The Saint Bernard was founded in 980 AD by St. Bernard de Menthon and bred by monks, most likely by crossing the ancient Tibetan mastiff with the Great Dane, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and the Great Pyrenees.
The first Saint Bernards were of the shorthaired variety, as the longhaired variety's coat tended to collect icicles. They were used by the Hospice, a refuge for travelers through the dangerous Alpine pass between Switzerland and Italy. In the middle of the seventeenth century, the Saint Bernard became popular as a rescue dog working to save people from avalanches in the snowy passes near the Hospice.
The dogs are able to smell a person under many feet of snow. They have saved thousands of people searching out and finding lost or injured travelers. The dogs would work in packs looking for the victims. When found they would lick and lie down with them in order to keep them warm. While a dog or more would lie with the body(s), another dog would head back to the Hospice to alert them that they found the humans. A full rescue team would then be sent out. The Saint Bernard has also been known to be able to predict storms and avalanches. This may be possible because of the dog's ability to hear very low-frequency sounds which humans cannot.
Some of the Saint Bernard's talents are search and rescue, guard dog, watchdog and carting.
• Extremely gentle, friendly and very tolerant with children.
• Slow moving, patient, obedient, extremely loyal.
• Eager and willing to please.
• Highly intelligent and easy to train.
• Need early training to prevent their size from being a problem, like jumping up on people/knocking youngsters over, etc.
• Good watchdog ~ their size alone is a great deterrent.
• Drool, especially after eating and drinking water.
• Highly developed sense of smell.
• Great 6th Sense in determining danger, impending storms, etc.
• Love to pull carts.
• Can develop heart, skin and hip problems. Twisted stomachs are known to occur.
• Need good long walks every day ~ their size alone requires exercise to keep weight in check.
• Easy to groom.
This is a sweet and gentle dog. Though they are one of the larger breeds of dog, they still make one of the best pets for families. Bred originally as a working rescue dog, they are patient and tolerant of children and they are not at all prissy. They also get along very well with other pets in the home.
These dogs are very intelligent and very eager to please their masters, so they are typically quite easy to train. However, because of their size and strength, adequate training is a must. They are fiercely loyal and very protective of their owners, making them a great watchdog. In fact, even though they are so even tempered and sweet, many strangers will fear them simply because of their size. They are often quite slow moving but they are extremely strong and have a great sense of smell.
Because the St. Bernard was bred for rescuing humans, this dog needs to be part of the family. He will be protective of children and inclined to watch after everyone during their daily activities. He will be happiest if he's included in his family's daily life.
In fact, St. Bernards who are left alone too long or too often can actually develop a sort of depression brought on by loneliness. It's important that your dog have interaction with people or other animals on a regular basis. St. Bernards that get lonely can get destructive, too. So, it's recommended that if you must leave your dog alone for long periods of time, that he be kept confined to an area where he cannot do damage.
The Saint Bernard has an incredible sense of direction; one of the characteristics that made them such good dogs for rescuing people. They will not likely ever wander far from home, and will always know their way back. If you ever get lost while walking with your dog, it's likely that he'll lead you happily back home.
This breed of dog rarely barks unless there is some real reason to do so. This is one reason (accompanied with their size) that they make great guard dogs even though they are very gentle natured. If your St. Bernard barks, you should check out what he's barking at.
Grooming a St. Bernard is fairly simple, as their coats are not subject to getting matted or tangled, even if they have long hair. Brushing with a firmly bristled brush once or twice a week is usually sufficient. Because they are bred to withstand snow and cold, their coats have a water resistant oil to them. Over-shampooing a St. Bernard's coat can cause them to lose this protective oil. For this reason, it's important only to shampoo your St. Bernard when absolutely necessary. When you do shampoo him, be certain to use a mild shampoo formulated for dogs. St. Bernard's shed twice a year, and will require more brushing during this time.
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. Drooling is especially frequent after eating.
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.
Saint Bernard's are intelligent dogs that are eager to please their masters, so training them is usually quite easy. However, it's still very important to begin training your St. Bernard while he is quite young. Because he will grow to be so large, he can be impossible to manage when he is fully grown if he is not properly trained.
In addition, because of his size, it is important that your St. Bernard be socialized at an early age. Learning simple dog manners like not jumping on the houseguests is particularly important when your dog weighs 200 pounds! If these dogs are not socialized early and often, they will be quite intimidating to people, and can be quite clumsy. But, a well trained and well mannered St. Bernard will be enjoyed by all of your friends because of his sweet and gentle nature.
Training a St. Bernard requires gentleness and patience. Because they are so loyal and eager to please, they can get discouraged if they believe that you are becoming frustrated with their behavior. It is important to be calm, gentle and consistent when you're teaching them. If they perceive training to be an enjoyable activity where they're sure to win your praise, they'll be quite happy to learn any skill you'd like them to have.