Breed Profile: Saint Bernard

Saint Bernards are known for rescues, but they are also excellent family pets and love children. Read more in our Saint Bernard breed profile.   Read More

Saint Bernard breed profile
The Saint Bernard is known for search and rescue.

Breed

Saint Bernard (St. Bernard)

Group

Working

Physical Description

Saint Bernards are very large, muscular and powerful dogs that live an average of 8 to 10 years. They vary in colors and patterns and may have short or long hair depending on their breeding. Their weight can vary from 100 pounds to over 200 pounds, and height ranges from around 25 to nearly 28 inches. This large dog has a large head, long tail and is prone to drooling.

Origin

The breed is believed to have originated from a heavy Asian dog brought by the Romans to Switzerland, although there are other theories about their origin. The dogs were used for herding, guarding and drafting on farms and dairies. They were later selected to join the Hospice in the Swiss Alps. The Saint Bernards were companion animals and guard dogs. Their excellent sense of smell made them ideal for search and rescue, and they regularly located people stranded in the extreme weather conditions. They are said to be able to detect a person buried under 20 feet of snow with their scent abilities.

The dogs were mentioned in historical writings in 1707 but were believed to have been brought to the Hospice a few decades earlier, between 1660 and 1670. The stories of human rescues by the Saint Bernards are widely known, as is the barrel usually seen attached to their collars. The dogs are estimated to have saved more than 2,000 human lives throughout their service at the Hospice.

Saint Bernards were crossed with long-haired dogs (said to be Newfoundlands) after a season of unusually severe weather in 1830. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885, and The Saint Bernard Club of America was formed in 1888. Popularity of the breed has increased over the past 10 years as the AKC has seen registrations rise from 36 per year to 49 per year.

This video describes a little more about the breed:

Purpose

Saint Bernards are companion animals and guard dogs. They participate in conformation and obedience trials, cart and weight pulling, and search and rescue.

Temperament

This breed is loyal, gentle and friendly. Saint Bernards are patient and dignified dogs that are good with children. They are also very intelligent and easy to train, and they love being around their families. They are said to have a sixth sense for predicting storms and avalanches.

Exercise Needs

Saint Bernards must be exercised daily with a long walk. They have a low tolerance for heat, and they fare better in cooler temperatures.

Grooming Requirements

Although twice per week is deemed sufficient, Saint Bernards should be brushed daily. The undercoat sheds heavily twice per year. You can bathe them as necessary, but not excessively. Clip the nails regularly, brush the dog’s teeth and clean the ears. In addition, clean the eyes regularly to keep irritants at bay.

Common Health Problems

Saint Bernards may experience a few health problems:

  • Heart conditions
  • Skin problems
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Tumors
  • Eyelid issues (extropion)
  • Bloat
  • Wobbler syndrome

Is the Saint Bernard the Right Dog for You?

The Saint Bernard is definitely a dog that will turn heads on the street for its size and appearance. They are intelligent dogs great with children and are generally very friendly. They don’t fare too well in hot climates and need regular grooming. They do have several health problems, so plan in advance for veterinary costs. They can do well in apartments, but they need a long, daily walk. If you’re ready for one big dog and a whole lot of love, the Saint Bernard might be the perfect dog for you.

Adopt, Don’t Buy

If you consider getting a Saint Bernard, please check rescues and adoption resources. Purebred animals are in shelters too. Try Pets Adviser’s adopt-a-pet page.

That said, finding a Saint Bernard through adoption resources may be difficult. You can also check with rescue groups and breeders. If you do choose to go to a breeder, make sure the breeder is reputable and doesn’t exhibit any of the puppy mill red flags.

Additional Resources

Photo: hfb/Flickr

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