The Saint Bernard probably has his roots in the Roman Molossian dogs, but it wasn’t until between 1660 and 1670 that the breed developed into the magnificent dog responsible for saving so many lives. Around this time, the first of these large dogs arrived at the St. Bernard Hospice, a refuge for travelers crossing between Switzerland and Italy. The Saint Bernards originally came to help pull carts and turn spits and may have also functioned as watchdogs or companions, but the monks soon found them invaluable pathfinders through the deep snow. The dogs were adept at locating lost travelers. When a dog found a person, he would lick the person’s face and lie beside him, thus reviving and warming the person. The dogs continued to serve in this invaluable role for three centuries, saving over 2,000 lives. The most famous of all Saint Bernards was Barry, who was credited with saving 40 lives. Before Barry’s death, the dogs were known by several names, including hospice dogs, but by the time he died he was of such fame that the dogs were called Barryhund in his honor. In the early 1800s many of the dogs were lost to severe weather, disease and inbreeding. Some of the remaining dogs were crossed with Newfoundlands in 1830. As a result, the first long-coated dogs of Saint Bernard type appeared. Although it seemed that long hair would help a dog in the cold snow, in fact it hindered them as the ice clung to the coat. Thus, these long-haired dogs were not kept for rescue work. The first Saints came to England around 1810 and were referred to by many different names, among them sacred dog. By 1865, the name Saint Bernard was in common use, and it became the official name in 1880. Around this time, the breed caught the eye of American fanciers. By 1900, the Saint Bernard was extremely popular. Although he has since vacillated in popularity, he is always one of the most popular giant breeds.
Saint Bernard Temperament
The calm, easygoing Saint Bernard is gentle and patient around children, although he is not particularly playful. He is devoted to his family and is willing to please, although at his own pace. He can be stubborn.
Saint Bernard Care
The Saint Bernard needs daily exercise in order to stay fit. His requirements can be met with moderate walks and short runs, however. Overweight puppies are more prone to hip problems. They enjoy cold weather and does not do well in heat. This breed does best when allowed access to both house and yard. His coat, whether long or short, needs weekly brushing, more so when shedding. All Saints drool.
Saint Bernard Health
Major concerns: CHD, gastric torsion, entropion, ectropion, distichiasis, elbow dysplasia, osteosarcoma
Minor concerns: OCD, diabetes, heart conditions, cardiomyopathy, pyotraumatic dermatitis
Occasionally seen: epilepsy
Suggested tests: hip, elbow, cardiac, eye
Life span: 8-10 years
Note: The Saint Bernard does not tolerate heat well.