The Saint Bernard or St. Bernard is a large sized, heavy and muscular dog that was developed in the alpine pass between Switzerland and Italy. The Saint Bernard was used in the past at the Saint Bernard Pass as a search and rescue dog in the cold ad snow crowded area and as a protection dog. The Saint Bernard of today is more of a family dog, but is occasionally still used as watch dog.
Saint Bernard History
The Saint Bernard originated in Switzerland, their ancestors were the Sennenhunds (Alpine Mastiffs known as Swiss Mountain Dogs or Swiss Cattle Dogs), along with several other breeds including the Bernese Mountain Dog, Entlebuch Cattle Dog, Appenzell Cattle Dog, and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. These Alpine Mastiffs, the ancestors of the St. Bernard share the history of large farm dogs of the farmers and dairymen of the Swiss Alps, which were livestock guardians, herd protection dogs, and draft dogs as well as hunting dogs, search and rescue dogs, and watchdogs.
These Alpine Mastiffs were native to the Swiss and Italian Alps and were crossed with Mastiff-type dogs that came with the Roman army during the time of the emperor Augustus (63 BC - 14 AD), the Spanish Mastiff is seen as a likely ancestor. By the first millennium CE, dogs in these areas were simply known as "Talhund" (Valley Dog) or "Bauernhund" (Farm Dog).
There was only one passable alpine pass between Switzerland and Italy, it became well-known for being treacherous as it lies roughly 8,000 feet above sea level and can only be normally traveled between July and September. Even today remnants of the great Roman road can be seen, as well as evidence of Napoleon's crossing (May 1800), in which none of Napoleon's men died thanks to the by then very effective system with the search and rescue dogs.
In 962 AD, Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon arrived at this pass, because of him it would eventually be named Saint Bernard Pass. As he founded his hospice there, which aided travelers who were overcome by crossing this dangerous pass. Dogs were used to protect the grounds and search and save stranded travelers, but they also aided the monks on their walks protecting them, keeping them warm if needed and their broad but not exaggerated chest helped wading a path through the snow.
The first official evidence of the dogs used by the hospice, are a painting depicting well-built shorthaired dogs resembling the working Saint Bernards was painted in 1695. The first written mention of the breed in the monastery's records was around 1703-1707. What is clear is that the dogs were excellent pathfinders with an ability to locate helpless travelers, covered by snow or not.
The isolated monastery soon refined the dogs into a breed that could still withstand the harsh winters and had the physical characteristics needed for their search and rescue work.
During the three centuries for which the Hospice has records, Saint Bernards were credited with saving more than 2,000 travelers. By the 1800s, the hospice dogs still did not have a formal name, although they were well known. Between 1800 and 1810, a hospice dog named Barry was credited with 40 finds and became one of the most famous dogs to ever live. Often the dogs were referred to as Barryhunden in his honor.
Severe winters from 1816 to 1818 led to increased numbers of avalanches, killing many of the tested dogs normally used for breeding while they were performing rescues. At the same time the English wanted to import these "Sacred Dogs" as well as the Germans who called them Alphenhunden. In an attempt to preserve the breed, the remaining St. Bernards were crossed with Newfoundlands brought from the Colony of Newfoundland in the 1850s, and with their new long coats lost much of their use as rescue dogs in the snowy climate of the alps because the long fur they inherited would freeze and weigh them down.
The Swiss Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1880, by the name that was suggested by Daniel Wilson in 1833, the Saint Bernard Dog. As with many dogs that become popular they were bred with other breeds (such as the Great Dane) to improve their appearance, the breed began to change some dogs became thinner and some became broader but almost all of them became taller and what's perhaps more important they were no longer tested for much of their working drive and skills. In 1887 the standard was decided with the International Congress of Zurich.
In the United States, the Saint Bernard became well known in 1883. An actor took his dog named Plinlimmon across the country, exhibiting him at theaters, it became the top-winning Saint Bernard show dog of his time. In 1888, the Saint Bernard Club of America (SBCA) was founded, adopting the Swiss standard. The Saint Bernard was also used in Moscow, Russia to form the Moscow Watchdog.
Today, Saint Bernards have become big family dogs occasionally used as watch dogs, they are fashionable as seen on the big screen, and at dog shows. At the Saint Bernard Hospice in Switzerland they still have Saint Bernards, no longer working as rescue dogs but instead helping to attract tourists as living representatives of the hospice history.
Saint Bernard Appearance
Body: the Saint Bernard has a very broad back, which is perfectly straight to the loins, from where it runs down towards the croup. The withers are well pronounced. The long and heavy tail is broad and powerful, normally it is carried hanging, but may be slightly curled at the tip. The well-arched chest reaches the elbows. The belly is slightly tucked. The sloping shoulders are powerful and muscular. The front legs are straight and powerful. The hocks are moderately angulated. The feet are broad and almost closed. The neck is very powerful and shows pronounced wrinkles but not excessive. The start of the head features a clear visible groove.
Head: the Saint Bernard has a very powerful and impressive head, with clear brows and a deep stop. Between the eyes the furrow is deep, but is becoming shallower towards the moderately developed occiput. The short and strong muzzle is more deep than long. The nose is straight. The strongly developed lips droop somewhat over the lower jaw. The ears are set fairly high and medium sized. They are carried down, in such a way that the width of the skull is accentuated. The eyes are moderately large and are set moderately deep. The lower eyelids do not close completely, but eyes that are too open are not desirable. Saint Bernards have a scissors bite or level bite.
Height at Withers: the dogs have on average a shoulderheight of 68 up to 81 (27 to 32 inches) centimetres and bitches on average measure 66 up to 74 centimetres (26 to 29 inches). There is no maximum height.
Weight: for dogs it's between 72.5 to 90.5 kg (160 and 200 lbs) and bitches are between 59 to 77 kg (130 to 170 lbs). Much heavier dogs do exist, but as a rule this comes at a cost affecting the dogs health.
Coat: Saint Bernards come in two coat varieties shorthaired and longhaired. Short-haired dogs have a close to the body lying coat that is hard but not rough. Long-haired dogs have a coat of medium length, straight or slightly wavy but never curly. The hair on the tail must be quite bushy, but it should not be wavy. The head and ears have shorter and softer hair. The legs show a slight feathering and the hair is longer and closer to the pants.
Colors: Saint Bernards come in various shades of red to brownish yellow with white or white with red to brownish yellow. Also white with brindled occurs. Required white markings are a white chest, white paws, nose band and a white blaze, white tail and a white spot in the neck or a collar. Dark markings on the head and ears are typical, they are called a mask.
Saint Bernard Temperament
Character: these dogs are good mooded and have a friendly character. They are balanced and stable in nature, but sensitive to harsh words and voices in the house. They are very loyal to their families, and also show their affection and they do not like to be excluded. Dogs of this breed bark very little. A Saint Bernard will monitor you and your possessions and defend if necessary, although this is not its prime function. Although most exemplars are rather quiet at full maturity, this breed also has activere representatives, especially among the short haired.
Social Build: Saint Bernards can get along fine with children and have no problems when dealing with cats and other pets. With peers, they generally get along, but they do not allow others to mess with them. These dogs usually have a casual friendly attitude towards people they do not know, except when they mean mischief.
Saint Bernard Socially
Care: Saint Bernard needs quite a lot of coat care. The coat should be brushed and combed at least twice a week. During the shedding period a daily brushing, in particular the long-haired variety, will not be a luxury. Keep the ears clean and look after their eyes on specimens with drooping eyelids. If necessary you can use eye drops with a special eye cleaner. Keep the nails short.
Education: a Saint Bernard is a reasonably obedient dog that, if treated consistent and clear can learn new commands quite smoothly. The dog is quite sensitive to the intonation of your voice, a hard upbringing is forbidden if you want a obedient dog. They do not lend themselves to long hours of training sessions, so limit the commands to what is necessary. A Saint Bernard should be learned at a young age, that he or she may not draw the line, when the dog is an adult he's too big and strong to normally correct this behaviour. Saint Bernards like other Dogue like breeds, should be raised with much understanding. Make sure that they are not too much or too heavily loaded as a young dog.
Activity: these dogs have average movement needs. Three times a day a few blocks and also regularly run and play unleashed is sufficient to keep this dog in shape.
Usability: Saint Bernards are almost exclusively kept as a family dog. You might consider to go searching with this breed, their sense of smell is well developed and the dogs enjoy and get a great deal of pleasure from it.
Saint Bernard Quotes / Trivia
In 1992 began the Beethoven film series, it increased the breeds popularity. The dog Buck, from Jack London's widely acclaimed book The Call of the Wild, is half St. Bernard.