You’ve seen the television commercials, blockbuster movies, and TikToks featuring adorable, affectionate (and sometimes slobbering) dogs that rescue stranded hikers, protect newborn ducklings, and watch after rambunctious children. Those dogs are often mountain dog breeds like the Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, and Leonberger.
“These are big, powerful dogs that like to work,” says Gina DiNardo, executive secretary for the American Kennel Club. “As with any breed, it’s important to do research to find the right breed for your lifestyle, whether you are a first-time dog owner or have owned many dogs.”
What Is a Mountain Dog Breed?
The breeds are known as “mountain dogs” because they originated in mountainous regions around the world.
From the Saint Bernard in Switzerland, Tibetan Mastiff in Tibet, Alaskan Malamute in Alaska and Kuvasz in Hungary, mountain dog breeds are prized for their ability to work in cold climates and rugged terrain and complete a wide range of tasks from herding livestock to pulling carts. These breeds are also the pinnacle of perfection when it comes to being loving, loyal companions.
“Mountain breeds are beautiful, strong, and incredibly loyal,” says Marissa Sunny, certified professional dog trainer and supervisor of lifesaving and care at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles. “Many people are drawn to them for their looks, size and protective nature.”
8 Top Mountain Dog Breeds
If you’re looking to add a spirited, sweet, energetic dog to your home, consider one of these top eight mountain dog breeds.
Bernese Mountain Dogs
These massive mountain dogs hail from Bern, Switzerland, where farmers depended on them to drive cattle, guard farms and pull carts. Berners might be large—the dogs can tip the scales at 115 pounds—but these are true gentle giants with great dispositions. Bernese Mountain Dogs are known for developing strong bonds with their owners.
“Berners get along with the whole family and are particularly gentle with children,” DiNardo says.
This mountain dog breed was brought to the Pyrenees Mountains between the borders of France and Spain and put to work as a herding dog as far back as 1800 B.C. Today, these large, loyal dogs can still be spotted protecting livestock in farm fields but Great Pyrenees are as devoted to their families as their flocks.
DiNardo describes Pyrenees as, “sweet, mellow companions with strong protective instincts over its family.”
Entlebucher Mountain Dog
It’s rare to find an Entlebucher Mountain Dog in the United States but the breed is popular in Switzerland where it originated. “Entles” are smaller than other mountain dog breeds and make excellent companions for active owners who want to devote significant attention to their four-legged friends.
“Entlebucher Mountain Dogs are incredibly energetic working dogs who benefit from a job to do,” Sunny explains.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Weighing up to 140 pounds, these massive mountain dogs also have massive amounts of love to give. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs love children and strangers and take their work—and play—seriously.
“Swissies are noted for their sociable nature,” says DiNardo.
Known for being fearless, energetic and alert on the job, Kuvasz (or Kuvaszok) can be sweet-natured with their families. Their strong protective instincts make them excellent watchdogs so it’s no surprise that the breed, which originated in Tibet, was once used to guard livestock and the royal palace.
“They almost went extinct during World War II but have since increased in population,” Sunny says.
“Saint Bernards are often depicted as ‘nanny dogs,’” says Sunny.
The gentle giants weigh between 120 and 180 pounds, allowing them to navigate deep snow drifts in the Swiss Alps. The breed is still active in mountain rescue but are also affectionate, outgoing, adaptable, and eager to please. 3
As their name suggests, the Tibetan Mastiff originated in Tibet where it provided protection in local villages.
Tibetan Mastiffs have retained their strong protective instincts and remain reserved with strangers and, thanks to their sheer size (the dogs can weigh up to 150 pounds) the breed is still prized as a guard dog—with a softer side.
“Tibetan Mastiffs are very close to their families,” Sunny says.
DiNardo describes Newfoundlands as, “sweet, good-natured dogs that are gentle and willing to please.”
Canadian fishermen often worked alongside the large, powerful dogs aboard their fishing vessels in the waters off of the coast of Newfoundland and relied on their strong swimming skills for water rescues. Now, Newfies are just as likely to be frolicking in the pool with their families as working on the high seas.
Unlike other mountain dog breeds that were bred to work, Leos were bred as companions. The German dogs are 90 to 170 pounds of pure love. Terms like “affectionate,” “great with children,” and “loves everyone” are often used to describe Leonbergers.
“Leonbergers are devoted pets,” Sunny says. “They thrive when spending time with their people.”
Caring for Mountain Dog Breeds
Although all mountain dog breeds have distinct temperaments, the working dogs tend to have a few common needs. For starters, working in high altitudes requires a thick double coat for warmth and that means mountain dog breeds tend to have longer hair that requires a lot of grooming.
“These breeds are heavy shedders, requiring regular brushing,” DiNardo says. “Prospective owners should be able to keep up with daily or weekly brushing and be prepared for shedding seasons.”
Mountain dog breeds, like all large dog breeds, require specific nutrition to help them achieve healthy growth and fuel their abundant energy. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best dog food for complete and balanced nutrition at each life stage.
It takes a lot of energy to guard livestock, protect homesteads and haul heavy loads and mountain dog breeds have the stamina to get the job done. Without specific jobs to do, these dogs will need lots of exercise to burn off their abundant energy, according to Sunny.
“These dogs do need a fairly substantial amount of exercise,” she says. “They are all intelligent breeds who benefit from a lot of mental stimulation, regular walks, and playtime.”
Using rewards-based training can help mountain dog breeds master basic commands and learn new skills. Even with training, Sunny warns that some of these breeds might not be right for inexperienced dog owners.
She suggests consulting with a trainer to make sure it’s a fit, adding, “If a first-time owner is interested in these breeds of dogs I would recommend working with a professional trainer to set yourself up for success.”