The St. Bernard is a very large breed of working dog that was originally bred for rescue. They originate from the Swiss Alps and North Italy, and Switzerland. The St. Bernards ancestors share history with the Sennenhunds (Swiss Mountain Dogs or Swiss Cattle Dogs), the large farm dogs of the farmers and dairymen of the livestock guardians, draft dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, as well as search and rescue dogs and watch dogs. It is believed that these dogs are descendants of molosser type dogs that were brought into the Alps by ancient Romans. The St. Bernard today is recognized internationally as one of the Molossoid breeds. The name is derived from the Great St. Bernard Hospice. It was a traveler’s hospice on the often treacherous Great St. Bernard Pass located in the Western Alps between Switzerland and Italy. The dog, the lodge, and the pass are named after the 11th century monk who established the station, Bernard of Menthon.
The St. Bernard is an extremely large dog with some of the largest reaching over 310 pounds. The average weight of the dog is between 140-260 pounds or more. The average height for the breed is 28-35 inches tall at the withersHis coat can either be smooth or rough. The smooth coat should be close and flat. The rough coat should be dense but flat, and heavier around the neck and legs. It is generally a red color with white, but sometimes a mahogany brindle with white can be observed. There is usually black shading on the face and ears. The St. Bernards tail is heavy and long, and hangs low. The eyes are usually brown in color, but sometimes they can be icy blue. The eyelids should have naturally tight lids. The head is massive and powerful, and the muzzle is short, wider than it is long. The teeth are a scissors bite, and the nose is broad, with open, wide nostrils.
This breed is very patient, calm and sweet with adults and especially children. However, in order to prevent fearfulness, aggression, or territoriality, the dog must be well socialized with people. While the breed is especially good with children, the biggest threat to small children is being knocked over due to the breed’s large size. This is an affectionate, gentle, and loyal breed if socialized early. It is imperative that proper training and socialization begin when he is a puppy because of his large adult size. This will help to avoid difficulties that normally occur training large dogs. An improperly trained or socialized St. Bernard may be problematic for even the strongest of adults, so control needs to be asserted early on. While this breed is generally not protective instinctively, he may bark at strangers. The Breeds massive size makes a good deterrent against possible threats or intruders.
The average lifespan of the St. Bernard is 8-10 years. Because the breed’s growth rate is fast, this can lead to very serious deterioration of the bones. Hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia is common among the breed. Osteosarcoma is found to be hereditary in the St. Bernard breed. The breed is also susceptible to eye disorders such as entropion, and ectropion, and they are also susceptible to epilepsy, dilated cardiomyopathy, and eczema.