The Saint Bernhard, St. Barnhardshund, Alpine Mastiff or Bernhardiner is known as a gentle giant among dogs, with its quiet, placid nature and its impressive stature. The breed was originally used in rescue operations at the Great St. Bernard Hospice in Switzerland. Its legendary bravery caught the attention of the masses when films were made depicting St. Bernard hounds rescuing stranded travellers in the Alps with their iconic barrel collars. These ingenious collars had the double role of deflecting a deadly bear’s blow to the neck, and offering the rescued traveller some blood-warming spirit.
Given their sociable, pleasant and quiet nature, Saint Bernhards make wonderful family friends and will enjoy an indoor life, alongside their companions. Due to their size, it is best to offer them access to a yard or garden throughout the day. They require space, and so should not be confined to a small apartment. If a yard is beyond the owner’s means, then a good daily workout is essential. They don’t require too much walking and they can easily become exhausted in hot weather. They thrive in cold climate and they love the snow.
Their size and disposition make St. Bernhards unsuitable for owners with high standards in terms of tidiness. They shed a good deal of hair and their overly active salivary glands and jaw shape combine to create a mean drooling machine. Not only that, but they can track in dirt and mud on their large paws and thick fur. As lovable as they are, they are not a fussy housekeeper’s dream. If you can overlook the twice-yearly shedding season and the mess they cause with their incessant drooling and mud tracking, then you’d be lucky to have a Saint Berhnard for a pet.
Though not aggressive by nature, they are very protective and have a tendency to bark whenever they perceive any potential danger to their family members. They don’t usually bark without just cause. Their sheer size is usually enough to deter any potential threat, but the Saint Bernhard shouldn’t be left to guard the premises from the outside, because they enjoy spending time with their family. Their temperament should be tested prior to being purchased from a pet store, to ensure that they can be trusted with children and other pets. Reputable breeders will see to it that you receive a pet that is sound of mind and spirit.
This easygoing family dog is patient, playful and gentle with children, but can unintentionally knock smaller ones over with a swoosh of the tail. They mature mentally rather late, and so your children will have an adult-size puppy to play and snuggle with for years.
This muscular working dog is known to grow as tall as 2 feet, 6 inches at the shoulder (75cm), and as heavy as 120 to 180 pounds (54kg-81kg). Females are slightly slimmer and shorter. A good-natured trusted companion, the St. Bernard will lead a healthy, peaceful life for up to ten years. A dog this size can’t be expected to thrive beyond that age.
When selecting this breed, you should know that although the short-haired variety was the original Saint Bernard Hospice rescue dog, the long-haired variety is also very popular.
The Saint Bernhard is prone to various genetic conditions, and it is of paramount importance that you make inquiries into the genetic background of your pet. Breeders should provide health clearances for the eyes, hips, elbows, stomach, heart and immune system. Look out for signs of hip or elbow dysplasia, cataract, allergy and epilepsy when you pick out your dog.
No more than 3 cups of dry food should be fed to Saint Bernhards twice a day, as they are prone to obesity. The dogs also need to be groomed routinely, due to their thick fur. Brushing them three times a week and bathing them in the yard with dog shampoo when it’s warm outside or in the house when it’s cold, a few times per month, should be enough. Brushing the teeth regularly, wiping their eyes, trimming their nails and the hair between their toes, cleaning their ears with special cleaning products, and checking for rashes and sores is all in a day’s work for Saint Bernhard dog owners.