Massive, patient, and an excellent protector – that’s some of the characteristics that we may think of when Saint Bernard is mentioned. Although they are high-maintenance dogs, owning a Saint Bernard is very rewarding once you get used to living with him.
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Around 1050 CE, a monk named Bernard of Menthon created a hospice that we know today as the Great St. Bernard Hospice. The hospice, located at the snowy pass within the Alps, served as a place where travelers and pilgrims can recover from the extreme snowy climate while they’re journeying to Rome.
Aside from the hospice, monks also developed strong, working dogs – which we know today as Saint Bernards – that are capable of clearing paths, as well as locating travelers buried by avalanches and drifts. Thanks to their strong sense of smell, these dogs were also capable of sensing incoming avalanches, saving thousands of people from the possible danger.
After Bernard of Menthon was canonized as a saint, the treacherous pass, lodge, and the dogs were named after him.
In 1885, the American Kennel Club officially recognized Saint Bernard, along with 14 other breeds. This breed ranked 39th among the 155 breeds registered by the AKC.
Saint Bernard comes in two coats: short, shiny, and dense hair, or long and slightly wavy hair. However, monks of the Saint Bernard Hospice prefer the short coat variety.
A large head with a wrinkled brow, short muzzle, and dark eyes are some of the prominent features of Saint Bernard, giving this breed a smart and gentle appearance.
This breed comes in a variety of colors and shades of red with white, or white with red. It may be brindle patches with white markings to brownish-yellow. You can find white spots on the nape of the neck, on the chest, around the nose, on their feet, and at the tip of their tail. On the other hand, dark markings can be found on their heads and ears.
It is said that the white markings bear a resemblance to liturgical vestments worn by priests, and black spots to reduce the glare from the snow.
Saint Bernard is a giant, muscular dog in which males stand between 28 to 30 inches, and females around 26 to 28 inches. The male Saint Bernard weighs about 180 pounds, while the female is lighter at around 120 to 140 pounds.
Just like the other large dog breeds, Saint Bernard is a short-lived breed. They have a life expectancy of 8 to 10 years and can suffer from various genetic diseases and disorders, that’s why it is essential for this dog to have regular visits with the veterinarian.
Regardless if they’re short-haired or long-haired, Saint Bernards are heavy shedders and will blow their coat twice a year. During these times, daily brushing is essential. After the shedding season, weekly brushing would be enough to keep their coat clean and healthy.
To detangle mats of your Saint Bernard, use a detangler solution and gently comb their hair with a slicker brush or metal comb.
Baths should only be done when necessary.
Originally bred as hospice dogs, Saint Bernards are warm, gentle, and friendly dogs. They are patient and careful towards children. Being a warmhearted and good-natured dog, Saint Bernards are adored by everyone they meet. They may be fond of attention, but will not demand it as some other breeds.
Saint Bernards are smart dogs, but they can also be stubborn so it is important that they are properly trained at an early age. They are also not aggressive unless given a valid reason to be one.
Although Saint Bernards are below average in obedience and work intelligence, they excel at being able to understand human emotions, as well as assessing possible threats that may harm them or their family. That’s why this breed is highly trusted by parents with their kids. Their large size is intimidating, and they’re also intelligent guard dogs.
In history, Saint Bernards are known to protect the lands of Switzerland’s Hospice Saint Bernard, and also to assist in finding and saving lost and injured travelers.
At present, they make good family protectors and companions. They are versatile dogs, and you can see some Saint Bernards actively participating in the show ring and canine sports, such as obedience trials, drafting, carting, and weight pulling competitions.
Although they are large breeds, Saint Bernards only need a moderate amount of daily exercise. An hour of walk or play sessions would suffice their physical needs and keep them from becoming obese.
Keep in mind that Saint Bernards do not handle hot weather well. They are prone to heat exhaustion and heatstroke, therefore you should always have access to shade, as well as bring cool and fresh water always.
During winter, Saint Bernards would love a good romp on the snow.
Saint Bernards are smart and eager to please so training should be relatively easy, although they can become stubborn at times, so it is important to keep the training fun and interesting. Since they are naturally friendly, they may jump on people as a way of welcoming them, therefore obedience training is a must for this breed.
It is also essential for Saint Bernards to get puppy training classes in order to be properly socialized during their puppyhood. This will help them to react properly in front of other animals and strangers.
Good With Family
Saint Bernards make the best family companion. They are gentle, sweet, patient, and their size is good enough to scare off burglars or intruders. It also makes them an excellent cuddle buddy while reading or watching, but it also may be a bit too much for toddlers or smaller children since their big size may cause them to accidentally knock them over.
Saint Bernards are not generally aggressive, but will alarm their owners of strangers and will protect them of anything they perceived as a threat.
It is always important to keep an eye on when children and Saint Bernards are playing. Teach your children not to pull their ear or tail as it may result in sudden aggressiveness even to the most patient and gentle dog.
Saint Bernards are generally quiet and calm indoors, but because of their large size, they are not suited to condos and apartments. Saint Bernards thrive in an area where they can walk or just stretch out their large body. They should be kept indoors, and not live outside or in the kennel. Saint Bernards need to be with their human family, always.
Also, this breed drools and sheds. You may need to clean your house more often than necessary if you decided to keep this dog. But, the result is rewarding compared to the effort that you have to go through to maintain them – Saint Bernards are worth it.
Saint Bernards are friendly dogs. They are the happiest when included in family activities. Their desire to be with their family may result in sulking if he feels he’s being left out. Just like with other dogs, an unhappy Saint Bernard may suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for long periods of time. Make sure to give them enough attention and proper care to keep them healthy and happy.
Being a large breed, Saint Bernard may suffer from genetic disorders and health conditions, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, eye diseases, and heatstroke. They may also suffer from Osteosarcoma or bone cancer, epilepsy, seizures, heart disease, and eczema. Because they have a deep chest, Saint Bernards can develop bloats which is a life-threatening condition.
Make sure to check with your veterinarian for signs and symptoms to prevent worsening of the said health issues and prolong your dog’s life.