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St. Bernard

The St. Bernard is a true giant of the dog world, and everybody recognises this legendary life-saving dog with his massive jowled head, gentle eyes, and short thick orange and white coat. These are muscular dogs with powerful, imposing heads, and are capable of covering very rough ground with unhurried, smooth movements.

  • Dogs suitable for experienced owners
  • Extra training required
  • Potential health risks
  • Enjoys active walks
  • Enjoys one to two hours of walking a day
  • Giant dog
  • Some drool
  • Requires grooming every other day
  • Quiet dog
  • Barks and alerts to visitors/anything unusual
  • Could have issues with unknown dogs but gets along with known dogs
  • May need additional training to live with other pets
  • May need additional supervision to live with children
  • Needs a large garden
  • Can live in semi-rural areas
  • Can be left alone with training

Key Facts

Lifespan: 8–10 years
Weight: 68–91kg
Height: 70–90cm
Colours: Orange, mahogany-brindle, red-brindle or white with patches of these colours
Size: Large
Kennel Club group: Working

Ratings

Family-friendly: 5/5
Exercise needs: 2/5
Easy to train: 2/5
Tolerates being alone: 1/5
Likes other pets: 5/5
Energy level: 3/5
Grooming needs: 4/5
Shedding: 4/5
St Bernard

Personality

A 'gentle giant' sums up the character of the St. Bernard. They are good-humoured, trustworthy and love family life. They are very loyal dogs who rarely bark, but will defend you and your possessions if they deem necessary. They normally accept other household animals with no problems. Young dogs must be taught from an early age not to pull on their leads, as this habit will be problematic when they are older and enormous!

St Bernard

History and Origins

Country of Origin: Switzerland

The St. Bernard breed was developed in the 18th century by monks at a hospice offering aid and shelter to travellers in the Swiss Alps. It was recorded in 1774 that these dogs were being used as rescue dogs to locate travellers in need of help. Their fame grew and for a while they were called Good Samaritan Dogs. It’s thought that over 2000 travellers have been saved by St. Bernards.

It isn’t just mountain rescue that St. Bernards excel at. One St. Bernard called Bamse, a ship’s dog of a Norwegian minesweeper in World War II, won a PDSA award for courage in action. He was stationed in Montrose, Scotland, and one of his duties was to collect his shipmates from the pubs at closing time! He became so well known in the town that upon his death in 1944, local schools closed to allow hundreds of children to attend his funeral. Today his grave is still honoured in Montrose.

Health and Common Issues

The most serious health problems commonly seen in the St. Bernard are various bone disorders, including bone cancer, epilepsy and heart disease. As with many breeds, they can also suffer from hereditary eye disorders and hip and elbow dysplasia (joint conditions that can lead to mobility problems). Eye testing and hip scoring of dogs prior to breeding is therefore important.

Exercise Needs

Exercising St. Bernard puppies must be done very gradually to avoid putting excess strain on their growing bones and tender tissues and, even with the adult dog, care must taken to build up exercise gradually. Having said that, for their size they really do not need copious amounts of exercise – about an hour daily for an adult.

They do however enjoy having their own large garden to be able to gently wander at leisure.

Space Requirements

This is a dog who needs a large house and garden.

Nutrition and Feeding

Giant-breed dogs, as well as having giant appetites, benefit from a different balance of minerals and vitamins, supporting different joint and cartilage needs. St. Bernard’s are prone to bloating and stomach problems; try feeding smaller, more frequent meals to help minimise the risk.

Grooming St. Bernard’s

There are two coat types – smooth and rough. The smooth is short-haired and the rough is long-haired. Grooming is not a problem apart from the amount of coat to get through! They need to be brushed or combed several times a week to remove loose hairs. The ears should be kept clean and the eyes checked very regularly, especially those dogs with drooping eyelids. St. Bernard’s are clean animals but do tend to slobber.

Training St. Bernard’s

The St. Bernard is not one of the worlds obedience champions but they can be taught basic good manners. They should be taught to walk on a harness and lead from being quite young as when fully-grown they can be a real problem just by merit of their size and weight. Also teach a reliable recall as some people and other dogs might be intimidated by the approach of such a large dog.

Best Family Dog Breeds

St. Bernard’s make excellent family dogs for older children but are just too big for younger ones. They are devoted to their families and make great companions - as long as no one minds being drooled on.

While many dogs are traditionally thought of as being good with children, all dogs and children need to be taught to get on with and respect each other, and be safe together. Even so, dogs and young children should never be left alone together and adults should supervise all interactions between them.

did you know?

Did You Know?

  • Monks attempted to cross the St. Bernard with the Newfoundland to create a thicker, warmer coat. However, this backfired as they found the longer fur captured matted snow and ice and weighed them down. You can still see the effects of this breeding in the longer haired variety of the St. Bernard.
  • It can take up to three years for them to finish growing.
  • In the film, Beethoven’s 2nd, over 100 puppies were used due to the fact that they grew so fast the production couldn’t keep up with them!
  • Although history paints them with a barrel around their neck (supposedly filled with brandy), this is a myth and they never carried one at all.
  • The most successful Saint Bernard rescue dog was called Barry and, in his lifetime, he rescued over 40 people from the Alps. His preserved body is now on display in the Natural History Museum of Bern.

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