The Saint Bernard is an outgoing, friendly dog, who is amazing with children, showing outstanding patience and tolerance. They are a big dog, and although quiet in behavior, they are not suited to small apartment living because of their size. Because the breed was developed to withstand the extremely cold conditions of the Alps, they have a low tolerance to heat. These dogs love being with their family and do better when they are in the house with their people. The Saint Bernard has a sound temperament, and although they take longer to mature mentally and remain puppyish for longer, they do make wonderful pets. If you are a neat person, they may drive you crazy with their shedding twice a year, they do drool, and their paws can track in a considerable amount of dirt. They do need space to stretch out and move around in but are not overly active. The breed is easy to train although they can get stubborn at times. A well-rounded dog is one that has had early exposure to many people and experiences.
It is thought that the breed was created when dogs native to the Alps were crossed with Mastiff type dogs that the Roman army brought with them during the reign of emperor Augustus. The Saint Bernard Pass is a well-known treacherous alpine path, and the remnants of the Great Roman Road can still be seen, a true piece of history that is evidence of Napoleon’s crossing. The name Saint Bernard came from their founder St. Bernard de Menthon and the monks who established the breed. The Switzerland Hospice St. Bernard used these great dogs to assist travellers who were going through the dangerous Alpine pass that lay between Switzerland and Italy. The first Saint Bernard’s were of the short haired variety, as they found the longer haired dogs tended to collect icicles. In the mid seventeenth century, they became the go to dog for rescue work, with their ability to smell a person buried under many feet of snow after an avalanche. These amazing dogs worked in teams, and when one found a victim, they would lie down with them to keep them warm while another dog alerted the rescue team. They can also predict storms and avalanches which have been attributed to their ability to hear very low frequency sounds. A hospice dog named Barry became famous in 1800 to 1810 for finding more than 40 rescues; he became the most famous dog ever and often the Saint Bernard was referred to as Barryhunden in his honour. The Swiss Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1889, and in 1887 the International Congress of Zurich produced the first breed standard, and all countries except England accepted it.
The Saint Bernard is a giant of a dog, strong and muscular, with a massive, powerful head. The muzzle on this breed is short and is wider than it is in length. The teeth meet in a level or scissors bite. The lips and nose are black, with the nose being broad and with wide open nostrils. The Saint Bernard has medium sized eyes that are dark in color and give the dog a slightly sad look to his expression. These dogs can gain weight easily but if it stays in proportion to their height, the more impressive it looks. The legs are muscular with large feet and well arched toes. The powerful tail is broad and held low when the dog is relaxed. The faces and ears are often black, while the ears are set high on the head, dropping and sitting out away from the head a bit. This beautiful breed has two types of coats – they can be either rough or smooth but both are dense to protect them from the cold weather, and their coloring can be a mix of white with markings in tan, red, black, brindle and in all possible combinations. In the rough coated dogs, their hair is a bit longer than the smooth coat, and they have feathering on the legs and thighs.
Both the smooth and rough coated Saint Bernard are easy types of coats to groom. They do need a comb and brush with a firm bristle brush to cope with the shedding. Bathing is on a needs-only basis, if they have rolled in mud or something that smells not so good. Shampoo may strip the coat of its naturally oily water-resistant properties. It is advisable to use a mild soap that is designed just for dogs. The eyes of this big dog are inclined to water, so around the eyes need special attention to keep them clean and free from irritation. Because of their size, they do need a good daily walk to keep them trim and fit. They can be prone to bloat, so rather than one large meal a day, it is better to have two to three small meals. Other maintenance requirements is a regular check of the ears to ensure they are clean as their floppy ears can get infected if they are not cleaned. Apart from that, brushing time is a great opportunity to check your dog for any cuts, abrasions, or parasites like ticks or fleas. They are easy to groom.