Saint Bernard Dog Breed Traits & Facts

Last Updated on September 20, 2023

*. Long ago, among the snowy peaks in the Alps, there was a hospice where pilgrims traveling to Rome could rest before they continued their dangerous trek. Many of these travellers were unfortunate enough to get lost or injured in the snow. These people were saved by large friendly dogs , which we now call Saint Bernards. These dogs were bred to withstand the harsh conditions in the Swiss Alps.

Saint Bernards are often depicted as rescue dogs in snowy situations. They carry a cask of alcohol around their necks. Many will also recognize them from the classic family movie Beethoven.

Although they can be intimidating due to their large size, Saint Bernards are big balls .of cuddliness. They are easy to train and very attached to their owners. This breed is reliable, social, and playful. It’s a great choice for large dog owners. Let’s dive in to learn all you can about these gentle giants, before welcoming them into your home.

Saint Bernard Dog Breed

Breed History

The earliest known record of the breed is from around 1660 to 1670 when native dogs from the surrounding farms of the Alps were crossbred with Mastiff-type dogs brought by Roman soldiers from Asia. The Saint Bernard and English Mastiff are often compared with each other ,, with very few differences due to where they came from.

The birthplace of the breed can been traced back to our previous hospice, The Great Saint Bernard Hospice . This hospice was founded by a monk, Bernard of Menthon. The hospice lies in a dangerous snowy pass that was named after Saint Bernard in the Western Alps, about 8,100 feet above sea level.

Concerned with the safety of the travelers crossing the mountain pass, whom most are pilgrims en route to Rome, he founded the hospice in the year 1050 to help them in their travels. It was a place to refuge in times of severe weather.

Despite popular belief, the breed didn’t always have long hair !. Original snow rescue dogs were short-haired. It seems reasonable to assume that a dog with thick fur will be able to withstand the harsh climate in the Alps. Some dogs have longer fur because they were crossbred. However, it turned out that the snow weighed their coats down significantly. Because their fur had frozen in the cold, these dogs were not suitable for rescue work. The long-haired dogs were then given to neighbouring villages as patrons. They spread from there.

Being Used in Rescue

*Saint Bernards were primarily used to guide travelers in the Alps. They used their strong bodies to cut a path through thick snow by pushing through it. They used their excellent sense of direction in order to navigate the Alps, even through blinding snowstorms. The breed also served as the protectors of the hospice, guarding the establishment against wild animals and burglars; one account of such an event was recorded in 1787.

The monks eventually discovered that the breed was able to sense smell, and locate lost travelers hidden in the snow. They were loved and celebrated by the entire hospice. Unfortunately, the hospice was not always kind to the dogs. Many of the dogs in the hospice died while doing rescue work, which almost led to the extinction of the hospice’s Saint Bernard lineage. They were saved by the monks who crossed them with dogs from nearby villages to replenish their numbers.

On record, Saint Bernards have saved more than 2,000 people over their 300 years of service to the hospice. The most famous of them, saving a total of 40 travelers who almost died in inclement weather, was Barry. Barry is considered to be a national hero in Switzerland for his service in the mountains. He died of old age after 12 long years of service, and his body can be seen proudly displayed in the Bern National History Museum.

Today, Saint Bernards have been replaced with helicopters in rescue missions around the Alps. This allows for faster rescue and navigation. The Great Saint Bernard Hospice still holds their dogs in high regard . Both the hospice as well as the breed are reminders of how kind-hearted and caring people and animals can be.

Breed Recognition

On March 15, 1884, the Swiss Saint Bernard Club was founded in Basel. The Swiss Dog Stud Book was also published in that year. Leon, a Saint Bernard, was the first to be registered in the book. An International Dog Show was also held at the same location a year later. Many of the contestants were Saint Bernards , which greatly contributed to their international fame.

The breed was officially recognized as a Swiss breed at the International Canine Congress on June 12, 1887; the breed standard was declared as binding. The breed has been recognized as Switzerland’s national dog since then.

In Popular Culture

As mentioned previously, Saint Bernards were known to carry alcohol-filled casks around their necks during rescue operations. However, this was declared false by the monks at the hospice. This myth can be traced back at Edwin Landseer’s painting, entitled Alpine Mastiffs reanimating a distressed traveler. In it, one of the dogs is wearing a small barrel around their neck. The trope persisted into popular modern media, which is how many of us know the breed. They achieved even more fame after the now-beloved family movie Beethoven premiered in 1992.

Many families around the globe are proud to have these gentle giants in their homes. Although they no longer do rescue work, they are perfect for being gentle, loving family members. The AKC ranks them at #48 of 193 on their breed popularity list.


Although many may feel intimidated by their large stature, don’t let it fool you. Saint Bernards are friendly, gentle giants that love their families. They are gentle, calm, and patient with children and adults alike. Their famous love of children has given them fame as nanny dogs. They get along well with other pets, especially if they are raised alongside them.

As usual, proper socialization is important to harmonious home life, but you’ll find your Saint Bernard will love every member of your family regardless! Keep in mind that Saint Bernards are very attached to their owners and can be anxious if left alone.

This breed is calm and even-tempered. They rarely bark or bite without reason. It is possible to reduce barking by training them early. This breed is a wonderful family pet because of their love for children. .supervise your dogs’ interactions These dogs can jump on people and topple them over if they are not properly trained. This is especially dangerous for children with smaller hands. Saint Bernards

are great for pet owners who can’t dedicate much time to their dogs’ exercise. Even active seniors or disabled people can live with this . breed. These dogs don’t require a lot of time outdoors at all and are often happiest when they can laze about with their loved ones. They are still capable of working as a dog, however.

Saint Bernards are very affectionate and love to be pampered. Training is easy for this dog, as long as there is lots of positive reinforcement. When trained from an early age, they are obedient and have a great future as service dogs, just like their ancestors from the hospice! They are a great choice for rescue missions and sporting events. Because of their natural ability to nurture, they are an excellent choice for therapy dogs.

Size & Appearance

It is no secret that this breed can be huge. They are big, strong, and imposing .. Males stand at a minimum of 27.5 inches at the shoulder; females stand at 25.5 inches. They are incredibly heavy, with males weighing an average of 160 pounds, and females weighing 130 pounds.

Some Saint Bernards grow to be much larger than that; Benedictine V Schwarzwald Hof weighed by the Guinness Book of World Records to be an astounding 315 pounds!

Saint Bernards are known for their large heads and wrinkled eyebrows. The pair is paired with a short muzzle and inquisitive, dark eyes. Their ears hang slightly above their jowls. They have a triangular shape and are loose. The AKC requires that the lips and nose always be black. Speaking of lips, you’ll notice very quickly that they have a strong tendency to drool, so watch out when giving them cuddles! Saint Bernards are very sturdy. Their chests are moderately deep and do not reach below the elbows. They have broad backs and are straight. Their legs are strong and muscular and their paws broaden and are strong. These characteristics allow them to display the dignified appearance that the breed is famous for.

Coat & Colors

Saint Bernards have thick, hard coats that protect them against the cold .. The breed is available in both long-haired and short-haired versions, as we have mentioned. texture . is the only difference between these two types of coats.

Short-haired Saints have straighter and smoother fur with slightly bushy hair at the thighs. The fur on the tail is much longer than the fur found on its body. The fur of long-haired Saints is softer and more coarse than the body’s, but it is not curly or shaggy. The tail and thighs are bushy.

Saint Bernards can be found either white-with red or red-with white; they are never one color , on their bodies. There are many shades of “red”. They can have red markings, but they also can be brown, rust or orange. All colors of red and brown-yellow are accepted by the AKC, but other colors may be deemed invalid.

About markings: The breed is often seen wearing a black “mask”, which covers their eyes but is split in the middle. This patterning was developed to help the sun reflect off the snow. It often extends to the ears, making them darker in color. The AKC also requires special markings such as “white chest, feet and tip of tail, noseband collar, collar or spot at the nape”. A white blaze is preferred.

Exercise Requirments

These gentle giants are more relaxed than other dogs but still require exercise to keep them healthy. They don’t require much exercise and . will very rarely ask for it. You will need to make sure that you have enough time to include it in your daily life.

They will be content with a 20-minute walk to get their muscles working, though they can go on longer walks too, depending on the weather. It may surprise you to see how much they love playing in the wintertime !. Saints love cart-pulling. This is especially true when they see how happy their playmates, your children, can be!

Living Conditions

Saint Bernards don’t like smaller living spaces because of their size. Although they don’t require a large home, they are happy living in apartments. Because the breed is known for destroying everything, it may be difficult to live in a small home. ensure that their living spaces are spacious .

They will also need sufficient outdoor time to stretch their legs . They don’t require a lot of exercise so you don’t have to take them outside as often. Your Saint Bernard will be happier in a fenced-in yard where they can run around and play. These are great for afternoon napping.

The breed was bred in the Alps. Their dense coat is a result. They prefer colder climates and will be happy when the snow comes. They are low at tolerating heat so they can be very sensitive to hotter temperatures. Keep them inside as much as you can during the summer. To prevent overheating, they will require a constant supply of water.


You will need to train your Saint Bernard quickly. They are not stubborn or lazy, but they grow so large. Dogs that aren’t properly trained can easily cause injury and whip people around from excitement. Training must begin at an early age.

A well-behaved dog is one that exhibits patience, gentleness, consistency, and kindness. Your instructions should be firm, but not .. Saints are sensitive dogs and will rely on you to properly treat them. Positive reinforcement is essential. Give your dog lots of praises, treats, and pets. This will make training for your dog and you easier. Saint Bernards should be trained with basic obedience commands first. It is important to train your dog on leash. You don’t want your pup to be the one walking you when you are out and about. You can start to learn more , if you pup is working as a service animal. *Socialization is essential in helping your Saint Bernard find their strength. This is easy to do. This breed is sociable and friendly by nature. They will quickly get used to meeting new people.

They can be protective of their family in uneasy situations, but it takes quite a bit for them to feel threatened. Socialization is an excellent way to make sure your dog is not anxious or shy. It is a good idea to enroll your Saint in a puppy kindergarten class. This will help them become more social with other dogs.


Saint Bernards

Saint Bernards are strong, muscular dogs that have a lot of energy. You can expect your dog’s health to improve if it is purchased from a reliable breeder. This breed is more likely to live a shorter life than other breeds because they are a large breed. These dogs only tend to live around 8 to 10 years. It’s vital to make sure they live as long as possible. Healthy Saints live longer than their expected life expectancy.

Like all dogs Saint Bernards are predisposed to

, due to their large size. These conditions may not be present in every dog, but it is worth learning about them. These conditions can be helpful in helping you to work with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan.

Hip Dysplasia

Being a giant dog means that the breed is prone to hip dysplasia. This is when the dog’s thigh bone doesn’t fit properly in the hip socket. This can cause a dog to have a strange gait and posture as well as a limp in one or both of its hind legs.

Being overweight can really affect their quality of living .. Good breeders will screen their animals for hip dysplasia, as it is often inherited. Ask your breeder questions about hip dysplasia, and other conditions that your Saint might be susceptible to.

Gastric Torsion

Larger dogs with deeper chests are prone to gastric torsion. Gastric torsion () is a condition in which the stomach becomes distended and filled with gas or air, then twists. This condition can lead to death as the dog’s blood pressure drops, and they are in shock.

*Outward signs include retching, but no vomiting, a distended stomach, increased heart rate and restlessness. Another sign is excessive salivation ,. This could indicate that something is wrong with your dog’s behavior.

Bloat can be caused by eating too much food .. It can be avoided if your dog eats and drinks the right amount and not too fast. If your dog exercise too soon after eating, this can also happen. You should only allow your dog to exercise after their last meal.

Eye Conditions

Eye conditions can also be developed in Saint Bernards. Cherry eye is one such condition, referring to the swelling of the third eyelid after a tear duct has prolapsed. It will look like a cherry growing at the inner corner their eye. This can be corrected by surgery.

Other eye conditions that the breed is predisposed for include entropion, and ectropion .. Entropion occurs when the eyelids roll inward, thus rubbing at the cornea of the eye. Ectropion, which is the opposite of entropion, occurs when the eyelids roll inward and rub at the cornea. While ectropion can sometimes be painful, entropion may be more common. However, if your dog is suffering from any of these conditions it’s important to speak with a veterinarian.


Complete, balanced nutrition is the foundation of your Saint Bernard’s health. It means that you provide them with all the nutrition they need to be healthy as they grow up.

Because they are a large breed, they will need food that is appropriate for their size in order to be healthy. You can achieve this with a high-quality, dry kibble appropriate for your Saint Bernard’s life stage. This helps them develop well in puppyhood and allows them to remain healthy into their senior years.

Saint Bernards are a breed that has a lot to grow up as puppies. growth is a constant process for many dogs until they are two years old. You should not allow your Saint puppy’s growth to stop before they reach two years. Senior dogs and adults will require more food, but less often.

The amount of food you feed your dog will depend on his age and size .. It is a general rule that older dogs need more food than active dogs. It can be hard to know how much food you should feed your dog.

Feeding too many can lead to obesity ,, which can lead to many preventable diseases. This breed is particularly susceptible to obesity due to the extra weight and mobility issues it can cause.


This breed requires regular grooming .regardless of its length. One thing is that they shed a lot – although this may be an exaggeration. They shed most often twice a year: in spring and fall. You can also shed them outside of these periods so make sure to bring your vacuum cleaners and lint rollers.

You can make the shedding process much easier by brushing your Saint Bernard as much as possible and using a deshedding tool. Although daily is preferred, you will need to increase the frequency of shedding seasons. If shedding is a problem for you, there are Saint Bernard hybrid dogs that shed less, such as the Saint Berdoodle.

Saint Bernards do not require haircuts as their fur doesn’t grow beyond a certain length. To help them move easily, trim their fur . Although they don’t need to be bathed often, it is important to give your Saint Bernard a bath. You can bathe your Saint Bernard once every eight weeks, or when they become visible soiled. To avoid mats and tangles, it is best to brush them before you bathe.

Keep your Saint Bernard’s ears clean. You can clean their ears with a cotton swab and an ear cleaner that you can buy from your veterinarian. This removes excess ear wax, dirt, and other debris . It is important to brush their teeth frequently, since this prevents disease.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Buying a purebred puppy directly from a breeder can be a smart choice. However, make sure they are trustworthy .. Puppy mills are run by many unscrupulous breeders who only want to make a profit. These places are cruel to the dogs. Dogs are often abused, their living conditions are poor and they don’t have access to clean water and food. Ask to see the homes of your dogs when you are looking for a breeder. Breeders who are good will provide clean and comfortable living conditions for their dogs.

A responsible breeder will also be enthusiastic for the Saint Bernard breed . They can answer all your questions and provide information about how to adopt your dog. Breeders will show a genuine love and respect for their Saints and you should do the same. You will be able to get a veterinary certificate from them regarding any vaccinations, tests or deworming your puppy received.

Finding a reliable breeder can be difficult. You should check with your local veterinarian clinic to find leads as early as possible in your search. You can also get great results . by searching online for breeders in dog clubs.

Online, you can go to local dog shows and talk to the owners. They will likely be able give you great advice. Lastly, the AKC has a fantastic resource for breeder referrals. Expect to pay around $1,500 for a pet-quality purebred puppy. Show-quality dogs range anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000.

Rescues & Shelters

While reputable breeders can be a great place to look for a new furry friend in your home, we recommend you first check out local shelters and rescues. These are great spots to find a loving companion . You can definitely find a Saint Bernard purebred among the shelter dogs.

Adopting a shelter dog makes a big difference in the life of the rescue dog. They are all sad to be there. Many rescue dogs are senior dogs or dogs with special — needs. They will need help to meet their needs. You are saving a life. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that of the 3.3 million dogs entering US shelters each year, 670,000 are euthanized.

Ask your shelter about the background of your dog. Knowing their past will help you both understand their temperament and health essential to your quality of life


While you are greatly improving the life of your dog be patient . Many dogs are anxious and shy so it will take time to help them get out of their shells. Your new friend will soon trust you and be able to give you the love and care they deserve.

As Family Pets

  • Saint Bernards are gentle and nurturing.
  • These gentle giants do not need a lot of exercise.
  • They are incredibly affectionate.
  • They may experience separation anxiety due to their velcro nature.
  • Saint Bernards love children and other pets.
  • They will be happiest in a home with space, and a larger yard.
  • This breed sheds a lot, which will be a problem for allergy sufferers.
  • They will need regular grooming to manage their shedding.
  • They fare best in colder climates, and will quickly overheat in hot weather.
  • Because they are a larger breed, they will need training to prevent them from knocking people over.
  • Younger dogs are best suited in homes without very small children or elderly individuals.
  • Due to their energy levels when young, they may knock people over, causing injury.

Final Thoughts

We hope that this article sheds some light (pun intended!) on the wonderful and loyal Saint Bernard !. Your family will be happy to have this dog in their lives. It is your responsibility to return the happiness you have experienced by learning how to best care for your dog. They are counting on you to show them love and support.

Caring for a Saint Bernard is a difficult job but the happy faces are worth it You should be prepared for their big bodies, which hold so much love… and drool! Your bond will be stronger if you give them the life they desire by understanding their needs and providing for them. They will be delighted to be with you, no matter if they are adventuring in the snow or cuddling by the fireplace. But, if you ask any Saint, they would prefer the former!

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