The Saint Bernard

By Claudia Bensimoun

                                                       Image credit: Pixaby



Alternative Name: St. Barnhardshund. Alpine Mastiff. Bernhardiner

 Swiss monks first bred the Saint Bernard during the seventeenth century. This breed originated from Switzerland where these dogs were used for search and rescue, drafting and guarding. This breed belongs to the working, AKC and Mastiff group. Saint Bernard’s are well known for their search and rescue work, and for being courageous dogs. Their name can be traced to the Hospice of Saint Bernard, which was a refuge for all travelers endeavoring to cross the mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy. This breed had great path finding abilities and a keen sense of smell. It is one of the most celebrated breeds in history. They are reputed to possessing an uncanny sixth sense, which warns them of an approaching avalanche.


Thoroughly handsome and kind, the Saint Bernard is a wonderful family dog that enjoys being around children and other pets. This breed is calm, sensitive and intelligent. Powerfully bred with a large head and blunt muzzle, the Saint Bernard is an affectionate and playful dog. With huge paws and a long tail, the Saint Bernard looks powerful and strong. He is never ill-natured and enjoys having fun.

The Saint Bernard can be white with red or red with white in coat color. The red can be of many different shades; some with brindle patches and white markings. Red and brown-yellow should be of equal proportion on the Saint Bernard’s coat. All Saint Bernard’s should have a white chest, feet and tail tip of white coloring, noseband, collar or spot on the neck in white. These markings are very desirable. This breed should never be just one color or without the white trim. The dark mask on the head and ears are allowed and favored. Males stand at 27½ inches, with the female being 25½ inches. Saint Bernard’s weigh between 120-180 pounds.

Breeding History

 This breed is shrouded in mystery. Some believe that the Saint Bernard originated from the heavy Asian Molosser breed, brought to Switzerland by Roman armies during the first two centuries A.D., and then bred to native dogs, which were present during the Roman invasions. Later on, these dogs were often used in Alpine dairies for guarding and herding. By 1707, there was reference to this breed at the Saint Bernard Pass at the hospice. With the dogs being so isolated at the hospice, there was inbreeding of the original stock. Only the strongest dogs survived the adverse conditions, and soon monks and the Saint Bernard became a pair. They began working together to find travelers that had become lost during snow storms.

The Newfoundland was later crossed with the Saint Bernard, thus resulting in the longhaired Saint Bernard breed. Before 1830, all Saint Bernard’s were shorthaired. By 1810, the Saint Bernard was crossed with the Mastiff by the British, and these dogs were known as Sacred Dogs. It was not until 1865, that the Saint Bernard name definitely appeared.

American Kennel Club

United Kennel Club

Modern Uses

 There is no other breed quite like the Saint Bernard-powerful, strong, muscular, brave, intelligent and loyal. Today this breed makes for a wonderful companion dog that is easy to have at home. This breed is friendly towards strangers, other pets and children. The Saint Bernard is not a guard dog, and prefers being around children. Saint Bernard’s must be kept away from heat, and should be kept indoors with cool temperatures.


 The Saint Bernard does best in a home with children and other pets. This is an intelligent and sensitive breed that can adapt to city life, but needs to have enough room to roam around and have fun. The Saint Bernard is easy to housetrain and are truly family dogs. They are brave, compassionate and kind.

Is a Saint Bernard Right For You?

 First and foremost, the Saint Bernard is a large breed that is very gentle. They are patient and obedient, and eager to make everyone in the household happy. Because this breed is easy to train, this does not mean that training should begin later on. Since this dog is a large breed, training should start early while the dog is still a controllable size. The Saint Bernard drools plenty, most often after eating or drinking. It’s important to socialize the Saint Bernard from an early age.

This breed needs regular veterinary care, plenty of fresh air and exercise. Be prepared! A dog of this size needs space to play and run around in. The Saint Bernard thrives on being around family members, and does not do well when left alone all day. Training is super easy during the puppyhood stage when the Saint Bernard puppy is eager to learn. Drooling may be a problem with this breed. This gentle giant is an absolute pleasure to have around the home with children, other pets and guests.


 The Saint Bernard is prone to many health problems such as heart, hip dysplasia, tumors, bloat, albinism, epilepsy, skin allergies and laryngeal paralysis. Since this breed is prone to bloat, it’s always best to feed a few small meals, and to consult with your veterinarian if you see any signs of bloat.


 Today there are so many different types of dog foods available. There are also many hypoallergenic and low calorie diets available. Because nutrition impacts your dog’s good health, it’s important that you select the very best nutrition for him. Adult diets are different from puppy diets, and each stage of your dog’s life will require different formulas. Consult with your veterinarian for the best advice, so that your pooch will have a well balanced diet that will meet his needs. In addition, be sure to add vitamins, minerals, fresh fruits and vegetables.


 Saint Bernard’s need regular exercise. With this breed, it’s important not to exercise him during intense heat on a summer’s day. It’s necessary to understand that safety comes first, so long walks and trips to the dog park or beach should be done during the early morning or late afternoon hours when it’s not too hot. Whether your new Saint Bernard is a puppy or fully grown dog, make sure that he has plenty of fun outdoor activities that will keep him mentally stimulated each and every day.

Common Signs of Illness

 All dogs will suffer from common illnesses the same way we do. Vaccinate your puppy against all diseases, and choose a veterinarian that is nearby your home. Bloat is a dangerous problem faced by large, deep- chested breeds like the Saint Bernard. That said; always wait an hour after exercising your dog before feeding. Elevate your food and water bowls, and know what to look out for when faced with the early stages of bloat. Combine holistic veterinary treatment with traditional treatments. Common signs of illness include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Pale gums
  • Distended stomach
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessive thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Increased urination linked to kidney problems
  • Lethargy
  • Feeling of being unwell

If your Saint Bernard demonstrates any of these symptoms, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian. It’s important that your veterinarian diagnose the illness, and treat your dog as soon as possible. You will need to vaccinate your puppy, and to continue with vaccinations throughout your dog’s life. Many pet parents opt for titers to determine whether a booster shot is necessary. Check with your veterinarian. Keep your Saint Bernard healthy and happy with consistent veterinary care to prevent illness, and to ensure a long and healthy life!

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Woofs & Wags!

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