Did you know there are over 380 registered dog breeds? This month we're celebrating one of them in a big way- the St. Bernard! Although it's not one of the highest ranking breeds, it's certainly one of the most beloved and famous ones! Who doesn't remember Beethoven? Let's find out why the St. Bernard steals our hearts, drool and all.
Although St. Bernard dogs carrying tiny barrels of brandy to hapless travelers is a myth, they were rescue dogs. Around the year 1050, a monk named Bernard of Menthon created a resting site high in the treacherous and snowy Alps for pilgrims traveling through Switzerland going to Rome. This area was named Saint Bernard Pass. Over hundreds of years, the Monks developed these strong and powerful working dogs to help find and rescue travelers lost or buried under the snow drifts. Over these centuries, it is said that St. Bernard dogs have saved over 2000 lives. The first written accounts and paintings of the breed were from about the late 1600's and early 1700's.
Gentle, good natured and steadfast, they are protective, affectionate and great with kids. However, because of the dog's size, care is needed around small children. The dog will not be aggressive, but rather it's sheer size can welcome accidents with children. Males can be up to 180 pounds! They are good with other dogs too, if introduced when they are young and properly socialized. They can be a bit stubborn but so lovable you won't mind spending extra time and patience with them. They have moderate to low energy and don't really bark unless necessary. They make excellent watch dogs- but please don't leave them in yard alone. They like to be with their owners and families indoors. They don't wander off much as they love to be by their humans, and they don't have much of a prey drive. They are calm and lazy, but if you like a spotless house this is not the breed for you! Big paws mean big mud on rainy days! They do drool and shed. Be sure to get your Saint Bernard pup from a reputable breeder. They are calm and gentle by nature, but improper breeding can produce a large dog with unwanted behavior and health traits that can end in heartbreak for your family and the dog.
Like most of the large and giant breeds, the St. Bernard is prone to hip dysplasia, eye disorders and joint issues. And, like most giant breeds, the Bernards are prone to 'bloat', a life- threatening twisting of the stomach. They like to eat so it's advised to keep a close eye on their diet, and plan on about 6 cups of dry food each day- but be sure to read the instructions on whatever dog food you choose. Despite their long coats and preference for colder climates, they are ok in warm weather as long as there is a shaded and cool rest area with lots of water. Watch out for that drool! The drool rules! And sadly, as with most large dogs, their lifespan is shorter than average- they live about 8 to 10 years only, so make sure to fill those years with lots of love.
Coat & Grooming:
There are actually 2 kinds of St. Bernards- short hair and long hair. They come in varied shades of reddish brown, red and white. The white is usually on the chest and next, feet and tail. They need to be brushed at least 3 times a week, and during shedding seasons use a shedding blade to remove loose hair before it becomes matted. Shampoos are needed every 8 to 10 weeks, as well as having their nails trimmed and ears cleaned. Keep in mind also that you may pay more at the groomers for this large breed.
Like any breed socialization at puppyhood is vital- but especially in the case of a St. Bernard who will grow to be very big! You want a nice big trained dog- not a nice big unruly dog that you can't control. Although they are not aggressive, they are protective, and care should be given to that quality trait. If you love big love, and don't mind patient gentle training, sprinkled with some mud and drool, the Saint Bernard is a perfect choice for you.