AKC Dog Breeds: Saint Bernard

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Working  Group
Height:23-27 inches   Weight: 100-200 pounds  Color: white with red markings or red with white markings

Originally used to locate freezing and helpless travelers during snowstorms, the Saint Bernard now uses his intelligence and strength in conformation and obedience competitions, cart pulling and weight pulling. Although powerful and muscular in build, Saints possess a gentle and dignified temperament. It is generally believed that the dogs eventually called Saint Bernards were bred from dogs previously existing in the Swiss countryside. The original Saint Bernard was a short-haired dog and was introduced to the Hospice (a refuge for travelers crossing the treacherous passes between Switzerland and Italy) as a guard dog, a carting dog and an avalanche dog that rescued travelers trapped in the snow.

General Appearance
The Saint Bernard is a very large, strong, muscular dog, with a powerful head. As long as the weight stays in proportion with the height, the taller the dog the more prized. There are two types of coat: rough, and smooth, but both are very dense and come in white with markings in tan, red, mahogany, brindle, and black - in various combinations. The face and ears are usually shaded with black and the expression is intelligent and gentle. In the rough-coated dogs, the hair is slightly longer and there is feathering on the thighs and legs. The feet are large with strong well-arched toes, making the Saint Bernard's sure-footed in the snow and ice. They have a highly developed sense of smell and also seem to have a sixth sense about impending danger from storms and avalanches.

Faithful, affectionate, intelligent, and just a little lazy, the Saint Bernard is a huge dog with a huge heart. When from well-bred lines, these dogs are calm, quiet, and sensible. The patient and docile Saint Bernard does need plenty of space because of his size, and is therefore not suited to those in apartments. He also needs a fair amount of exercise, and daily walks along with an opportunity to have a play around in a safe area will help to keep him fit and healthy. These working dogs are eager to please and happy to serve their family and master. Some of the areas the Saint Bernard may excel in include hauling, and search and rescue. These dogs do need to companionship of their owners, and are not suited to those with little time for a pet. They also need owners that are confident and assertive, and are best suited to those with some experience of dog ownership. Although the Saint Bernard gets along well with children, early socialization is recommended, and owners should also be mindful of the giant size of the dog. A properly socialized Saint Bernard tends to get along well with other animals too, although some may display aggression towards other dogs. Most will also accept strangers. A well bred Saint Bernard is too docile to make it as a guard dog, but can make an effective watchdog, as his bark and size are enough to put off any burglar. He is a protective and loyal pet, and makes a good family dog for those with the space, time, and experience to provide him with a suitable living environment, lots of attention and interaction, and proper training. You may want to think twice about getting a Saint Bernard if you are very house proud, as they can be slobbery and drool a lot.


The Saint Bernard's coat is shed twice a year. They require daily brushing with a firm bristle brush to keep hair around the home down to a minimal amount. Bathing should only be done when necessary using a mild shampoo to avoid stripping the coat of its essential oils. Their eyes and ears must be checked and cleaned regularly to keep them free of irritants. You'll also find that your St. Bernard tends to drool and his eyes tend to water. Simply drying them with a tissue periodically will keep his eyes clean and free of irritants and keep the messy drool to a minimum.

Health Problems and Life Expectancy
In general, the Saint Bernard is quite healthy. However, they can be prone to Wobblers Syndrome. The correct name for this problem is cervical vertebral instability. It is common in very large, fast growing dog breeds. Wobbler Syndrome causes the dog to wobble when they walk, particularly around the back end. They may also have difficulty with their front legs which may make them take short, choppy steps. St. Bernards are also more prone to bone cancer than many other dog breeds, and the tendency has been found to be hereditary. St. Bernards can also be prone to hip dysplasia, another problem in large, heavy dogs. As a giant dog, the Saint Bernard has a fairly low life expectancy of around 8-9 years.

Activity Level

The Saint Bernard will do quite well with a long walk each day. They are not prone to running and playing once they're past puppy hood, but do need to be exercised. Because of their size, it's wise to keep their play sessions and walks short for the first two years of life, since their bones take time to form.


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