The large, grizzly St. Bernard is as gentle as giants come, with a warm heart, incredible intelligence and a majestic aura that can put royalty to shame. Fabled to carry kegs of brandy to warm the blood of lost and freezing travellers, the St. Bernard did save lives, only with water and food carried around his neck. The keg of brandy was merely artistic licence on the part of Edwin Landseer, the man who painted such a St. Bernard in 1819, when he was staying at the hospice that the breed is named for. St. Bernards are even tempered and calm dogs, making excellent pets for families with kids. The need plenty of place to stretch their legs in and a towel or two handy in each room will ensure a slightly more drool-free environment. That said, there are few dogs that can bring warmth and joy like a St. Bernard can.History
Of all the breeds in the world, the St. Bernard probably has the most noble history. The Saint Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps is well-known for being treacherous, having taken the lives of thousands of travellers. Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon arrived at this pass and set up a hospice to rehabilitate travellers who were injured in their attempt to cross over.
It is believed that the dogs were originally used by the monks at the hospice to guard the grounds when, inadvertently, the dogs were discovered to be excellent pathfinders capable of sniffing out lost travellers. During the three centuries starting in the 1600s, for which records of the hospice are available, St. Bernards are credited with saving thousands of lives. One dog alone, called Barry, was known to have saved over 40 lives and much before the St. Bernard got its final name, this breed was known as the Barryhunden. The English, meanwhile, called them Sacred Dogs while the Germans named them Alpendog. It was only in the 1830s that it was suggested that the breed be named for the man who set up the hospice, and the St. Bernard officially came to be known as a breed of its own in 1880. Today, St. Bernards are popular in homes and are no longer used exclusively as rescue dogs in the Swiss Alps, although the hospice still has several of them.Unique Aspects
St. Bernards are giant dogs. While they may not require as much exercise as more athletic breeds, they won’t do very well living in an apartment. They are simply too big to have to squeeze around small spaces all their lives. That said, they are family dogs, love to be around humans and will do very well living in a cosy home with a fenced-in yard. If you’re a neat freak, perhaps the St. Bernard is not the dog for you. The drool heavily, shed a lot of fur, and their paws and tails will track in the dirt. If you’re planning on living with a St. Bernard, invest in a sturdy vacuum cleaner, plenty of mops, and several rags and towels at hand to keep cleaning the drool off their faces.St. Bernards were bred to survive – and thrive – in the harsh cold of the Alps, so naturally, they don’t do very well in warm climates. In hot or humid weather, you’ll have to ensure that they are indoors and in air-conditioned rooms.
During the making of ‘Beethoven’ one of the most famous dog-starring movies of all time, over a hundred puppies were used during the shoot. Owing to the rapid growth spurt in St. Bernard puppies, several baby Bernards starred in the making of the movie!
Saint Bernards come in two coat types, short-haired and long-haired. The short coat is smooth but dense. These dogs have slight hair growth on the thighs, and the tail is covered with long and dense hair that becomes shorter towards the tip. The long haired coat, on the other hand, is wavy and the forelegs have a bit of feathering along with a bushy tail. Be prepared to invest in lots of grooming products and plenty of time, whilst grooming your St. Bernard. They will need to be brushed at least three to four times a week, to ensure that all the dead hair is removed before your house becomes a receptacle of floating canine fur. You can use a rubber brush or hound glove for the short hair variety and you will need a pin brush for the long hair dogs.This breed sheds heavily during spring and autumn. During this time, it is best to use a shedding blade to remove all the loose hair behind the ears and near the thighs is beginning to mat and tangle, use a detangling spray, which you should find at all good pet stores. St. Bernards need not be bathed regularly, owing to the oily film on their coats. The film is important in maintaining and protecting their skin and coat, and constant bathing can strip most of the oils.
Be warned: St. Bernards are known to develop a host of ailments and conditions, and the vet bills are likely to be high. Notable amongst the conditions is hip dysplasia, in which the thigh bone does not fit properly into the hip joint. While this is a hereditary problem, external causes like overfeeding and not exercising the dog regularly can worsen the problem over time. Similarly, elbow dysplasia, which occurs because of differing growth rates of the three bones that make up a dog’s elbow, is also common among this breed. It can cause painful lameness, but can often be corrected with surgery.
St. Bernards often develop a condition called Entropion, which usually occurs in a puppy before he or she is six months old. The eyelid rolls inward, which irritates the eyeball and can lead to further injuries of the eye. This can occur in only one or both eyes.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy, a condition in which heart muscles become very thin and are unable to contract normally, is also common in St. Bernards. This can be controlled through medication and diet.
Epilepsy is another common issue that St. Bernards suffer from. It can be triggered by metabolic disorders, infectious diseases that affect the brain, tumours, exposure to poisons, or severe head injuries; or it can be of because of unknown causes, referred to as idiopathic epilepsy. Seizures may be exhibited by unusual behaviour, such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, appearing completely disoriented with the surroundings, or hiding. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good, as epilepsy can be controlled with medication. A dog can live a full and healthy life with the proper management of this disorder.
The St. Bernard is a homely and friendly dog, who will welcome everyone with open arms. They are extremely patient and indulgent around children and make the perfect family pet. They thrive with adequate love from their family and are extremely trustworthy. Their large size and playful nature makes early training and socialisation a necessity. Leash train them at an early age, so that they are manageable when you take them out for a walk. They will need socialization to various people sounds and sights to ensure a well-rounded adult dog.St. Bernards are truly saintly. Since they were bred to be rescue dogs, they retain their original calm, patient and gentle personalities. They have an even temperament and are not big barkers. It needs to be said that they don’t need to have intimidating personalities; their sheer bulk usually keeps intruders at bay, so the St. Bernard, while not quite a guard dog or a watchdog, manages to inadvertently protect the family. The breed is a moderately active one and may not need a whole lot of outdoor space to stay happy, but keep in mind that your home needs plenty of indoor space to house this large dog to ensure that it does not knock down furniture or people. The Saint Bernard has an exceptional sense of smell, which makes it seem to the untrained observer that they can sense impending danger.Environment
Having been bred to withstand and thrive in extremely cold conditions, St. Bernards do very well in cold places. The more snow the better, for a happy frolicking St. Bernard! This means they don’t do very well in hot climates at all, with a coat and body that simply cannot stay comfortable in harsh summers. If you live in a warm place and intend to bring a St. Bernard into your life, do ensure that large portions of your house are adequately air-conditioned. They are a giant breed, but that does not necessarily mean that they need a large yard or wide open spaces. Their exercise requirement is moderate; a couple of regular walks everyday will suffice. However, due to their sheer bulk, they will need plenty of space inside the house, so an apartment is not the ideal setting for this breed. St. Bernards love children and do very well in families with kids and other animals alike, provided they are socialised from puppyhood. However, it is recommended that all play between very young children or small animals and the St. Bernard is monitored, so that the large dog does not inadvertently knock over a smaller playmate.Training & Intelligence
The Saint Bernard is an intelligent dog and is moderately easy to train. These gentle giants have a calm disposition and even temperament that makes training trouble-free and fun. They are friendly dogs, but it’s still recommended that you socialize the puppy early with all other pets and children in the family. House training is easy with this breed but they are known to be stubborn at times. You will benefit from crate training them from an early age. Leash training also needs to start at an early age, to limit this large dog from boisterously running down the road, increasing the chances of accidents to dog and human alike. One massive tug on the leash can send you flying, so start early to reap the benefits of a danger-free walk.
These slow-moving giants do not have many complications with regard to their breeding. St. Bernards attain sexual maturity anywhere between six to nine months of age, although they are still too young to breed at this age. A St. Bernard takes around 18 months to reach his or her full height and structure. It is advisable to breed your dog after at least two years of age. If you are first-timer at breeding, then taking a vet’s opinion is advisable. The average litter consists of six to eight puppies.Puppies
The St Bernard puppies are large, fun and sure to grab attention wherever they go! They are extremely friendly and social, so use that to your advantage and introduce them to a variety of sights, sounds, smells, textures, animals, and people from a young age. They love human company and do not do well when left alone for long hours, swiftly turning from adorably naughty to mightily destructive. Be sure to monitor their play and spend lots of time with St. Bernard puppies. They are very intelligent but can be stubborn, so start their house training and socialising early. They are large even as puppies, so ensure that you have plenty of puppy-proofed indoor space for these rapidly growing puppies. Be sure to be especially careful in warm climates, as the puppies will not know when to stop playing and can easily suffer a heat stroke or two, if left unsupervised in the heat for too long.
St. Bernards are large, hairy dogs with a moderately deep chest and a powerful straight back with slightly sloping hindquarters. The head is large and broad with a well-rounded skull, which has a definite stop down to the short deep muzzle. The long and strong legs help the St. Bernard to dig through the snow whilst rescuing people. They have straight and long forelegs along with heavy-boned and muscular hind legs. The feet are large and have arched toes. The coat can be either short or long with a bushy tail that is set high and is long and heavy. It is carried low when the dog is in repose and is raised when the dog is on the move.The nose is large and black with well-developed nostrils. They have high cheek bones with droopy eyes, which are medium in size and dark brown in colour. The ears are medium sized, set high and lie flat against the cheeks. St. Bernards have a relatively short lifespan, usually living for no longer than 8 to 10 years. Male Saint Bernards stand 28 to 30 tall and weigh 140 to 180 pounds, while the females are 26 to 28 inches tall and weigh 120 to 140 pounds.