The Versatile Appenzeller Sennenhund

The Versatile Appenzeller Sennenhund, a traditional farm dog, make for excellent companions and pets. It is necessary, however, to provide sufficient activity, leadership, and training.

Family Companion and Exercise Coach

The Appenzeller is empathetic and loyal, and he makes a good companion dog. He will guard the home and alert you to any unusual activity. Daily excursions and playtime or training are needed, and a large, fenced yard is recommended. This is a dog that will keep you active; many owners consider their Appenzeller their best exercise coach. They are formidable companions for walks and hiking. Most of them love a dip in a stream or a good swim. The dogs are generally good with children within the family, enjoying play and forming strong emotional bonds. However, interactions should be supervised, as they may jump up if not trained otherwise.

The dogs are smart, eager to learn, and easily motivated. One challenge heard from owners is that these loyal dogs are, by nature, somewhat suspicious of strangers. It is important for breeders and owners to provide early socialization and to commit to continued socialization activities throughout the dog’s career.

The Versatile Appenzeller Sennenhund
CH Hektor Blässhunde USA CM RE (Owner/Handler Paula Webber)

Versatile Working Dog

Appenzellers can excel in a variety of dog sports. This working dog is an all-arounder. More than any other dog, he is able to do any kind of work with his bright and joyful eagerness to learn. Among North American owners, agility has been the most popular venue. Owners have also participated in herding, conformation, scent work, rally, obedience, tricks, parkour, schutzhund, and freestyle. Owners who participate in these sports with their Appenzeller dogs find it very rewarding. The breed community would like to see more owners participate. The Appenzell Mountain Dog Club of America (www.appenzellers.org) provides forums for owner discussion and support.

The Versatile Appenzeller Sennenhund
Hummer Queen Elsa CGC TKN (Owners Steve and Audrey Lyke)

Obedience and Rally

Obedience is a great activity for Appenzeller owners. Beginning with the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy program and moving on to Canine Good Citizen (CGC) is achievable for most any owner. Obedience training fosters the handler/dog relationship that will be needed both for obedience titles and for competition in other venues. Appenzeller dogs are often hyper-alert to changes in their environment, and the added relationship and training from obedience work can help with focus. That said, the dogs are smart, eager to please, and can master the most rigorous criteria to achieve high scores. In Switzerland, Appenzellers have been trained as guide dogs for the blind. Owners also participate in Rally; course variations contribute to keeping the activity interesting and fun for these smart dogs.

The Versatile Appenzeller Sennenhund
Highleigh Brandy OAP OJP (Owner/Handler Audrey Lyke) photo by Rick Knecht

A dog with confidence in its handler will comply. The effort is worth it to share these aesthetically beautiful and pleasing animals with other dog fanciers.

Conformation – Aesthetically Beautiful

The Appenzeller is a remarkably beautiful dog. They need little grooming and are naturally clean. When they run through their paces, the onlooker cannot help admiring these well-built athletes. The breed is somewhat suspicious of strangers, which means that in preparing for the show ring, handlers must proof their training for the dog to stand for examination. A dog with confidence in its handler will comply. The effort is worth it to share these aesthetically beautiful and pleasing animals with other dog fanciers.

Agility – Ready for Action

This consummate athlete is born to be an agility star. The dogs learn quickly and are eager to please. They are sure-footed and fast. They may require a little extra work on focus early on, as it is their nature to scan surroundings for anything unusual. (Personally, I had a dog that liked to pause at the top of the A-frame to take a look around, which cut into our course speed!) As they advance, they have a natural, excellent balance between handler and obstacle focus and are competitive with the ubiquitous Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. One mechanism to take the pressure off dogs and owners initially is to start in less formal venues, such as Canine Performance Events (CPE), before proceeding to title the dogs in USDAA and AKC competitions. The important thing is that both owners and dogs have fun.

The Versatile Appenzeller Sennenhund
Baden of Trout Creek (Owner/Handler Deb Schneider, DVM)
The Versatile Appenzeller Sennenhund
Highleigh Vinca
(Owner/Handler Keith Hermiz)

Herding – Bred for the Job

In their native Switzerland, Appenzellers are used as cattle drovers, going in to nip at heels to move the animals. As a farm dog, the Appenzeller gets along with other animals (such as cats). If possible, they should be introduced to and learn to work around other animals while still puppies, but it is in their nature to co-exist with other animals.

In training, the exuberance must be channeled. Thus, in herding, the Appenzeller may be much faster and more aggressive (although not to the point of injuring any sheep) than other herding dogs, such as Aussies. Initially, he may need to be trained on a line and to use a “no pull” harness to keep him from working up too much speed. The dogs are vocal herders, controlling stock with their sharp, clear bark, though sometimes to the point of excess. The dogs very much enjoy working livestock, but the handler must bear in mind that these are dogs bred to control cattle. Merely in response to the posture and “eye,” sheep would just about climb on top of each other to demonstrate they are falling in line with where an Appenzeller asks them to go.

Scent Work, Search & Rescue

The curious and persistent Appenzeller dog enjoys “find-it” games and scent detection work. Overseas, some Appenzellers work in earthquake and avalanche rescue, but not yet in North America. However, some owners here are competing and acquiring scent work points and titles in Canadian Kennel Club and AKC sanctioned events. Some dog/handler teams may progress to building searches, vehicle searches, or in rare instances, search and rescue. For others, it is a wonderful way for the dog to succeed and develop confidence.

Summary – So Much More Than a Pretty Face

The Appenzeller’s heritage includes both herding and guardian work. All of its traditional work has been in close cooperation with the farmer, and this dog will truly become part of the family. Its versatility as a working dog makes it well-adapted to numerous dog sports. In his breed portrait, Gerd Ludwig says, “The Appenzeller is incredibly quick and almost unrestrainable in its eagerness to work. It is very keen, has an inherited urge to act independently, and possesses amazing perceptive faculties.”1 Owners will tell you this description rings true. While not a dog for everyone, people looking for a fun and active canine partner may find the Appenzeller Sennenhund to be a good match.

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  • Audrey and Steve Lyke have had Appenzeller dogs in their household since 1995. Curious about these amazing dogs, they began showing them through the American Rare Breed Association and United Kennel Club in the hope of meeting more experienced owners. At the time, no one else was showing Appenzellers on this side of the pond and they ended up being the ones with breed experience. Audrey retired this summer from a career in data analytics and environmental and energy policy analysis. On a loosely related note, Audrey and Steve brought a 10-week-old puppy home two weeks later. Audrey is a past president of the Appenzell Mountain Dog Club of America and continues to be involved with the breed. Our original Appenzellers, Blackberry Noble Spirit and Glenn vom Schwarzwaldblick, were best of breed at the American Rare Breed Association, Canine Kennel Club, and United Kennel Club. Highleigh Brandy is mastering the various obstacles and course patterns in Agility. All our dogs are health-tested. They live in our home. Whatever their other talents, they are companions and family first. We are conveniently located near Baltimore and Philadelphia. Contact us at info@festivalappenzellers.com or 302.547.4633

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