The St. Bernard Dog is a very large breed of dog originally bred for rescue and as a working dog. A full-grown male can weigh between 160 and 240 lb (72.5 / 110+ kg) and the approximate height is 27½ inches to 35½ inches (70 to 90 cm).
Saint Bernards are one of the largest dog breeds . There are two varieties of the breed: the short-haired or smooth-coat variety and the long-haired or rough-coat variety.
St. Bernards are gentle, friendly, and generally fond of children. It is strikingly similar to that of the English Mastiff
, since it was used to redevelop that breed when it was near extinction after World War II.Extremely loyal, this breed is eager to please its owners but due to its size, it is essential that proper training and socialization begin early in life while the dog is still a manageable size. An unruly St Bernard presents a problem for even a strong adult so control needs to be asserted from the beginning. St Bernards will bark at strangers and their size makes them good deterrents against most intruders although their aggression as guard dogs rarely equals breeds designed for that purpose.
The very fast growth rate and the weight of a St. Bernard can lead to very serious deterioration of the bones if the dog does not get proper food and exercise. Many dogs are affected by hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia. Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) has been shown to be hereditary in the breed.
St. Bernards are susceptible to eye disorders called entropion and ectropion. The FCI standard indicates that this is now a major fault. The breed is also susceptible to epilepsy and seizures, a heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy, and eczema.
The average life span of a St. Bernard is about 8 years, and some insurance companies will not issue a life insurance beyond 8 years .
The ancestors of the St. Bernard are the herding dogs of Swiss and Italian farmers like the Great Swiss Mountain Dog, as well as hunting dogs, rescue dogs and watchdogs. Their history has also been connected with the hospice at the Great St. Bernard Pass. First reports of the dogs' presence at the pass date to the 17th century, and they remained loyal companions to the monks there.
The most famous St. Bernard to save people at the pass was Barry (sometimes spelled Berry), who reportedly saved somewhere between 40 and 100 lives. There is a monument to Barry in the Cimetiere des Chiens, and his body was preserved in the Natural History Museum in Berne.
The classic St. Bernard looked very different from the St. Bernard of today, because an avalanche killed off many of the dogs used for breeding. To further the breed, they crossed the remaining dogs with other dogs, but in the process lost much of their use as rescue dogs. The St. Bernard is among the heaviest and largest dog breeds in the world.
The world's heaviest and largest dog in known history was a Saint Bernard named Benedictine, which weighed 162 kg (357 lbs). Benedictine surpassed Zorba, the largest English mastiff on record, which measured 8 feet, 3 inches long and weighed 343 lb. Although heavier Newfoundland
dogs have been reported, Benedictine currently holds the world record for the heaviest dog that ever lived. This weight was provided, not by direct measurement, but by "successive studies", and the lower weight of 152.5kg (336 lbs) is sometimes cited which would put Benedictine back into second place among all time heaviest dogs.
The name "St. Bernard" originates from traveler's hospice
on the often treacherous St. Bernard Pass
in the Western Alps
, where the name was passed to the local dogs. The pass, the lodge, and the dogs are named for Bernard of Menthon
, the 11th century monk
who established the station.
"St. Bernard" was in widespread use until the middle of the 19th century. The dogs were called "Saint Dogs","Noble Steeds", "Alpenmastiff", or "Barry Dogs" before, and in parts of North America, they're still called "Saints".
St. Bernards are often portrayed, especially in comics, cartoons and old live action comedies such as Swiss Miss
, with small barrels of brandy
worn around their necks. This was supposedly used to warm the victims that the dogs found, although in reality, alcohol
(which acts as a vasodilator
) would worsen the situation of a person suffering hypothermia
. However, the monks of the St. Bernard Hospice deny that any St. Bernard has ever carried casks or small barrels around their necks; they believe that the origin of the image is an early painting. The monks did keep casks around for photographs by tourists..
One magazine cartoon showed a grown St. Bernard, presumably female, with several puppies; she and each puppy had a cask around the neck. The man with the dogs told a visitor, according to the caption, "Of course, I only breed them for the brandy."
Famous St. Bernard
- Barry, famous Alpine rescue dog (see above)
- Bolivar, Donald Duck's pet
- Unnamed St. Bernard whom Stan Laurel tricks of his keg of brandy in Swiss Miss
- Cujo, a fictional portrayal of a rabid St. Bernard by Stephen King
- Nanna, from various Peter Pan movies (but originally a Newfoundland in the text)
- Buck, from Jack London's The Call of the Wild, is half St. Bernard
- Gumbo, team mascot for the New Orleans Saints
- Neil, the martini-slurping St. Bernard of George and Marion Kerby in Topper (TV series)
- Beethoven, the movie Beethoven 1992
- Bamse, a Norwegian dog honoured for exploits during World War II memorial statue in Montrose Scotland where he died in 1944
- Båtsman, a St. Bernard in Astrid Lindgren's story Vi på Saltkråkan
- Schottzie, one of a number of St. Bernard's owned by Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott