One of the instantly recognisable breeds, St Bernard dogs stand tall with massive frames. They are muscular dogs with powerful, imposing heads, and are capable of covering very rough ground with unhurried, smooth movements. This breed can be orange, mahogany-brindle, red-brindle, or white with patches of these colours. The adult male stands at a minimum of 75cm and the female at 70cm. Their weight is approximately 68-91kg.
- Category size: Giant
- Grooming requirements: More than once a week
- Shedding: Heavy
- Allergies: No
- Noise: Usually quiet
- Dog Group Kennel Club: Working
- Alone: 1 to 3 hours
- Other pets: High
- Stability as a guard: Medium
The St Bernard dog breed takes its name from the Hospice of the Great Saint Bernard Pass, founded in AD980 by St Bernard de Menthon as a refuge for travellers through the dangerous Alpine pass between Switzerland and Italy. By 1707 the overworked monks realised that dogs with their superior noses, strength and weather-resistant coats were better equipped to rescue travellers, thanks to their in-bred sense of direction, and they established their own breeding programme, calling the dogs Alpine Mastiffs. Tales of great rescues were reported with one of the most famous dogs, Barry, having saved the lives of 40 people.
A 'gentle giant' sums up the character of the St Bernard. They are good-humoured, trustworthy and love family life. They are very loyal dogs who rarely bark, but will defend you and your possessions if they deem necessary. They normally accept other household animals with no problems. Young dogs must be taught from an early age not to pull on their leads, as this habit will be difficult to break when they are older.
The most serious health problems commonly seen in the St Bernard are various bone disorders, including bone cancer, epilepsy and heart disease. As with many breeds, they can also suffer from hereditary eye disorders and hip and elbow dysplasia (joint conditions that can lead to mobility problems). Eye testing and hip scoring of dogs prior to breeding is therefore important.
Exercising St Bernard puppies must be done very gradually to avoid putting excess strain on their growing bones and tender tissues and, even with the adult dog, care must taken to build up exercise gradually. Having said that, for their size they really do not need copious amounts of exercise – about an hour daily for an adult.
Giant-breed dogs, as well as having giant appetites, benefit from a different balance of minerals and vitamins, supporting different joint and cartilage needs. St Bernards are prone to bloating and stomach problems; try feeding smaller, more frequent meals to help minimise the risk.
There are two coat types – smooth and rough. The smooth is short-haired and the rough is long-haired. Grooming is not a problem apart from the amount of coat to get through! They need to be brushed or combed several times a week to remove loose hairs. The ears should be kept clean and the eyes checked very regularly, especially those dogs with drooping eyelids. St Bernards are clean animals but do tend to slobber.
Is this the right dog breed for you?
All dogs have their own, unique personality, but some instincts and behaviours they’re born with. Try our breed selector and find out which dog breeds better match your preferences and lifestyle. If you and your dog enjoy similar things, you will be more likely to live a happy, fulfilling life together.
What to Consider next
It is incredibly fulfilling to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or rescue organization. It often means offering them a second chance in life. There are many dogs waiting for a loving family, a forever home. Reputable centers will be very careful about matching the right people with the right dogs. Staff learns all they can about the dogs they take in, and will spend time getting to know you, your family and your lifestyle, before they match you with any of their dogs. They’ll also be happy to give you advice and answer any questions you might have before and after the adoption.
Finding a good breeder
If your heart is set on a pedigree puppy, then your best bet is to find a reputable breeder. Contact The Kennel Club or a breed-club secretary who may have a list of litters available, or should be able to put you in contact with breeders in your area. Try to choose a breeder who is part of the Kennel Club’s assured breeder scheme.Visit dog shows to meet breeders in person and inquire about availability of pups of your chosen breed.
Welcoming your dog home
Whether you’re bringing home a tiny puppy or rehoming an adult dog, this is a hugely exciting time for everyone. While you’re waiting for the big day you might need to distract yourself, so luckily there are a few things you need to sort out before you welcome your new arrival. Click here for more information