Saint Bernards are large and powerful dogs with coats that range in color from brown-yellow, to red, to deep brown. Their hair can be short or long, and all coats have white markings. The tail and thighs are bushy, and the coat is dense, tough, and smooth lying. These dogs have medium ears, dark brown eyes, short muzzles, and wrinkled foreheads. Saint Bernards measure 25.5 to 27.5 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 130 to 180 pounds.
Known for their gentleness and steady disposition, these dogs are fun to play with, but their large size makes them unsafe around small children.
These dogs make excellent family companions, provided they receive early obedience training and plenty of exercise. Because of their large size, they do better in single-family homes with yards than in urban apartments. Saint Bernards are easygoing, patient, and gentle, which makes them a great choice for families with children.
Saint Bernards were originally used to locate lost and freezing travelers during severe snowstorms. Today, these dogs are more likely to be found in competitions than working in the snow.
Friendly, sweet, and wise, Saint Bernards make superb companions for families. Known for their gentleness and steady disposition, these dogs are fun to play with, but their large size makes them unsafe around small children. These fiercely loyal dogs are not naturally aggressive, but their size is useful at scaring away trespassers.
Saint Bernards can be comfortable in a city apartment, but this is only an option if regular walks and park time can be worked into the daily schedule; this breed needs daily exercise and room to run when the urge strikes. These dogs do not do well in the heat, though, and they are better suited for Boston than Miami.
Sometimes shy and often stubborn, this is not the best breed for taking to the dog park. Saint Bernards enjoy attention and affection from their human families, and they may become lonely and depressed if left outdoors for long periods without company.
Saint Bernards are a generally healthy breed and are not known to suffer from a great number of serious health problems. Of course, this is no guarantee that any individual dog will be free of genetic illness or disease. Purchasing or adopting a Saint Bernard from a reputable source is a good first step in acquiring a healthy puppy.
These dogs are prone to hip and shoulder conditions, elbow dysplasia, and gastric torsion. The risk of these conditions is higher in overweight or obese dogs. Additionally, Saint Bernards are more likely than some other dogs to develop diabetes, epilepsy, OCD, osteosarcoma, hypothyroidism, pyotraumatic dermatitis, and the eye conditions entropion, ectropion, and distichiasis. Cardiomyopathy and other heart conditions are also seen in this breed.
With routine veterinary care, regular exercise, proper nutrition, and timely vaccinations, Saint Bernards can live a full and active life of 7 to 10 years.
Saint Bernards have a strong stubborn side, but they are smart, eager to please, and easy to train. This breed prefers to think everything through before acting, so patience is a necessity during training sessions. Positive reinforcement techniques, such as praise, play, and food rewards, work well and provide needed motivation.
Generally cautious, it doesn't take much to turn a Saint Bernard into a shy or suspicious animal. Early and frequent socialization will help prevent overly fearful behavior from developing. Puppy kindergarten is a good start, and regular contact with unfamiliar people and animals will help these dogs remain friendly, confident, and tolerant.
Due to their very large size, it's important to begin working with Saint Bernards while they are still small and manageable. Training and socialization should begin within the first few months of life.
Both shorthaired and longhaired Saint Bernards need regular grooming to maintain coat appearance and health and to control shedding. Most of the year, weekly or bi-weekly brushings may be sufficient to keep loose hair from piling up on carpets and furniture. During shedding seasons, brushing every day is necessary.
Bathing is rarely needed. If the Saint Bernard rolls around in something sticky or harmful, a gentle shampooing with a pH-balanced canine shampoo will clean the coat without causing skin irritation. These dogs drool a lot, and it's wise to keep a small towel on hand to clean up the wet mess.
The nails need trimming regularly to prevent snags and breaks and to keep them from clicking on the floor. Daily tooth brushing is important to prevent gum disease and tooth decay, and weekly ear checks can catch infections before they become serious. Excess ear wax, redness, discharge, swelling, odor, and other troublesome signs should be reported to a veterinarian right away.
Saint Bernards were originally bred by Swiss monks from dogs already existing in the Swiss countryside. The dogs were named after Saint Bernard de Menthon, the patron saint of skiers and mountaineers. The first of the breed were shorthaired dogs and were used primarily as guard dogs, carting dogs, and for rescuing travelers trapped in the snow.
The breed likely comes from the Roman Molossian dogs, with Newfoundlands, Tibetan Mastiffs, and other large dog breeds mixed in. The Saint Bernard's exact lineage is not known. Before taking their current name, the breed was known by many other names, including Alpine Mastiffs, Sacred Dogs, Alpendogs, and Barryhunden. Most of their names stem from their work as hospice rescue dogs.
Beginning in the late 1880s, the breed's popularity grew in America, and by the 1960s, Saint Bernards were one of the more popular dog breeds in the country. Today, these dogs are frequently kept as companion animals, although they can also be found in obedience and conformation competitions.
The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Saint Bernard in 1885.