Originating from the mountains of Switzerland as a guard dog of a hospice center, Saint Bernards are now known as a giant and adored pet with plenty of love to give.
Saint Bernards are large in build and have equally large hearts. They are sweet and affectionate dogs that make perfect family pets for those who don't mind a little bit of drool. They are playful, mellow, and all-around great companions to have!
Let's take a closer look at this iconic canine breed and its rich history in society. As one of the most recognizable breeds in the world, the Saint Bernard is beloved and cherished like few other breeds are!
Saint Bernard Characteristics (Physical)
Structurally, Saint Bernards are proportionally tall with a large head and muscular body. They have short, floppy ears, a massive square muzzle, and a set of deep brown eyes, creating a mask-like look on their face.
The shoulders of a Saint Bernard are broad and muscular with an arching chest and back. Each body part of the Saint Bernard is muscular, like the legs and tail, but these muscles are hidden behind its dense and bushy double coats.
Along with its hefty size, the Saint Bernard is a powerful and muscular breed with a soft side. They are gentle giants that are family-friendly, do well with children, and live in harmony with other dogs. The average lifespan for a Saint Bernard is between 8 to 10 years.
Saint Bernard Dog Breed Size
Saint Bernards very big dogs, standing at about 26-30 inches tall at the shoulder. Along with its towering stance, the Saint Bernard is rather hefty in weight. Male Bernards can weigh between 140-180 pounds, and female Bernards can range between 120 and 140 pounds.
Saint Bernard Personality
Despite its intimidating and massive exterior, Saint Bernards are a kind, gentle, and patient breed. They make perfect family pets because they enjoy spending time inside with people and require very little physical activity.
In fact, Saint Bernards can survive off of short daily walks and access to a small yard. Even though they are not necessarily active dogs, it is important to consider their size. Any tiny bit of roughhousing with a Saint Bernard can cause a couple of lamps or flower vases to tumble down.
Saint Bernards are incredibly intelligent and calm, which makes them excellent show dogs. Because of their size, Bernards excel in several dog sports such as drafting, weight pulling, and obedience trials.
Since Saint Bernards are mellow and compassionate, they make for great therapy dogs. They are attentive and always willing to please their owners, so they are always there to cheer you up no matter how you are feeling.
When first introduced to strangers or other dogs, Saint Bernards can be shy at first. But if you train them at an early age and get them used to socializing and being in new environments, they will do just fine.
Saint Bernard Exercise
Even though the Saint Bernard is a large breed, they only require a moderate amount of exercise. Going for daily walks or scheduling 30-minutes of playtime a day should suffice and keep your Bernard happy and healthy.
Saint Bernards enjoy life the most when they can spend time with their owners. So if you are an outdoor person that loves hiking or camping, your Saint Bernard will jump at the chance to go with you.
An innate pastime a Saint Bernard enjoys is cart pulling. Originally, in the Western Alps of Italy, Saint Bernard dogs were used for rescuing people and pulling heavy carts. Nowadays, the carts are usually filled with small children and not injured patients.
Training a Saint Bernard
No matter the breed, it is always best to start training and socialization with other dogs at an early age. Since Saint Bernard dogs are a large breed, it is important to train them early on, so they are easier to manage later in life.
Although Bernards are friendly dogs, they may not be aware of their power and how overwhelming it can be around small children. So, training your Bernard as a puppy to remind them not to pounce on your younglings essential. Obedience training can also help prevent your big furry friend from stealing food from the kitchen table or knocking over furniture.
Saint Bernards are known to be shy among new dogs and strangers. Depending on their upbringing, they may either cower away or bark at new people. Socialization offers the opportunity for young pups to gain exposure to new experiences, situations, and people. The more your Bernard is used to seeing new faces and new muzzles as a pup, the less afraid they will be later on.
Saint Bernard Dog Breed History
The Saint Bernard breed has an extensive history that dates back over a thousand years. In the year 1050, a monk named Bernard of Menthon founded a monastery and hospice to aid weary travelers making their way through the snowy Alpine mountains between Italy and Switzerland. Travelers would make their way over 8,000 feet above sea level into the Alps on their way to Rome.
The earliest ancestors of the Saint Bernard were the Talhund and Bauerhund. As time went on, the breed began to evolve into the Saint Bernard breed. This new brave and powerful breed became the guards and rescuers of any travelers stuck in the treacherous avalanches.
Before being officially named the Saint Bernard in 1880, this dog went by several different names, such as Monastery Dogs, Sacred Dogs, Alpendogs, and Alpine Mastiffs.
One of the most famous life-saving Saint Bernard dogs was named Barry der Menschenretter. Barry, born in 1800, rescued over 40 people in his lifetime. After his passing, the Natural History Museum of Berne in Switzerland placed the fur of Barry der Menschenretter on display to showcase his courage and fearlessness.
In 1887, the first Saint Bernard Club of America was formed as the breed began to gain popularity. Over time, the breed to find its footing among the American people, reaching fourth place in American Kennel Club registrations in 1971. Now, this working dog breed continues to be one of the most widely known dog breeds in the United States, participating in all kinds of competitions and winning the hearts of families.
Common Saint Bernard Health Problems
Every dog breed is prone to experiencing health problems, many of which can be hereditary. Because of its size, many Saint Bernards often experience joint and muscle problems. Other common health issues include allergies, eye problems, and stomach issues.
Hip & Elbow Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a condition that can be inherited or result from injury or obesity. This condition occurs when the thighbone doesn't fit properly in the hip socket. Over time, the misalignment of the hip joint can lead to bone damage, significant pain, and lameness in your Saint Bernard's hind legs.
As your dog ages, it is best to take your Saint Bernard to the vet regularly if you notice any stiffness or hesitation when they walk. Your vet can take X-rays to see if there is an issue and if surgery is necessary.
Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia can also be passed down through heredity. Elbow dysplasia can lead to extreme pain and lameness in the front legs instead of the hind legs. Treatment options are very similar for both types of dysplasia.
Epilepsy is a condition that causes mild or severe seizures in dogs. This condition can be passed down through heredity, but several external triggers can cause a seizure. Some factors that can induce epileptic behavior include metabolic disorders, diseases affecting the brain, tumors, and head injuries.
Epileptic episodes can be alarming, especially as an owner, but there are plenty of ways to keep your dog's seizures under control. Medication can help with keeping your dog's epilepsy manageable but not entirely cured.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart condition in which the heart muscle becomes very thin and weak. Specifically, the muscle wall of the left ventricle becomes thinner, allowing the blood pressure to increase inside the heart, causing the thin walls to expand, which results in an enlarged heart. This enlarged heart can lead to alarming issues such as irregular heart rhythm and heart failure.
Some common signs that your dog may be developing dilated cardiomyopathy are:
- Rapid breathing while resting
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Although there is no cure to this condition, a healthy diet, exercise, and medication can help keep dilated cardiomyopathy at bay.
Cataracts are a condition in which an opacity on the lens of the eyes causes difficulty with seeing, giving your Saint Bernard hazy or cloudy vision. This eye condition is usually an inherited disease and is more common in older dogs. This condition can lead to blindness if the cataracts are not removed through surgery.
A common condition among Saint Bernard dogs is heatstroke. Although their double-coat allows for excellent protection in snowy weather, it doesn't work so well in the heat. To avoid your dog from suffering a heat stroke, never keep them outside on a hot day for too long, and try to take them out for a walk during the cooler parts of the day.
Allergies are fairly common and can range in severity. Although they are specific to each breed, dogs can be allergic to certain dog foods, fleas, dust, shampoos, and other chemicals. You can help manage your dog's allergies with medication and by keeping your dog away from certain allergy triggers.
Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV)
Gastric dilation-volvulus, also known as bloat, is a life-threatening condition commonly affecting deep-chested dogs such as the Saint Bernard. GDV occurs when the stomach fills with gas, causing a "bloat" to form. Bloating can be a serious issue when the dog cannot get rid of the excess gas through vomiting or belching, making it difficult for normal blood flow to the heart.
GDV can occur in dogs that eat only one meal a day, rapid eaters, older dogs, and dogs with a family history of bloat. Try to separate their meals into multiple feedings to reduce the risk of bloat.
This condition is life-threatening, and you should seek medical attention if you notice your dog has a distended abdomen, excessive drooling, inability to vomit, and a rapid heart rate.
How to Care for a Saint Bernard
Saint Bernard dogs are relatively low maintenance. They only need a moderate amount of exercise, are easy to train, and are extremely friendly.
Saint Bernards only need about 30 minutes of playtime or a good walk daily to stay healthy. In addition to a steady diet, maintaining a daily exercise routine is important to prevent obesity. Overweight dogs can sometimes have more serious health issues that can affect their heart and digestion.
An important thing to keep in mind with a Bernard's exercise is that this breed is prone to heat strokes. So, take your dog out only when the weather is cool and make sure they drink plenty of water.
This dog breed is very agreeable and easy to train, but starting their training at a young age is key. As with any dog, early training is essential to learn how to act properly in certain situations, not beg for food, and socialize with other pets and humans.
One unique aspect about the Saint Bernard is that this breed drools quite a bit. The reason that they drool so much is that they need extra saliva for digestion. A drooling dog might repulse some pet owners, but others might find it to be a fun little quirk. As a Saint Bernard owner, know that you will most likely be wiping down drool off of your pants, the floor, the couch, and anywhere else your canine buddy can place his mouth.
Nutrition and Feeding for a Saint Bernard
As with any larger dog breed, they require more food to sustain themselves. The recommended serving amount for a Saint Bernard is about five to six cups of high-quality dog food daily, divided into two meals.
Of course, the amount of food your Saint Bernard needs depends on their weight, age, and overall size. For more specific results, check in with your vet to see how much food is required. Especially for this breed, which is prone to obesity issues, it is crucial to watch your dog's calorie intake to ensure you are not overfeeding.
Maintaining a healthy diet is also important because Saint Bernards are prone to experience bloat, where the stomach swells and twists. This condition can potentially be life-threatening if not combated with the correct diet and serving amount.
Treats are an excellent way to train your dog, but it is best to keep the number of treats you give to a minimum to maintain a healthy weight and diet. Plenty of clean water is important for them to stay hydrated and to avoid getting a heat stroke when it is hot out.
Coat Color and Grooming
Saint Bernards have two types of coats: short-haired and long-haired. Short-haired types have a dense, smooth coat, while the long-haired Bernard has a slightly wavy coat. The color of the coat can either be white with various shades of red or red with white.
No matter what type of coat length, Saint Bernards tend to shed heavily in the spring and fall. Brushing your Bernard's coat a few times a week is important to remove any loose hairs and prevent any mats or tangles.
Because of their size, it is recommended to bathe your Bernard buddy outside. Unless you have a walk-in shower, bathing your pup with the hose and a bucket should do the trick. As for shampoo, use a whitening shampoo to brighten and clean their coat.
In regards to dental hygiene, brush your dog's teeth at least two or three times a week to avoid any tartar buildup and bad breath. You should trim their nails one or two times a month if your dog does not naturally wear them down.
Children and Other Pets
Saint Bernards are gentle and patient around children. They tend to know their place in the family and understand their size can be overwhelming, so they try to be extra careful around younglings. With that being said, it is always best to supervise your children when around any animal to ensure there is no roughhousing or aggressive playing.
Saint Bernards are also great with other pets and dogs. Bernards usually can live harmoniously with other animals as long as they are trained to socialize at puppyhood.
Saint Bernard Dog Rescue Groups
If you are in the market for a magnificent Saint Bernard, there are several rescue groups you can turn to to help you rescue your very own.
Sunny Saints St. Bernard Rescue is an organization based in Southern California dedicated to finding loving homes for the breed. Since 2010, the Sunny Saints have rescued over 700 St. Bernards and counting. The Sunny Saints have been featured on an episode of Cesar Milan's Cesar911.
Saint Bernard Rescue Foundation, Inc. is a foundation committed to rescuing abandoned and mistreated Saint Bernards and matching them with caring new homes. Founded in 1999, the SBRF has been finding homes for Saint Bernards all across the United States.
Saint Bernard Dog Breed Organizations
The most prominent Saint Bernard breed organization is the Saint Bernard Club of America. Established in 1888, the SBCA is dedicated to withholding the "perfect" standard of the Saint Bernard breed, providing resources and information for all owners and enthusiasts. The SBCA also focuses on creating a passionate community for the betterment and promotion of the breed.
An SBCA Lifespan Achievement Program was created to highlight Saint Bernard dogs that have lived a longer than average lifespan. The reason for this program is to generate a conscientious way of breeding a Saint Bernard and promoting a healthy lifestyle. The Lifespan Achievement Program recognizes Bernards that have lived past ten years of age.
To join the SBCA, you must have one of the following; a two-year subscription to Saint Fancier Magazine, two-year membership to the American Kennel Club, or a former member of the SBCA with verification. A single membership costs $50 annually and $55 for a family membership. According to the SBCA, there are over 90,000 St. Bernard dogs in the system.
More About The Saint Bernard
In addition to being one of the most beloved dogs in the United States, the Saint Bernard has had plenty of screen time throughout film and television. In Disney's film Peter Pan, the family's dog, Nana, is a Saint Bernard and even has the chance to fly around with the help of a bit of pixie dust.
Probably the most famous Saint Bernard of all is Beethoven, from the 1992 comedy film Beethoven. The original Beethoven movie, written by John Hughes, follows a Saint Bernard dog named after the German composer. Beethoven helps a family get out of tons of silly antics, such as scaring off bullies and saving a girl from drowning. There are eight films in the Beethoven franchise.