Saint Bernard

An actor, a hero, a familiar face — The Saint Bernard is one of the most recognizable breeds on the planet. And as some historians recount, there are 700 years of unwritten history missing from the breed’s back story.

Moreover, the Saint Bernard has become a favorite among families and sports teams as a mascot.

While you may take a look and think, large breed and mean, the Hospice Hound is quite the opposite. In fact, the Saint is affectionate, aggreable and gentle.

Yet, will the breed eat your paycheck away? Will they be the right dog for your house?

Here is what you need to know about the legendary — Saint Bernard.

History

It is said that the Saint Bernard has such an extensive history, that six centuries have been kept under wrap. That’s quite impressive, but not nearly as remarkable as the Bernard’s historic role as a search and rescue dog. For certain, the monks, whose habitat was brutal and vengeful, sought a dog capable of those wintry conditions. St Bernard Pass, which falls between the Alps, Italy and Switzerland, could be a dangerous place. The hospice monks, along with their large dogs, would perform search and rescue missions during snowstorms. According to the Smithsonian, the Saint Bernard over a 200 year period, has been able to save over 200 lives.

Furthermore, inside the breed’s past is the rumor that monks would use them as bed warmers. That’s not too unfathomable, considering that the English would use little lapdogs to control flea infestations but also to keep their laps warm.

The breed is thought to have descend from Asiatic Mastiff type dogs, which would have been brought over by the Romans as a gesture for guardian and companionship purposes. Historians believe that the Romans brought these dogs over during the 17th century.

That lines up accurately with the first appearance of this breed  in a painting by Italian artist , Salvatore Rosa, in 1695. Except, during those times, it appears the Saint Bernard was slighter in size and wore a shorter coat.

The first written description of the breed dates back to 1703. The description describes a large dog and a breed similar to that of a Saint Bernard. Of course, the description then, doesn’t quite stack up with the modern breed today. Also, according to St.BernardOrg. Au, Geneva artist, M.J. Bouritt, wrote about monks from the hospice with their rescue dogs in 1774.

But the breed came into popularity during the 1800’s. That’s when the Saint Bernard began appearing in other countries during the mid 19th century. Also, during the 19th century, facing a threat of extinction, monks and breeders began crossing the Saint Bernard with Leonbergers and Newfoundlands. Perhaps to give the breed more size, and because the Newfoundland is a breed that can survive wintry conditions.

Up until 1880, the Saint Bernard didn’t have a name or not the name we know today. In fact, people would call the breed: Mountain Dog, Monastery Dog,  or Swiss Alpine Dog. In 1880, along with recognition by the Swiss Kennel Club, the breed finally got their name. Moreover, during that decade, in America, the breed would gain recognition by the American Kennel Club and in 1888, the Saint Bernard Club of America would open its doors to promote the breed.

During the 20th century, the breed became more of a companion and guardian dog. The last record of search and rescue was in 1897, after a 12 year old boy fell asleep and nearly froze to death, if not for the Hospice Hound waking and encouraging the boy to safety.

Today, the breed is a household companion. Many call them the “nanny dog” and according to the American Kennel Club, is the 48th most popular breed in America. 

Size

To say that the breed is large, is a bit of an understatement. The American Kennel Club states that males should stand between 28 to 30 inches. A female should stand around 26 to 28 inches. 

With regards to weight, a male can range from 140 to 180 pounds, and a female between 120 to 140 pounds.

Personality and Temperament

There doesn’t appear to be much bad to say about this breed. Indeed, they are the nanny dog, capable of looking after your kids and protecting them from any threat. They are also capable of playing and making your kids enjoy their time with the Saint Bernard. This is a family dog through and through. Furthermore, the breed has a reputation of being patient with younger children as well. And good thing, considering their size. 

Saint Bernards will bark when it is necessary and you will know it when they do. Although the breed has a gentle soul, they are brave and bold — Not afraid of standing toe to toe with anyone or anything that infringes upon family.

Joyous, playful, and curious — the Saint Bernard can be calm and typically is — But if you live an active lifestyle, then the breed won’t mind playing outdoors or going for an adventure. This is what they enjoy, just as long as you are around. Moreover, the Bernie is content on making their people happy whether that’s through long walks in the park or pulling kids by carts.

Agreeable in nature, and eager to please, the Saint Bernard is usually simple to train. They will require some experience handling but can pick up on commands rather quickly. 

All in all, this is an affectionate dog that loves to be around people even strangers. They can serve so many purposes from guardian, search and rescue and companionship. They are fine with dogs and never aggressive with them or children unless something bad went awry. For a great family that is lacking a great pooch, this is the dog.

Health

The American Kennel Club states that the Saint Bernard is a healthy breed with a few items to be watchful for. You can trim those down when you buy from a reputable breeder, who is serious and ethical about their standards in breeding. A reputable breeder should be able to provide you with the proper documents and health clearances you’ll need to make the best purchasing decision. In addition, you’ll want to schedule regular veterinarian visits to ensure your dog’s well-being. If you do those things,  there is no reason to believe your Saint Bernard won’t live between 8 to 10 years.

Like most breeds, especially rapid growing dogs or large breeds, the Saint Bernard has a high probability for Hip Dysplasia. In fact, the authority on the issue, Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, lists the breed as the sixth worst on their study of over 100 breeds. Out of the 2425 evaluations, the OFA says that the breed has a 49.0% dysplastic rate. This puts them among the Bulldog, Pug and Neapolitan Mastiff, three breeds with the worst rates for Hip Dysplasia. Hip Dysplasia is painful and is a result of a malformation of the hip.

Elbow Dysplasia is also painful and invites lameness and discomfort along with the possibility of Osteoarthritis. The OFA lists the breed 23rd worst with a 16.0 dysplastic rating out of 387 evaluations. This puts them among the Amstaff Terrier and English Setter. This disorder is due to abnormal growth within the elbow.

Something that most owners can deter and should fear is Bloat or Gastric Torsion. This can be deadly and is most certainly painful. Bloat is an excess of gas inside the dog’s stomach, and because the dog has no way to release this excess, it starts to distend the stomach causing a great deal of pain and discomfort. A lack of appetitie may be a sign of this, and if you expect your Saint Bernard has Bloat, it is best to seek medical attetnion right away.

A couple of minor issues the Saint Bernard may encounter are Entropion and Ectropion. Entropion is when the eyelids roll inward and results in scarring or possibly irritation. Ectropion is the opposite, and is when the eyelids roll outward producing aggravation and may cause minor issues with vision.

Cardiomyopathy is a threat to the breed. This is a result of the heart ventricles to properly pump blood into the lungs. When this happens, it can cause improper functioning and heart failure. Heavy breathing, excessive breathing or coughing are a few signs that your Bernie may have Cardiomyopathy. If so, drug treatment and therapy are available options.

The breed also suffers from Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, as well as Diabetes and seizures.

Care

The breed needs only a moderate amount of exercise as it is. While they may have times when they are engaging and highly energetic, a short walk or two per day should suffice this breed’s needs.

It is important that the Saint Bernard has a positive yet firm hand. The owner should be fair and consistent. Experience is always better for this breed, but just as long as you’re being fair, firm, and consistent, then the Saint Bernie should do fine. Letting them know who is higher on the pecking order and taking control will go a long way in ensuring your dog won’t try to overrun your home.

The breed shouldn’t be left in the heat or cold, occasional baths will help cure doggy odor, trim their nails and check the ears regularly.

Feeding

You may think that the Saint Bernard will eat you out of your house. Or at least make your check smaller. However, you can control their portions by controlling yourself. Don’t fall for their keen expressions and sad eyes. If you take control, you can avoid issues like overeating, obesity and Bloat. In addition, how much your Bernie eats will not be the same as how much your neighbor’s dog eats. Each dog is different and most of it depends on their age, metabolism and energy requirements.

A good diet should be consistent and have balance. Meat as the first ingredient, fruits, and vegetables should do the trick. Vitamins and minerals are also crucial. Consult your veterinarian if you have specific questions about your Saint Bernard’s diet.

Most owners seem content feeding their adults twice a day between 4 to 8 cups of high quality dry kibble. Puppies will eat more, obvious, and until 4 to 6 months, should be eating 3 to 4 times per day between 3-6 cups. Experts recommend finding a formula with a protein level of 25% to 30%.

As always, you should provide your Saint Bernard with fresh drinking water.

Coat

The Saint Bernard is a seasonal shedder that typically blows heaviest in the spring and fall. Occasional grooming will be necessary and weekly brushing will help get rid of dead hair and keep your Bernie’s coat looking prime.

The breed does have two types of coat, short and long hair. The coats should be dense, double coated, thick and lie close to the body. The outercoat is straight with a slight wave, while the undercoat is short, soft and dense.

According to the American Kennel Club, there are nine acceptable coat colors: Brindle and grizzle, brown and white, mahogany and white, orange and white, red and white, rust and white, white and brown, white and orange, white and red.

There is one marking acceptable for the breed: Black mask.

Fun Saint Bernard Facts

  • According to the Smithsonian, only 18 Saint Bernards exist or live in the hospice where they came from.
  • The famous kid’s movie, Beethoven, features a Saint Bernard about a St. Bernard.
  • Cujo, a horror story by author, Stephen King, is about a Saint Bernard featuring the breed as a rabid dog.
  • The most famous St. Bernard is likely Barry, a dog that save over 40 lives in his lifetime.
  • Aside from movies, the breed is also a mascot for sports teams including: Northampton, Dubuque and New Orleans Saints.

Closing Words

The Saint Bernard is big, brave, and a star — in all worlds. From the doggy kingdom to the world humans live in, the Hospice Hound has been around to help in some of the most trying ways through trying conditions.

Centuries later, the breed now helps in a different capacity. They invite warmth and happiness into our hearts. Is it a wonder why the Saint Bernard is one of the most familiar dog breed faces around?