A Famous Breed Known for its Massive Size and Rescue Missions, this Docile, Child-Friendly Dog Has a History of Heroism
Known for its enormous size and innumerable humanitarian rescue missions, the Saint Bernard is a calm, docile dog that functions as a perfect pet for anyone in need of lifelong devotion. A loving companion, this breed excels in cold weather and snow, manifesting its most playful behavior in such a climate. Other than extremely hot climates, the Saint Bernard is happy living in almost any environment.
Believed to have originally been bred by crossing the Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and the ancient Tibetan Mastiff, the Saint Bernard was developed in 980 A.D. by Saint (Archdeacon) Bernard de Menthon. Before the long-haired version came along, the short-haired variety was used to rescue people who would become trapped in avalanches near the Hospice, a refuge for travelers coming through the dangerous Alpine pass between Italy and Switzerland. Saint Bernards have an amazing ability to smell people even under many feet of snow, and were ideal rescue dogs. Because the breed is capable of hearing sounds inaudible to humans that are very low frequency, it has been said that the Saint Bernard can predict winter storms and avalanches as well.
As a result of a threat to their existence in the early 1800s when many rescue attempts were curtailed by the dogs’ demise in ensuing avalanches, the remaining Saint Bernards were experimentally crossed with Newfoundlands which produced a long-haired sample of the breed. Unfortunately, this characteristic proved detrimental to their ability to function efficiently in search-and-recovery missions because of the extra weight of their long, frozen fur.
There have been many theories regarding an accurate history of the breed. Prior to 980 A.D., it is believed that the Saint Bernard was used for herding, guarding, and cart-pulling tasks. In the late 1500s, a fire destroyed the Hospice, and a substantial amount of its documented history was lost. For more than three centuries, the breed was used for guard and rescue work there. Referred to as Hospice Dogs until the early 1800s, the Saint Bernard then became known as the Barryhund, after a heroic dog named Barry who lived at the Hospice for a dozen years. Becoming one of the most well-known dogs in history, the Saint Bernard name became accepted for the breed and was officially recognized in 1880. The breed eventually came to the United States, where in 1885 the AKC classified the Saint Bernard as a member of its Working Group and shortly thereafter in 1888, the Saint Bernard Club of America was founded.
There have been many a Saint Bernard cited for historic fame over the years, with a few serving as beloved mascots for some of the most celebrated sports teams in America including the Colorado Avalanche hockey team, the New Orleans Saints’ football team and the Cincinnati Reds’ baseball team.
In a word, Saint Bernard puppies grow to be massive in size. An extremely lovable breed, this is one that is imposing and quite simply huge as an adult dog, weighing on average 160 to 170 pounds and standing 25.5 inches to 27.5 inches at the shoulder, depending on whether your pet is a male or female. Some can weigh as little as 120 pounds, but that is still a very large dog. On the large end of the scale, some weigh as much as 260 pounds.
Saint Bernard puppies can have either long or short coats. Those with long coats have hair that may be wavy, but is typically not curly or shaggy in appearance. Short-haired Saint Bernards have a coat that is smooth and dense, the hair slightly bushy on the thighs, while tails have long, thick hair. The colors most common in this breed include brindle with white, red with white, and red. Some dogs are brindle with areas which are golden or brownish-yellow in color. Desirable markings include a dark mask on the ears and head, or a white blaze on the face. A white spot at the nape of the neck is also desirable. Saint Bernards usually have brown eyes, but are often seen with nearly white or icy blue eyes as well.
Like humans, Saint Bernards have different temperaments. For instance, some are a bit introspective, while others are outgoing. Overall relaxed and calm, this is a breed that should be taken out for exercise and play as a puppy, so that it experiences a variety of circumstances and learns to trust people. With a breed that is so massive in size as an adult, it is essential to teach this dog its manners early in its life.
While the Saint Bernard is not usually an aggressive dog, be careful when raising your Saint Bernard puppy with other pets, as some aggression may erupt - and the results can be ugly simply because of the breed's power and bulk. However, if you're looking for a canine family member who snores, slobbers, and drools, you can't beat the Saint Bernard for those endearing qualities!
As puppies, this breed is clumsy and can inadvertently wreak havoc on your vulnerable household belongings, which can often be humorous and good for a laugh. While the breed is well known for mountain rescues, today it is primarily a family companion dog. Like many adults, as this dog matures, it will prefer an afternoon nap in the sun. Affectionate with children, this will be the most playful dog you have ever seen in winter, as the Saint Bernard enjoys pulling sleds, romping and entertaining itself in the snow.
One thing you've probably already assumed – a Saint Bernard will need plenty of room to accommodate its mammoth size! A larger home is best for the breed, with a big yard, pasture, or other sprawling expanse where the dog will have plenty of room to roam and play. Saint Bernards love life in a colder climate where they can enjoy playing in the snow. If you live in an apartment, you can still enjoy the breed as a pet; just be sure to provide plenty of exercise. Since these dogs tend to be relatively inactive indoors, it isn't essential that you have a large home, but logically preferable (for everyone involved). Saint Bernards do not tolerate hot weather well, and most do not like riding in cars.
Saint Bernards are prone to a number of health issues, including heart disease and a number of orthopedic diseases. These include osteochondritis, wobbler's syndrome, hip dysplasia, and elbow dysplasia. Seizures caused by epilepsy are a huge concern as well, because of the breed's size.
Saint Bernards are prone to bloat, so it's important to feed your pet smaller meals two or three times each day, rather than one large feeding. It has been shown that bone cancer (osteosarcoma) is a hereditary disease in Saint Bernards as well. On average, the breed will live about 8 to 10 years.
Because rough- and smooth-coated Saint Bernards have a thick undercoat, you will need to brush and comb your pet regularly to remove shedding hair. This can be done about twice each week using steel combs and slicker brushes. Regular brushing helps prevent matting and tangling, which can be painful.
Bathe your dog only when necessary to avoid stripping natural oils from the coat; usually, once every 2 to 3 months is sufficient. Use a gentle shampoo, and rinse well to remove all soap. A whitening shampoo may be used to make the light areas of the coat appear brighter.
Cleaning the ears by removing any debris is important to prevent infection. Baby wipes are good for cleaning, and don't have excess liquid which could drain into the ears. You can also use a mixture of alcohol and vinegar to clean the ears; squirt a couple of drops into the ear, massage and then wipe out using a piece of cotton or soft cloth.