The massive Saint Bernard or St Bernard is the most famous of all giant dog breeds and one of the best known of all dog breeds. St Bernard dogs are tall, powerful and muscular with an impressively large head to match their gigantic body.
The Saint’s wide head has a short and deep muzzle, large black nose, dark brown eyes, medium-sized ears that droop forward, and a long thick tail carried low and raised when the dog is active. The St Bernard’s coat comes in two varieties.
Long haired Saints have a medium length, dense, flat coat that is fuller around the neck and slightly wavy on the back with a bushy tail. Short-haired Saints have a close, hound like coat with some feathering on the legs and tail.
Coat colors are white with orange mahogany, red, or red brindle markings. Male Saints stand from 27 to 32 inches tall and females from 26 to 29 inches tall at shoulder height. Saints can weigh from 120 to 180 pounds or more.
Saint Bernards are members of the American Kennel Club (AKC) Working Dog Group.
History of The St Bernard
The St Bernard is descended from the ancient Roman Molossian dogs of war that accompanied Roman soldiers on their invasion of the Alps. These dogs were crossed with native Swiss dogs and the Saint was developed for hauling carts, guarding and herding.
The breed gets its name from the Hospice of the Great Saint Bernard Pass. The hospice was founded in 980 AD by St Bernard de Menthon as a refuge for mountain travelers using the hazardous mountain pass between Switzerland and Italy.
By the 18th century, the monks of the hospice were breeding St Bernards to guide and rescue mountain travelers. The Saint’s sense of smell is so good that he can find people buried by avalanches under many feet of snow.
The breed also seems to be able to sense low frequency vibrations and predict avalanches. During the past 3 centuries, these dogs are credited with saving the lives of well over 2,000 people. By the early 19th century, Saints were imported to England and Germany where they became known as Alpendogs.
Later in the 19th century, the breed was imported into other European countries and the US where it became a popular family dog. The St Bernard ranked 37th out of 154 dog breeds in 2005 AKC registrations.
Temperament of The St Bernard
The Saint is an intelligent, courageous, loyal, obedient and good natured dog breed. Some Saints are extroverts and some introverts but all need close contact with their families. Do not leave this breed outside all the time as it needs to be part of the family’s activities.
The breed is very good with children and also other pets but because of their very large size, young children and toddlers should be supervised carefully to avoid any accidents. The St Bernard is devoted to its family and will guard it from any threats.
The Saint is slow moving, obedient and wants to please its owner and therefore is relatively easy to train. However St Bernard dogs are so large that they must be thoroughly socialized and trained while they are young and haven’t grown too large to handle.
Any giant breed must be thoroughly obedience trained or you will have a disaster in the making. The Saint makes a good watchdog even though it doesn’t bark much and is fairly tolerant of strangers. The Saint Bernard does best with an experienced dog owner.
The Saint Bernard needs a long walk once a day to keep in good condition. The Saint enjoys a yard but can adapt to apartment living as long as it gets sufficient exercise. The breed enjoys being outside as long as it is with people but doesn’t do well in hot weather or warm rooms. St Bernard puppies and adolescents shouldn’t have too much exercise until they are fully grown – about 2 years old. After the Saint is fully grown, it will be quite inactive indoors. Saints tend to drool after eating or exercise.
The St Bernard is a fairly heavy shedder and will shed its coat twice per year. Both types of coat are fairly easy to groom and only require brushing with a slicker brush and medium- to wide-tooth comb.
Saints seem to like being bathed and brushed but start training them early because of their size. Don’t bathe the St. Bernard too often and use a mild soap, not a shampoo, to avoid removing the natural oils of the coat. Rinse thoroughly.
Saint Bernards can only be expected to live for 8 to 10 years. The breed has some serious common health problems such as heart disease (cardiomyopathy), hip dysplasia and bloat. Other less common disorders include: cataracts, elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, “Wobblers” syndrome, eyelid disorders (entropion and ectropion), tumors and allergies.
Prospective Saint buyers should only buy from reputable breeders and insist on seeing the breeding parents Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) orthopedic test results and also the Canine Eye Registry (CERF) recent ophthalmologists report.