Breed of the Week: The Saint Bernard


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I’ve been having so much fun at the dog park with my dog buddies, and learning more about different dog breeds with each visits. I didn’t know, for instance, that the Saint Bernards date back to early Roman times until Hannah’s person, Al, pointed it out. He also suggested that I might think about featuring a breed each week in my posts. I think it’s a great idea, and one I should have thought of! So Al, I’m going to start off with the Saint Bernards – this one is for you and Hannah!


The Saint Bernard most likely began as a breed when the Roman army, under Augustus Caesar, crossed the Alps, bringing with them Mastiff-type dogs. These dogs were crossed with native Alpine dogs, and the resulting animals were known as Bauernhund (farm dog) or Talhund (valley dog).

In 962 AD, Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon arrived at the pass where the Roman Army had crossed, and founded a hospice. The pass was treacherous to navigate, and the hospice helped travelers who became ill or injured while crossing. The pass was ultimately named after Bernard de Menthon, and is today known as Saint Bernard Pass. The hospice was guarded by the powerful dogs that are today known as Saint Bernards.

It is believed that when the hospice monks went out to search for travelers in trouble, they took the dogs with them for protection, and found (more or less by happy accident) that they were very skilled at locating people in distress. Today, there are still Saint Bernards at Switzerland’s Saint Bernard Hospice. There is no longer a need for them to search for distressed travelers, but they remain as symbols of the history of the hospice.


Saint Bernards can be either longhaired or shorthaired. Longhaired Saints have a wavy coat with a bit of feathering on the forelegs, and bushy tails. Shorthairs have a smoother coat, with tails that are covered in long hair that becomes somewhat shorter at the tip. Because of the density of the hair, Saints can be difficult to groom, so be sure to check out my article, Dog Grooming Made Easy for helpful tips and tricks.

Saint Bernards come in varying combinations of white and red to brownish-yellow. The white is on the chest, in the collar area, on the feet and at the tail tip, and around the nose. A white blaze on the face is considered to be particularly attractive. Dark, mask-like markings on the ears and head are also desirable.

Male Saint Bernards typically weigh between 140 and 180 pounds, and stand 28-30 inches at the shoulder. Females are a bit smaller, weighing anywhere from 120 to 140 pounds, and standing 26-28 inches at the shoulder.

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Saint Bernards are known for their friendly disposition and calm, sensible nature. Occasionally they can be a bit stubborn, but they are not aggressive, and they are very good with children.

Due to their size, Saints should be trained at an early age – it can be difficult trying to manage up to 140 pounds of untrained dog. They should also be socialized early on. Exposing them to different people and experiences will ensure that your Saint becomes a good canine citizen.


While Saint Bernards are typically healthy, they are prone to certain conditions, as is pretty much the case with all purebred dogs. The conditions specific to the Saint Bernard are:

1. Hip Dysplasia

This condition typically strikes terror into the hearts of dog owners, but the fact is, many dogs can live long, happy lives if the condition is properly managed. Hip dysplasia occurs when the thighbone is not snugly fitted into the hip joint. It is usually hereditary, but can also be caused by too-rapid growth, or an injury. If you are thinking about buying a Saint Bernard puppy, your breeder should be willing to provide you with proof that the parents are free of hip dysplasia. No dog with hip dysplasia should be bred

2. Elbow Dysplasia

This condition occurs when the bones that make up the elbow grow at different rates. It can usually be controlled by medication or weight management, although sometimes surgery may be required.

3. Epilepsy

Seizure disorders can be hereditary, or caused by disease or exposure to toxins. Epilepsy is not curable, but with proper medication, there is no reason why your dog cannot enjoy a fulfilling life. Proper diagnosis is essential, though, so if your Saint is having seizures, take him to the vet immediately.

4. Cataracts

These filmy coatings on a dog’s eyes are usually age-related. Depending on the extent to which the dog’s vision is impaired, surgery may be needed to remove cataracts.

5. Dilated Cardiomyopathy

This is a heart condition that results when the heart muscle becomes thin and no longer contracts properly. It is not curable, but rest and medication can buy some time.

6. GDV (Gastric Dilation-Volvulus)

Also known as torsion or bloat, GDV affects deep-chested dogs. It is a twisting of the stomach caused by air or gas. If your dog is retching, drooling and has a distended abdomen, immediate veterinary care is essential. GDV may be hereditary, so dogs that have the condition should not be bred.

In addition to the above, Saints are also prone to various allergies. Food and pollen are common culprits.

Don’t let any of this alarm you – it is not especially likely that your Saint will develop any of these conditions. You should, though, be aware of them if you are considering a Saint Bernard puppy.

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The Final Word

A well-trained, healthy Saint Bernard is a loyal companion and a wonderful family dog. He will happily accompany you to dog shows if that’s your thing, participate in obedience trials, pull a cart for you, and snuggle with you on cold winter days.If you are contemplating adding a puppy to your household, a Saint could be the ideal choice.

If you’re a guy who loves the breed, why not tell the world? I found an awesome [easyazon_link identifier=”B013OBXPIK” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”n” tag=”natur0da-20″ cart=”y” cloak=”y” localize=”y” popups=”y” type=”link” link_id=”630″]Saint Bernard Dad[/easyazon_link] coffee mug at Amazon, made by 3d Rose. It’s a bargain at $7.20, down from $9.20, and shipping is just $6.54. I think I’ll get one for Al!