The St. Bernard is an enormous dog. Though most top out at 200 pounds, they have been known to be as much as 264 pounds. As long as the weight stays in proportion to the height, taller dogs are the most prized. The head is massive, powerful and slobbery. The muzzle is short and wide. The nose is wide and black with large nostrils. There is a furrow between the medium-sized dark eyes. The eyes often do not close entirely with a loose lower lid. The lips are black. The jaw is powerful and the teeth meet in a scissors or level bite. The ears are medium in size, are set high but drop, though slightly away from the head. The muscular body is slightly longer than it is tall at the withers. The legs are straight and strong. The tail is long and broad. Coat colors are usually tan, red or mahogany with white markings. A black mask or black shading may be present. Saint Bernards come in both a long and a short-coated version.
The Saint Bernard, sometimes called the Alpine Mastiff, was developed at a hospice/monastery on a treacherous pass through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland. The pass was rarely snow free and these dogs were often employed to find stranded travelers. They also were companions to the monks. Breeds thought to have contributed to the breed include the Tibetan Mastiff, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and the Great Dane. It is believed that the monks trained the dogs to work in pairs with one digging out the traveler stuck in an avalanche, rousing and warming the person, while the other would go for help back at the monastery If the person could walk, they would be led back to the hospice by the dog. The original Saint Bernards were short haired, but after a particularly harsh season of winters with the dog population suffering great losses, experimental crosses with New Foundlands were done with the theory that the longer hair would insulate the dogs better. This proved to be disastrous as heavy ice would crust all over the dog and weigh them down to the point of being incapacitated. So only short-haired dogs were used for rescue work after that, but now long and short-haired varieties exist to this day.
The Saint Bernard is a gentle giant. This trait was bred into them from the beginning as living in close quarters required a good temperament. Regardless, early and consistent socialization and training is a must simply because of the overwhelming size of this dog. Every family member must be the pack leader over this dog, which he desires, so he knows his role and expectations. They are slow moving, tolerant and obedient. They are very loyal and desire to please. They do make good watchdogs and their size is a deterrent even if the dog doesn't show any aggression.
Breed Club Links: The Saint Bernard Club of America
BaxterBoo.com Perfect Pairings: Top Performance Top and Tail Wipes
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Photo courtesy of Haley Redshaw.