As one of the largest breeds, Saint Bernards seem bigger than life. The dogs are descendants of Asiatic Mastiffs used by the Romans as war animals, and they gained a mythical reputation from saving lives at the Swiss/Italian border of the Alps. The dog was named after a monk that founded the Great Saint Bernard Hospice in 1050. However, the dogs did not appear in the area for several hundred years. They were initially used to guard the monks and visitors of the hospice in the 17th century. Historians believe Saint Bernards became rescue dogs after the monks realized the canines were skilled at locating lost travelers.
25 – 27 inches
120 – 200 pounds
8 – 10 years
Brindle and white, red and white
Families with older children, singles experienced with dogs
Laid back, affectionate, loyal, quiet
Today’s Saint Bernards are much larger than their ancestors. Breeders used larger dogs to mate with the early Saint Bernards to increase the animal’s size and breed out some of its working dog traits. Although they’re giants, Saint Bernards are friendly animals that love interacting with humans. If they receive training as puppies, they can live happily with families and other pets. They’re not aggressive, but they’re protective of their family and only bark to warn loved ones of danger. They’re amazing creatures, but they may be challenging for a first-time dog owner.
Saint Bernard Characteristics
Saint Bernard Puppies
Compared to other purebred dogs, Saint Bernard prices are close to the average. Saint Bernards are challenging for first-time pet owners to handle, and they’re often given up for adoption when an owner cannot cope with the animal. Instead of searching for a reputable breeder, you can visit animal shelters to adopt a dog or puppy. Most organizations include vaccinations and microchips in the adoption fee. Rescue centers around the world are overrun with animals, and every adoption helps save a life and gives a canine a chance to live in a loving environment.
Saint Bernards are known to be adorable but quite a handful. They are huge dogs that need plenty of space to run around in, and their nutritional needs will also be proportionate to their size. Saint Bernards are incredibly affectionate and loyal, and will create strong bonds with families and children.
Temperament & Intelligence of the Saint Bernard
Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪
Saint Bernards have a relaxed temperament, and they’re excellent family dogs. They interact well with children, and they’re less bothered by youngsters pulling their hair than other breeds. However, the dogs are enormous and should not be left unsupervised with infants. The dog’s large paws and whipping tail can injure a child accidentally.
Although they love living with humans, Saint Bernards are not ideal for a small apartment inhabited by a large family. A single owner can live with the dog if it’s taken on daily walks and there is enough room inside for it to stretch out.
Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets?
Saint Bernards have working dog traits, but they have a low prey drive. They get along with other animals as long as they’re introduced to the pets at a young age. Early training is essential for owning a Saint Bernard, and you should socialize a puppy with as many pets and humans as possible to get the dog accustomed to the experiences. If you get a new pet when the Saint Bernard is full-grown, you’ll have to supervise the dog’s playtime with the animal to ensure the dog does not fall on or injure a young puppy or kitten.
Things to Know When Owning a Saint Bernard:
Saint Bernards require a great deal of care and attention compared to other breeds. If you’re used to living in a spot-free home, the Saint Bernard may not be right for you. The dogs shed more than other breeds, and they produce more drool than the average canine. In addition to cleaning up saliva and loose hair, you may have to replace a few personal items from time to time. While they’re not considered clumsy, the dogs can easily knock over a vase or sculpture because of their immense size.
Food & Diet Requirements 🦴
A Saint Bernard needs a high-protein diet supplemented with vitamins and minerals to help it develop properly. Five to six cups of dog food, split into morning and evening feeding, is enough for an adult dog. Saint Bernards are vulnerable to obesity, and you have to be careful to avoid overfeeding. Obesity can be detrimental to any mammal, but overweight Saint Bernards are particularly susceptible to joint and hip conditions. Their strong legs struggle to support their normal weight, and any extra pounds added on can increase the chances of injuries and severe medical conditions.
Saint Bernards need daily exercise to keep them fit, but you can get by with walking them once a day. They only require moderate exercise, but because of the dangers of obesity, they cannot stay cooped up in a house for very long. Training the dog to use a leash can be a challenge if it has not been taught at an early age. They’re strong animals, and they can drag you across the neighborhood if they’re not disciplined.
Saint Bernards are not the easiest animals to train, and you need an infinite supply of patience to complete the training process. Their average intelligence hinders them from learning tricks and commands quickly, but they will eventually learn over time. Unlike other large breeds, Saint Bernards are more emotionally sensitive. They do not clamor to be the alpha dog of the household, and you should avoid yelling or hitting the animal to correct a problem. When their owner screams at them, the dog takes the outburst personally.
Using positive reinforcement is the best method for training a Saint Bernard. When you provide treats as rewards and respond to mistakes firmly but calmly, the canine is more attentive and develops skills more effectively. Enrolling a puppy in a training program is vital for raising a well-behaved dog, and you should supplement the classes with brief obedience sessions at home.
Whether the animal has a short coat or a long one, you’ll have to use a grooming brush a few times a week. A short-haired Saint Bernard needs a least three grooming sessions a week, and a long-haired dog requires three to four brushings. In addition to a sturdy grooming brush, you’ll need a dematting tool to remove tangles and matted fur. Grooming keeps the dog’s coat healthy, and it reduces the amount of loose hair in your home. They do not need baths very often unless they’re dirty from playing outside.
The animal’s dental health is extremely important, and you should brush its teeth at least two to three times a week. Be sure to use a product designed for dogs rather than ordinary toothpaste. The first few brushing sessions will be frustrating, but you can ease the dog’s anxiety by providing its favorite treat after the grooming. Also, the animal needs its nails clipped about twice a month. Because of the dog’s size, it helps to have a friend or family member assist you with the clipping.
Health and Conditions 🏥
With a large frame and propensity to overeat, Saint Bernards are more susceptible to severe medical conditions than other common breeds. However, if you provide exercise, a healthy diet, and love, the dog can live up to 10 years. Mature Saint Bernards seem to lose their motivation to exercise, and you have to encourage them to play and walk to keep them healthy in old age.
Male vs Female
Both the male and female Saint Bernards are loyal, affectionate animals. However, a few key differences may convince owners to pick one sex over the other. Males are more likely to run away than females, but getting the animal neutered will reduce the possibility of an escape. Compared to the fairer sex, males are more destructive and harder to potty train.
Females are more nurturing than males and even act motherly around small children. They learn tricks and tolerate training better than males, and they’re slightly more independent. Saint Bernards cannot handle being away from their family for very long, and they can become destructive when they’re left alone for a long time. However, males suffer from separation anxiety more than females.
- Related Read: How Much Do St. Bernards Cost?
3 Little-Known Facts About the Saint Bernard
1. Saint Bernards came close to extinction when avalanches killed several rescue dogs in the Alps.
At the Great Saint Bernard hospice, the severe weather in the Alps nearly wiped out the rescue dog population. The population began to rebound a few years later when dogs from neighboring villages in the valley were used to mate with the remaining Saint Bernards.
2. Barry, the most famous Saint Bernard, saved 40 lives from 1800–1812.
You can still see Switzerland’s most famous canine displayed at the Natural History Museum in Bern.
3. The myth that Saint Bernards carried flasks of rum with them is not valid.
The legend that the rescue dogs revived lost travelers with a healthy serving of rum likely came from a painting made in 1820. A young artist, Edwin Landseer, painted “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler,” and the scene depicted an avalanche victim being revived by two Saint Bernards. One of the dogs is wearing a collar with a small wooden liquor cask attached. Since the painting was well received and appreciated by the public, the legend of the rum-totting animals spread across the country.
Caring for a friendly Saint Bernard is like having a large zoo animal in your home, but beneath the imposing figure lies the mind of a true sweetheart. The dogs are incredibly loyal and friendly, and they’re known to sulk when their caretakers discipline them. Raising the canines is not a simple task. Their medical and food bills are higher than smaller breeds, and their coats require frequent grooming. They rarely bark unnecessarily, but their drool output is legendary, and you’ll soon get accustomed to wiping up small pools of saliva around your home. Although their lifespan is shorter than most breeds, you will enjoy many happy years with the lovable giant.
Next on your reading list:
- Male St. Bernards vs Female St. Bernards: What Are The Differences?
- 9 St Bernard Colors & Patterns (With Pictures)
Featured Image Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova, Shutterstock