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Saint Bernard

Nicole Cosgrove

Saint Bernard sitting in meadow

The St.Bernard or Saint Bernard is a giant purebred famous for its alpine rescues and its hard working nature. Bred in Switzerland it was first a guard dog. Today it is also a loved companion found in many large family homes. He does will in shows especially in search and rescue, obedience trials, carting, drafting, and weight pulling.

Here is the St.Bernard at a Glance
Name Saint Bernard
Other Names St. Bernhardshund, Alpine Mastiff, Bernhardiner, St.Bernard
Nicknames Saint
Origin Switzerland (& Italy)
Average size Giant
Average weight 120 to 200 pounds
Average height 26 to 30 inches
Life span 8 to 10 years
Coat type Short and smooth or long, rough and dense
Hypoallergenic No
Color Brown, red, white, black, tricolor and brindle
Popularity Quite popular, ranked 50th by the AKC
Intelligence Very intelligent
Tolerance to heat Low – can over heat very quickly
Tolerance to cold Excellent – able to handle even freezing climates
Shedding Moderate with heavy shedding at seasonal times
Drooling Heavy – especially after eating and drinking
Obesity Above average – watch its food and activity
Grooming/brushing Moderate with daily brushing
Barking Low to occasional
Exercise needs Somewhat active – its size means a certain level of exercise is needed to keep it in good health
Trainability Moderate – some are easy some are less so, experience helps
Friendliness Excellent – very social dog
Good first dog Good but better with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent – gets along well with everyone
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Very good to excellent with socialization
Good with strangers Excellent – usually quite approachable
Good apartment dog Moderate – can adapt but preferably needs space to move around without knocking things over
Handles alone time well Low – can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues Moderate – unfortunately not a very healthy breed, issues can include joint dysplasia, eye problems, heart problems and bloat
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic needs and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for good quality dry food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $535 a year for grooming, license, training, toys and other miscellaneous costs
Average annual expense $1290 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1500
Biting Statistics Attacks Doing Bodily Harm: 13 Maimings: 8 Child Victims: 9 Deaths: 1

The St.Bernard’s Beginnings

The St.Bernard comes from the Alps in Switzerland where it is thought native dogs there were bred with Mastiff dogs that the Romans brought with them when their army crossed over. Early on all dogs from the region were called Valley Dogs (Talhund) or Farm Dogs (Bauernhund).

In the Alps is a pass called the Saint Bernard Pass, it is a dangerous crossing and is only done in the Summer months. It was named after the Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon who came there in 962 AD where he built a hospice to offer aid to travelers. At this point the St.Bernard dog moves away from being a valley or farm dog and comes into its own.

While a specific time when the Hospice started using the dogs cannot be pinpointed, there is a painting that shows it dated to 1695 and written records mention it in 1703. It was used as a guard dog for the grounds and when monks went out to help lost travelers they took the dogs with them for protection. This must have led to the discovery that this breed was very good at finding paths and people!

Being isolated the dog developed into one that could specifically handle the weather conditions there and developed the traits needed to be good at search and rescue. When the monks needed more dogs for breeding they would use ones from the lower valleys. Over 300 years of records at the Hospice reveal that just in that time the dogs saved over 2000 people. Interestingly the monks never trained the dog to be good at search and rescue, young puppies learned from older more experienced dogs.

Up until 1800s though they still did not have a formal name. The English called them Sacred dogs, the Germans thought of the name Alpendog but in 1833 Daniel Wilson offered the name Saint Bernard Dog and that is what the Swiss Kennel recognized it as in 1880. The Swiss St.Bernard Club was started in 1884. and a standard was agreed on in 1888.

New Lease on Life

The breed came to the US in 1883 with a show winning dog called Plinlimmon, owned by an actor. In 1885 it was recognized by the AKC and in 1888 the SBCA was formed, (Saint Bernard Club of America). Today it is ranked 50th most popular dog by the AKC.

In Switzerland it is no longer used in Alpine rescues but there are still St.Bernards at the Hospice where they are kept for traditional and sentimental reasons. The last recorded rescue in fact was in 1955. There is also an annual celebration of the breed at the Little Saint Bernard Pass and in a town on the French side.

The Dog You See Today

This is a giant sized dog weighing 120 to 200 pounds and standing 26 t0 35 inches tall. It is muscular and powerful, with a large head, short and wide muzzle, wide nose and black lips. It has medium sized brown or blue eyes and ears that are set high, droop and are medium sized too. Its tail is long and broad which it keeps low when it is not alert. In countries where it is still allowed dewclaws are removed.

There are two types of coats a St.Bernard can have. One is long, rough, dense and close, the other is short, smooth, dense and close. Long haired dogs have a wave in the coat but not shaggy or curly. Common colors are brindle, red, brown, tricolor and black or white markings.

The Inner St.Bernard


St.Bernard’s are very friendly, social and outgoing dogs. They love people, being around family and being at the center of activity. They also enjoy getting attention as much as any dog but are not super needy dogs. It is intelligent too, with some tendencies to independent thinking. Because of this and its size it is probably a dog best with those with experience.

Often this dog will bond more closely with one owner than any others, but is still affectionate to the rest of the family. It is a patient and obedient dog when well trained and is eager to please. It is calm indoors and quite slow moving but its size is something that can cause accidents around the home. Plus it does slobber, drool and snore! It does not like being left alone though and can suffer from separation anxiety if it does not have company.

Living with a St.Bernard

What will training look like?

Training the St.Bernard is moderate in difficulty, though it can vary. Some are easier to train and some have a stronger wilfulness to deal with. It is an intelligent dog, the problem is not that it is not smart enough to make things easy. It is just that it does like to make its own choices sometimes! Be firm and consistent with it and be patient. Also make sure it gets early socialization too, this is just another part of essential training so that it can be the best dog it can be with others and in different situations.

Positive training methods are going to be a lot more effective. Offer it encouragement, praise it, use treats to motivate. There are some things you will want to include as it grows into a large dog. Leash training so it does not pull at you, and not to jump up in greeting when you walk in or when visitors come over. If you need to turn to professional help look for schools or professionals near by who can help. An untrained St.Bernard could cause a lot of destruction and trouble especially when it grows into its giant adult size.

How active is the St.Bernard?

It might be a large breed but really it is not a super active one. It is somewhat active meaning it is quite a chilled and slow dog in general, but it does need its two daily walks, or one good long walk. It is important it gets out every day to stay healthy. Because of its size it is best in a home with some space, it can adapt to apartment living, it is not boisterous indoors, but something larger would work better for everyone.

When it is a puppy avoid over exercising them as this can cause damage to joints and bones. You do not want it gaining too much weight too quickly or jumping from heights too high. Also remember this is not a dog that can handle the heat at all so avoid walking it outside when it is too hot and make sure it has shade and water. During the winter it will be a lot happier to more active.

Caring for the St.Bernard

Grooming needs

There is a moderate to above moderate amount of maintenance involved in owning a St.Bernard. It sheds an average amount but that goes up during seasonal shedding times. There are two coat types so the shorter coats may be fine with about 3 brushes a week, but the longer one will need daily brushing to keep the tangles at bay. Use a firm bristled brush and a comb if needed. You will need to be ready to clean up hair around the home, off of furnishings and clothes.

Give it a bath just when it needs one. Shampooing can dry out its skin if used too often. If its size is a problem for your bathroom do it outside in the yard or take it to a professional groomers and use one of their bathing stations. If tangles are a problem there are detangling solutions you can get to spray on the area affected.

There is a tendency for the St.Bernard to have staining around its eyes so that will need to be wiped daily. Its ears should be checked for infection and given a wipe clean using an ear cleansing solution once a week. It should also have its teeth brushed two to three times a week and its nails clipped by someone with experience, when they get too long.

Feeding Time

A giant dog like this is going to need at least 5 to 6 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day. Exactly how much though is going to vary depending on the size of your dog, its health, level of activity and rate of metabolism. Make sure it eats in two or three meals so that it does have problems with bloat. It does love to eat so watch how much it gets, keep an eye on your counters and watch the treats!

How are St.Bernards with children and other animals

The St.Bernard really does reflect the term gentle giant well. It gets along very well with children and other animals. Socialization is an important part of that though as with any dog. It is important to keep in mind that being so big it is prone to knocking over toddlers by accident so supervision may be needed for younger children. It is very patient and very gentle in general though and can deal with a lot more from kids than other dogs might allow. This should not be something the children are allowed to take advantage of though. They need to be taught how to touch and play with the dog in a kind and safe way.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The life span for this breed is 8 to 10 years which is on the short side of how long dogs of its size can live. They are also prone to some health issues. These include heart problems, joint dysplasia, bloat, eye problems, cancer, wobbler syndrome, epilepsy, allergies and skin problems.

Biting Statistics

The St.Bernard has been identified in reports as being involved in 13 attacks that did bodily harm against people in the US and Canada, over the last 34 years. Of those 13 attacks 9 victims were children. Out of those 13 attacks were 8 maimings, these were attacks that left the victim disfigured permanently, scarred or loss of limb. There was also 1 death. This averages at 1 serious attack every 3 years. This might initially make you think this dog is more aggressive than stated in the article previously. However over 34 years this is not a large number compared to many other breeds. The fact is any dog can snap or become aggressive if wound up enough, not socialized or trained well enough or if not raised properly.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A St.Bernard puppy is going to cost about $1500 for one of good pet quality from a respectable breeder. That can range down to $1000 or go a little over that depending on location and breeder and what is offered. Of course if you want to get a puppy from a top breeder who breeds only show worthy dogs then this is going to go up a lot in price, several thousands in fact. While it is not likely you will find puppy St.Bernards in shelters or rescues, it is something to consider if you are okay with an adult dog and this will cost less too. Puppy mills and back yard breeders are another source of puppies but we strongly advise you not to go this route.

There are other costs for things your new pet will need, like a crate, bedding, bowls, leash and collar for about $200. Then there are medical needs like a physical exam, deworming, micro chipping, vaccinations, blood tests and spaying or neutering depending on its gender. These will cost another $300 or so.

Annual food costs will be about $270 a year for good quality dry food and treats. Other annual costs will be essential medical needs like pet insurance, shots, flea prevention and check ups for $485 or more. There will also be other costs like toys, long hair grooming, license, basic grooming and other miscellaneous costs for $535 a year.

This gives an annual starting figure of $1290.


Looking for a Saint Bernard Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

The Saint Bernard is a large and powerful dog, it needs training and socialization, grooming and cleaning, room to move around and a certain level of exercise. If you can provide that, and you have experience with dogs it could be a great dog to add to your home. It is a kind and steady dog, will make a great companion and friend and is very loyal.

You will need to be ready for the drooling, snoring and shedding too and for that fact that as much as you will love it and it will love you, it will not be with you for as long as some other dogs live. Also keeping the place clean, free of dirt, slobber, hair or anything else it tracks in can be a daily job!

Popular Saint Bernard Mixes

Golden Saint
Golden Saint
Saint Bernard , Golden Retriever Mix
General Information
Size Giant
Height up to 36 inches
Weight 100 to 220 pounds
Life span 9 to 13 years
Touchiness Moderate
Barking Occasional
Activity Fairly Active
Breed Traits




Mini Saint Bernard
Saint Bernard, Cocker Spaniel Mix
General Information
Size Two sizes
Height 12 to 16 inches or 16 to 20 inches
Weight 15 to 35 pounds or 40 to 60 pounds
Life span 8 to 11 years
Touchiness Can be anxious
Barking Rare
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits

Alert and Social
Easy to train
Good watchdog
Good Family Pet



Saint Dane
Saint Dane
Saint Bernard, Great Dane Mix
General Information
Size Giant
Height 25 to 32 inches
Weight 160 to 200 pounds
Life span 6 to 10 years
Touchiness Fairly sensitive
Barking Rare
Activity Very active
Breed Traits

Well tempered
Easy to train
Good Family Pet



Featured mage Credit: rokopix, Shutterstock
Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.