Saint Bernards are among the most popular breeds of mainstream media today. It’s hard not to be impressed by their enormous size, thick fur coat, and friendly attitude. Originating from the snowy ice caps of Switzerland, Saint Bernards were bred specifically for covert search and rescue operations in the most frigid conditions. In the modern-day, this breed is enjoyed by families worldwide as a beloved, family-friendly pet. Saint Bernard’s are incredibly affectionate creatures with a great sense of fun. And that’s not all! Dogs of this breed are also obedient and are great work dogs for a variety of tasks. Let’s talk about what owning a Saint Bernard entails and what you need to prepare for when adopting this hound.
About the Saint Bernard
Saint Bernards are a giant breed of dog originating from Switzerland. They are friendly, gentle, and playful dogs, in sharp contrast to their intimidating stature. They are great family dogs with an attentive response to obedience training.
Saint Bernard Breed Clubs and Rescue
Several clubs aiding in the ethical breeding and rescue of St. Bernards exist across the globe. The following are the most well-known and prestigious clubs around today.
English St. Bernard Club
First registered in 1922 with the Kennel Club and founded in 1891, the English St. Bernard Club is one of the oldest dog breed clubs for Saint Bernards in the U.K. They have trophies ranging back to the late 1800s for their achievements in Saint Bernard care. Today, they hold events annually, including the Championship and Open Shows for Saint Bernards. It is a black-tie dinner event that comes with complimentary educational seminars for new owners.
Saint Bernard Club of America
Founded in 1888, Saint Bernard Club of America is the largest Saint Bernard Club in the United States with over 90,000 Saint Bernards, and the number only grows higher.
Alongside their sister organization, the SBCA Charitable Foundation, they have funded $50,000 worth of Saint Bernard-related health research. Most of its funding comes straight from the club itself and the principal officers. They hold several events every year in celebration of the Saint Bernard. In addition to the charity, they also have a rescue organization and a magazine called The Saint Fancier.
Saint Bernard Care
Saint Bernards require diligent care to keep them in peak condition. They’re considered a high-maintenance breed due to their large size and need for attention.
Saint Bernards need at least 5 to 6 cups of high-quality dog food every day. The recommended division of meals per day is twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening. This number is just an average, of course, and should be adjusted depending on your dog’s needs. Age, size, metabolism, activity level, and build are some of the factors that decide how much you should feed your dog.
Your biggest concern should be avoiding obesity. Remember that dogs are food-driven and will usually eat what you put in front of them. Make sure you ration their food and treats out properly to avoid food-related health issues.
Large dogs need a high amount of protein and fiber to stay in shape and maintain good health. If your dog looks bloated and seems to get tired faster, it’s probably time to make some changes to its diet and exercise routine.
The size and energy of a Saint Bernard mean they need a moderate amount of maintenance. They are self-sufficient dogs, but grooming is a must for dogs their size.
Get a brush on your Saint Bernard at least 2 to 3 times a week to keep their coats shiny and tangle-free. A rubber brush with short bristles works best for dogs with shorter coats. For Saint Bernards with longer and thicker coats, a pin brush comes in handy.
During shedding season, find an outside spot (to avoid coating your furniture in dog hair!) and brush their fur out at least 3 times a week to minimize shedding and allergy-related issues. If knots of hair start forming, try the detangling shampoo and gently massage the fur back from its unruly state.
You should bathe your Saint Bernard when necessary. Their large bodies and thick coats mean they are more susceptible to becoming dirty and having debris stick to their fur. Scrub their fur thoroughly with shampoo and conditioner formulated for dogs. Check their ears for excess earwax and dirt. Wipe any tear stains from their eyes with a damp cloth or eye drop solution. Bathtime is also a great opportunity to look for rashes or skin irritation that may need addressing.
Dogs need to maintain their dental hygiene as much as people do! Brush your Saint Bernard’s teeth once a week or as needed. Frequent brushing with dog-safe toothpaste will prevent a buildup of plaque and will prevent future dental issues from developing.
You should also cut your Saint Bernard’s nails every month or so as they grow. If you find their nails are not being filed down naturally through their daily activities, you should implement a dog nail clipper to keep their nails short and tidy.
Saints have big ears, so check their ears weekly. With nothing more than a cotton ball, wipe off any dirt or excess earwax stuck near the opening of the ear. Do not try a cotton swab, as you may damage your dog’s ears.
When you clean your dog, check them for any disorders. Rashes or scars may be present, so it’s best to look for them now while you’re in the process of cleaning. Checking early prevents problems in the future.
Larger dogs need more exercise! Saint Bernards are more prone to weight issues like obesity and diabetes, so their physical activity should be frequent and consistent. Any extra weight may strain their joints, which can lead to orthopedic issues. Avoid taking your dog outdoors on particularly hot days to avoid heatstroke and exhaustion, as Saint Bernards are vulnerable to hotter temperatures. Have fresh water ready for them and access to shade so they can rest. If you notice your Saint Bernard panting heavily, slowing down, or notice their gums turn dark red, it’s time for a break!
Saint Bernards are energetic and massive. Untrained, this is a terrible combination to behold. Saint Bernards are a naturally submissive breed and respond well to good, consistent training. Socialization is also a must to develop an amenable temperament. Learning to behave around other dogs and people early is key, and good behaviors are easier to develop as puppies.
Habits taught as puppies like crate and potty training are recommended. Start crate training as early as possible by teaching your Saint Bernard that it is a safe space to relax, play, and eat. This will urge them to be relaxed when they are in their crate and reduce their anxiety when they are inside, which comes in handy during stressful events like separation from their owners, thunderstorms, or car rides.
Saint Bernard History and Origin
Saint Bernards are big dogs with a long, illustrious history. They were said to have been bred in monasteries and hospices in the Swiss Alps sometime in the 11th Century. Their actual first recorded appearance was hundreds of years after this, however.
Saint Bernards are one of the most prolific rescue dogs in history. In the centuries since their original role as watchdogs, they have since branched out. They have since been used for herding sheep and finding lost travelers in search and rescue operations. There are even historical rumors that they transported barrels of brandy to avalanche victims so they could drink it and stay warm until they were able to be rescued. Whether or not this is true, it is a fact that Saint Bernards are a crucial asset in saving thousands of lives. They are iconic dogs for a reason. Their stalwart loyalty, helpfulness, and general all-around cuteness have made them a beloved breed that continues their line to this day.
Saint Bernard General Appearance
Saint Bernards can have short coats that are smooth but dense or longer, bushier coats that tend to be wavy. Their coats are always thick no matter the length and tend to feather out.
Saint Bernards reflect the environment of their home, the Swiss Alps. Red patches reflect the rocky terrain of the mountains, while the large coat of white reflects the deep snow in the region. This thick coat of fur coupled with their layers of fat means Saint Bernards are well-suited to the ice-cold temperatures of the Swiss Alps.
Saint Bernards are about 24 inches from foot to shoulder and have often been mistaken for bears due to their massive size. Their height averages 40 to 47 inches tall, which makes them one of the tallest breeds. Of course, their size doesn’t make them any less friendly. They have big faces with floppy jowls that give them the appearance of smiling.
Saint Bernard Personality
Saint Bernards are gentle giants with lots of energy. They make excellent family dogs who love playtime. They are helpful pups that love taking on important dogs for their owners.
All dogs are prone to developing health issues, but some breeds are more vulnerable to certain conditions than others. Saint Bernards develop certain health problems especially related to their joints and bones.
Large dog breeds like the Bernard, Great Dane, and Bullmastiff are more susceptible to joint issues like Dysplasia, a condition where bones do not properly fit into their sockets due to the wear down of cartilage (the soft, spongy material that cushions bones). Without this cartilage, bones rub together and can cause difficulty in mobility, stiffness, and pain. Saint Bernards are prone to developing this condition in their elbow and hip joints, especially when overweight. They’re also more at risk of developing other bone issues like abnormal skeleton development, which usually develops in puppies 1-year-old or younger.
Issues With Age
As Saint Bernards age, they are more likely to develop problems with their thyroids. Hypothyroidism is an underproduction of hormones that help regulate metabolism, stress, reproduction, and other important functions. Signs of this condition include a dull coat, slow heart rate, weight gain, and sluggishness. It is usually treated with hormone supplements.
Other issues associated with Saint Bernards include sight and digestion issues. When the eyelid turns inward, the eyelashes rub against the eyeball and cause the eyes to become watery and irritated in a condition called entropion. Related to this, the eyelid can also droop away from the eyelid and turn outward, called ectropion. This causes redness and dryness of the eye, but is usually not serious.
Saint Bernards may also develop severe stomach bloat called gastric torsion. This is a life-threatening disorder that twists the stomach caused by gas buildup. This is common amongst larger types of dog breeds with deeper chest cavities when they eat too quickly, and the stomach cannot support the amount of food and air entering the body. Address conditions like these seriously, as they can be deadly. Signs of gastric torsion include:
- An arched back
- Unproductive gagging (no vomit comes up)
- A swollen abdomen
- Pale gums and tongue.
Food not allowed for Saint Bernards
Chocolate is well-known to be incredibly harmful to dogs. The chemical theobromine and caffeine found in chocolate are indigestible and toxic, leading to fatal complications or severe illness in all dogs.
- Grapes cause kidney failure in dogs when ingested in large amounts. Unfortunately, even one grape is too much. Even minor issues caused by grapes include vomiting, diarrhea, and sluggishness in dogs. If your dog eats a grape, you must take them to the veterinary hospital for treatment. If left alone, your dog may experience severe dehydration due to malfunctioning kidneys.
Alcohol is poisonous to dogs because of the ethanol within it. It can cause disorientation, fever, fatigue, and muscle spasms.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Found in sugar-free treats like gum, some peanut butters, and mint-flavored medicine. A single drop can massively drop your Saint Bernard’s blood sugar. In addition, it also causes severe liver damage.
Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic cause severe gastroenteritis in dogs. These rupture their red blood cells and cause lethargy, vomiting, and blood-stained urine.
Saint Bernard Trivia
Yes, Saint Bernards are movie stars. Two of the most famous dogs you may know of include the title character in the family comedy Beethoven (1992) and the horror-thriller Cujo (1983).
The dogs in both movies are a treat to work with. In Cujo, a Labrador-Great Dane mix or an animatronic would sometimes act as a double because the Saint Bernards playing Cujo were too friendly with the other actors. When this breed was supposed to be angry and aggressive, these furry actors would wag their tails and slobber about.
Barry, a Saint Bernard, is one of the most famous of his breed in real life, recorded to have saved over 40 people in frozen tundras. He is well-known for wearing a barrel around his neck which helped perpetuate the brandy rumor.
Saint Bernards grow up incredibly fast. Pups start at a delicate one pound then quickly grow to 40 pounds in just a few months. They will gain three to five pounds a week until adulthood, which they won’t reach for about three years.