Let's talk Saint Bernards

Their impressive size could make anyone think twice before approaching. But while the Saint Bernard may be all bulk on the outside, they’re all sweetness on the inside.  The mellow, naturally friendly Saint Bernard originated in Switzerland where, for centuries, they worked as search and rescue dogs. Now retired from their illustrious careers as lifesavers, Saint Bernards are appreciated for their kind-hearted disposition and adaptability to urban life. If size and shedding aren’t issues, the Saint Bernard can make a wonderful addition to any family. 

Official name: Saint Bernard

Other names: St.Bernhardshund, Bernhardiner

Origins: Switzerland

Saint Bernard standing in black and white

 

 Drooling tendencies  Very high  Warm weather? Very low
 Shedding level  Very high  Suited to apartment living ? Medium
 Energy level*  Medium  Family pet?* Very high
 Compatibility with other pets  Very high  Can stay alone?* Very low

* We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behavior. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations.

Every pet is different, even within a breed; this snapshot of this breed specifics should be taken as an indication.

For a happy healthy and well-behaved pet, we recommend educating and socializing your pet as well as covering their basic welfare needs (and their social and behavioral needs).

Pets should never be left unsupervised with a child.

Contact your breeder or veterinarian for further advice.

All domestic pets are sociable and prefer company. However, they can be taught to cope with solitude from an early age. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or trainer to help you do this.

 

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Illustration of Saint Bernard
Male
68 - 76 cm Height
63 - 82 kg Weight
Female
66 - 71 cm Height
54 - 64 kg Weight

 

 Baby age  Birth to 2 months
 Puppy age  2 to 8 months
 Junior age  8 months to 2 years  
 Adult age  2 to 5 years
 Mature age  5 to 8 years
 Senior age  From 8 years

Saint Bernard lying on grass looking at camera

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Get to know the Saint Bernard

All you need to know about the breed

Saint Bernards are a large, molosser type breed graced with a powerful, muscular build that makes for a formidable first impression. The Saint Bernard can grow to a height of 30 inches (76cm) and a whopping 180 pounds (82kg) - but don’t let their size distract you from their numerous other qualities. These gentle giants are renowned for their kind-hearted dispositions and the deep bond they form with their humans.

Generally quiet and easy-going, Saint Bernards prefer to be wherever their human families are and, as such, are quite well-suited to indoor living. However, because they do take up a bit of space, a Saint Bernard may not be the best choice for anyone living in a small apartment. And while a Saint Bernard will readily chill around the house, they do need to get out at least once a day for a good walk, and if there’s a garden where they can really spread out, even better.

It should also be said that anyone with a penchant for cleanliness might find living with a Saint Bernard somewhat challenging. Whether they’re the short or longhaired variety, Saint Bernards shed regularly and blow their coats twice yearly. Package that with jowls that predispose them to frequent drooling and a tendency to bring dirt and debris in from the outdoors, and you’ve got your work cut out. However, for those ready to invest a bit of time in obedience training and grooming, the resplendent Saint Bernard can offer highly rewarding companionship.

Side view of Saint Bernard standing in front of bushes

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2 facts about Saint Bernards

1. Can I see some I.D.?

We’ve all seen pictures of a Saint Bernard sporting a mini keg and offering salvation to stranded travellers. But while Saint Bernards did carry containers of food and water to revive those they rescued, roving bartenders they were not. This myth originated with a 19th century painting by 17-year-old artist Edward Landseer entitled “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller” in which two Saint Bernards rescue a hiker. Landseer explained that the small barrel worn by one of the dogs was filled with brandy, and the story stuck.

2. Et tu... Molosser? 

Though the Saint Bernards we know and adore today are known to have come from Switzerland, their precise lineage remains a subject of speculation. It is widely believed that when the Roman army, under Emperor Augustus, invaded Helvetia – or modern-day Switzerland - they brought friends. Those friends? Large, mastiff-like war dogs known as molossers. Since battle wasn’t necessarily on the menu every day, the burly canines found other activities involving local mountain dogs to keep them occupied. And the result was very likely the beginning of the Saint Bernard line.

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History of the breed

Around the year 1050, the Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon established a hospice on a treacherous pass in the Alps to offer relief to weary travellers. It’s likely that the hospice monks initially used local mountain dogs to guard the hospice grounds; but the dogs’ endurance, tracking skills and powerful sense of smell soon became of vital importance to the monks who regularly set out to find and rescue poor souls overcome by the often-harsh mountain conditions. According to records from the Hospice, these hardy canines were credited with rescuing more than 2,000 people over three centuries. For years, the breed went by many names including Hospice Dog and Barryhund, in honour of Barry, the dog famed for saving 40 lives in the early 19th century. It wasn’t until 1880 that they were registered with the Swiss Kennel Club as the Saint Bernard Dog, after the suggestion was made that they be named after the famous mountain hospice.

Saint Bernards have since enjoyed solid popularity thanks to their steady temperament and warm hearts, and are cherished companions all over the world.

Saint Bernard sitting looking at camera in black and white

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From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Saint Bernards

1. Head

Powerful, broad skull with pronounced furrow.

2. Eyes

Moderately deep-set eyes are light to dark brown.

3. Body

Proportionate, muscular body with well-sprung ribs.

4. Coat

Short or longhaired coat is dense with thick undercoat.

5. Tail

Long, heavy and expressive tail

Close-up of Saint Bernard looking at camera

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Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Saint Bernard
Saint Bernard running across grass with lake in background

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Caring for your Saint Bernard

Grooming, training and exercise tips

Whether short or long-haired, your Saint Bernard should be brushed three times a week to remove any dirt or loose hair, and daily during biannual shedding seasons. Also, remember to brush your Saint Bernard’s teeth two to three times a week, and trim nails once or twice a month to ensure their maximum comfort. While not avid joggers, the Saint Bernard does need a moderate amount of exercise. A nice daily walk and half an hour of outdoor play, provided it isn’t too warm, should keep your dog in peak form. For dogs as large as the Saint Bernard, early training and socialisation are key to teaching them not to jump on people, bump into smaller children, or any other behaviours where their size is definitely a factor. Intelligent and generally eager to please, well-trained Saint Bernards will respond to learned commands and excel in competition and obedience trials.

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All about Saint Bernards

Saint Bernards are not known to be particularly aggressive. However, they do tend to be very protective of their human families and may bark if they suspect their loved ones are in danger. Luckily, their size is usually enough to ward off any threat.

Although Saint Bernards can sometimes display a bit of a stubborn streak, the breed is usually eager to please and responds very well to motivation training methods. And as always, the earlier training starts, the more satisfying the results. 

Other breeds that might interest you.

Sources

1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/ 

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/