The St Bernard is perhaps the most instantly recognizable dog breed in the world due to its sheer size.
This dog’s history dates back to the Hospice of St Bernard which was founded in AD 962. It was the duty of the monks of the order of St Augustine to give assistance to travelers in distress,especially those who had to travel by foot through the Great St Bernard Pass between Switzerland and Italy. The monks soon found that their dogs greatly assisted them and so, when they realized their dog numbers were getting low, eventually cross bred their original farm dogs with Newfoundland bitches.
The tales of the breed’s heroic search and rescue missions in the Alpine mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy are legendary.
The dogs often worked alone and if they met a traveler in need of assistance would lie across them to provide warmth and then bark and howl until human assistance came. They wore spiked collars around their necks to protect them from wolves and carried around their necks a small container containing food and stimulant.
Many monks believed that the St Bernard was endowed with a special power to foresee danger. The most famous rescue St. Bernard (named Barry) is credited with saving somewhere between 40 and 100 lives. His preserved body can still be found to this day in the Natural History Museum in Berne.
But what is it actually like to live with one of these beautiful creatures? Despite their size St Bernard’s are intelligent and gentle dogs. They are mellow and calm dogs which make them great family pets. Although they are laid back, exercise for these dogs is an absolute must.
When they are young, they can be a little stubborn but with proper training soon flourish and make excellent and obedient companions. They are loyal and protective of their families.
There is no height set for the breed although generally height is maintained at 61-71 cm (24 -28 inches). The weight can be anywhere from 50-91 kg (110-200 pound) and therefore feeding, especially during its growing stages, are important.
When living with a Saint Bernard one needs to be prepared for their size. You may need to adjust your living space to accommodate such a large breed.
Peter Pan author JM Barrie famously owned a large Saint Bernard dog named Porthos, which he regularly walked in Kensington Gardens. It was featured in the film ‘Finding Neverland’.
These dogs have square, well-proportioned heads, and short muzzles. They characteristically have wrinkled foreheads, and big jowls, along with black noses and ears that hang close to the face. They have dark, deeply set eyes which give them a somewhat kind and wise expression.
Coats come in rough or smooth variations and colors are usually white with red, mahogany, brindle, tan or black markings. It should be noted that the St. Bernard does not tend to cope too well in very warm climates. This dog is a truly courageous breed and is the ultimate loving and gentle giant.