Other names: Mount Bernard dog, Bernhardiner, Saint Bernardshund, Saint Bernard dog
The Saint Bernard is a large and powerful mountain dog, robust and endowed with significant intelligence. Docile, adorable with children and loyal, it is an unmatched life companion. A source of joy to both grown ups and children alike, the Saint Bernard will take to heart to protection of its own. Neither suspicious nor aggressive, he is nevertheless very cautious with strangers, and knows how to act as a deterrent if needed.
Key facts about the St. Bernard
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Origins and history
Of Swiss origin, it is a descendant of the ancient asian Molossian, whose primordial form was embodied by the Tibetan Mastiff. The breed such as we know it today has been selected by the cenobite monks of the Grand Saint-Bernard hospice, its namesake. The monks had been using the breed for a very long time for search and rescue missions in the mountains, as well as for guardianship. Essentially, these dogs served to accompany travellers, and save those lost in the snow. The symbolic little barrel of brandy/ schnapps that they sported around their neck would serve to restore the senses of those lost in action. The most famous of them all was Barry since, in the 14th century, it saved around 40 people from the so-called White Death. The Swiss club was created in 1884, while it was only created in France in 1908.
Physical characteristics of the St. Bernard
Female : Between 26 and 31 in
Male : Between 28 and 35 in
Female : Between 110 and 165 lb
Male : Between 121 and 198 lb
The base-coat is white with more or less large patches of red that constitute a tuxedo. The tuxedo can be “torn” with some white spots. A reddish-brown brindle is also admissible, as well as gold-brown.
Overlays on the head are sought-after while they are tolerated on the torso.
White areas must appear on the chest, the paws, and at the tail’s extremity, around the nose, muzzle and nape.
A white collar and dark facial mask are particularly sought after.
Type of coat
Two varieties exist, the long-haired Saint Bernard and the short-haired Saint Bernard.
In the short-haired type, the coat is dense, smooth, spread over the whole body and of coarse texture. The undercoat is abundant.
In the long-haired type, the coat lies flat, is medium length, ranging from smooth to slightly wavy. The undercoat is abundant.
The eyes are dark brown.
The Saint-Bernard is large-headed dog, vigorous and muscular in all of its parts. The skull is massive and broad, slightly convex; the forehead skin forms rather thick and profuse pleats that converge towards a frontal wrinkle. The stop is clear, the muzzle is short, not pointy; the muzzle is straight. The eyes, typically medium-sized and diamond-shaped for this breed, shows a friendly and intelligent expression. The ears are pendant. The torso is robust, as are the limbs, and very straight. The tail is long and very heavy.
Good to know
The Saint Bernards’ reputation as rescue dogs is well established, but their career is slightly behind them. To wit, breeds of smaller weight are preferred nowadays, in order to facilitate helicopter missions.
The St. Bernard is a gentle dog, very attached to its owners, and will always protect them. He is affectionate but not overly clingy, he knows how to be vigilant if needed, he is extremely loyal, and he would give his life for his close ones.
Naturally playful, especially with children, whom this large dog adores accompanying in all sorts of adventures, even if it is mainly to keep an eye on them.
Rather conscious of their hefty size, this mountain molossian knows how to keep discreet, calm and composed when needed. It is not one to be hyperactive and turn the household topsy turvy.
Of exceptional intelligence, this native mount Saint Bernard knows how to observe and scrupulously assess the various situations he might come across.
Its capacity to observe and adapt are traits that make this a particularly intelligent dog.
Its intelligence is actually what allows him to assess the danger someone might find themselves in, and rescue them without hesitation.
This big dog shows no interest for hunting.
Fearful / wary of strangers
Extremely protective of its own, the Saint Bernard is very cautious towards strangers and those who enter their home turf. It requires time to assess any given situation and to give their trust.
The Bernhardiner, as it has also come to be known, is a well-balanced dog that is neither too clingy nor distant towards its master.
Behaviour of the St. Bernard
This dog is not made for being alone for hours on end. It will suffer the absence of its masters, especially if it is recurring and if it hasn’t been gradually conditioned to handle loneliness well.
Easy to train / obedience
The large constitution of this mountain molossian requires an early-onset, firm education, upon its arrival within the family.
The Saint Bernard puppy must rapidly absord the rules and limitations of life at home. If those basic principles are not integrated as soon as possible, this big dog could quickly become a burden on account of its size.
You can also forget about lagging behind this dog on walks- teaching it to walk on a leash, without pulling, will have to be initiated early on, in a positive and consistent manner.
It is very important to work on the leash walking because, weighing up to 200 pounds, the St. Bernard can quickly overpower its master, which could potentially be dangerous.
At times, this big dog can be stubborn, even boar-headed, but a firm and coherent training, fair and respectful of the principles of positive training, will give way to a beautiful master-dog relationship and easy cooperation.
Socialisation will also have to be a part of the young dog’s training. Over the course of its first months, it will have to be made familiar with various, more or less stimulating environments, and make various positive, congeneric and inter-specific encounters.
Barking is this dog’s effective way of deterring anyone from encroaching on its territory if they are not welcome.
Tendency to run away
Too much of a loyal guardian to its masters, the ‘Langhaariger Saint Bernardshund’ (its name of origin) does not run away and does not distance itself from its familiar/habitual environment unless it is accompanied by one of the members of its group.
This dog grows docile with age, but it is true that the Saint Bernard pup can prove to be somewhat destructive, especially if it is left alone all day in a confined space, for example.
Greedy / Gluttony
This dog eats huge amounts, proportionately to its large constitution, that’s a fact. And it doesn’t stop at that- this is indeed a big gourmand who could use and abuse the generosity (and sometimes naivety) of its masters to beg all sorts of treats out of them.
In spite of its gentle nature, the Saint Bernard is a good guardian on account of its significant territorial instinct. Still, it doesn’t know the meaning of the word “aggressivity”, unless it finds that its master or possessions have come under threat.
Because of its large size, this mountain type molossian dissuades intruders by its rather imposing presence. Don’t be fooled by the teddy-bear aspect as it can transition to attack mode if he considers it necessary.
Neophyte masters can adopt a Saint Bernard but must be conscious of the significant time investment that they will have to be ready to make to mold this giant into a pleasant companion to everyday life.
This dog is not recommended to people who tend to be too permissive our lax in terms of training. You have to be aware of its capacities but also of its limitations because with a dog such as this one, weighing up to a possible 200 pounds, misconduct cannot be tolerated.
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St. Bernard in a flat
Obviously, given its bulk, the Saint Bernard needs a lot of space in order to develop harmoniously, and thus needs a garden at the very least (even if it loves living inside, at its master’s feet).
It is not made for flat life and its guardian instinct could prove difficult in the shared space of an apartment building.
Its gentle personality could come to adapt to city life, but its physical constitution remains unsuited for it.
In addition to this, even with a garden, this big molossian will require daily outdoor walks to strengthen its socialisation, stimulate its sense of smell and expend its energy.
Need for exercise / Sporty
The St Bernard is not the most sporty of its category but he nevertheless does require long walks to keep its physical and mental health in check.
Intense physical workouts, such as agility training for example, are not recommended for this large-bodied dog though. Its growth is fast and fragile, which means that it shouldn’t be overly stimulated until it reaches 18 months at the very least.
Traction sports could appeal to it but you must wait until it is fully grown.
Travelling / easy to transport
This giant dog loves spending time with its masters and discovering new environments by their side, however, its large size does not allow it to follow his closes ones everywhere.
In public transportation, its size can be a nuisance to other travellers and in a car, the trunk would have to be big enough to accommodate this colossus in decent conditions.
Again- these are important factors to consider before adopting a dog of such a large size.
St. Bernard and cats
The St Bernard can tolerate the presence of cats in its habitat if it has been accustomed to them since a young age.
St. Bernard and dogs
This dog is naturally sociable but if it is not exposed to a quality socialisation from his first months, it can prove to be somewhat savage when it comes in contact with its congenerates.
If it has been exposed to a quality socialisation, this dog will be a very pleasant playmate, even if a little rough at times. You will have to choose the dogs it plays with carefully, as they will have to be able to handle the significant mass of this molossian.
St. Bernard and children
Being very docile, this dog poses absolutely no threat to children. It is actually considered to be the ideal babysitter, among the very best of the canine world.
Having said that, and in spite of its great qualities, it still remains a dog! Some rules of conduct will have to be implemented for the St Bernard to be respected and for the children to be able to communicate with it, and to let it be when necessary.
St. Bernard and the elderly
The strength and large size of this dog are incompatible with a sedentary life at the side of potentially fragile people.
The price of a Saint Bernard depends on its origins, its age, and its gender. You have to count an average of £1015 for dogs registered with the Kennel Club.
With regards to the monthly budget, big dog equals big budget. You have to count an average of £80 per month in order to cater to the Saint Bernard’s physiological needs.
The maintenance of this dog is not complicated but remains proportional to its size. It will have to be brushed on a regular basis.
Special care must be attributed to its eyes as well, they need to be kept in check as they have a propensity towards being teary which could lead to they eyelid folding inwards (entropy).
The Saint Bernard’s hair loss is moderate but increases during times of moult, from autumn through to spring. It is then that it will require a daily brush.
Nutrition of the St. Bernard
The Saint Bernard is one of the fastest growing dogs. In fact, it goes from around 13 pounds to a weight of up to 200 pounds in just two years. This implies a fragile growth which must be consolidated with good nutrition.
Veterinary supervision is particularly recommended during this phase, in order to ensure that the appropriate rations are being provided to the young dog (be it in terms of quality or quantity).
Given the large quantities of food to provide, the rations must be divided into two meals: a light one in the morning, and a more generous one in the evening, in order to encourage a better digestion. Self-service is not an option for this big glutton with a tendency towards being overweight.
Dry food (kibble) may be given but it will have to be premium. That means a ban on the widely-available, commercial dog kibble. For homemade rations, it is advised that the vet approve the menus.
An elevated bowl will have to be provided for this big dog to spare it from having to bend over too low to eat.
Health of the St. Bernard
The life expectancy is estimated to 9 years.
Strong / robust
Of robust constitution, the St. Bernard does not show much propensity towards any particular illness, but nevertheless remains fragile on account of its large size.
In the summer, he suffers of heat and it is indispensable that his shelter is placed in a shadowed area with fresh water provided and replaced at regular intervals.
During such times, the walks must be re-adapted (early in the mornings, and late a night).
The double coat of this dog, whether short or long, endows it with a very good resistance to cold. Back in the day, its robustness and courage are what would allow it to practice search and rescue missions in the snowy mountains.
Tendency to put on weight
Quite the eater and not particularly athletic, this dog can easily become overweight if its nutrition is not balanced.