The mountain dog breeds you are about to read about represent some of the most ancient of purebred canine lineages. Some of the dogs on this mountain dog breeds list can literally trace their ancestry back for thousands of years! From big mountain dog breeds to small mountain dog breeds, meet a diverse global group of mountain dogs that have partnered with humans for millennia to make life better for both species!
Pros and cons of big mountain dog breeds
Whether at the local park or on the red carpet, there is something rather marvelous about making an entrance with a giant dog at your side! You just feel safer, protected, stronger, and more confident with a massive guardian canine who always has your back. But life with a giant dog breed can have its challenges, too.
For starters, there is this massive dog who needs massive everything – that huge bed, for example. Where are you going to put it? What about riding in the car? Will your huge pooch be able to fit in yours? How about toys? It can be challenging to even find dog toys for the dog who can chew up literally anything! And then there is dog food – your big dog will need lots of it, and you will need a place to store it!
Finally, there are the health issues. For big dogs in particular, you must always keep an eye out for joint issues like hip, elbow, and shoulder dysplasia (joint malformation). For example, if you are raising any of these large mountain dog breeds from puppyhood, panosteitis, or “growing pains,” which are usually caused from too-fast growth in puppyhood, is just one of several concerning health issues you must always be watching for. So now let’s take a look at some of the best mountain dog breeds!
Depending on who you ask, free associations on the dog known as the “Saint Bernard” will either generate references to the movie “Beethoven” or to the famous hospice hounds of the Swiss Alps. These great-hearted mountain dogs take their name from the latter, and specifically from St. Bernard Pass, the 49-mile, treacherous, snowy mountain gateway they have patrolled since the mid-15th century. Their job? To sniff out snowed-in travelers and facilitate rescues!
Today, more than 2,000 individuals and countless descendants literally owe their lives to these patrolling Saint Bernards. Today, the Saint Bernard is still one of the best-known and best-loved of all the mountain dog breeds. Currently, ranked 49th of 192 American Kennel Club (AKC) registered purebred dog breeds, the Saint Bernard is also one of the biggest, weighing in at 120 to 180+ pounds!
In personality, the Saint Bernard is known to be gentle and charming – a stark contrast to this massive dog’s brute strength. These dogs generally live 8 to 10 years. Hereditary health issues to watch for include hip dysplasia and eye issues. Bloat can also be a serious concern, but there is a potentially life-saving preventative surgery you can talk to your vet about.
The Anatolian Shepherd is a mountain dog that hails from the Turkish Anatolian Plateau. This ancient dog breed is thought to date back more than 2,000 years! The Turkish name for this dog breed is Coban Kopegi (“Cho-bahn Koh-pay”) which translates simply to “shepherd’s dog.” These dogs have always been livestock defenders – guardians of the shepherd’s livelihood. They will face off against wolves, bears, or even jackals to do their job.
The Anatolian Shepherd dog is naturally reserved, as befits a guardian dog who is always watchful as she assesses potential risks. These dogs are smart and independent thinkers who have been entrusted for centuries to do their jobs largely without human supervision. In terms of popularity as a pet dog breed, the Anatolian Shepherd dog ranks 74th out of the AKC’s 192 registered purebred dog breeds.
These dogs can weigh anywhere from 80 to 150 pounds. Males tend to outweigh females as adults. The Anatolian Shepherd dog can live from 11 to 13 years. Happily, while these dogs are quite sizeable, they are not as prone to genetic health issues like hip and elbow dysplasia as some giant dog breeds. However, the parent dogs should be screened for joint and eye issues.
Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog
The Great Pyrenees mountain dog of France and Spain is a striking representative of the white mountain dog breeds. Once you have seen this massive pup with its pure white heavy coat and regal bearing, you won’t soon forget the experience! The Great Pyrenees mountain dog is a livestock guardian breed that willingly faces down wild wolves and other predators on behalf of her charges. When not guarding livestock, this breed has traditionally guarded shepherds and their families.
One really interesting thing about this dog breed is that, despite the super-shaggy, thick, double-layer coat, the Great Pyrenees really doesn’t need that much grooming. Their coat naturally resists both dirt and tangles! However, they will “blow coat” (shed copiously) seasonally, and this can turn absolutely everything you own white without more frequent brushing during these periods each year.
Great Pyrenees are susceptible to bloat, which can be fatal if not caught and treated quickly. There is a preventative surgery you can talk to your veterinarian about. This breed can also struggle with heritable cancer, hip and elbow dysplasia, eye issues, thyroid dysfunction, cardiac and blood issues, neurological issues, and autoimmune disorders.
This statuesque and stately German mountain dog breed is truly a gentle family dog underneath his shaggy exterior! The Leonberger dog breed can weigh anywhere from 90 pounds to upwards of 170 pounds, so you need to be prepared for a really big canine sidekick, especially if your puppy is male! The Leonberger is currently 95th on the “most popular purebred dog breeds” list.
Depending on who you consult, Leonbergers may live anywhere from 7 to 13 years old. Access to preventative veterinary care and proper diet can greatly influence longevity. These dogs, nicknamed “Leos” by fans, are really incredible family dogs. They are also great watchdogs, being both smart and confident in their demeanor.
Unfortunately, the Leo can suffer from a range of heritable (genetic) health issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia, eye issues, cardiac issues, thyroid dysfunction, and some neurological issues.
Colorado Mountain Dog
The Colorado Mountain Dog is a very new breed that has just arisen in Colorado in the United States in 2005. The breeder responsible for starting this lineage is Wendy Francisco, a goat farmer whose goats were being killed by mountain lions. She paired a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd mix dog, Caspian, with a Great Pyrenees/Hungarian Kuvasz mix, Snow, to create a new breed of LGD (livestock guardian dog).
Today, most breeders of the Colorado Mountain Dog live and work in (no surprise) Colorado. Breeders report that the average weight of this new mountain dog breed ranges from 80 to 130 pounds. Parent dogs should be tested for dysplasia (hip and elbow).
The beloved Siberian Husky originated in Siberia, Russia. This dog currently ranks 12th in the most popular dog breeds. While the Siberian Husky is better known as a sled dog, as a member of the “working dog” breed group and hailing from the sometimes mountain region of Siberia, this dog definitely has earned its mountain stripes as well!
The Siberian Husky is one of the best representatives of the small mountain dog breeds, weighing in at between 35 and 60 pounds, with a healthy life expectancy of 12 to 14 years. These dogs are born and bred to live and work with people, and while they will not thrive without lots of daily exercise and play, they are definitely good candidates for family life! All parent Siberian Husky dogs should be tested for eye and hip issues.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is said to have arrived in its home country aboard Viking ships. Right from the start, this mountain dog breed proved itself indispensable in guarding and herding livestock, especially in remote mountainous regions where sheep were liable to get lost in areas not easily accessible to their shepherds. The Icelandic Sheepdog is considered part of the spitz and primitive dog breeds and is recognized as the only dog breed native to Iceland.
This dog will weigh anywhere from 25 to 30 pounds at maturity and can live from 12 to 14 years. The Icelandic Sheepdog is definitely an active, energetic dog and is also born and bred to be a “barker” as part of her alert/herder/guard dog duties! This dog can suffer from genetic hip issues (dysplasia) and eye issues.
Sennenhund Mountain Dog Breeds
The Swiss Sennenhund mountain dog lineage includes four mountain dog breeds, listed here from largest/oldest to smallest/newest:
- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. Weighs 85 to 140 pounds; lives 8 to 11 years.
- Bernese Mountain Dog. Weighs 70 to 110 pounds; lives 7 to 10 years.
- Appenzeller Mountain Dog. Weighs 48 to 70 pounds; lives 12 to 15 years.
- Entlebucher Mountain Dog. Weighs 40 to 65 pounds; lives 11 to 13 years.
Each of these dog breeds can trace its genetic history back to an ancient line of Swiss cattle dogs called “Molosser.” This shared canine ancestor gets its name from the region of Molossia, which is now part of Albania in Europe.
All four breeds share certain genetic health issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia and eye issues. The Bernese Mountain Dog can also struggle with heart issues and von Willebrand’s disease, a bleeding disorder.
Caucasian Mountain Dog
The Caucasian Shepherd Dog, also called the Caucasian Mountain Dog, hails from Russia originally. This ancient guardian dog breed was born and bred to protect livestock and people. Today there are two breed lines, the Steppe (a smaller dog with a lighter coat) and the Mountain (a larger dog with a longer, thicker coat). For the Mountain line in particular, daily grooming will be a necessity for your own sanity and your dog’s coat and skin health!
The Caucasian Mountain Dog can weigh in at 99 to 170+ pounds and live for 10 to 12 years. These dogs are intelligent and powerful in both strength and personality and are not considered suitable for first-time dog owners. However, when properly trained and socialized, breeders say their strong guarding and protective instincts can make this dog a great family pet.
Breeders recommend having parent dogs tested for dysplasia (hips, knees, elbows), temperament, eyes and teeth, and heart issues.
As this giant mountain dog’s name implies, the Tibetan Mastiff is an ancient dog breed that hails from the furthest reaches of remote Tibet and Nepal. This dog can weigh anywhere from 70 to 150+ pounds at maturity! The Tibetan Mastiff has quite recently topped the list of the world’s most expensive dogs, courtesy of a pet Tibetan Mastiff that reportedly fetched a whopping $1.9 million.
Luckily, there are more affordable Tibetan Mastiffs as well (if you consider a puppy price in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $5,000 affordable). Tibetan Mastiffs are still considered “primitive” dog breeds for a variety of reasons, including the female dog’s single annual estrus (breeding) period. More importantly for aspiring pet owners, the Tibetan Mastiff can be a strong-willed dog that needs ongoing socialization to thrive in an urban family setting.
In particular, these dogs can be “barkers” at night and in the early morning, which the neighbors don’t always appreciate! Tibetan Mastiffs can suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, thyroid dysfunction, eye issues, and seizures. The average lifespan is 10 to 12 years.
Mountain dog breeds
We hope you have enjoyed learning more about the history of each of these amazing mountain dog breeds! From petite to giant, each one of these mountain dog breeds can be the perfect choice. Which of these mountain dog breeds might be your next companion canine? Post a comment to let us know!
References and Further Reading
- Wilson, C., et al, “Saint Bernard: Breed History,” Saint Bernard Club of America, 2015.
- Blumberg, J., “A Brief History of the St. Bernard Rescue Dog,” The Smithsonian, 2016.
- Ballard, D., et al, “About the Anatolian Shepherd Dog,” Anatolian Shepherd Club of America, 2014.
- Brown, R., DVM, et al, “Health Disorders Affecting Great Pyrenees,” Great Pyrenees Club of America, 2018.
- Feltenstein, M., et al, “Is the Tibetan Mastiff Right for You?,” American Tibetan Mastiff Association, 2018.
- Barton, C., “Sennenhund Breeds,” Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Kennel/Barton Manor Swissys, 1985.
- COWDCA, “Recommended Health Testing,” Caucasian Ovcharka Working Dog of America Club, 2023,
- Francisco, W., “Breed History,” Colorado Mountain Dog Association, 2015.
- Horsey, B., et al, “Your Siberian: Its Hips and Its Eyes,” Siberian Husky Club of America, 2015.
- Warnock, T., et al, “About the Icelandic Sheepdogs,” Icelandic Sheepdog Association of America, Inc., 2016.
- ‘History of the Colorado Mountain Dog‘, Colorado Mountain Dog Association (2015)
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