As famously called, Saint Bernard or St. Bernard is a giant working breed with its roots in the Swiss Alps. It perhaps derives its name from the Great St. Bernard Hospice developed by Bernard of Menthon, the Italian monk. This breed performed rescue work at the hospice and even guarded the place, no wonder gaining recognition as a notable guard dog.
The written standards about this breed have been described as powerful, imposing, massive, and muscular, which summarizes their gigantic appearance very well. This breed’s other distinguishing physical features include its short muzzle, medium-sized high set ears, dark brown eyes generating an intelligent expression, well-arched deep back, and a long, heavy tail strong at the tip.
They might look intimidating and have a working lineage. Still, at the same time, these dogs have the adjective ‘gentle’ associated with their name since they are tolerant, calm, and affectionate, making them good family dogs.
|Other Names||Saint Bernhardog, Alpine spaniel, Bernhardiner, Saint|
|Coat||Shorthaired: Smooth and dense Longhaired: Rough, dense coat of medium length that appears slightly wavy|
|Color||Brindle and white; orange and white; brown and white; mahogany and white; red and white; white and brown; rust and white; white and orange; white and red|
|Height||Male: 28-30 inches |
Female: 26-28 inches
|Weight||Male: 140-180 pounds |
Female: 120-140 pounds
|Litter Size||5-6 puppies|
|Personality||Lively, gentle, protective, watchful, friendly, calm|
|Good with Children||Yes|
|Barking Tendency||Moderate (don’t bark without a cause)|
|Climate Compatibility||Cannot withstand extreme heat|
|Apartment Compatibility||Moderate (can thrive if their exercise needs are met well)|
|Do they shed||Yes; at a high rate|
|Are they Hypoallergenic||No|
|Competitive Registration Qualification/Information||AKC, FCI, UKC|
As written records, St. Bernard may have originated as early as 1707. However, paintings and other artworks bear testimony of the dog’s presence much earlier than in the 18th century. They were perhaps created as a cross between the local breeds and the mastiffs that accompanied the Roman army to Switzerland.
The commonest theory about their development is their usage as rescue dogs at the Great Saint Bernard Hospice located in the Great Saint Bernard Pass. They played a significant role in saving numerous travelers buried by avalanches and drifts. Barry was one of the famous St. Bernards known to save more than 40 lives. Legends have it that Barry had once rescued a little boy that he found caught in the snow and carried him safely on his back. A monument in Cimetière des Chiens was constructed in his honor, with his body preserved at Bern in Natural History Museum.
From 1816-1818, winters around the Alp region were highly severe, leading to increased avalanches. This claimed the lives of several of these dogs while they were performing rescue operations. Their numbers dwindled drastically, and to preserve the remaining Saints, the Newfoundlands were crossed with the latter around the 1830s. Due to constant crossbreeding, they changed in appearance and eventually lost their usage as rescue breeds. The crossbred Saints acquired long fur, contrary to their shorthaired counterparts, that did not provide much protection against the snowy weather. However, in recent times both the longhaired and shorthaired varieties exist. The present-day breeds also appear bigger than the working Saints of the yesteryears. After 1955, no Saints were used for rescue work. Yet, in 2004, 18 of them were retained by the Saint Bernard Hospice for purposes associated with their sentiment and traditions.
The foundation of the Swiss St. Bernard Club occurred in 1884, and its breed standard obtained approval in 1888. It rose to the stature of the national dog of Switzerland since then. Eventually, it attained recognition by prominent breed clubs like the Canadian Kennel Club, Kennel Club (UK), and the American Kennel Club under the Working Dog category. The United Kennel Club of the United States of America placed them in the Guardian group. At the same time, the Australian National Kennel Council and New Zealand Kennel Club categorized them under the Utility Group.
In the United States of America, the SBCA or Saint Bernard Club of America was formed in 1888. It ranked 39th of the 155 AKC recognized breeds.
Like the Great Dane, the massive Saint Bernard too absolutely qualifies as a gentle giant because of its patience and calm behavior. This makes it eligible for a perfect house pet.
Though they share an excellent rapport with kids, supervision is needed. Else, these large dogs could end up knocking down small children even in pursuit of play.
Their deep, loud bark and strongly protective nature towards their family members make them excel as fabulous watchdogs.
Their approach towards strangers varies from one dog to the other. Those socialized well would greet visitors with a warm gesture and display wariness towards suspected intruders.
On the other hand, some might show their protective instinct and readily bark at anyone that isn’t known to them.
They do well with other dogs of the family. Still, a triggered situation can result in aggression, posing a danger for the other dog, especially if it is small in size, owing to the Saint’s massive build.
Despite its size and power, Saint Bernard would suffice with moderate exercise each day. An hour-long walk or 30-minute outdoor play session may help meet their exercise needs well. They will also serve as perfect companions for a hiking or camping trip with their master. One of their favorite pastimes includes pulling carts with kids in them. Hence, they would do well in drafting and carting competitions. With a history of detecting scents, these dogs can even take part in tracking events if trained well for the same.
Note: They could tolerate hot weather when plenty of water and a shaded place to rest is available. However, exposure to intense heat after being under the air conditioner for a prolonged period may adversely affect their health.
Though shorthaired dogs have fewer grooming needs than their longhaired counterparts, in the case of Saint Bernard, both varieties need the same amount of care. They shed throughout the year but the most during spring and autumn.
So, brushing once or twice a week throughout the year would help remove the dead hair and dirt. A hound glove or rubber curry brush would do good for shorthaired Saints. While for the longhaired ones, a pin brush would suffice. To manage the tangles, use a metal comb or a slicker brush. They tend to acquire mats in the areas around their ears and even thighs. So, in this case, you may use a detangler solution around that area and then work out the mats manually or by using a comb.
Increase the brushing regime to once a day during the shedding season, as utmost care is needed that time. Bathe them once in a while or when they have gotten messy.
Brush their teeth twice or thrice every week and even clean their eyes and ears, and trim their nails on a routine basis.
Being large with a deep chest, Saint Bernard is prone to develop bloating that could even get life-threatening in case of severity. Since they have a fast growth rate, these dogs are even at the risk of several bone-related conditions like hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. They also have an increased susceptibility to eye disorders such as ectropion and entropion and seizures, epilepsy, and heart ailments.
Because of the immense health conditions they suffer, these large dogs do not have a long lifespan. As per a Danish survey conducted on around 35 dogs, their estimated lifespan has been 9.5 years. A breed survey on 53 dogs in the United Kingdom put its median lifespan to 7 years.
Their eagerness to please and kind-hearted nature stand as a boon for training, while their stubbornness could pose a bane. Hence, firm and tactful handling is needed to make the training process fulfilling and successful.
Socialization: For big dogs like Saint Bernard, socialization training should start when the puppies are brought home to help them develop decent and acceptable behavior. A well-socialized Saint who has been exposed to varied situations and people since his childhood would know to differentiate a threat from a pleasant situation. In this way, they would not start barking at every stranger they see.
Obedience: Teaching any dog the command ‘stay’ right from the start is of utmost importance. This should be followed even more religiously for big dogs like Saint Bernard. With proper obedience training, he would eventually get rid of some of his behaviors like jumping on people, knocking down kids excitedly, or stealing food kept on the table.
High-quality dry dog food apt for big dogs would serve apt for Saint Bernard. You could buy it from the store or even prepare it at home after consulting with the veterinarian. Among the store-bought food, the most prominent ones include Gentle Giant All Natural Dog Food, and Blue Buffalo Life Protection