THE SAINT BERNARD

The Saint Bernard belongs to the AKC Working Dog Group and the UKC Guardian Dog Group. This breed originated from Switzerland and was bred by Swiss monks during the seventeenth century.

Brief History

The Saint Bernard was bred by hospice monks in the Swiss Alps at the Hospice of Saint Bernard, a refuge for travelers, to help locate and rescue travelers that had been injured by avalanches or lost between Switzerland and Italy.

Though bred for search and rescue, this brave dog was also used for drafting, guarding, and turn-spit. They are believed to have rescued over 2,000 lives through their search and rescue efforts at the hospice. They are descended from the Roman Mastiff and arrived in the U.S during the nineteenth century.

Physical Features

The Saint Bernard is a large and powerful dog breed with a large head and square shaped body. Their highly-recognizable heads have a deep furrow over the skulls, which is about twice as long as it is short. 

Their eyes are intelligent and kind, with lower eyelids that don’t close completely. Their medium-sized and triangle-shaped ears are dropped and high-set. This pup’s feet are large and their tails are charmingly long.

This breed has a double coat —a thick undercoat, with a straight short or long outer coat. Its coloring ranges from red to brown, or brindle, with white markings at the chest, feet, tip of the tail, noseband and neck. There can also be markings on the collar, between the eyes, muzzle, belly, legs, and end of tail. The Saint Bernard has a dark mask on the face and ears.Don’t forget their famous wrinkles.

The long haired version of this breed looks exactly like the shorthaired breed, apart from the coat, which is typically of medium length and slightly wavy.

Average Height:

25.5 -30 inches

Average Weight:

120-180 pounds

Life Expectancy:

7-10 years

Temperament

This is an affectionate, fun-loving dog that is just as friendly with strangers as with family. It’s for that exact reason, however, that they shouldn’t be counted on to be a guard dog. This breed enjoys being around children and other families. They’re big gentle giants that thrive on playing in the snow with family members and friends. During puppyhood they are super clumsy due to their large size. As they grow into adulthood, these dogs settle down and tend to nap a lot. This breed does best in snowy, cold weather.

The Saint Bernard needs to be socialized early, and to begin positive-reward training classes during puppyhood. This super large breed is best suited for farm life or suburban homes where they will have the space they need. Unfortunately, this rules out apartment life. As the Saint Bernard ages, they can become a little lazy. It’s important to maintain their exercise schedules to keep healthy and fit.

Special Needs

This breed does best with plenty of protection from the heat and needs to be kept indoors during summer. Exercise, including walks should take place early mornings and late afternoons, so as to protect this breed from heat stroke. Winter makes every Saint Bernard happy – the colder the better!

Saint Bernards that live in warmer climates will greatly benefit from getting clipped. This breed needs to be supervised carefully over the summers to make sure that they do not get overheated. Since this is a very large dog breed, they tend to become more difficult to train as they gets larger. All the more reason to start during puppyhood.

Possible Health Concerns

This is a healthy dog breed that may be susceptible to the following health conditions:

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Genetic predisposition to DCM is seen in large breeds like the Saint Bernard. DCM is a disease affecting the heart muscle where the heart stops pumping properly.

Bloat. This breed is deep-chested, and thus more prone to bloat. Bloat is a life threatening emergency. It is caused by the twisting of the stomach, together with the accumulation of gas, with or without fluid. It is best to never elevate your dog’s water and food bowls. Stress is also a major factor in causing bloat. Never feed a Saint Bernard a large meal followed by exercise. At the first signs of dry vomiting, restlessness and discomfort, contact your emergency veterinarian. Never wait for a few hours.

Hip Dysplasia. This is a hereditary developmental disease. HD affects Saint Bernards, and occurs when the hip joint fails to develop properly. The head of the thigh bone does not fall into the hip socket. The imperfect fit results in the joint becoming loose and unstable, and results in osteoarthritis.

Laryngeal Paralysis. This is where the cartilage and the vocal folds of the larynx do not open fully, making breathing difficult. This is an acquired medical condition, and not an inherited one.

Skin Allergies like pyoderma are common in this dog breed. This is a bacterial skin infection caused by an infection in the folds and wrinkles of their skin due to grooming difficulties.

Epilepsy is an inherited disease that causes seizures. This breed will generally require treatment with anticonvulsants from their veterinarian.

Exercise

Saint Bernards need regular exercise every day to stay fit and maintain a healthy weight. They also need daily exercise to build muscle strength. Although these are strong and powerful dogs, they do not require excessive exercise. That said, this breed does enjoy hiking, sledding and long peaceful walks. (Tip: They enjoy pulling children in carts and sleds!) They love being out in the snow and cold weather and are at their best with family and children around them.

Nutrition

Feeding your Saint Bernard a well-balanced diet with high-quality food is necessary to promote good health and longevity. The diet you choose needs to be appropriate to your dog’s age, activity level and medical conditions. That said, these dogs don’t need excessive amounts of food just because they’re large. Weight needs to be actively monitored, as they gain easily. Never feed right before or right after exercising.

Grooming

Saint Bernards have either long or short hair. Both types need careful daily grooming to avoid the buildup of dirt and grime. Use a slicker brush or metal comb for tangles. Shedding occurs twice yearly. During this time, it will be necessary to groom vigilantly and to remove loose hair so as to prevent shedding around the home.

This breed enjoys being bathed. Use natural and organic dog grooming products to keep their coats healthy. Ears will need to be wiped regularly and inspected for infections. Teeth also need to be brushed every day and cleaned twice a year at the veterinarian. Trim nails as needed.

Saint Bernards are sensitive, affectionate and loving. They’ll need to have a large garden or home to live in and absolutely cannot live in an apartment. This dog breed will need to be indoors during the hot summer months. Every effort must be made to keep this breed from overheating.

The Saint Bernard makes for a great adoption in the right home environment. Puppy training should start early because they are hard to handle as they matures due to size. Puppies are energetic and will need lots of socialization. While incredibly gentle and kind, this breed still needs regular exercise and mental stimulation. They don’t do well alone at home all day and need companionship.

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