophilia – The breed is prone to several disorders of the clotting cascade, which are generally hereditary. This make affected dogs predisposed to episodes of heavy or prolonged bleeding after injury.
  • Hip dysplasia – Growth deformity of one or both hip joints, most often due to genetic influences. Signs of lameness become apparent around six months of age, and may necessitate hip replacement surgery if severe.
  • Megaoesophagus – Loss of muscle tone in the oesophagus, the slender tube down which food passes to the stomach, leading it to become flaccid and dilated. Often seen in pups around the time of weaning as a congenital deformity, but can also occur in adult dogs for various reasons (e.g., autoimmune disease). Treatment is challenging, especially in young pups.

Exercise and Activity Levels

This is a working breed first and foremost, and needs to be kept busy and active. Providing a working role, such as using the dog to cart home groceries from the local supermarket, is the ideal way in which to keep a White Swiss fit and content. Failing this, it needs a minimum of one to two hours of moderate-intensity exercise every day without fail.

Grooming

Owners should be prepared to brush the thick coat every day, as it sheds quite heavily and will quickly form clumps if neglected. Naturally, its brilliant white colour is quick to show up any dirt, and the White Swiss does need regular bathing, but this must be done with a gentle dog-specific shampoo that will not dehydrate the skin or damage the hair quality.

Famous White Swiss Shepherd

The White Swiss has not yet gained the worldwide recognition of the German Shepherd, and so it cannot yet claim any instantly recognisable celebrity members. Lobo, the father of the breed in the 1960s, remains the most famous individual.

Cross-Breeds

Although the German Shepherd is one of the more popular breeds used to produce a range of hybrids, the same does not seem to be the case for the White Swiss, which has no widely recognised cross-breed offspring at present.

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