Saint Bernard – Everything You Need To Know

Saint Bernard is a purebred dog belonging to the high Alps mountains in Switzerland. They are giant dogs and were initially used by the monks at the hospice of Saint Bernard to rescue the lost travelers. Also called Alpine Spaniel, they are famous for their Alpine rescues and their large size and gentle nature. Saint Bernards are not ranked very high by the AKC but are kind, affectionate, intelligent, good-natured, an excellent family companion, and one of the most loved dogs globally. They are the best nanny dogs and are very patient and gentle with children. In addition, Saint Bernards are playful, charming, curious, and anybody’s best bet to cuddle up for a late-night read or a movie on a couch.

Saint Bernard Pros and Cons

IntelligentLess active 
Friendly Giant size
Alert and a good watchdogShed a lot and are messy

Saint Bernard Basic Information

  • Name: Saint Bernard
  • Origin: Switzerland
  • Group: Working dog
  • Size: Large
  • Height: Male: 28-35 inches,  Female: 26-31 inches
  • Weight: Male: 140-180 pounds, Female: 54-64 pounds
  • Coat: Double-coated, medium length, and flat
  • Color: Red and white, bridle and white
  • Energy: Low
  • Activities: Tracking, guarding
  • Barking Level: Low
  • Shedding Level: High
  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Litter Size: 1-10 puppies
  • Other Names: Saint Bernard Dog, St. Bernhardshund, Bernhardiner, Alpine Spaniel
  • Original Pastime: Tracking, guarding
  • Life Span: 8-10 years

History of Saint Bernard

The Saint Bernard dog breed’s origin is from the  Alph mountains of Switzerland. The name “Saint Bernard” has its origin in the Great  St Bernard Hospice on the Great St Bernard Pass in the Western Alps between Switzerland and Italy. Interestingly, the pass, the lodge, and the dogs are named after Bernard of Menthon in 962 AD, an Italian Monk of the 11th century. Saint Bernards at the Hospice were working dogs and smaller than the present-day dogs. 

The name” St. Bernard” was not well known until the middle of the 19th century. Before the 19th century, these dogs were called “Saint Dogs”, “Noble Steeds”, or “Barry Dogs”. These dogs are believed to be created when the native Alpine dogs were crossed with Mastiff-type dogs that accompanied the Roman army of Emperor Augustus. Earlier, the dogs of Switzerland and the Alps were grouped as “Talhund”, which means Valley dog, or “Bauernhund”, meaning Farm dog. 

The first written note about the dog breed is seen in the monastery’s records of 1703. The actual period of the dog breed being used by the hospice is unclear, but a painting of 1695 depicting a well-built dog with short hair is found that resembles St Bernard. Over the years, the breed was imported into England and was called Sacred Dog by the English. In Germany, they were called Alphen Dogs in the 1820s. 

The present official name Saint Bernard was suggested by Daniel Wilson and was recognized by the Swiss Kennel Club in 1880. Eventually, the breed began to gain attention in the United States of America when an actor owned a St. Bernard called Plinlimmon in 1883. The Saint Bernard Club of America was founded in 1888, and the breed standard was the same as written by the Swiss. Saint Bernard ranks 39th among the 155 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club(AKC).

Types of Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard is classified into two types based on the coat varieties – Long-haired and short-haired.

Long-haired Saint Bernard: These types of St Bernard dogs have coats with long hair. The coat is slightly wavy and not curly or shaggy. The thighs and tail are bushy. A bit of feathering is seen in the forelegs.

Short-haired Saint Bernard: These dogs have coats with short and smooth hair. The coat is smooth and also dense. The thighs have bushy hair around them. The tail is enfolded with long, lush hair, but it gets shorter toward the tip.

Saint Bernard Highlights

  • Saint Bernard is a giant size breed and does not suit the apartments. They are best suited for bigger houses with bigger yards.
  • They are heavy shedders and messy dogs and don’t suit cleanliness freaks.
  • Saint Bernards mature slowly and remain a puppy mentally for a longer period.
  • They do not suit families with smaller children due to their giant size as they may unknowingly cause injuries.
  • Saint bernards belong to the cold weather conditions of the Alps and do not tolerate hot temperatures.
  • Saint Bernards don’t bark a lot, and when they do, they bark for a cause.
  • They only live for 8-10 years, and their life span is short.
  • Saint Bernards have an amazing sense of smell and pathfinding and scent abilities. In the olden days, their ability to follow the scent helped rescue the helpless during the snowstorms.
  • Saint Bernards have saved approximately 2000 lives during the three centuries of rescue work.
  • Prior to 1830, all St Bernards were short-haired. Unusual severe weather led to the dwindling of the breed, and thus the monks crossed them with Newfoundlands. This resulted in the long-haired Saint Bernards.
  • Interestingly, in the olden days, Saint Bernards never needed training from the monks. The younger pups learnt from the older dogs.

Saint Bernard Personality

Saint Bernards are powerful, giant-sized, and muscular dogs that belonged to the working group. They grow up to 28-30 inches and weigh about 140-180 pounds. They are double-coated and can be both short-haired and long-haired. The coat colors include red and white, brown and white, and brindle and white. The white hue at the tip of the tail runs along his bellies, forepaws and chest extending to his muzzle, continuing as a broad line sundering his eyes. The eyes are dark, droopy, and expressive and have dark masks over them which give a stern look. The floppy ears are set high on the head. The forehead is slightly wrinkled and has jowls that lead to drooling. They take longer to mature due to their large size and reach their full size around 2 or 3 years of age. Their back, fore and hind quarters are well proportioned.

Friendliness Overview

Affection levelHigh

Adaptability Overview

Good for apartment livingLow
Good for new ownersLow
Sensitivity levelHigh
Tolerates being aloneLow 
Cold toleranceHigh
Heat toleranceLow

Saint Bernard Physical Features

Head: The head is powerful and imposing. The skull is massive, wide, and slightly arched. The sides of the skull slope in a gentle curve to strong well developed high cheekbones. The skin on the forehead had noticeable wrinkles. The wrinkles are more visible when the dog is on alert. The muzzle is short, and the vertical depth of the muzzle is greater than the length of the muzzle. The jaws are well-developed, and the teeth are strong and sharp. The ears are of medium size, floppy, and set high. The eyes are medium-sized, dark brown, with an intelligent expression.

Neck: The neck is set high, muscular, strong, and erect when on alert.

Topline: The backline is level, strongly muscled, and firm. The chest is well-arched and moderately deep. 

Body: The body is powerful, strong, and muscular. The belly is set off distinctly from the loin section.

Tail: The tail is broad and strong with a powerful tip.

Forequarters: The shoulders are sloppy, broad, powerful, and muscular. The forelegs have sufficient bones and muscles to provide balance. 

Hindquarters: The hindquarters are well balanced and powerful. Declaws are not desired. The feet are broad with strong toes that are moderately closed with high knuckles.

Coat: Double-coated, dense, short-haired smooth, and challenging. The thighs and tail are bushy. 

Color: Red and white, bridle and white

Gait: The gait is smooth and elegant, exhibiting power and effortless speed. Well-balanced with good reach and strong drive.

Saint Bernard  Temperament

Saint Bernards are giant-sized but are the gentlest of pooches. They are calm, lively, patient, and affectionate. Though large, they are not aggressive towards strangers and other animals. They are perfect nanny dogs and do great well with the kids. Yet, they should not be left unsupervised with smaller kids due to their size, which may lead to injuries. They are kind and affectionate and make excellent therapy dogs. They are intelligent and have a high sense of scents and tracking. They are perfect dogs to keep indoors and make a great family companion. But they are not suited for the apartments due to their size and need bigger homes with big yards and spaces. They are messy when it comes to cleanliness, but you get a perfect partner to snuggle and cuddle with on cold nights. The overall temperament includes:

  • Gentle
  • Friendly
  • Playful
  • Charming
  • Curious
  • Intelligent
  • Therapy dogs
  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Affectionate

Saint Bernard Training

Saint Bernard is intelligent and curious, making training these dogs less difficult. Like any other dog, they need early socialization and puppy training classes. The training requires patience and consistency during the period. They are sensitive to any adverse reactions and need positive reinforcement while training. They love being around people, and treats and cuddling do wonders while training. They are active and look forward to the training sessions, playing fetch, obedience training and socialization help in behavioral correction and bring out the best in this dog. Their training can include the following:

Some toy suggestions for your St.Bernard

Milk-Bone Soft & Chewy Dog Treats
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Outward Hound Dog Treat Puzzle
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Saint Bernard Exercise Needs

Saint Bernards are large but only need moderate exercise. A daily routine of 30-60 minutes of exercise is ideal for keeping the dog’s mental and physical stimulation intact. A walk a day with 30 minutes of play sessions keeps the dog happy and healthy. They eagerly join in jogging, long hikes, and outdoor activities. They enjoy participating in carting and drafting competitions. Saint Bernard is most pleased when he does his work with his human. A proper exercise routine helps the dog with the following benefits.

  • Social interaction
  • Weight Control
  • Stress Relief
  • Behavioral Corrections like excessive chewing, persistent barking
  • Brain stimulation
  • Strengthening Muscles
  • Routine Toileting
  • Mental health and happiness

Exercise Needs Overview

Energy levelMedium
Exercise needsLow

Saint Bernard Grooming

Saint Bernard is double-coated with high levels of shedding. They are easy to groom, and the coat needs to be brushed 2-3 times per week. They may need extra brushing during their shedding season. Brushing helps remove clump hair and pull out the loose fur during shedding. One of the essential parts of grooming is bathing which keeps the dog clean. However, frequent bathing causes dry skin and itches. Bathing your dog using shampoos with pH. Balanced for dogs, pet wipes will keep your dog’s coat fresh, clean, and shiny. They can also be bathed once a week. However, daily brushing helps to keep the fur from knots and tangles. 

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Earth Rated Dog Wipes
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They are prone to collect ear wax quickly. Hence, Ears should be cleaned and regularly checked as they are prone to ear problems. Brush their teeth daily to prevent plaque and other dental problems. Never brush the teeth with a stiff brush as it will harm the gums and teeth. Also, make sure to use dog-friendly toothpaste. His droopy jowls would drool and to keep him clean and tidy you would have to wipe his drooling mouth with a dry cloth

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Arm & Hammer for Pets Tartar Control Kit for Dogs
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Also, clean their eyes and trim their nails as a part of everyday grooming needs. Their toenails need to be checked once a week as longer nails may harm and injure the dog. You can trim the toenails with a commercial dog nail trimmer or with the help of a vet or professional groomer.

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Pet Union Professional Dog Grooming Kit
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Grooming Overview

Easy to groomLow
Drooling tendenciesHigh
Amount of sheddingHigh

Saint Bernard Health

Saint Bernard is a healthy and active dog. Yet, it’s always wise to be aware of the health conditions they are prone to. 

Health Overview

General healthHigh
Weight gain tendenciesHigh to medium

Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is outwardly a painful disease that occurs when the bones of the back legs do not fit properly in the joints. While some dogs will exhibit symptoms, the majority of canines will not. Hip dysplasia is primarily genetic, although other causes such as accidents, excessive weight gain, and inappropriate training can also cause it. Even though this disease is fatal, therapies range from medicine to hip replacement surgery. This condition causes defects or damage to the hip bones and joints and worsens without treatment. To avoid this problem, avoid breeding dogs with hip dysplasia parentage and get annual examinations.

Other Causes of Hip Dysplasia: 

  • Injuries 
  • Excessive weight gain 
  • Wrong exercises 

Symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs include:

  • Reduced activity and movements
  • Reluctance to rise, jump, run or climb
  • Lameness in the hind limbs
  • Reducing thigh muscle mass
  • Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait
  • Grating in the joint during movement
  • Enlarging shoulders
  • Pain
  • Stiffness

Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a condition in which a dog’s metabolism is slowed due to the lack of thyroid hormone production. Among the signs and symptoms are:

  • Lethargy 
  • Gaining weight 
  • Reluctance to work out 
  • Hair Loss 

Collie Eye Anomaly: CEA is an inherited developmental condition usually seen in Saint Bernard, Australian shepherds, Border Collies, Shetland sheepdogs, and other dog breeds. This disorder can lead a dog to blindness. 

Von Willebrand’s Disease: This genetic blood disorder impairs the blood’s ability to clot. The primary symptom is excessive bleeding after surgery. Nosebleeds, bleeding jaws, and intestinal or bowel bleeding are some of the signs and consequences. There is still no cure, and the only option is a transfusion from healthy canines. New treatments, including medicine, are being investigated. Most dogs with Von Willebrand’s syndrome can lead everyday lives. You must take your dog to the vet for diagnosis. 

Obesity: Canines are prone to obesity, exacerbating hip and elbow dysplasia. This disorder negatively hits a dog’s health and durability. Obese canines exhibit an increased risk of heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes, joint problems, and hypertension. 

Dental Issues: Dental issues like bleeding gums, gum inflammation, tartar buildup, bad breath, and cavities are common in St.Bernards. Regularly brushing their teeth can prevent oral infections, gum diseases, and other dental problems. 

Epilepsy: This is the most prevalent neurological disease in canines, concerning about 0.75 percent of the population. Epilepsy is a broad name for disorders characterized by repeated, uncontrollable seizures caused by a brain defect. 

Spay or Neuter: In spay, the ovaries or uterus in females is removed, and in the neuter, the testicles of the male dogs are removed. It is done to eliminate the possibility of pregnancy or fathering unwanted puppies and decrease the likelihood of certain types of cancer.

Eye Defects  

  • Deformed Eyes (Small Microphthalmia): Animals suffering from this deformation develop smaller eyes as the nictitating membranes cover their eyes sockets. For this reason, they may be confined to an eye or both.   
  • Missing Eye or Eyes (Anophthalmia): This congenital disability occurs when one or both eyes are missing. At times, the eyes may have been formed but exist very deep inside the eye socket that the nictitating membrane covers them.   
  • Wandering Eye: This condition is characterized by eye degeneration which causes the lens to be liquefied.  
  • Cataracts: The condition causes cloudiness on the eye lens, leading to blindness.  
  • Starburst Pupil (Coloboma): This deformation may be associated with deafness and blindness. It is similar to an eye cleft. This condition may also lead to cataracts in dogs.   
  • Jagged Pupils: Dogs suffering from this defect are sensitive to light as their pupils have irregular edges.   
  • Blindness: Lack of eyesight in one or both the eyes  
  • Corectopia: This condition doesn’t affect the dogs severely but may get associated with other issues. In this condition, the pupils of the eye droop below their normal position.   
  • Cherry Eye: When the glands under your canine’s eyelid protrude, it appears like cherry and has to be removed surgically. 
  • Dry Eye:  This painful condition dries the affected eye or creates a blue haze due to the insufficient production of tears. It can be treated with proper medication or teardrops. 
  • Entropion: Entropion is when the eyelids are positioned inwards, disturbing the eye and causing eye irritation. Treatment involves correcting the eyelids surgically. 

Recommended Tests for Saint Bernard

  • X-Rays 
  • CT Scan 
  • Eye Examination 
  • Physical Examination 
  • Blood Work
  • Vet-certified proof of genetic testing

Saint Bernard Diet and Nutrition

Saint Bernard needs a large quantity of high-quality food, and they should eat ¾ to 2 cups of meal every day. Each puppy is distinctive, and the correct amount and quality of food depend on their age, weight, activity level, health, and more. The meals can also be split into two 2 cups daily. They are prone to obesity, and hence overfeeding must be avoided. St. Bernard pups can be given dry food, wet food, or a combination of both. Make sure the diet contains omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, chondroitin, and glucosamine. They can also be fed with fruits and vegetables that give carbohydrate energy. Never hesitate to consult a vet to meet your pup’s dietary requirements to keep them happy and healthy.

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Saint Bernard Living Condition

With the following living conditions and features, Saint Bernard is an excellent addition to your family:

  • Loves to be around humans and following all day and night.
  • Adaptable.
  • Can live in apartments with sufficient exercise.
  • Can live in homes with bigger yards,but when allowed in a backyard, the place should be adequately fenced.
  • Loves outdoor activities like walking, running, playing, hunting, and visiting dog parks. 
  • Love the attention of their owners and develop strong bonds. 
  • Suit well homes with smaller kids and other pets of the family. 
  • Is sensitive yet can stay at home alone quite contently. 
  • Is highly adaptable to cold weather conditions and is prone to heat strokes so should not be left outdoors for a longer time.
  • Thrive on companionship, playtime, training, praises, and cuddles.

Adding a Saint Bernard to Your Family

Things to Remember Before Adding a Saint Bernard to Your Family

It is best to get a Saint Bernard from a reputable breeder to prevent unavoidable circumstances like health disorders and provide you with vaccination certificates. It is best to check with the puppy’s parents to ensure his health and happiness. Always remember the following red flags to avoid backyard breeders and puppy mills.

  • Puppies are available around the year.
  • You can choose from a variety of litter that is always available.
  • One will be promised any puppy they want. 
  • We recommend you visit the puppy and his parents and get health clearance and vaccination certificates, to avoid purchasing a weaker puppy.

Cost of a Saint Bernard Puppy

The cost of a Saint Bernard ranges from $500 and $1500.

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