Saint Bernard

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saint bernard dog portrait
Meet the Saint Bernard, a dog breed that's larger than life in more ways than one! With their colossal size, heart-melting eyes, and unrivaled zest for life, these gentle giants are more than just slobber and fluff. They're lovable companions with a heroic history that'll make you fall head over heels!

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

Saint Bernards are perfect for families seeking a loyal, patient, and protective companion. They’re great with kids and other pets, and they love to cuddle! However, their size means they need space to stretch out. So, if you’ve got room in your home and heart, they’re an ideal fit!

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMESaint Bernard
OTHER NAMESSt. Bernard, Saint Bernhardog, St. Bernhardshund, Bernhardiner, Alpine Spaniel
ORIGINSwitzerland
BREED GROUPWorking Group
BREED SIZEGiant
HEIGHT26-30 inches
WEIGHT120-180 lbs
LIFESPAN8-10 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERLow
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERHigh
GROOMING NEEDSModerate
EXERCISE NEEDSModerate
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYHigh
SHEDDING LEVELModerate
POPULARITY RANK56th
saint bernard dog standing on grass
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Appearance

The Saint Bernard is a dog that’s impossible to miss. With their towering height, robust body, and a face that radiates kindness, these gentle giants are truly a sight to behold.

A full-grown Saint Bernard stands between 26 to 30 inches tall at the shoulder. But it’s not just their height that’s impressive; they’re also hefty dogs, tipping the scale anywhere from 120 to 180 pounds. This bulk, combined with their muscular build, gives them a powerful appearance that’s balanced by their gentle demeanor.

One of the most striking features of a Saint Bernard is its massive head. It’s large, broad, and bears an expression that’s both intelligent and friendly. This expression is accentuated by their dark, soulful eyes that seem to convey a profound understanding of the world around them.

Their ears, set high on the head, are medium-sized and drop down close to the cheek. They add to the overall softness of the Saint Bernard’s look, giving them an endearing quality that’s hard to resist.

The Saint Bernard’s coat is another notable feature. It can be either short or long, but it’s always dense and designed to withstand harsh weather conditions. The coat is typically white with markings in shades of red or brown, adding a beautiful contrast to their appearance.

The body is as sturdy as it appears. Their chest is broad and deep, providing plenty of room for their large heart and lungs. The legs are strong and muscular, capable of supporting their substantial weight with ease.

Their tail is long and heavy, usually carried low when the dog is relaxed. When they’re excited or alert, the tail is lifted high and wagging, expressing their joy or anticipation.

Overall, the Saint Bernard’s physical characteristics are as unique as they are impressive. Every aspect of their appearance, from their imposing size to their expressive eyes, contributes to their charm. Whether they’re standing majestically in your yard or snuggling up to you on the couch, there’s no denying the appeal of these gentle, giant dogs.

saint bernard dog's face up close
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Temperament

If there’s one word to describe the Saint Bernard, it’s “gentle”. These dogs might be big, but their personalities are even bigger. Known as the calm and friendly giants of the canine world, their temperament is as warm as the fur coat they proudly wear.

Saint Bernards are known for their kind-hearted nature. They’re eager to please, always looking for ways to make their human friends happy. You’ll often see a Saint Bernard wagging its tail enthusiastically, its eyes sparkling with an unmistakable love and loyalty that’s truly endearing.

These dogs are also exceptionally patient. They don’t mind waiting for their turn or spending time alone when necessary. This makes them excellent companions for families with children, as they’re very tolerant of the antics of little ones. In fact, they often become the best of friends with kids, providing them with a furry playmate who’s always up for a cuddle or a gentle wrestling match.

Despite their imposing size, Saint Bernards are surprisingly easygoing. They’re not the type to cause a ruckus or get overly excited. Instead, they prefer a slow and steady pace in life. They’re content to just lie around the house, soaking up the warmth of the sunbeam or the coziness of the family room.

The Saint Bernard’s calm demeanor doesn’t mean they lack personality, though. These dogs have a playful side that’s truly charming. They enjoy a good game of fetch or a leisurely walk in the park. And while they might move a bit slower than other breeds, they do so with a joyful bounce in their step that’s infectious.

Saint Bernards are also known for their intelligence. They learn quickly and respond to commands as soon they understand what is expected of them. This makes them relatively easy to manage, despite their size. They’re methodical in their actions, always taking the time to think things through before making a move.

One of the most striking aspects of the Saint Bernard’s personality is their innate sense of kindness. They’re welcoming dogs, always ready to greet new people with a friendly nudge or a wag of their tail. Their benevolent temperament shines through in everything they do, adding to their charm and appeal.

saint bernard dog sitting in a field
Photo: mauro_grigollo/Getty Images Signature

Ideal Environment

Imagine a dog breed that’s just as comfortable in a snowstorm as it is snuggled up by a roaring fire. That’s the Saint Bernard for you! These gentle giants originated in the Swiss Alps, so they’re built to handle cold weather. But don’t let their frosty heritage fool you; they’re equally happy in a cozy family room, surrounded by their human pack.

Ideal Owner

Saint Bernards are perfect for families who appreciate their calm and loving nature. They thrive in a household that provides ample affection and companionship. If you’re the type of pet parent who enjoys quiet evenings with your furry friend by your side, a Saint Bernard would fit right into your lifestyle.

Other Pets

These dogs also do well in homes with other pets. Their patient and easygoing temperament makes them great companions for other dogs, cats, and even smaller critters. They’re not particularly territorial or aggressive, so they’re likely to welcome new furry siblings with open paws.

Physical Environment

When it comes to the physical environment, Saint Bernards need space to move around. They may not be the most active dogs, but they still appreciate a good romp in the yard. A home with a large, secure outdoor area would be ideal. However, they can also adapt to living in apartments, provided they get regular walks and exercise.

Climate Adaptability

One important thing to note is that Saint Bernards are not suited for hot climates. Their thick double coats, which keep them warm in the winter, can make them prone to overheating in the summer. If you live in a warmer region, you’ll need to ensure they have access to plenty of shade and fresh water, and try to limit their outdoor activity during the hottest parts of the day.

saint bernard dog lying on grass
Photo: mauro_grigollo/Getty Images Signature

Grooming

The Saint Bernard, with its majestic coat and soulful eyes, is a breed that requires a fair bit of grooming to keep them looking their best. But don’t let that deter you! With a little time, the right tools, and a whole lot of love, taking care of your Saint Bernard’s grooming needs can be a bonding experience like no other.

Coat Care

Let’s start with their coat. Saint Bernards come in two varieties: short-haired and long-haired. Both types have a dense and thick double coat that serves as insulation against harsh weather. This means they shed. And when a Saint Bernard sheds, it’s not just a little fur here and there – it’s a full-on fur explosion!

To manage their shedding, regular brushing is a must. Aim for at least two to three times a week, but daily brushing would be ideal, especially during shedding seasons in spring and fall. A slicker brush or a rake is perfect for this task, helping to remove loose hair and prevent mats and tangles.

Bathing your Saint Bernard doesn’t need to be a frequent affair. These dogs aren’t particularly smelly, so a bath every couple of months should suffice unless they get particularly dirty. Use mild dog shampoo to keep their skin and coat healthy.

Dental Care

Now, let’s talk about dental care. Like any dog, Saint Bernards need their teeth cleaned regularly to prevent tartar buildup and bad breath. Brushing their teeth a few times a week with dog-safe toothpaste will do the trick. Regular vet check-ups will also help ensure their pearly whites stay that way.

Nail Trimming

Don’t forget about their nails! Saint Bernards have strong, sturdy nails that grow quickly. If you hear a clicking sound when they walk on hard floors, it’s time for a trim. You can use a dog nail clipper or grinder for this job, or take them to a professional groomer if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself.

Ear Care

Their ears also need attention. Because they hang down, they can create a warm, moist environment that’s perfect for bacteria and yeast. Check their ears weekly for any signs of redness or bad smell, and clean them with a vet-recommended cleaner to prevent infections.

Additional Grooming Tips

Lastly, remember to keep an eye on their skin. Saint Bernards can be prone to certain skin conditions, so regular checks for any unusual redness, lumps, or bumps are essential.

saint bernard dog sitting outside in the snow
Photo: Katerina/Pexels

Exercise

Despite their imposing size, Saint Bernards aren’t exactly the most active dogs on the block. These gentle giants are more about slow and steady than fast and furious when it comes to physical activity. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need their daily dose of exercise.

Exercise Amount & Types

A typical Saint Bernard is satisfied with a daily walk lasting 30 to 60 minutes. This can be split into two shorter walks if preferred. They enjoy a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood or a relaxed romp in the backyard. The important thing is to keep them moving without overdoing it.

Saint Bernards are also fond of playtime. A game of fetch or hide-and-seek in the yard can be a fun way to engage their minds and bodies. You might not see them sprinting after a ball like a retriever, but they’ll certainly enjoy the interaction and the chance to stretch their legs.

Dog Sports

While Saint Bernards may not be the ideal breed for high-energy dog sports or competitions, they are well-suited for activities that showcase their strength and endurance. For example, weight pulling or carting can be a satisfying task for these powerful dogs, under proper supervision and training, of course.

Exercise Precautions

One thing to remember is that Saint Bernards, especially puppies, should not be over-exercised. Their large size and rapid growth can put a strain on their joints, so activities such as jumping or running for prolonged periods should be avoided. It’s best to increase their exercise gradually as they grow and mature.

Also, due to their thick double coat, Saint Bernards can easily overheat in hot weather. So, during summer months, try to schedule walks during cooler parts of the day and always provide plenty of fresh water.

saint bernard dog in a park
Photo: Nicholas Chase/Getty Images

Training

Training a Saint Bernard can be an absolute joy if you approach it with patience and positivity. These gentle giants are intelligent and eager to please, which makes them quite trainable.

Basic Obedience

The key to successful training is to start early. Like all dogs, Saint Bernards are most receptive when they’re puppies. Begin with basic commands like “sit”, “stay”, and “come”. Keep the sessions short and fun to hold their interest. Remember, this breed may not be as high-energy as others, but they still love a good play session!

Positive Reinforcement

Saint Bernards respond best to positive reinforcement methods. This means rewarding them for good behavior rather than punishing them for mistakes. Treats, praise, or a favorite toy can be effective rewards. This approach not only helps in training but also strengthens the bond between you and your furry friend.

Socialization

Socialization is another crucial aspect of training. Expose your Saint Bernard to different people, places, and situations while they’re still young. This will help them grow into well-adjusted, confident adult dogs. Remember, these dogs are naturally friendly and welcoming, so socialization usually comes easy to them.

Additional Training Tips

One thing to note is that Saint Bernards can sometimes be a bit stubborn. If they decide they’d rather lie down than practice their commands, don’t get frustrated. Just remain patient and persistent. Eventually, they’ll come around.

Training a Saint Bernard also involves teaching them how to behave around children and smaller pets. Despite their size, they’re usually very gentle. However, they might not realize their own strength, so it’s important to teach them to be careful.

saint bernard dog walking on snow
Photo: PaaschPhotography/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

Feeding a Saint Bernard isn’t just about filling their bowl. It’s about providing them with the right nutrition to support their substantial size and maintain their overall health.

What to Feed & How Much

When choosing food for your Saint Bernard, consider high-quality options that are rich in animal-based proteins. Look for ingredients like beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, duck, or eggs. These proteins help support their massive frame and muscle tone.

The food should also contain complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. Whether you opt for dry food, wet food, or a raw diet, ensure it follows the AAFCO guidelines for balanced nutrition.

An adult Saint Bernard usually weighs between 120 and 180 pounds and needs between 2244 and 3041 calories a day, depending on their activity level. However, it’s not about feeding them a mountain of food at once. They do best with two smaller meals a day to prevent bloating and weight gain.

Puppies have different dietary needs. A Saint Bernard puppy should be given about 1 ½ to 7 ½ cups of dry dog food a day, split into three to four meals. This helps support their rapid growth without overloading their tiny tummies.

Treats

Treats can be a great training aid, but remember they’re just that – treats. They should make up no more than 10% of your Saint Bernard’s daily caloric intake to avoid obesity.

Water

And don’t forget water! Due to their size, Saint Bernards need plenty of fresh water available at all times to stay hydrated, especially in hot weather.

saint bernard dog running in a field
Photo: Nicholas Chase/Getty Images

Health

Caring for a Saint Bernard extends beyond feeding and grooming. It also involves understanding their health needs. These gentle giants have a life expectancy of around 8-10 years, but with the right care, they can enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life.

Here are common health issues often associated with Saint Bernards:

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn’t fit snugly into the socket. It can lead to discomfort and mobility issues.

Elbow Dysplasia: Similar to hip dysplasia, this condition affects the elbow joint and can cause lameness in the front legs.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy: This heart condition causes the heart muscle to become thin and weak, affecting its ability to pump blood effectively.

Entropion: This is an eyelid issue where the eyelid rolls inward, causing the lashes to rub against the eye surface, leading to irritation or injury.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV): Also known as bloat, this is a life-threatening condition where the stomach twists, preventing gas from escaping.

While these conditions might sound daunting, many can be managed with early detection and proper care. A healthy diet plays a crucial role in maintaining your Saint Bernard’s health. High-quality food that’s rich in essential nutrients can help support their overall well-being.

Regular veterinary check-ups are also vital. Your vet can conduct routine screenings for these conditions, ensuring any potential issues are caught early. Regular vaccinations are equally important to protect your Saint Bernard from various diseases.

saint bernard dog lying in the front yard
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History

The Saint Bernard is a breed with a rich and fascinating history that dates back centuries. These dogs have been warming hearts and saving lives since the 11th century when they were bred by monks at the Great St Bernard Hospice in Switzerland.

The hospice was a refuge for travelers crossing the treacherous St Bernard Pass, and the dogs were used as search and rescue animals. Their keen sense of smell and direction enabled them to find lost or buried travelers in heavy snow.

Over time, these dogs became renowned for their strength, intelligence, and gentle nature. In fact, one Saint Bernard named Barry reportedly saved more than 40 people during his lifetime. Today, you’ll find a monument honoring him at the Cimetière des Chiens, a pet cemetery in Paris.

In the mid-19th century, innkeeper Heinrich Schumacher began breeding Saint Bernards. He maintained a studbook and supplied dogs to the hospice, exporting others abroad, helping to popularize the breed. The Swiss St. Bernard Club was founded in Basel in 1884, and the breed was first entered into the Swiss Stud Book that same year.

Saint Bernards made their way to America in the mid-1800s, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the breed in 1885. Today, the Saint Bernard ranks 56th on the AKC’s list of Most Popular Dog Breeds.

In popular culture, the Saint Bernard is often portrayed as a quintessential rescue dog, thanks to its historical role. The breed shot to fame with the release of the movie “Beethoven” in 1992. The film features a mischievous but lovable Saint Bernard who creates chaos and laughter in an otherwise orderly household.

More recently, the animated movie “St. Bernard Syndicate” released in 2018, showcases two would-be entrepreneurs trying to breed Saint Bernards in China.

Parent Club

The Saint Bernard Club of America is the official parent club for the breed in the United States. The club was incorporated in 1888 with a mission to protect and promote the Saint Bernard breed. It provides resources for breeders, owners, and enthusiasts alike, offering information on everything from grooming and training to health and events. For more information, you can visit their official website.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. 

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

Check out the Saint Bernard’s breed standard as set by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

saint bernard dog with her puppies in the snow
Photo: romanbabakin

Acquiring

If you’re smitten with the idea of bringing a Saint Bernard into your life, there are a few things to consider. First, prepare for space—these gentle giants need room to move around comfortably. Also, be ready for grooming as their thick coat requires regular brushing to keep it in good condition.

Choosing to adopt a Saint Bernard is a wonderful decision. Rescue organizations have many loving dogs looking for their forever homes. The Saint Bernard Club of America and the American Kennel Club can guide you towards reputable rescue groups.

If you prefer to buy a puppy, make sure to choose a responsible breeder who prioritizes health and temperament over appearance. Reputable breeders will welcome your questions, provide medical history, and allow you to meet the puppy’s parents.

Remember, whether you decide to adopt or buy, you’re gaining a loyal, loving companion that will bring immense joy to your life.

FAQs

How powerful is a Saint Bernard?

Saint Bernards are very powerful dogs. They were originally bred for rescue work in the Swiss Alps, which required strength, endurance, and resilience. However, their power is tempered by their gentle and calm demeanor.

Is the Saint Bernard the most powerful dog breed?

While Saint Bernards are indeed powerful, they are not considered the most powerful breed. Breeds like the Mastiff, Rottweiler, and Kangal are typically considered more physically powerful.

Will a Saint Bernard protect its owner?

Saint Bernards are loyal and protective of their families. They aren’t typically aggressive, but their size alone can be a deterrent to potential threats. They will certainly step in if they perceive their family is in danger.

What is the Saint Bernard known for?

The Saint Bernard is best known for its historical role as a rescue dog in the Swiss Alps. They’re also known for their large size, gentle nature, and the iconic barrel often depicted around their necks in popular culture.

Is a Saint Bernard a good family dog?

Absolutely! Saint Bernards are known for being exceptionally gentle, especially with children. They’re friendly, patient, and enjoy being part of family activities.

How much exercise does a Saint Bernard need?

Despite their size, Saint Bernards don’t require a lot of exercise. A few short walks and a moderate play session for about 30-60 minutes each day should suffice. They’re more indoor dogs and love relaxing with their family.

Are Saint Bernards easy to train?

Yes, Saint Bernards are generally easy to train. They’re intelligent and eager to please, which makes them responsive to positive reinforcement training methods. However, early socialization and training are essential due to their size.

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