The St. Bernard and our family St. Bernard
When you walk a St. Bernard heads turn everywhere you go. A St. Bernard attracts more attention than any other dog just by his sheer size. A St. Bernard is a big dog. No, I don’t own one but my son and daughter-in-law do. The thing that people say that amazes me the most is, “Is that your dog?” It’s tempting to say “no, I’m walking him for a friend” but then you won’t get into the interesting conversations that follow.
St. Bernard’s were named after the St. Bernard Pass in the Alps. This Pass was between Italy and Switzerland. The St. Bernard was used to rescue people trapped in the Pass. “Over a span of nearly 200 years , about 2,000 people, from lost children to Napoleon's soldiers, were rescued because of the heroic dogs' uncanny sense of direction and resistance to cold."
The St. Bernard we know today is different from the 18th Century St. Bernard. The original St. Bernard was descended from the Swiss Mountain Dog. It is believed the St. Bernard breed originated between 1660 and 1670 according to the St. Bernard Club. They were originally called Hospice Dogs or Holy Dogs because of the work they did. Due to the breeding of the Swiss and the English there are now three standards for the St. Bernard; a modified old Swiss version still used in the United States, the English version, and a much revised Swiss version adopted by all FCI countries in 1993. Since the currently approved American Kennel Club standard differs only slightly from the original Swiss Standard, it is the position of the St. Bernard Club that is the only standard that is acceptable.
At one time breeders tried to make the St. Bernard bigger, breeding them with the Alpine Mastiff and other big dogs, and succeeded in breeding a dog that was eight feet long. The problem was the dog grew too fast and was so big and cumbersome he had trouble moving around. The result was breeding him back to a size that he could handle. The normal size of a St. Bernard is between 110 and 200 lbs.
That’s a lot of dog! However, they are extremely gentle. They have a great temperament and are very good (and tolerant) with children. It’s like they know the children don’t mean them any harm. They even tolerate children climbing all over them. They are very friendly and easy to get along with.
Obviously they are good watchdogs. If you saw a St. Bernard staring back out the window at you, would you go in that house? If you’ve ever heard a St. Bernard bark you know that’s enough to scare anyone.
Because of their size they really need to be trained as puppies. The St. Bernard puppy is adorable, even at 25 lbs. They are obedient dogs and easy to train. They like to be with their family and will plop down right in the middle of the activity and just lie there and watch what’s going on around them. Surprisingly they don’t need a lot of exercise but a good, short run once in a while is a joy to them. It is suggested they don’t get too much exercise when they are puppies because their bones are growing so fast. They are active when they are young but laid back when they mature.
They do shed a lot so frequent brushing is a good idea. Their hair is very thick as they have a top coat and an undercoat. The biggest drawback of a St. Bernard is their drool. It is a normal, natural thing but if they shake their head when it’s hanging it can go everywhere from the ceiling to the floor and anywhere in between.
If you’ve never lived with or been with a St. Bernard I bet you’ve seen a movie with one. Of course the most well-known are Cujo and Beethoven. Those two St. Bernard’s are worlds apart! After being bit by a rabid bat Cujo, being sick, becomes mean and aggressive. Although the movie involves an abusive husband and a cheating wife, it centers around Cujo. He attacks and kills anyone who comes into the house. The movie then moves to a car where the woman has taken her son to escape from Cujo. That doesn’t work and she manages to escape to the house and shoots Cujo with the Dead Sheriff’s gun. While it is a terrorizing movie for the woman and her son one cannot help but feel sorry for this dog who was never given a rabies shot and has gone stark raving mad and on a killing rampage.
The other movie, Beethoven is entirely different. Not being written by Stephen King it actually shows a bit more of the true nature of a St. Bernard. Though it exaggerates the St. Bernard’s traits it doesn’t show him as a villain. The children in this movie love him and he comes to their rescue time and again. Of course there is a villain, the vet who wants to use Beethoven in experiments. He tricks the family into believing Beethoven bit him and takes Beethoven away to euthanize him. When the family decides he was lying and goes to rescue Beethoven the vet claims he’s already been euthanized, but as with all good comedies, alls well that ends well and Beethoven is saved and restored to his family. Due to its popularity there was a Beethoven2.
Another much less known movie is Barry of the Great St. Bernards – Disney movie that I think was made for TV. This film is set in the early 1800s and fictionalizes the St. Bernard’s actual rescue missions during that time. An orphaned boy shows up at the monastery and Barry becomes attached to the boy…you get the story line.
Origin of the breed: Saint Bernards originated in Switzerland and were originally bred as a working dog to pull carts, turnspits, watch and herd and for helping lost travelers
Dogs do not have an appendix.
An adult dog has 42 teeth.
Smiling at a dog causes him to think you are baring your teeth to show aggression.
As with all dog breeds there are many rescue efforts for St. Bernards including the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation, Inc. In addition to adoption and rescue efforts this foundation sells items to raise money to continue their efforts. They are located in Oregon and state in their Mission Statement that they will take in any dog in need even though their focus is St. Bernard.
The St. Bernard Club is geared more towards those interested in showing their dogs but offers a world of information for the St. Bernard owner. From historical documents and pedigree searches to breeder ads and rescue information. Of course St. Bernard adoption is available too. It looks like a one stop shop if you like St. Bernards. There’s lots of good information here, for example:
HOW MUCH DO THEY EAT? A Saint Bernard will not "eat you out of house and home." The fact is, a Saint Bernard can be raised and maintained on no more food than required for other large breeds. Since Saints are basically placid dogs, they generally require less food per pound of body weight than most smaller, more active breeds.
HOW MUCH ROOM DO THEY NEED? The Saint by nature does not require acres and acres to roam. They are not as active or nervous as some breeds and are content to remain close to home for the most part. Consequently, a small fenced yard or kennel run is enough just so long as there is some place for regular exercise. The apartment dweller must be walked frequently to make up for the exercise he would normally take at his leisure.
HOW DO THEY HANDLE THE HOT WEATHER? The dog will do well as long as there is a cool dry place to nap and plenty of fresh cool water. He will cut down both his food intake and his amount of activity. It must be remembered that going from an air conditioned place into the boiling heat can be disastrous. Abrupt changes in temperature are extremely hard on a Saint.
Really good information if you’re thinking about getting a St. Bernard. Even if you aren’t, it’s an interesting, informational site to visit.
Obviously a dog of this size and with its reputation is always an attraction, whether you want to own one or just learn about it. Remember at the beginning of this hub I mentioned my son’s St. Bernard? His name is Vedder. He was named after Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. Vedder is seven years old and gets along with all the other dogs in our family as well as my two and a half year old grandson. All of the pictures and video I’ve posted are Vedder.
Hope you enjoyed this hub and the pictures and video.
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