A Saint Bernard's sense of smell can only be described as miraculous. These dogs are said to be able to detect a person buried under 20 feet of snow! No wonder this breed was so valued by the monks of the St. Bernard Hospice, a refuge for travelers crossing the Alps between Switzerland and Italy.
That bit about the brandy cask around their necks is a rural legend, but Saint Bernards did wear packs full of food and water for stranded travelers. These dogs are built for adventure and rescued people from avalanches. They're even supposed to be able to sense avalanches approaching. Saint Bernards are unparalleled in their ability to find folks buried under snowdrifts. In fact, more than 2,000 people have been rescued by Saint Bernards.
The other two things to know about Saint Bernards are that they grow and drool like crazy. (Remember that scene from the movie Beethoven where he shakes off and drool goes flying? Yeah, it happens.) Their droopy lips mean lots of drooling, so be sure to carry a puppy-safe dog wipe or towel with you pretty much everywhere.
Saint Bernard puppies grow incredibly fast. In fact, 100 Saint Bernard puppies starred as the one canine child of Beethoven in the film Beethoven's 2nd, because the pups grew much quicker than the film schedule progressed.
Originally from Switzerland, this large-sized and medium-energy breed can grow to between 120-200 pounds and lives an average of 8-10 years. The breed is recognized by the American Kennel Club and classified as a member of the Working group.
AKC Recognized: Y
Breed's Original Pastime: Companion, Draft, Rescue
Breed Group: Working
Average Lifespan: 8-10 years
Size: Extra Large
Bark Factor: Moderate
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
BEHAVIOR & TRAINING
WHAT IS A SAINT BERNARD'S PERSONALITY LIKE?
Friendly and patient, a Saint Bernard is a whole lotta furry love. They're protective and loyal, and make gentle playmates for children. These dogs can be somewhat overly protective of “their” kids around strangers, however. Given their size, they'll do best when supervised during play with children and other dogs.
WHAT IS SAINT BERNARD BEHAVIOR LIKE?
Saint Bernards are a quiet breed: they're not prone to barking, nor are they especially active. They make for polite and laid-back housemates. Plan for daily walks, brief jogs, or games in the backyard.
HOW EASY IS IT TO TRAIN A SAINT BERNARD?
Saint Bernards are intelligent and respond well to training. They're quick learners, though some can be a bit stubborn. Reward good behaviors, and be patient and consistent with this pup. She'll appreciate training both for the physical activity and the mental stimulation it provides.
No matter what they're training, though, these dogs have never forgotten their wandering lineage. They're not great candidates for off-leash play outside a well-fenced area.
CARE & HEALTH
HOW MUCH DO SAINT BERNARDS SHED AND WHAT ARE THEIR GROOMING NEEDS?
Saint Bernards are moderate seasonal shedders who'll need weekly brushing. However, given this pup's size, be prepared for furry tumbleweeds around the house.
WHAT HEALTH PROBLEMS DO SAINT BERNARDS HAVE?
As a breed, Saint Bernards are generally healthy. Some are susceptible to eye disease, hip and knee dysplasia, bone cancer, minor heart conditions (cardiomyopathy), eyelid and eyelash problems, bloat, diabetes, and seizures.
Feeding your baby Saint Bernard a growth food for large-breed puppies will slow their rate of growth but not diminish their adult stature, and may help prevent or reduce the impact of adult-onset hip dysplasia. Some adult Saint Bernards tend toward pudginess, so be conscientious about meals and snacks.
Breed history has moved while this section is under construction. Please check out the first tab for fun facts about this breed's history. You can also read on to learn about this breed's ideal family situation.
ARE SAINT BERNARDS GOOD FOR PEOPLE WITH ALLERGIES?
The American Kennel Club doesn't list Saint Bernards among its breeds recommended for allergy sufferers.
Remember that no breed is 100% hypoallergenic, and any breed can aggravate allergies. You can reduce your furry friend's impact on your allergies with frequent baths and brushings to reduce loose hairs and aggravating proteins in your pet's dander. Use a damp cloth to wipe off your dog after you've been playing outside. Smaller dogs have less surface area, and so produce comparatively less dander than larger breeds — definitely something to keep in mind with a dog as large as a Saint Bernard!
WHAT IS A SAINT BERNARD'S BEST DAY?
Saint Bernards would love a laid-back stroll down a country road with you on a winter afternoon, especially if “you” includes kids she can keep an eye on.
SHOULD I ADOPT A SAINT BERNARD?
A Saint Bernard's splash zone is wide — you'll want to have a drool rag on you whenever you're spending time with this furry friend. As you'd probably expect in a mountain dog, this breed does very well in the cold, but droops in the heat. They're also large dogs who were born to roam mountain ranges, so they'll be most comfortable in suburban or rural environments. Miami dog lovers, the Saint Bernard is probably not for you. But if you have the space and don't mind the drool, you and the Saint Bernard might make beautiful music.
Have you decided that a Saint Bernard is the perfect dog for you? Why not be your new best friend's hero and adopt a rescue! Be sure to check out our article on what to expect when you're adopting a dog or cat.