The Gentle Giant

Originally the Saint Bernard dog breed was used to guard the grounds of Switzerland’s Hospice Saint Bernard as well as to help find and save lost and injured travelers. Today the St. Bernard enjoys the comforts of family life in many homes across the world. He is versatile and excels in the show ring and in obedience trials, drafting (pulling a cart or wagon), and weight pulling competitions.

Appearance

Originally bred as a companion- and rescue-dog, it’s not surprisingly, he’s a kind, gentle, intelligent, good-natured dog. He’s also a giant, a large, muscular dog who can reach a height of 30 inches and a weight of 180 pounds. The Saint comes in shorthaired and longhaired varieties, the shorthaired being the one preferred by the monks of the Saint Bernard Hospice where the dogs originated.

The shorthaired coat is smooth but dense. The hair is slightly bushy on the thighs, and the tail is covered with long, dense hair that becomes shorter toward the tip. The longhaired coat is slightly wavy but never curly or shaggy. The forelegs have a bit of feathering, but the thighs and tail are bushy.

Saint Bernards are various shades of red with white or white with red. The red comes in various shades, from brindle patches with white markings to brownish-yellow. The white occurs on the chest, around the neck (known as the collar), around the nose (the noseband), and on the feet and tip of the tail.

A white spot on the nape of the neck and a white blaze on the face are especially attractive and desirable, as are dark markings on the head and ears that resemble a mask. The white markings are said to resemble the liturgical vestments worn by a priest and the black mask to reduce the glare from the snow.

Purebred Saint Bernard Puppies

Character

Despite his size, the Saint Bernard is a quiet indoor dog who makes a wonderful family friend. Although he’s calm indoors, it’s nice if he has easy access to a yard where he can have a little room to spread out. He can live in small quarters, however, as long as he gets a good daily walk. More important than the size of your home is your tolerance for mess. Saints aren’t the best choice for a fastidious housekeeper. They drool and shed, and they track in mud and dirt. With this breed, saintliness is not necessarily next to cleanliness.

Saints aren’t suited to living outdoors with little human companionship. They need to live in the home with their family. They’re not aggressive, but they’ll bark when there is cause, and any threat to their people will bring out their protective instincts. Their size is usually a deterrent to any would-be attacker or burglar.

The easygoing Saint is gentle and patient with children if not necessarily playful. He’s great to snuggle with while reading or watching television, but he can be a bit much for younger children, accidentally knocking them over with a swipe of his tail.

The Saint Bernard does not need a lot of exercise. He’s not a jogging companion and will wilt in hot climates. Saints suffer from heat exhaustion quite easily and need access to shade and plenty of fresh, cool water during hot weather. On the other hand, you’ll never find a happier Saint Bernard than one who’s enjoying a good romp in the snow.

The St. Bernard is a much-loved breed today. He’s versatile, good-natured, and a fine choice for the person or family who would like a large but gentle dog with moderate exercise needs.

History of the St. Bernard

The ancestors of the St. Bernard share a history with the Sennenhunds, also called Swiss Mountain Dogs or Swiss Cattle Dogs, the large farm dogs of the farmers and dairymen of the livestock guardians, herding dogs, and draft dogs as well as hunting dogs, search and rescue dogs, and watchdogs. These dogs are thought to be descendants of molosser type dogs brought into the Alps by the ancient Romans, and the St. Bernard is recognized internationally today as one of the Molossoid breeds.[5]

The earliest written records of the St. Bernard breed are from monks at the hospice at the Great St. Bernard Pass in 1707, with paintings and drawings of the dog dating even earlier.[6] The most famous St. Bernard to save people at the pass was Barry (sometimes spelled Berry), who reportedly saved somewhere between 40 and 100 lives. There is a monument to Barry in the Cimetière des Chiens, and his body was preserved in the Natural History Museum in Berne.[7] Another famous dog was Rutor, the faithful companion of the priest fr:Pierre Chanoux named after the peak Tête du Rutor located above the Little St Bernard pass. The classic St. Bernard looked very different from the St. Bernard of today because of cross-breeding. Severe winters from 1816 to 1818 led to increased numbers of avalanches, killing many of the dogs used for breeding while they were performing rescues.[8][9] In an attempt to preserve the breed, the remaining St. Bernards were crossed with Newfoundlands brought from the Colony of Newfoundland in the 1850s, and so lost much of their use as rescue dogs in the snowy climate of the alps because the long fur they inherited would freeze and weigh them down.[10]

The dogs never received any special training from the monks. Instead, younger dogs would learn how to perform search and rescue operations from older dogs

Origin of name

The name “St. Bernard” originates from the Great and Little St. Bernard Hospice two traveler’s hospices on the often treacherous Great and Little St. Bernard Passes in the Western Alps. Between Switzerland and Italy (Pennine Alps ) and between France and Italy in the Graian Alps, south of the former one, and few miles away from the Mont-Blanc. The passes, the lodges, and the dogs are named for Bernard of Menthon, the 11th century monk who established the stations.[14]

“St. Bernard” wasn’t in widespread use until the middle of the 19th century. The dogs were called “Saint Dogs”, “Noble Steeds”, “Alpenmastiff”, or “Barry Dogs” before that time.

Kennel Club recognition

The St. Bernard is recognised internationally by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale as a Molosser in Group 2, Section 2. The breed is recognised by The Kennel Club (UK), the Canadian Kennel Club, and the American Kennel Club in the Working Dog breed group. The United Kennel Club in the United States places the breed in the Guardian Dog Group. The New Zealand Kennel Club and the Australian National Kennel Council place the breed in the Utility Group

Credit given to Wikipedia and dogtime.com for the majority of this content.