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The bigger dog breeds are often the source of fear to many people because of the hulking sizes; and muscular build of these dogs. People tend to have this misconception that bigger dog breeds have more dominant personalities; and have a tendency to become violent even if you don’t provoke them. This is the reason why many people choose smaller dogs over bigger dogs. But this only brings them a shock when they find out that the bigger breeds are actually gentler; and a lot more patient compared to the smaller dog breeds. This is the case that the gentle giant, the Saint Bernard, presents us.
Known for their naturally friendly personality and their bear-like size; the Saint Bernard is one of the most well-known dogs that many people immediately recognize. These gentle giants have proved to be one of the most amiable dogs in the world and still continue to do so.
The Saint Bernard isn’t just smart and gentle – the breed is also incredibly intelligent and tenacious when it comes to being rescue dogs, guide dogs; and just performing about any kind of task that they’re asked from them. The Saint Bernard also makes as a wonderful canine companion at home because of their friendly nature; being gentle when it comes to children that pack a lot of energy. Bearing a long history that showcases their growth; and development over the years; the Saint Bernard is one regal dog that doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing their love and affection towards people, especially towards their owner and their family.
History of the Breed
The Saint Bernard bears a long history that spanned for many years. It is believed that the Saints originally came from Switzerland along with other dog breeds like the Appenzel Cattle Dog; the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog, and many other dog breeds. Speculations have been thrown here and there about the beginnings of the Saint Bernard and many people believe that the Saints came from the native canines of the Alps; and the Roman Army’s Mastiff-like dogs that they brought along during the rule of Emperor Augustus. During that time; the dogs that came from Switzerland; and the Alps were grouped together and were collectively called as the Talhunt which meant “Valley Dogs” and Bauernhund which meant “Farm Dogs”
A treacherous Roman pass known as the Saint Bernard Pass was quite well-known back in the day. It’s no surprise though, as this pass was about 8,000 feet above sea level; and one could only go through it between the months of July and September. Trying to go through this pass from October to June made the journey even more treacherous. As of today, there are still remains that told the stories of this pass; including Napoleon Bonaparte’s crossing through the Saint Bernard Pass.
Once Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon managed to get to this said pass in 962 AD; he founded a hospice here which provided great help to travelers who braved the journey of crossing this pass. Eventually, the pass was named after the Archdeacon. But during this time; the cogs of history started turning for the development; and rise of the Saint Bernard as a breed as they came from the branches of the Talhund or the Bauerhund.
While it still remains unclear as to when the first time the Saint Bernard was used in the Hospice; there is a painting of a dog that bears close resemblance to the Saint Bernard; that showed the existence of this breed as early as 1695.
These dogs also served as helpers whenever the monks would go out and search for lost travelers; protecting the monks from potential threats; or even spotting accidents that may have happened along the way. The Saint Bernard is an excellent pathfinder, making him a great dog when it comes to searching for lost adventurers. And because of the location of their habitat, the Saint Bernards were trained to withstand the harsh winter conditions; and had the build to be able to handle the treacherous tasks like search and rescue, tracking, and a lot more. The monks sometimes replenished the hospice’s dogs with canines coming from the lower valleys.
By 1830, the monks decided that they wanted to improve the Saint Bernard’s coat; by crossbreeding it with the Newfoundland – a breed that’s known for its thick coat.
However, this move was later proven to be a big mistake since the variety of the Saint Bernard; that had longer coats had their hair frozen by the frozen tundra climate of the pass. This lead to the monks giving away this variety of Saint Bernards that they had produced.
Through the records of the Hospice that spanned over 300 years; the Saint Bernard was known to have saved over 2,000 people who traveled through the pass. But during the 1800s, these dogs still didn’t have a proper name, though they were already quite popular. But during the period between 1800 and 1810; there was one dog from the Hospice going by the name of Barry that was known to hold the record of having 40 finds; becoming one of the most famous dogs, not just in the Hospice, but to ever live. Because of this; these dogs were called as the Barryhunden to honor their great skill and capability of rescuing numerous lost travelers.
In England, these dogs were called as “Sacred Dogs” and brought to the country to further develop the Mastiff breed. But it wasn’t just England that took liking to this dog. Germany was one of the countries that suggested the breed to be called as the Alpendog back in the 1820s.
After the breed garnered its popularity in a number of countries; the Saint Bernard started a gradual change over the course of many years. While other countries have their Saint Bernards with thinner bodies; but taller in height through the various attempts in crossbreeding; the first standard for the breed was established by the International Congress of Zurich by 1887 which was accepted and adapted by several countries, excluding England.
In the US, the Saint Bernard with the name of Plinlimmon in 1883 became quite famous; being owned by an actor and winning a number of dog shows during his time. Since his owner was a celebrity; Plinlimmon had the chance to travel all over the country, being shown in theaters and exhibitions.
Today, the Saint Bernard garners the rank of 39 out of the 155 different dog breeds; and varieties officially registered in the records of the American Kennel Club. Nowadays; you can see the Saints in homes, dog shows; and even in movies, but you can still see them in the Saint Bernard Hospice; back in Switzerland where the breed had begun in the first place. However, they no longer serve as rescuers of lost travelers of the pass; but act as the living legacy of the great history of the Hospice.
The Good Samaritan
If you’re looking for a partner during a cold night; then the Saint Bernard might just be the perfect partner for those cold and chilly nights. Though big in size and can even reach as much as 180 pounds and as tall as 30 inches; the Saint Bernard is one of the kindest, gentlest; and most intelligent dogs that keep a good nature on their heads.
While belonging to the bigger dog breeds, the Saint Bernard is actually a mild-mannered; and aloof dog that’s quiet inside the household, making as a great family companion. Giving him a small area to stay will do, but they would still need their daily walks. The most important thing in raising a Saint Bernard at home is that you should be able to tolerate mess to some degree since the breed will drool, shed; and spread dirt inside the house. While they may be big in size; the Saint Bernard won’t do well in living outdoors since they prefer to stay with people.
Luckily, this breed doesn’t need that much exercise for their size since the Saint Bernard; doesn’t tolerate heat and activity too much. This dog will need shade and water, especially during the hot and dry summer seasons. But when winter comes, that’s when you’ll see the true happiness of a Saint Bernard frolicking in the snow.
As a House Dog
The Saint Bernard is a versatile and mild-mannered dog that makes as a great choice for families; that want to raise a big dog that has a gentle personality; and with moderate need for exercise. The breed’s size makes him unsuited to living in apartments. But the Saint Bernard may take a little more time to mature mentally; leaving you with a puppy that’s too large for being called a “puppy”. Yes, their coat; and their size may make them look like they’re perfect dogs to live in a dog house or kennel outdoors, but their temperament takes precedence above all else.
Raising a Saint Bernard will test your patience if you’re a neat freak since the breed drools, sheds, and will just bring in dirt whenever they please. And like many bigger dog breeds, the Saint Bernard only has a short lifespan, about eight to ten years.
The Saint Bernard is a quiet dog that won’t bark unless provoked. Though they’re gentle; they won’t hesitate to stand up and take on the defensive to protect their family; bearing their fangs and intimidating the threat with their sheer size and their large jaws. The Saints have a strong sense of loyalty and devotion; going so far as to tire themselves out for the sake of their owner’s safety.
Temperament of the Saint Bernard
Keeping loyal to their beginnings, the Saint Bernards are friendly and gentle by nature. Their large size may become a challenge since they have a tendency to run and jump at their owners. The Saint Bernard is an intelligent dog breed, making him a bit stubborn at times. But while they’re friendly by nature; don’t be fooled since the Saint Bernard won’t hesitate to become aggressive once they feel that their family is threatened. Their size will intimidate most people who would try to invade your home and their loud bark will shake the potential invader’s tenacity.
Common Behavioral Problems
While the Saint Bernard is a great family companion; they are still far from being the “perfect dog” in every sense and aspect. No dog breed is perfect. There may be some behaviors that you may deem frustrating and troublesome when it comes to your Saint Bernard. Here are just some of the most common behavioral problems that your Saint Bernard may display throughout their growth.
The Saints are prone to jumping or leaping towards their family out of excitement, especially when you come home. This may sound sweet and cute for a puppy, but when the Saint Bernard grows into an adult; it can be dangerous for you. At an early age, you need to train your Saint Bernard so that they refrain and control themselves from jumping at you. Teach them a command so that they don’t jump at your or even visitors in your home since they couldn’t only hurt you, but they can also hurt themselves if they’re not careful.
Pack Leader Mentality
The Saint Bernard is an intelligent breed. But their intelligence may make them independent and stubborn at times since they could be doing things their own way. If you neglect your Saint Bernard too much, he can become unruly. This is his way of showing his dominance over you since he doesn’t see you as the pack leader of the household. You need to provide their needs adequately and you need to provide them with enough attention. Use positive reinforcement like praising and giving treats whenever they do something good and refrain from shouting at them or hitting them. This will show your dominance as the pack leader which your Saint Bernard will respect.
The Saint Bernard is strong and sturdy, able to withstand the harsh winter conditions of the Alps. However, their tenacity is still far from being invincible. Throughout their lives, the Saints may develop health problems. Of course, it’s going to be your job to bring them to the vet and nurse them back to health whenever they feel ill. Here are just some of the most common health problems that may develop throughout the life of your Saint Bernard.
Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia
Both forms of dysplasia are heritable conditions wherein the ball joint of the leg doesn’t connect properly to the socket joint of the hips and shoulders. X-ray is a definitive diagnostic tool to tell if hip or elbow dysplasia is present in a dog. This can cause pain and discomfort for the dog, but there are many canines that live happy and healthy lives even with hip or elbow dysplasia. However, severe cases of dysplasia may need surgery to relieve the pain for the dog. Train your dog at an early age to refrain from running and jumping too much, as well as limiting their exercise, until they reach maturity since their bones and joints are still developing.
Gastric dilatation volvulus or bloat is a common problem among the deep-chested and bigger dog breeds which involves the twisting of the stomach due to excessive air that distends the stomach. Bloat can arise if a dog drinks too much water after eating, eats too fast, eats one big meal in a day, and exercises too much immediately after eating. Once you see your dog trying to gag without vomiting, restless or lethargic, and a rapid heartbeat, you should suspect bloat and bring him to the vet immediately.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a cardiovascular condition that happens when the cardiac muscles grow thin. The heart develops a weakened contraction, resulting in the heart getting too tired, thus becoming enlarged overtime.
Raising Your Saint Bernard
But hold on for a minute there. Raising a dog at home is going to be a big responsibility. You’re probably going to need to sacrifice a lot of conveniences and you need to invest a lot of time, money, and patience. You have to know the specific needs of the dog that you want to raise which include the food that they’re going to eat, how much exercise that they need, the living space that they need, and their grooming needs. Here are just some of the most important things that you should take note if you want to raise your very own Saint Bernard at home.
Food and Diet
The recommended amount for the food of the Saint Bernard ranges from five to six cups – an amount that you’d expect from the Saint – of high quality dry dog food per day, divided into two separate meals throughout the day. Do be careful though since the Saint Bernard is prone to become overweight or obese, so it’s better to divide their meals throughout the day instead of always leaving out food for your dog to eat. Always make sure that your Saint Bernard has clean drinking water to quench his thirst, especially during the hot summer seasons to prevent dehydration and heat stroke.
Activity and Exercise
The Saint Bernard will only need a moderate amount of exercise to make sure that they don’t grow overweight. Because of their size, plus if they put on too much weight, they can suffer bone and joint problems. Until your Saint reaches maturity, limit the exercise that you give him since his bones and joints are still developing. Since the breed doesn’t handle the heat well, refrain from letting them exercise during the time of the day when the heat is at its peak. Make sure that they have a shaded area to rest and clean drinking water.
Because of their size, the Saint Bernard won’t do well living in an apartment since they would need space to stretch out their bodies. The Saints will do well living in moderate to large household with a fenced yard where they could run around freely. Putting up a strong and high fence around your yard is important so that your Saint Bernard won’t be running off into the streets.
Whenever you’re outdoors, always make sure that your Saint Bernard is on leash to keep him from randomly running off. While their size may make you think that the Saint Bernard is a perfect candidate for living in a kennel or dog house outside the home, that’s not the case. The Saints are family-oriented dogs that would prefer to stay close to their family. Let your Saint Bernard live inside the house by setting a space for him to sleep and relax.
The Saint Bernard comes in two varieties depending on their coats – the short-haired Saints and the long-haired Saints. The ones with shorter hairs have smoother and denser coats, while the ones with longer hairs have wavy coats. While their legs may have some degree of feathering, their thighs and tails are quite abundant and shaggy. The Saint Bernard also comes in shades of red that may come as brindle up to brownish yellow, and white, either of which can be dominant. Their distinctive features comes with the white spots that can be found on the nape of their neck and a blaze with the same color on their face, making it quite attractive for the breed when this white blaze mixes and blends well with the dark marks found on their ears and head. Some even say that this mask of theirs reduces the glare from the white snow.
The coat of the Saint Bernard needs quite a bit of maintenance which includes brushing their coat at least thrice a week, either with a rubber curry brush or a comb glove for the short-coated ones and a pin brush for the long-coated ones. When their shedding comes, brush them more frequently, also using a de-tangling spray to remove mats at you comb their coat with your brush or fingers.
Fortunately, the Saints don’t need to take a bath often. But when you do, make sure that you take them outside since it will be a lot easier on your part. If you want to bathe them during the winter, make sure you bathe them indoors so that they don’t get the chills, except if you’re living in a country that’s warm throughout the year. Make sure that you use canine shampoo to ensure that their coat doesn’t dry out. You can also make use of whitening shampoo to make your Saint Bernard’s coat shiny and smooth. Eye stains often develop in Saint Bernards, you need to wipe them clean daily by using a dampened cloth.
Aside from their coat, you also need to take care of their nails, teeth, and ears since the Saint Bernard is prone to many health problems. Keeping them neat and clean will help in giving your Saint a classy and sleek look that you can’t find in any other dog breed.
Health Needs of Your Saint Bernard
When it comes to dogs, health turns into a serious issue since vet clinics aren’t really all that common compared to hospitals where people go to whenever they don’t feel well. This brings you, the dog owner, to be responsible in taking care of your Saint Bernard’s health. Of course, the healthcare needs of dogs will cost you a certain amount, but that’s part of the challenge in raising your very own Saint Bernard. But you need to invest time, money, and patience when it comes to raising a healthy dog. Going to the vet can become an intimidating and confusing experience because of the great variety of services and products that most vet clinics now offer – may it be checkups, special grooming, and different dog products. Here are some of the most important things that you should get for the sake of your Saint Bernard’s health.
Getting your dog immunized is important. These vaccines often come as shots or injections which provide a great amount of protection for your dog against a number of life-threatening and debilitating diseases like the parvovirus, hepatitis, rabies, and distemper. These vaccines may cost you a certain amount, but the benefits that they bring clearly outweigh the costs. Furthermore, it’s not only for the sake of your dog, these vaccines will also protect you and your family since these diseases are often communicable to people and other dogs.
Getting your dog vaccinated is important, especially if your dog is still a growing puppy because these shots will help in keeping your dog healthy. And you shouldn’t just stop once you get your dog vaccinated – you still need to get their follow-up doses and booster shots to ensure lifelong immunity against these serious health problems. Fortunately; vaccines today come as combination doses, making it of a more economical option for you and providing lesser discomfort; and pain for your dog. If you’re unsure on the vaccination schedule of your dog and his age, consult your vet so that you’ll be able to start vaccinations and follow a regular schedule for their immunizations.
Just next to vaccinations, getting your dog de-wormed is also considered of utmost importance. Parasitic worms like roundworms, tapeworms, and heartworms rob the dog of essential nutrients that they need in growing up into healthy canines. If these worms are left to thrive within your dog’s body; they can overpopulate and cause internal damage which may result in multiple organ damage, internal hemorrhage, and these worms coming out of your dog’s mouth, ears, nose, and anus. De-worming is the administration of agents, usually coming as tablets; to expel these worms and their eggs out of the dog’s body. It doesn’t matter if your dog stays indoors most of the time; your dog still needs to be de-wormed to ensure that these parasitic worms don’t affect their health. De-worming is especially important for female dogs and puppies as worms can vastly affect their health.
What most dog owners do wrong is that they only bring their dogs to the vet whenever there’s something wrong. That’s where the big problem lies because when signs and symptoms start to become visible; the disease or illness has already reached its late phases. It would be best if you visit the vet on a regular basis; preferably once or twice a month to allow the vet to assess and detect any developing or pre-existing health problems in your Saint Bernard. It’s particularly difficult to detect health problems in dogs; like cardiovascular and neurologic health problems, but with the vet’s experienced clinical eye; he should be able to detect potential health problems. Not only that – going to the vet’s clinic will let your Saint Bernard meet different people and dogs; making it as a socializing experience.
Being naturally friendly and aloof, it’s no surprise that a lot of people would want their very own Saint Bernard. However, do know that the Saints are not the perfect dogs despite their mild and friendly demeanor. If you don’t provide enough training and socialization, your Saint Bernard can become unruly and even be destructive in and out of your home; dragging you down the streets; and pulling on his leash because of his overly eager nature to meet and greet other people. It’s best to train your Saint Bernard at an early age and teach him how to act properly so that he becomes a relaxed and calm dog.
Crate training places an importance in helping the Saint Bernard to be housetrained. Crates serve as a way to keep your dog and your things safe and a place where your dog can go to whenever he feels tired. It shouldn’t be used as a way to punish your dog, but instead, crates should be a cozy and comfortable shelter. With enough training and socialization, a Saint Bernard makes as a great canine companion at home that’s is eager to play with the family, participate in dog shows, and even boast in feats of strength as these dogs are really, really strong.
While humongous in size, the Saint Bernard is actually quite gentle and friendly when it comes to children. The Saint becomes patient and careful, being able to handle all that the younger children bring. However, that doesn’t mean that you should just let your Saint Bernard take all that punishment. Always supervise your dog and your children whenever they interact to prevent injuries from occurring on both parties.
What usually happens is that younger children tend to pull on the ears and tail of the dog, push the dog off their feet or even try to ride on the dog’s back which could potentially injure the spine of the dog, even with the Saint Bernard being large and muscular in his build. Teach your children how to properly interact with your dog so that there would be no cases of biting, pushing or stepping, also teaching children on the behaviors that dogs might take the wrong way like taking away food from your dog when your dog is eating. The Saint Bernard will do best with older children who already know how to interact with dogs.
Training and socialization are two important key factors in developing the personality of any dog, not just the Saint Bernard. With adequate training and socialization, a dog can grow into a naturally friendly and people-oriented dog. Though you may be intimidated by the Saint Bernard’s strength and size, proper training will help in disciplining and setting rules for the breed properly.