Where does the Saint Bernard come from?
Since their beginning as a breed, Saint Bernards have been saving humans lives in the unforgiving Swiss Alps. The earliest records mentioning these heroic dogs date back to the year 1707: Monks of the Great St Bernard Hospice (located on the famous Great St Bernard Pass) immortalised their dogs in paintings and drawings.
The most famous Saint Bernard in history, “Barry”, lived from 1800 to 1814 and saved more than 40 lives. Two years after Barry died, extreme weather conditions caused a dramatic increase in avalanches. One day, most of the monks’ adult dogs were on the mountain, trying to save lives – when a gigantic avalanche hit and buried men and dogs alike. With most of their breeding stock lost, the monks had to rely on very few individuals to save the breed. Which may explain why today’s Saint Bernard looks very different than “Barry” and his fellow rescue dogs: Perfectly built for their work, the older Saint Bernards were similar in size and weight as the German Shepherd.
What is their temperament like?
Saint Bernards are very laid-back, quiet, and low energy dogs. These shaggy giants should be allowed to live in the house, at least for most of the day: Despite their bear-like appearance, these dogs love nothing more than spending time with their favourite people. Thanks to their immensely kind-hearted and gentle nature, they are amazing family pets. And their lack of prey drive makes them relatively safe for other animals in the household. On the flipside, their friendliness towards humans means that Saint Bernards may not take their guardian duty too seriously. But they can be taught to sound an alarm. And quite frankly, I cannot imagine anyone wanting to break into a house that has a bear-like dog sitting behind the window!
How intelligent and trainable are Saint Bernards?
As their honourable history as mountain rescue dogs shows, Saint Bernards are both smart and trainable. And yet - they are still mountain Mastiffs. And as such, they have a mind of their own. Saint Bernards are unlikely to speedily perform long obedience-drills, like a German Shepherd or Border Collie would. One reason for this lies in the breed’s history: During search and rescue operations, the monks of the Hospice had to trust in their dog’s senses to find survivors under thick layers of snow. But even though Saint Bernards are used to working independently, they will accept leadership from an experienced owner. Such a person would know how teach an independent-minded dog at least basic commands and manners. To do this, they would employ a training approach based on positive reinforcement.
Are Saint Bernards healthy dogs?
Saint Bernards have a lifespan of between 8 and 10 years. In terms of their health as a breed, they tend to suffer from several problems related to their enormous size – such as joint problems, hip- and elbow dysplasia. Their droopy eyes are prone to entropion (which means the eyelid turns inwards, and needs to be surgically corrected). Other health problems that run in the breed are epilepsy, seizures, Osteosarcoma, and the heart disease dilated cardiomyopathy.
The Saint Bernard’s Exercise and Grooming Needs
These slow-paced giants love to go on walks, and are fond of playtimes with their owners and other dogs. But they certainly do not feel the need to keep on running around for hours on end. And after a good half hour walk in the morning and a nice meal, they will be quite content to settle down in the house. Most Saint Bernards will be happy with two 30-minutes walks a day.
Saint Bernards have beautiful, thick double-coats that can be short or long. Both varieties shed heavily, but the short-haired dogs need far less grooming: 2 – 3 good grooming sessions per week are enough. The long-coated Saint Bernard, however, needs brushing at least every other day to prevent mats and tangles. The best tools for their luxurious coats is a long-pinned brush and a stainless steel comb – along with an undercoat rake and a Furminator for shedding season.
Saint Bernards are absolutely amazing dogs – beautiful to look at and a joy to live with. They are incredibly sweet towards their loved ones, and they truly adore children of any age. Saint Bernards are the proverbial gentle giants, and the perfect choice for owners familiar with strong-willed dog breeds.