The Saint Bernard is one of the world’s most massive breeds and his girth is matched only by his affection. For centuries the Saint Bernard has been renowned for his skills as a rescue dog. Brandy cask aside, the Saint Bernard was a welcomed sight to many-a-stranded Alpine traveller.
The Saint Bernard found a second, more leisurely life in America as a beloved family pet. Docile and comical, the Saint can happily drool away the day. He is patient around children and keen to please. All in all, the Saint Bernard is a lovable, amiable breed.
Saint Bernard History
The history of the Saint Bernard reads like an adventure story. It began in 1600 BCE, when the Romans annexed the Molossian tribe thereby enslaving them and their dogs. For two thousand years, the early St. Bernard worked as a draft dog and general farm worker until his emancipation in the late 1600’s.
Swiss Monks brought the Saint Bernard to their mountainous hospice in 1707. Originally, the Monks used the St Bernard’s strength to pull carts and turn kitchen spits. But soon, the Monks found a more benevolent purpose for their canine companions.
The Saint Bernard was found to have a great capacity to slog through deep snow even in hostile weather. Moreover, the St Bernard could locate lost travellers and remarkably, could revive them. And so began the Saint Bernard’s most celebrated occupation – that of rescue dog.
By the mid 1700’s, the Saint Bernard regularly assisted travellers who were travelling from Switzerland to Italy through the treacherous Swiss Alps. The most dangerous section, known as St. Bernard’s Pass, was from where this breed gleaned his name. When a traveller was reported missing, the Saint Bernard was dispatched and he would trudge through the mountains until he found the victim. There, the St Bernard would lick the face of the injured party and lie beside him for warmth until help arrived. The dogs served this function for centuries and have been credited with saving over two thousand lives.
In the early 1800’s, the Alpine winters were unusually severe and many St Bernards were lost. Disease and inbreeding compounded the decline in numbers so efforts were made to revitalize the breed. Enterprising breeders felt that the Saint Bernard should be crossed with the Newfoundland dog, perhaps profiting a longer, warmer coat. The theory was sound, but the longer coat actually hindered the Saint Bernard as the ice and snow clung to his underside. The long coated Saint Bernard then retired from rescue work, but the smooth coated Saint Bernard remained.
The reputation and indeed myth surrounding the Saint Bernard made its way to America in the early 1900’s. Fanciers were eager to adopt this robust breed. Yet since then, the Saint Bernard’s popularity has waned, but the myth lives on. The Monks of St. Bernard Hospice for example, deny that the Saint Bernard dog ever ferried casks of brandy to stranded victims. In fact, they never carried casks around their necks at all. It is speculated that this notion became popularized either from a 1870 John Emms painting or from a 1949 Punch Magazine. In it, a cartoon depicts Saint Bernard puppies, all with casks around their necks, with the owner claiming he breeds them only for the brandy.
Saint Bernard Appearance
The largest dog ever recorded was a Saint Bernard named Benedictine who weighed in at a hefty 357 pounds. While this is clearly the exception, there is no mistaking the St. Bernard’s massive size. Expect that your Saint Bernard will weigh in the neighbourhood of 160 pounds, some fraction of which is composed entirely of drool.
The Saint Bernard’s head is enormous. He has a short, deep muzzle with pendulous upper lips called flews. The St. Bernard’s forehead is often wrinkled giving him a contemplative, intelligent expression.
There are two varieties of coats. The Smooth Haired Saint Bernard sports a short dense coat that has a tough yet sleek consistency. The Long Haired Saint Bernard’s hair isn’t exactly long, but rather a mid-range in length. The hair is typically straight, but some Saint Bernards have a wavy texture.
And then there’s the drool. All Saint Bernard dogs, including yours, will drool in astonishing volume and will do so with reckless abandon. If only the drool would deposit itself on the floor directly beneath your Saint’s mouth, then all would be well. This is tragically not the case. The Saint Bernard has a curious habit of flicking the drool and indiscriminately launching it meters into the air, arriving at its destination as a slimy pool. You will have no control over this. There is no way to train your Saint Bernard to not drool, or to drool only in the garden, or to alert you that a drool is imminent. Frankly, it will be everywhere, so squeamish owners beware.
At this point, well meaning potential owners are remembering the majestic Saint Bernards in the show ring, looking well above this common, pedestrian, habit. Surely, these dogs are drool-free. No, these Saint Bernards have undergone guerrilla warfare-like grooming for their moment in the ring. Their beauty is fleeting, in an hour they too will be ankle deep in drool. Alas, like most of us, the Saint Bernard’s true beauty lies not in his appearance, but in his gentle personality, compassion and unmistakable charm.
Saint Bernard Temperament
The gentle and affectionate Saint Bernard dog loves to please his owner, although at his own pace. The Saint is not an especially playful dog, nor is he boundlessly energetic. The Saint Bernard does however, need a daily walk in the region of two or three kilometres. He will run for short distances, but he does so reluctantly.
The Saint Bernard is patient with children, although children can be intimidated by the Saint’s immensity. Visitors to your home may register on your Saint Bernard’s radar, but he will do little in the way of protection. Typically, Saint Bernards seldom view strangers as malevolent, perhaps a throwback to his rescue-dog past. Saints have also been known to have a stubborn streak – they move only when the mood strikes.
Finally, the Saint Bernard can snore – loudly. He will need to sleep inside but don’t expect him to be silently nestled in his doggie bed in the master suite. He may keep you awake at night from two floors below.
Saint Bernard Exercise Info
The Saint Bernard Dog is not lazy, but he does have a penchant for leisure. Overweight Saint Bernard puppies should be exercised with more vigilance as excess weight can cause hip problems later in life. Your Saint Bernard will enjoy time to lounge in a fenced garden, especially on cold days. Saints much prefer winter at its most frigid over summer’s warmth. In fact, owners in southern climates should walk their Saint Bernards only in the evening or in the early morning before the hottest part of the day. It is advisable to keep your Saint inside in air conditioned comfort in the hottest summer months, allowing him short outside visits. Do remember to keep vast amounts of fresh, cool water both inside and out. Your Saint Bernard needs plenty of fluids to stay healthy, especially when one considers that he drools away gallons every day.
Saint Bernard Grooming Info
As the owner of a Saint Bernard dog, you can expect some measure of grooming no matter which coat variety your Bernie has. His size alone mandates that his weekly brushing will be a task of some magnitude. The smooth haired Saint Bernard will be less arduous to brush than the long haired Saint Bernard, but the spring shed for either variety is monumental.
As one might expect, the Saint Bernard’s greatest grooming challenge is controlling the drool. Your Saint’s chest will harbour much of this deposit and cleaning this area regularly will help ease the doggie odour. Of course bathing your 200 pound Saint Bernard is another story. Some dogs welcome the ritual, others go wild. Either way, bathing your St Bernard may be best accomplished outside.
Saint Bernard Training Info
The Saint Bernard must be trained and trained well. As a puppy, his cute, cuddly antics can charm the owner, but always remember that the Saint Bernard will soon grow into a massive and powerful dog. If left to his own devices, the Saint Bernard will become unmanageable. Your Saint should learn to obey the basic household rules or else he will assume none exist. He will grab food from the table, and from your plate, he will commandeer furniture, and can be rather unwelcoming to guests. The responsible Saint owner will avoid this.
Your Saint Bernard needs weekly professional obedience training that is reinforced by you. There will likely be a daily homework session consisting of a short practice of the lesson. All members of the household should uphold these rules lest your Saint Bernard finds an chink in the armour. Soon, your Saint Bernard will recognise his subordinate position in the household and harmony will ensue.
Walking your Saint Bernard can be a comedy of errors unless he is trained to consistently respond to commands. A Saint Bernard is a 200 pound ball of muscle and despite your intestinal fortitude and good intentions, he can easily drag you a mile. So, your Saint must be trained to not make an unscheduled dash for freedom.
Saint Bernard rescues claim that Saints are often abandoned when their owners fully realize how unmanageable these dogs can be. Without early training, Saint Bernard dogs are regularly given up for adoption but are seldom chosen by adoptive families. Rescue workers report however, that with a concerted effort, even mature Saint Bernard dogs can learn to obey commands, so do consider a rescued Saint an option.
Saint Bernard Health Info
Common Health problems associated with your Saint Bernard include; CHD, gastric torsion, entropion, ectropion, elbow dysplasia, osteosarcoma, diabetes, seizures, heart conditions, cardiomyopathy, CVI and hot spots.
Note: Saint Bernard dogs do not tolerate heat well.
Is the Saint Bernard Dog Breed Right For You?
The Saint Bernard is a giant among dogs. He is lovable and gentle, although somewhat stubborn. Potential Saint Bernard owners are best suited for this breed if they live in cool to cold climates. St Bernard dogs have a low tolerance for heat, so indoor summer living is a must. Condo dwellers may find their homes too confining for this massive breed and the elderly may find him too powerful. Suburbanites are better suited if they have large fenced in yards and a willingness to wipe drool. Whomever chooses a Saint should be prepared for the expense of his food. It will likely run well over one hundred dollars monthly.
When purchasing your Saint Bernard, resist the urge to purchase a dog inexpensively from a pet store or from an advertisement in a newspaper. You may unwittingly buy a mal-adjusted, sick, puppy mill dog. This is to be avoided at all costs.