The Saint Bernard dog is a large and powerful breed known for its gentle and friendly nature.
If you are about to adopt a Saint Bernard dog, please join DailyPets.net to learn about this breed’s origin, characteristics, and care below.
Origin and History of the Saint Bernard Dog Breed
The Saint Bernard dog breed originates from Switzerland, along with several other breeds, including the Bernese Mountain Dog, Entlebuch Cattle Dog, Appenzell Cattle Dog, and large Swiss Mountain Dogs. They may have been created when Alpine dogs were crossed with Mastiff-type dogs accompanying the Roman army during the reign of Emperor Augustus. In the first millennium, dogs in Switzerland and the Alpine region were grouped and referred to as “Talhund” (Valley Dog) or “Bauernhund” (Farm Dog).
The Saint Bernard Pass is a famous and treacherous high mountain pass located about 8,000 feet above sea level, and it can only be traversed from July to September. Today, remnants of the great Roman road can still be seen, along with evidence of Napoleon’s crossing.
Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon visited this pass, which would eventually bear his name, in 962 AD. There, he established his hospice, aiding travelers who had crossed the dangerous route. This is when the history of the Saint Bernard diverged from the Talhund or Bauernhund.
It is unclear which dogs were initially used by the hospice, but a painting depicting shorthaired dogs remarkably similar to Saint Bernard’s was created in 1695. The first recorded mention of this breed in the monastery’s records occurred in 1703.
Saint Bernard dogs were initially likely used by the hospice monks to guard their base. When the monks searched for lost travelers, they may have brought these dogs along for protection and discovered they were excellent guides for locating lost travelers. The isolation of the monastery likely contributed to refining these dogs into a breed that could withstand harsh winter conditions and possess the necessary physical characteristics for search and rescue work. They were not selective in their diet, eating dog kibble or human leftovers.
The breeding stock for the hospice dogs was occasionally supplemented with dogs from lower valleys, many of which were the offspring of hospice dogs that were not needed at birth. In 1830, the monks attempted to improve their dogs’ “coats” by crossing them with heavily coated Newfoundlands. This proved a mistake, as the longer-haired dogs fared worse in cold conditions, especially since grooming tools were not as advanced as today. After that, the monks gave away or sold any longhaired puppies they produced to prevent further breeding.
In the three centuries during which the hospice monks kept records, Saint Bernards saved over 2,000 travelers. In the 1800s, the hospice dogs had no official name, though they were known. Between 1800 and 1810, a hospice dog named Barry was credited with 40 rescues and became one of the most famous dogs ever. These dogs were typically referred to as Barryhunden in his honor.
The English called them “Barry Dogs” and imported many into England to rejuvenate their Mastiff breed. In Germany, the name “Alpendog” was proposed for this breed in the 1820s. In 1833, Daniel Wilson suggested the name “Saint Bernard Dog,” which they ultimately became when the Swiss Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1880.
As this breed became known in other countries, the classification of Saint Bernards began to change. Saint Bernards in other nations became slimmer and taller, the result of crossbreeding. They were even dressed in elegant dog outfits if well-off families owned them. In 1887, the International Congress in Zurich established the first breed standard, accepted by all countries except England.
In the United States, a Saint Bernard dog named Plinlimmon became famous in 1883. An actor owned Plinlimmon and became a top-winning show Saint Bernard of the time. His owner traveled with him across the country, exhibited him in theaters, and provided him with the finest dog pâté. In 1888, the Saint Bernard Club of America (SBCA) was established, and the club adopted the breed standard written by the Swiss. Saint Bernards ranked 39th out of 155 breeds, and the American Kennel Club registered the breed.
Today, Saint Bernards can be seen in homes, on the big screen, and at dog shows. There are still Saint Bernards at the Saint Bernard Hospice in Switzerland, although they no longer search for stranded travelers but instead serve as living representations of the hospice’s history, always attracting curious visitors.
Characteristics of Saint Bernard Dogs
Male Saint Bernards stand 35 to 45 cm (14 to 18 inches) tall and weigh between 60 to 100 kg (132 to 220 lbs), while females measure 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 inches) and weigh between 54 to 82 kg (119 to 181 lbs).
True to their legacy as hospice dogs, Saint Bernards are very friendly and hospitable. They have a stable, gentle temperament, are kind, and are cautious with children. They enjoy attention but do not demand it like other breeds that thrive on playtime with various toys.
Given their large size, it’s essential to start training Saint Bernards when young and still manageable. They are intelligent and willing to please earn snacks, chew toys, and dog treats, but can be a bit stubborn at times. They should never be aggressive unless they are protecting a family member.
Like all dogs, Saint Bernards need early socialization – exposure to various people, sights, sounds, and experiences – when young. Socialization ensures that your Saint Bernard grows up to be a well-rounded, lovable dog in appearance and personality.
Saint Bernards are a giant breed, and due to their size, they are not well-suited for apartment living. They need space to move around, preferably with a yard or a fenced-in area.
If you consider yourself a neat freak, Saint Bernards may not be the breed for you. They tend to drool and have dirty paws. Their heavy, shedding coat requires regular grooming.
Saint Bernards often take longer to mature mentally, leaving you with a large, boisterous puppy for a few years. Although they make excellent family pets, they are not recommended for households with small children, as they can unintentionally knock them over due to their size.
Originally bred to withstand the cold temperatures of the Alps, Saint Bernards do not do well in hot weather. They should not be kept outdoors away from the family. While their coat and build may make them seem like an obvious choice for outdoor living, their temperament and inability to handle high temperatures make it a poor decision.
Thanks to the popularity of films like “Beethoven,” featuring large Saint Bernard dogs, many irresponsible breeders and puppy mills produce these gentle giants. To ensure you get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Find a reputable breeder who tests their breeding dogs for genetic diseases to ensure good health and sound temperament.
Caring for a Saint Bernard Dog
Nutrition for Saint Bernard Dogs
Daily recommended food: 5 to 6 cups of high-quality dry food per day, divided into two meals, along with supplements like vitamins and joint supplements.
Note: The amount an adult dog eats depends on their size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, and they don’t all need the same amount of food. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference – the better the dog food, the further it will go in nourishing your dog.
Saint Bernards enjoy eating and are prone to obesity. Keep your “Saint” in good shape by measuring their food and feeding them twice a day instead of leaving food out all the time.
If you’re unsure whether your dog is overweight, look down at them. You should be able to see a waist. Place your hands on their back, fingers spread downward along the spine, and you should be able to feel but not see their ribs without pressing hard. If you can’t, your dog needs less food and more exercise.
For more information on feeding your Saint Bernard, contact Dog Paradise for guidance on finding the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog.
Grooming and Coat Care for Saint Bernard Dogs
Saint Bernards come in two coat types: short and long. The short coat is smooth but dense, with slight feathering on the thighs and tail. The long coat is slightly wavy but never curly or shaggy. The front legs have some feathering, while the thighs and tail are thick with longer hair.
Saint Bernards have various shades of red with white or white with red. Red can range in shades, from brindle with white markings to deep red-brown. White is found on the chest, around the neck (called a collar), around the nose (known as a noseband), and on the feet and the tip of the tail.
A white blaze on the face and a white mark on the back of the neck is particularly attractive and desirable, as well as dark marks on the head and ears resembling a mask. These white marks resemble the vestments worn by a minister and a black mask to reduce glare from the snow.
Brush your Saint Bernard three times a week with a rubber curry brush or a grooming mitt for short-coated dogs or a pin brush for long-coated dogs. Use a shedding blade during the shedding season to remove loose hair. If your Saint Bernard develops mats behind the ears or on the thighs, spray the area with a mat remover, available at pet supply stores, and gently work out the mats with a comb or your fingers.
Saint Bernards don’t need frequent baths. When you bathe them, it’s easy to do it outdoors unless you have a large walk-in shower with a hand-held showerhead. Bathe during the winter months indoors unless you live in a warm climate year-round.
Other grooming needs include dental care with regular brushing, nail care, and ear care. Brush your dog’s teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria inside it. Daily brushing is even better to prevent gum disease and bad breath.
Trim your dog’s nails once or twice a month if they don’t wear down naturally. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they’re too long. Trim nails short, but not so close to the quick, as it will bleed.
Check your Saint’s ears weekly. If they look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball moistened with ear cleaner, as recommended by your veterinarian. Never insert anything into the ear canal; just clean the outer ear.
Handle your dog’s feet frequently – dogs are sensitive about their feet – and look inside their mouth and ears. Prepare your Saint for the vet’s examinations and other handling when they’re an adult.
When you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. You should be able to detect potential health issues early through your weekly examinations.
Use a dog-specific shampoo to ensure their coat remains moisturized. You may want to use a whitening shampoo to keep the white coat bright. Saint Bernards often develop tear stains around their eyes, so keep their eyes clean by wiping them daily with a damp cloth or using an eye cleaner you can find in pet supply stores.
Regarding the Health of Saint Bernard Dogs
The “Saints,” originating from the Swiss Alps, are generally healthy, but like all dog breeds, they are susceptible to certain health conditions. Not all Saint Bernards will develop these conditions, but it’s essential to be aware of them if you are considering this breed.
If you’re buying a puppy, look for a reputable breeder who can provide clear health records for the puppy’s parents. Health clearances indicate that a dog has been tested and cleared of specific conditions.
For Saint Bernards, you should see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a fair or better rating), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease, and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) to ensure that the eyes are normal. You can verify health information by checking the OFA website (offa.org) for dogs that breeders advertise as having OFA clearances.
Exercise for Saint Bernard Dogs
Saint Bernards require moderate exercise, but it’s crucial to maintain their weight to prevent obesity. Overloading their joints can lead to joint problems or musculoskeletal issues.
Limit the exercise you provide for your Saint Bernard puppy until they reach full size. Avoid rapid weight gain or excessive running and jumping, especially on slippery surfaces. This is particularly important for their joint health.
Saint Bernards are prone to heat exhaustion and sunburn. Avoid exercising them in hot, sunny weather, and ensure they have access to shade and fresh water. Recognize signs of heat exhaustion, such as heavy panting, dark gums, weakness, or collapsing.
Training for Saint Bernard Dogs
An untrained Saint Bernard can wreak havoc in your home and pull you down the street in their excitement to greet everyone, so early training is essential. Train your Saint Bernard using a positive and gentle approach. Establish fundamental rules and be consistent in enforcing them. Avoid using a leash as punishment for the dog.
Saint Bernards are naturally friendly, but all puppies benefit from socialization to learn how to react appropriately to other dogs and strangers. Invest in puppy kindergarten and obedience classes, and spend 10 to 15 minutes each day on home training – it’s well worth your time, effort, and money.
Using crate training for your Saint Bernard is an essential tool recommended by breeders. It assists in housebreaking, keeps your dog and belongings safe, and provides a secure refuge where Saint Bernard can retreat when they feel overwhelmed or tired.
Well-trained Saint Bernards make excellent family companions and can participate in various enjoyable activities, including dog performances, obedience trials, and cart pulling.
Saint Bernard Price
The price of a Saint Bernard puppy can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the dog’s lineage, pedigree, breeder reputation, location, and whether the puppy comes with any health guarantees or has undergone necessary vaccinations and health screenings. On average, you can expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 for a Saint Bernard puppy from a reputable breeder. Some exceptionally well-bred or show-quality Saint Bernards can cost even more.
It’s essential to choose a responsible breeder who prioritizes the health and well-being of the dogs and can provide documentation of health clearances for the puppy’s parents. Avoid purchasing Saint Bernards from puppy mills or unethical breeders who prioritize profit over the welfare of the dogs. Additionally, consider the ongoing costs of caring for a Saint Bernard, including food, grooming, veterinary care, and other expenses, before bringing one into your home.