Bred from the Asiatic Molosser and brought to Europe between 1660-1670, the St. Bernard first served as watchdogs and companions for the Romans. Later, they gained acclaim as rescue dogs for travelers lost in snowstorms in the Alps. Working as a pair, one dog would remain with the victim, lying upon them to keep them warm while the other would head back to seek help from their monk caregivers. After a few name considerations, these dog heroes came to be known eponymously for Saint Bernard de Menthon, the 11th century Italian founder of the hospice located atop the western Alps.
Saint Bernard APPEARANCE:
Male St. Bernards are usually between 28-30 inches tall and 140-180 pounds, while females are generally between 26-28 inches tall and 120-140 pounds. The St. Bernard is one of the largest dog breeds with an enormous head, wrinkled brow, short muzzle and soft, dark eyes. Along with back masks, which help make their eyes appear droopier, their thick, dense coats can be found in a variety of colors: Brindle Grizzle; Brown and White; Mahogany and White; Orange and White; Red and White; Rust and White; White and Brown; White and Orange; or White and Red.
Originally, the St. Bernard had a much shorter coat and longer tail than the ones we know today, but in the 1830’s Heinrich Schumacher began breeding them with English Mastiffs, resulting in the large, furry dog we know today. As a result, they have “powerful [and] imposing heads” with strong and bushy necks, shoulders, withers and tails.
TEMPERAMENT AND PERSONALITY:
This famous, beloved working dog is truly the “gentle giant” of dogs, and also has a life expectancy of 8-10 years. There is little need for the St. Bernard to be aggressive—their sheer size does the intimidation for them. Still, though the St. Bernard is generally a friendly dog with kids, cats and other dogs, they can be territorial, which makes them excellent watchdogs. That being said, consistent activity, early socialization and proper training ensure they will continue to be a wonderful family pet. They are also amazing companions for children, so you pretty much have a built-in babysitter as they are inherently and endlessly “protective, patient and calm” with kids.
On account of their big size, it is also important to give the St. Bernard room, so an apartment may not be the best choice for them. A large space with room to roam will be helpful. Not only that, by giving your St. Bernard a job, you can help assuage any stubborn streaks as they need stimulation to help them with any acting out or anxiety. And that anxiety can also happen when they are separated from their humans for too long, so a good routine of a evening walks/exercise can help as it gives them something to look forward to while you are working. St. Bernards also really love snow. They will happily pull a sled or join in any other winter activities you take on, so there’s no need to leave them inside when you build that snowman.
CARING FOR Saint Bernard
Now we’ll show you how to care for a Saint Bernard.
As a general rule, the St. Bernard will need a suitable diet for larger breeds. More, certain boutique or fad diets (like kangaroo, alligator, ostrich or boar meat) or even grain free options might do more harm than good when it comes to heart care for the St. Bernard. Keep a check on Taurine deficiencies, which look like weakness, shortness of breath, coughing and fainting. (Taurine can be found in the dark meats of turkey and chicken.) The rule of thumb is to consult with a veterinarian so that they can monitor your St. Bernard, whatever their diet.
Although more sedentary than other breeds, regular activity is still important to avoid weight problems. Also, because St. Bernards are a larger breed, they also have a tendency for bloat (a stomach condition called gastric dilation and volvulus, or GDV). And it can be deadly. So, be cautious about exercising your dog too soon after meals. Also, because the size of a St. Bernard’s makes them prone to certain joint, your veterinarian can recommend a good regimen of joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin. If walking your dog helps prevent weight gain, then supplements are a great option for older joints.
Although generally calm and even lazy as an adult, the St. Bernard needs to be trained how to play well with all sizes and ages of humans and other animals so that they understand their own size while they are still small and young. Because the St. Bernard by nature is very strong, early training will also help you learn how to walk them with a leash and even contain their clumsy energy. In training, it is recommended that you gush lots of praise on your St. Bernard versus dosing excessive treats, as they can get overweight easily.
Big dogs need big love! For instance, the St. Bernard size and the density of their coats coupled together, makes them intolerant to heat. So coat care plays a major part in their health. Routine bathing and brushing should happen between one and eight weeks, but certainly weekly brushing during the warmer months of the year to help alleviate potential skin issues, as well as keep them cool as overheating can be very dangerous.
In order to maintain optimal care and health for your dog, The St. Bernard Club of America has this recommendation of tests for you:
- Hip Dysplasia – min age 24 months (Symptoms include lameness and/or pain caused by poor diet, injury or simply hereditary.)
- Elbow Dysplasia – min age 24 months
- Eye Examination by board ACVO Ophthalmologist – min age 22 months
- Cardiac Evaluation – min age 24 months (Symptoms of cardiomyopathy include “weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, collapse, difficulty breathing, and an enlarged abdomen”.)
- Degenerative Myelopathy Stages and Symptoms are:
- Loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind legs
- Dragging the hind feet causing wearing down of the toenails.
- Hind end weakness (difficulty climbing stairs, jumping up into the car, going for walks)
- Knuckling of hind feet (weight bearing on the tops of the feet rather than their undersides)
- Difficulty supporting weight with hind legs
- Inability to walk without support
- Urinary and/or fecal incontinence
- Paraplegia (paralysis of hind legs).
- Weakness in front legs