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The imposing Saint Bernard is powerful and proportionately tall. It is strong and well-muscled necessary qualities in a dog that must trek through deep snow for miles. Its coat comes in two types: smooth, in which the short hair is very dense and tough, and long, in which the medium-length hair is straight to slightly wavy. Its expression should appear intelligent.
The calm, easygoing Saint Bernard is gentle and patient around children, although it is not particularly playful. It is devoted to its family and is willing to please, although at its own pace. It can be stubborn.
AKC RANKING 39
FAMILY livestock dog, sheepdog, mastiff
AREA OF ORIGIN Switzerland
DATE OF ORIGIN Middle Ages
ORIGINAL FUNCTION draft, search and rescue
TODAY'S FUNCTION companion
AVERAGE SIZE OF MALE Height: >27.5 Weight: 120-200
AVERAGE SIZE OF FEMALE Height: >25 Weight: 120-200
OTHER NAME St. Bernhardshund, Alpine mastiff
Energy level Low energy
Exercise needs Low
Playfullness Moderately playful
Affection level Very affectionate
Friendliness toward other dogs Friendly
Friendliness toward other pets Very friendly
Friendliness toward strangers Friendly
Ease of training Moderately easy to train
Watchdog ability Low
Protection ability Not very protective
Grooming needs Moderate maintenance
Cold tolerance High tolerance
Heat tolerance Low tolerance
The Saint Bernard needs daily exercise in order to stay fit. Its requirements can be met with moderate walks and short runs, however. It is best raised outdoors, away from slick surfaces. Overweight puppies raised indoors are more prone to hip problems. It enjoys cold weather and does not do well in heat. This breed can live outside in temperate to cold weather, but does best when allowed access to both house and yard. Its coat, whether long or short, needs weekly brushing, more so when shedding. All Saints drool. Major concerns: CHD, gastric torsion, entropion, ectropion, distichiasis, elbow dysplasia, osteosarcoma
Minor concerns: OCD, diabetes, heart conditions, cardiomyopathy, pyotraumatic dermatitis
Occasionally seen: epilepsy
Suggested tests: hip, elbow, cardiac, eye
Life span: 8 10 years
Note: The Saint Bernard does not tolerate heat well.
The Saint Bernard probably has its roots in the Roman Molossian dogs, but it wasn't until between 1660 and 1670 that the breed developed into the magnificent dog responsible for saving so many lives. Around this time, the first of these large dogs arrived at the St. Bernard Hospice, a refuge for travelers crossing between Switzerland and Italy. The Saint Bernards originally came to help pull carts and turn spits and may have also functioned as watchdogs or companions, but the monks soon found them invaluable pathfinders through the deep snow. The dogs were adept at locating lost travelers. When a dog found a person, it would lick the person's face and lie beside him, thus reviving and warming the person. The dogs continued to serve in this invaluable role for three centuries, saving over 2,000 lives. The most famous of all Saint Bernards was Barry, who was credited with saving 40 lives. Before Barry's death, the dogs were known by several names, including hospice dogs, but by the time he died he was of such fame that the dogs were called Barryhund in his honor. In the early 1800s many of the dogs were lost to severe weather, disease and inbreeding. Some of the remaining dogs were crossed with Newfoundlands in 1830. As a result, the first long-coated dogs of Saint Bernard type appeared. Although it seemed that long hair would help a dog in the cold snow, in fact it hindered them as the ice clung to the coat. Thus, these long-haired dogs were not kept for rescue work. The first Saints came to England around 1810 and were referred to by many different names, among them sacred dog. By 1865, the name Saint Bernard was in common use, and it became the official name in 1880. Around this time, the breed caught the eye of American fanciers. By 1900, the Saint Bernard was extremely popular. Although it has since vacillated in popularity, it is always one of the most popular giant breeds.