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So You're Thinking of Getting a Saint Bernard

Updated on May 30, 2012

Your Saint Bernard and You

A very large breed of working dog, the St. Bernard is from the Swiss Alps and Italy, bred originally for rescues.

Having become famous through alpine rescue tales, the St. Bernard is also famous for its size which is quite large.

A sizable dog, this breed's average weight is between sixty-four to one hundred twenty kilograms or more than the withers approximate height which is between seventy to ninety centimeters.

They can have either a rough or smooth coat which is flat and dense. Their coat is also more profuse around the legs and neck.

Typically red with white in color, their coat is sometime white with mahogany brindle. Shades of black are also found around teh ears and face.

They have a heavy, long tail with the end slightly turned up and hanging low. Their dark eyes need to have lids which are naturally tight with slightly visible haws. Usually brown, sometimes their eyes can be white or icy blue.

Sennenhunds share ancestry with St.Bernards. Also called Swiss Cattle Dogs or Swiss Mountain dogs, large Sennenhund farm dogs were used by dairymen and farmers of the SwissAlps which were draft, herding and livestock guardian dogs.

Sennenhunds were also watchdogs, rescue dogs and hunting dogs. Thought to be the Molosser descendants, ancient Romans brought these dogs to the Alps. St. Bernards that we recognize today are one of the breeds of Molossoids.

The earliest records written of the breed of St. Bernards are from hospice monks from the Great St.BernardPass in the year seventeen seven. There were drawings and paintings of the dogs that date even earlier.

Barry was the most famous St.Bernard to save people at the pass and was able to save between forty to one hundred lives.

There is a Barry monument in the Cimetiere de Chiens and his preserved body is found in Berne's Natural History Museum.

Due to cross breeding, St. Bernards which are classic looked quite different from today's St. Bernards.

Many avalanches in the winters of eighteen sixteen to eighteen eighteen caused many dogs to die as they performed rescues.

For breed preservation, many of the remaining dogs were cross bred with Newfoundlands brought in the eighteen fifties from Newfoundland Colony.

Thus much of their rescue dog uses were lost in the Alps snowy climate since their inherited longer fur would weight them down as it froze.

The club Swiss St.Bernard was founded on the fifteenth of March, eighteen eighty four in Basel.

This was the 1st breed to enter the SwissStudBook with a finally approved breed standard in eighteen eighty-eight. Since this time St. Bernards were considered to be the national breed of the Swiss.

The St. Bernard name originally comes from the hospice of travelers on the usually dangerous St.BernardPass in the West Alps between Italy and Switzerland, where the name was passed to the dogs that were local.

The dogs, lodge and pass were named for the eleventh century monk Bernard of Menthon who was responsible for establishing the station.

Strikingly, the breed is similar to the Newfoundland and the English Mastiff.

This is largely due to a shared common ancestor with the Tibetan Mastiff and the Alpine Mastiff. It is thought that these dogs were utilized for redeveloping each other to go against the extinction threat of WWII.

With many Mountain dog breeds, St. Bernards share many characteristics.

Although dogs that are St. Bernards are no longer utilized for rescues in the alpine the way they were before, they still participate in weight pulling and carting along with various other dog sports.

This breed is still under training for alpine rescues at the Barry Foundation but at the moment, the ones currently there are smaller than regular St. Bernards.

Like all other big dogs, St.Bernards need to be properly socialized with other dogs as well as other people to prevent possible territoriality, aggression and fearfulness.

To smaller children, the biggest threat is to get knocked-over by the larger size of the breed.

On the whole St.Bernards are affectionate and loyal and if properly socialized are quite friendly but are avoided occasionally since they do have a tendency to slobber.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, there was exportation to England of St. Bernards and these were bred with mastiffs for creating an even bigger dog.

The famous St.Bernard of the time named Plinlimmon measured up to two hundred ten pounds and thirty-four and a half inches. He was sold to someone from the USA at seven thousand dollars.

Pressure that was commercial encouraged larger dogs to be bred until the dogs became so large they had a hard time going from one show ring end to another.

In the year eighteen ninety-five, there was a report by the NYTimes that mentioned a St. Bernard named MajorF measuring eight feet six inches long who would be history's longest dogs if claims are true.

Benedictine V.Schwarzwald Hof, another St.Bernard also reached three hundred fifteen pounds, earning a page in the nineteen eighty-one GuinnessBook of WorldRecords in the year nineteen eighty-one.

In the media, there is often a portrayal of St.Bernards especially in old comedies of live action like SwissMiss and Topper, the TV series. Classic cartoons also portrayed this breed frequently with brandybottles around their neck.

Supposedly, these bottles were utilized for warming the victim which the dog has found. However, St.Bernard Hospice monks do deny that any of the rescue dogs ever carried small barrels or casks around their neck.

One nineteen forty-nine cartoon from Punch magazine shows a man with several puppies and a St.Bernards all of whom are wearing brandy flasks. The man says, "Naturally, they are only bred for their brandy."

The nineteen ninety-two film comedy Beethoven shows a friendly, large St. Bernard in later versions, his brood of pups which are unruly and his mate.

According to the sequel producers of Beethoven's2nd, the dogs which the film used grew so rapidly that over a hundred puppies were used for portraying the puppies for four sequels.


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    • elle64 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Scandinavia

      Eiddwen- thakyou so much for your comments

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Another marvellous hub ;oh how I love them and have to award this one my up up and away without a doubt.

      Keep them coming.

      Take care and enjoy your day.


    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 

      6 years ago

      I have always loved St. Bernards. I think they are adorable and I have never met one that was unfriendly. There is a woman in town who has two very large St. Bernards and she is always walking around town with them. The dogs are very well behaved but get very excited to see people and want nothing more than to be pet. They really are sweet dogs.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Very interesting hub about this beautiful and brave dog. The history of the breed was fascinating. Voted up!


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