Appenzeller Sennenhund

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Appenzeller Sennenhund

A Swiss mountain dog traditionally used to herd livestock and pull carts on rural farms, the Appenzeller Sennenhund is now more commonly filling the role of a dedicated household pet. While not in high demand outside of its native Switzerland yet, this athletic and intelligent working dog with strong family values, is long overdue an increase in its popularity.

A strikingly beautiful dog with a thick tri-colour coat and a powerful body, this breed has beauty and brawn, as it makes a great sporting competitor and can participate successfully in a huge variety of disciplines. Throughout the years it has maintained its watchful instincts, and is well-suited to being a guard dog, barking at the first sign of any threat.

About & History

Hailing from the hilly, alpine district of Appenzell in north-eastern Switzerland, the Appenzeller Sennenhund, or Appenzeller Mountain Dog, is believed by many to be an ancient breed. While the first records of the breed’s existence date back only as recently as the 19th century, the most widely accepted theories on their origin, place them on this Earth far earlier than that. A lack of record-keeping, and their remote existence has meant that officially tracing them back any earlier than 1850 has not been possible. Despite this, many claim that they are descendants of the ancient alpine dogs, and archaeologists have found remains of similar type dogs dating back thousands of years.

There exist four closely related breeds: The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Entlebucher Mountain Dog and the Appenzeller Sennenhund. It is widely believed that the original of these four dogs was the larger Greater Swiss Mountain dog. The Greater Swiss Mountain dog is thought to have descended from the ‘Molosser’ (a Roman dog resembling a Mastiff), and the Roman Cattle Droving dog, who lived over 2,000 years ago.

Traditionally used to herd cattle to market, farmers began to use the Appenzeller Sennenhund for a variety of tasks including cart pulling (they fared better than horses on the hilly terrains) and acting as watchdogs on Swiss farms. Despite their usefulness, they were expensive dogs to keep, and with the advent of technology, they began to fall out of favour. Luckily for the breed, they had an advocate in a man called Max Siber, who petitioned the Swiss Cynological Society, and was granted funding to support the preservation of the breed and encourage their attendance at dog fairs. At this time, the Appenzeller Sennenhund was likely the most popular of the four Sennenhunden; a status that was not to last long. It was the Bernese Mountain Dog who quickly took over that accolade, both within Switzerland and internationally.

In Switzerland, the Appenzeller Sennenhund, is mainly kept today as a show-dog and companion animal. The United Kennel Club recognised the Appenzeller Sennenhund in 1993 within the Guardian Dog group. Despite this, outside of Switzerland, the breed remains largely unknown and can be both difficult and expensive to obtain.


Appenzeller Sennenhund Large Photo

Similar-looking to the other three Swiss Mountain dogs, the Appenzeller Sennenhund is a dramatically beautiful, medium-sized dog, well adapted for the tasks it has been bred to perform. Their double coat serves them well in the cold winter. It should be tri-coloured, consisting of white, black and brown. Their undercoat is often black, though may be brown or grey. Specifically placed rust and white coat markings are required for dogs in the show ring, for example a white blaze on the face and rust coloured markings over the eyes are a must.

Their body is well-developed and in proportion, powerful enough to pull heavy carts up hills. Their head is wedge-shaped, with their ears hanging closely to the face. Their chest is broad and deep, their limbs straight and well muscled. They should have brown almond-shaped eyes, and a darker shade of brown is preferred in the show-ring.

This is a medium-sized breed, and male dogs will stand 52-56cm at the withers, while females stand slightly shorter at 50-54cm. They should weigh between 22 and 32kg.

Character & Temperament

The high work ethic of this breed has not wavered over the years, and they are very capable of carrying out physically demanding jobs. They are extremely intelligent and thrive when learning and performing new tasks. The perfect guard dog, they are alert and wary of strangers, barking to warn them away and ensure the owner knows of their presence. Territorial, sometimes to the extreme, great caution is advised to any unwanted guest, as the Appenzeller Sennenhund has the ability to become aggressive towards intruders. To prevent unwanted hostility towards new people, early socialisation is absolutely vital with this breed.

Often described as a ‘one-person dog’, this breed tends to form close bonds with people, and will often form a strong attachment with one owner in particular. Their loyalty is revered, and it is claimed that they are faithful to the extent that they would willingly put themselves in danger to protect their family. If adequately socialised, they can do well with children, though supervision is advised due to the raw strength of this breed. Equally, be cautious with other animals, particularly smaller ones, as sometimes their herding instincts can lead to unwanted chasing and nipping behaviours.


Photo of Appenzeller Sennenhund puppy

While this is a breed that can truly excel in just about any task set to it, it is by no means an easy dog to train. They will commonly challenge their trainer and need consistent and firm guidance in order to reach their potential. Stubborn and strong-willed at times, it can take an experienced owner to take charge of the relationship. They have a natural tendency to become dominant, and this must be discouraged, particularly when they are adolescents testing their boundaries.

A versatile and athletic dog, the Appenzeller Sennenhund can become a master at a great number of sports, whether it be agility, obedience, and, of course, herding.


While the relevant health studies have yet to be performed, it is widely accepted that the Appenzeller Sennenhund is a particularly fit breed, with a lifespan of 12 to 14 years.

Health studies performed on the other, closely-related, Swiss dog breeds, may give a clue as to what the Appenzeller Sennenhund is prone to. It is recommended that screening of breeding parents for the following two conditions be performed:

Hip Dysplasia

X-rays can be taken to check the hip health of breeding parents. Dysplastic hips are those that have failed to form properly, and will degenerate as the dog gets older, causing ongoing pain and mobility issues. Dogs with poor hip scores should never be bred from.

PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy)

Cells in the retina of the eye degenerate and die, resulting in vision loss and eventual blindness. DNA tests can confirm if a breeding parent is a carrier of the responsible genes. The DNA test is easy to perform and can be carried out on just a small sample of the dog’s blood.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Famously athletic and possessing great stamina, the Appenzeller Sennenhund has a high exercise demand and thrives when outdoors and off-lead. Short daily walks would never be sufficient for this breed, and it is recommended that they are provided with ample exercise (more than an hour of brisk walking a day) and given a variety of challenging tasks to perform.

Due to their herding nature, they tend to be very good at exercising within their own territory, and should not wander far from home. Outdoor access is essential, and this dog will never thrive if kept in an apartment or small house. They do particularly well in cooler weather and should not be over-exercised when warm as they can easily overheat. An under-stimulated Sennenhund is a recipe for disaster, and destructive behaviours, such as incessant barking or hyperactivity, are likely to ensue.


Regular brushing is advised, particularly during shedding season, when the Appenzeller Sennenhund can lose large quantities of fur. As with any dog whose ears do not stand erect, the ear canals should be regularly checked and cleaned if they become excessively waxy.

Famous Appenzeller Sennenhunds

Not widely known outside Switzerland, there are not currently any famous examples of the breed. Who knows though, perhaps your Appenzeller Sennenhund will be the next big thing! Fluffy.sumo, for example, a gorgeous Appenzeller Sennenhund based in Germany, already has well over 6k followers on Instagram (and counting)!


At this time, there are no recognised cross-breeds of the Appenzeller Sennenhund.

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