Behavior Breed Lists St Bernard Dogs: The Breed And What Makes It Tick

St Bernard Dogs: The Breed And What Makes It Tick

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The St Bernard is situated in 48th on AKC Breed Popularity ranking. In essence it outshines ¾ of all dogs on the list. It’s enough to create a vested interest in buying one, or perhaps you already have some Saint Bernards in your care.

This in-depth guide is designed to familiarize you with this breed. Understanding facts pertaining to vaccinations is essential. Specifically, when and how often they should get them, transpose yourself to this link for significantly more information.

History Of The St Bernard

The protective dog traces its history to the Great St Bernard Hospice in Switzerland and Italy. It’s believed young noblemen utilized it to guard property.

The earliest written records of the breed are associated with the monks at the hospice. Although rumors exist regarding St Stephen and the abbot of Cîteaux having appropriated similar breeds of dog.

The Saint Bernard is potentially a descendant of the large Asian Molosser dogs. Presumably brought into the Swiss Alps by the ancient Romans during the first two centuries AD. In fact, it is internationally recognized to be a Molossoid breed.

It is potentially the result of breeding of native dogs in Helvetia (Switzerland) with the Molosser. The Molosser is well respected and potentially considered famous due to its size and ferocity.

The Relevance of Monks

The monks at the St. Bernard Pass commenced breeding the Bernard dogs with Newfoundlands. The intention was supplication of longer hair, effectively providing them better protection from the cold.

While the idea was possibly inspired, it didn’t work as expected. Ice formation on the fur proved disastrous.

Heinrich Schumacher, an innkeeper, took on the breeding of the dogs in 1855. Initially, he supplied dogs to the local hospice, ultimately this led to exportation. Russia and the United States purchased a significant number.

The breeding that followed was indiscriminate, mixing them with English Mastiffs was commonplace. It resulted in the general appearance that Saint Bernards have today.  These beautiful animals have been known by a variety of names, Alpine Mastiffs, Hospice Dogs, St. Bernard Mastiffs, and Mountain Dogs.

It’s possible St Bernards have a link to William of Champeaux, the Knights Templar, Bernard of Clairvaux, (the abbot of Clairvaux). Potentialy it’s even possible to evidence links to St Augustine. Of equal likelihood is the connection  with the Cistercian Order. Where the Cistercian monk and other monastic orders have survived for so many years.

St Bernard died August 20 1153 after 40 years as a monk and the doctor of the church. The pope tasked Bernard to preach the second crusade. Although Bernard felt he was unsuccessful at this.

The Barry Effect

An affection name is Barry Dogs, a tribute to potentially the most famous Saint Bernards, Barry. Recorded as one of the monastery dogs that lived from 1800 to 1812 and was known to have rescued more than 40 people.

The Barry Foundation was established during that year. It created kennels in a village called Martingy. It’s location, at the base of the mountain, is surprisingly close to the Great St. Bernard Pass.

An annual celebration of the Saint Bernard breed is held at the Little Saint Bernard Pass, at Rosières-Montvalzan, a town on the French site sur Seine. Today fans, enthusiasts, and dog breeders of gather for dog shows, dog sports, and parades.

Today, the Saint Bernards are established family favourites, located in homes around the world. This is all due to their temperament.

Living With Saint Bernards

Daily Interactions

They are friendly with the people they meet, and will be eager to express their love for their owners. You must be aware that these dogs suffer from a significant amount of drool. The dog is kid-friendly, and will also take quickly to strangers that you introduce him to, plus other dogs in the park.

If you live in an apartment you’ll find the dog will adapt rather well to the condition. It will be quiet and calm while indoors, as long as you take him out for regular walks. It would especially be nice if the dog can have yard access, which would give him more room to roam in.

The size of the home should not be a discouragement for having one of these as your pet. However, it is important to be aware of the scale of work involved.

These animals drool and shed incessantly. The likelihood of mud and dirt being displacedin your home is high. The consequence is certain to invoke a heavy ritual of cleaning.

Sure, they are friendly to even random people that they encounter, but they will be aggressive to anyone threatening their loved ones. In addition, while being affectionate makes the breed endearing, the St. Bernard doesn’t like being left alone for long periods.

The dogs thrive best when at home with family. In light of this, you should avoid leaving your Saint regularly alone for a long time, since it can lead to undesirable behaviour.


While puppy training and early socialisation classes are recommended, it’s not an absolute requirement for your St. Bernard and other similar large dogs. Though you should invest in some obedience training to keep Fluffy from taking advantage of his size and jumping on people or knocking into small kids.

With the kind-hearted nature of the dog, plus the desire to please, he will quickly respond to your commands after he learns what he is supposed to do. Note that an untrained St. Bernd can be quite problematic even for strong adults, hence the need to ensure firm control is asserted from an early age.

Saint Bernards are usually classified under working groups of dogs, since they are good at being guard dogs or being trained to rescue people. They are strong too, which usually sees them being used to draft – i.e. pull carts or wagons, and there are pet owners who have entered their Bernards in weight pulling contests.

These dogs are extremely powerful but gentle enough that you can trust them to pull the kids in a cart too. Also known as the Alpine Cattle Dogs or Alpine Mountain Dogs, these large dogs are used by farmers in the French Alps, where they also serve as herding and farm dogs. The Australian and New Zealand Kennel Clubs place the dog in the Utility Group.

Health and nutrition

When feeding your Saint Bernard dog food that has been recommended for larger breeds, be it home-prepared or a commercial brand – but certain following the advice from your vet, especially when it comes to the dietary requirements of the dogs at different stages of their lives. Be keen on the caloric consumption, since the dogs can get overweight. In common with other large breeds, the St. Bernards can experience bloat.

A direct consequence of this is the distending of the stomach, effectively twisting it. While the cause of bloat is not fully established, research into it indicates that providing the Bernards with smaller meals frequently can help prevent it, as opposed to large meals at a go. It’s also recommended that you avoid intensive exercise when it’s around mealtime.

Conditions to keep an eye out for with this breed also include hip and elbow dysplasia – hence the need for occasional evaluations, and eye disease – so an ophthalmologist evaluation should be included as part of the check-ups.

Other recommended tests include cardiac exams. Regarding the weather, the dog can withstand cold temperatures, it’s especially well adapted to the snow. It is fortunate that hot weather isn’t usually regarded as an issue. Provision of shaded resting areas and an abundance of water will facilitate their comfort.

Saint Bernards in hot climates are prone to suffer from heat exhaustion. This dog will also benefit from a large crate, providing it with a safe space to unwind.

The giant size of the dog, which increases the risk of the disorders like hip dysplasia, results in the Saints having a below average lifespan compared to the smaller dogs, usually clocking about 8 – 10 years. The breed is quite popular though, with features in movies like Beethoven spreading the fame of the gentle giants.


This is a rather large and muscular dog, reaching a 30-inch height, while its weight clocks around 180 pounds. Their strength is a huge factor in their rescue missions. Take their early 18th century work for instance, with the monks at St. Bernard Pass where the dogs were used in rescue missions especially after intense snow storms.

This could be said to be the start of the Bernard Club. Over nearly two centuries, the heroic dogs were credited with saving over 2000 people, ranging from soldiers in Napoleon’s army, to lost children. They could also withstand the cold temperatures as well. This work however led to the wiping out of the dogs at the hospice though.

The 1816-1818 period had particularly service winter snowstorms, and many dogs ended up dying in the avalanches during their rescue work. However, two years later more dogs came in from the nearby areas, shoring up their populations.

While the giant Bernards are not aggressive, their size usually comes in handy to deter burglars and attackers, coupled with the barking itself. Note that the Saints are known for occasionally barking without cause.

Dog covered with snow. Part of the "St Bernard: Looking At The Breed And What Makes It Tick" article.
Photo by Josh Bean on Unsplash

Import Value

The Saint Bernards that had been imported into England during the mid-19th century and bred with the local mastiffs resulted in larger sizes, with one of the famous dogs called Plinlimmon measuring 5 kg (210 pounds) and 87.5 cm (34.5 inches).

The stunning example was eventually sold for an impressive $7000. The commercialization of the large dogs led to even more breeding, that resulted in even bulkier dogs, such that it is recorded that the dogs become grossly large to a point of finding it difficult to move across a show ring. In 1895, St. Bernard called Major F was reported by the New York Times as being 8’6”, ( or 2.59 m) in length.

If this was accurate, then Major F would hold the record for being the longest dog in history. Another dog famed for its size was Benedictine V Schwarzwald Hof, who clocked 315 lbs (143 kg), a feat that landed him a spot in 1981’s Guinness Book of World Records.


There are both longhaired and shorthaired Saint Bernards. You’ll find, regardless of hair length, a considerable amount of shedding is normal. Brushing the hair on a regular, potentially bi-weekly basis is essential for removing diert and entanglements.

You can use a metal comb or slicker brush when dealing with the tangles that have formed on the coat.

Daily brushing is essential, especially during shedding season. Occasional baths and regular nail trimming are also recommended.

Exercise needs

Given that the Saint Bernards are large and powerful,its surprising, but moderate exercise will suffice.

Any St Bernard dog will benefit from accompaning you when hiking, camping, and backpacking.

Final Thoughts

There are an abundance of breeders producing the Saint Bernards. To acquire a healthy puppy you need a reputable breeder.

You can always ask for referrals from your vet, enquire at dog shows, or establish contact with local breed clubs for recommendations, such as the breeder referrals that are provided by the American Kennel Club. When discussing with the particular breeder, ask about the living arrangements of the Bernard puppies.

The handling of the pets is essential, an invitation to play and interact with the pups is a positive indication.  Check for documentation of health clearance from independent agencies like the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Associated records of the parents and grandparents of the dog, will dispell negative hereditary conditions.


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