Dog Breeds 101: Saint Bernard

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The St. Bernard is a giant working dog that can weigh up to 200 lbs. Many believe the St. Bernard was first bred around 200 A.D. in Switzerland. It is assumed this dog is the descendant of an unknown breed and a Molosser – a type of dog brought to Switzerland by the Romans from China. [1]

The breed was named after Saint Bernard of Menthon. He was an 11th century monk who founded the Great St. Bernard Monastery in the Great St. Bernard Pass. The St. Bernard dog was originally famous for its use as a rescue dog – trained to locate and retrieve helpless travelers who were trapped in a snowstorm. They were also used as guard dogs for the monastery. [2]

Today, this dog is best recognized for its enormous size. It uses its impressive strength and intelligence to excel in weight and cart pulling, as well as in conformation shows and obedience competitions. They normally have red and white long haired coats while having either brown and blue eyes. This dog has a black nose, floppy ears, with muscular and strong shoulders.

It is also worth noting that this breed possesses an excellent sense of smell. In fact, they seem to know when dangerous avalanches or storms are about to occur. Also, they are the type of dog that matures at a very slow pace. Therefore, potential owners should expect to take care of a puppy for several years before getting a fully-matured St. Bernard.

In general, St. Bernards are known to be friendly and affectionate in nature. Also, they are extremely loyal, patient and obedient. However, they will start barking whenever they perceive a threat. The size of these dogs alone and their deep bark is usually enough to scare away any burglar or aggressor.

The St. Bernard can be clumsy because of their size. It is not uncommon for one of these dogs to accidentally knock a child over. On a more positive note, they are known to be tolerant and friendly with children. They will probably allow a child to grab and pull at them without becoming angry. [3] However, future owners must learn to socialize St. Bernards at an early age, while they are still at a manageable size. These dogs are easily trainable and have a pleasant and stable demeanor.

St. Bernards can live in apartments as long as they are taken out for exercise often. These dogs can also live outside, but prefer not to because of their constant need for companionship. Also, because this dog was bred for living in the snow, they are not comfortable in warm climates due to overheating.

St. Bernard breeds have an average life expectancy of 8-10 years.


[1] Jennifer Quasha, The Story of the Saint Bernard (The Rosen Publishing Group, 2000).

[2] Charlotte Wilcox, The Saint Bernard (Capstone, 1997).

[3] Joan Hustace Walker, Saint Bernards: Everything about Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Breeding, Behavior, and Training (Barron’s Educational Series, 1998).

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