Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Saint Bernard
Average Cost to keep/care for a Saint Bernard
The St. Bernard is one of the largest breeds on the planet and they are renowned for being Switzerland's famous mountain rescue dogs. These charming, larger than life dogs have found their way into the hearts and homes of many people the world over thanks to their kind and affectionate natures, although anyone wishing to share a home with a St. Bernard would need to have a large house that boasts a big back garden to accommodate such a big dog. Another thing to bear in mind is that St. Bernards shed copious amounts of hair all year long which means they are not the best choice for anyone who is very house proud.
The St. Bernard is named after the Hospice of the Great Saint Bernard Pass which is an Alpine route that connects Switzerland with neighbouring Italy. It was the monks who founded the hospice in AD 980 and they used their dogs to rescue travellers lost in the pass so they could provide them with refuge in the hospice. These dogs excelled at finding lost people because they were able to track their way in atrocious weather conditions that people could just not cope with. These large dogs could work in the harshest conditions and were capable of finding lost travellers and bringing them back to the hospice when a blizzard was blowing up a storm.
The monks began a breeding programme during the 1800's, but before that no records had been kept which means the actual origins of the breed have been lost in time. The breed was originally called the Alpine Mastiff and dogs were often depicted in paintings by well-known artists. One such artist being Edwin Landseer who painted the dogs with brandy barrels around their necks which became a world famous symbol of the St. Bernard although the dogs never actually carried any casks at all.
During the early 1800's, they were also often called "Barry" dogs after a famous St. Bernard called Barry. Legend has it that he rescued 40 lost travellers in the pass. The breed almost vanished altogether during the 1830's because the monks of the day interbred their dogs far too much which along with several very severe winters and dogs developing diseases resulted in their numbers being decimated. As a result, the monks began crossing their dogs with Newfoundlands, the Great Pyrenees dog and it is thought they introduced Great Danes into the mix too and this led to the creation of the dogs we see today although at the time, they were not as heavy and taller in the leg. The St. Bernard remains the monastery's mascot to this day.
It was not until 1870 that St. Bernard's first appeared in America when the Rev. J C Macdona bought the breed to the public's attention and they were an immediate hit. Seven years later, in 1877 the first dogs were exhibited at the Westminster Kennel Club show after which time the breed's popularity gained momentum in the States.
The Swiss St. Bernard Club was founded in Basel on the 15th March 1884 and the breed standard was approved in 1888. Since then, the breed has been regarded as Switzerland's national dog. Today, the St. Bernard is still a popular breed here in the UK and elsewhere in the world thanks to their wonderfully kind and loyal natures and their proud, impressive looks.
Height at the withers: Males 70 - 90 cm, Females 65 - 80 cm
Average weight: Males 64 - 120 kg, Females 64 - 120 kg
St. Bernards are large, powerful and muscular dogs with imposing heads and a kind, intelligent look in their eyes. They are one of the most recognised dogs in the world thanks to their search and rescue history. They boast very large heads with short muzzles and a nice square nose on the end of it. They have well defined stops and the top of their head is nicely domed adding to the breed's gentle, intelligent look. They also have quite a noticeable brow over medium sized, dark eyes which always have a gentle, kind and intelligent look about them.
Their ears are moderately large and lie close to a dog's cheeks being lightly feathered. The St. Bernard has a strong jaw with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. Their necks are thick and long being well muscled and slightly arched with St. Bernards having well developed dewlaps. Their shoulders are broad and slope well up at a dog's withers. Their front legs are straight, well boned, long and powerful.
They have powerful bodies with a broad, level back and a well-rounded ribcage. Their loins are wide and well-muscled with their croup being broad and gently sloping to the root of the tail. Chests are deep and wide with St. Bernards boasting strong, powerful and well-muscled first and second thighs on their back legs. Their feet are large and compact with dogs having well arched toes. Tails are set high and are long with dogs carry down when at rest but higher when they are alert or on the move.
When it comes to their coat, the St. Bernard can either have a rough or a smooth coat. Rough coated dogs have a dense coat that lies close to the body with the hair being a lot fuller around their necks, thighs and their tails are well feathered. In smooth coated dogs the hair lies close and there is only a slight amount of feathering on their thighs and tails. The accepted breed colours are as follows:
The St. Bernard is renowned for being a laid back character and one that forms an extremely strong bond with their family. They are incredibly loyal and will do their utmost to please an owner which means that in the right hands and in the right environment, these large dogs are easy to train and will do their best to get things right. In short, a St. Bernard is often a lot easier to train and handle than many smaller breeds.
St. Bernards are social dogs by nature and generally get on with everyone they meet. They are a great choice as a family pet although they may just knock a toddler or younger child over albeit it by accident due to their sheer size. Rarely would one of the large, gentle giants show any sort of aggressive behaviour. Because they form such strong bonds with their owners, St. Bernards don't like it when they are left on their own and often develop separation anxiety if they are. As such, they are a good choice for families where at least one person stays at home when everyone else is out of the house.
They are not the best choice for first time owners because they do that much better with people who are familiar with the needs of the breed or this type of very large dog and the cost of keeping them which is a lot more than for your average sized dog. St. Bernards need a lot of space so they can express themselves freely both inside the home and outside in a back garden.
St. Bernards have a very distinct odour about them which is rather musky that some people might find hard to live with. They are also known to slobber and dribble quite a lot which means they are not the best choice for anyone who is house proud. The other thing to bear in mind, is that these large dogs can suffer during the hotter summer months so care has to be taken as to when they are exercised in order to avoid them overheating which can easily happen when the weather is warmer.
The St. Bernard is an intelligent dog, but they are known to "slow thinkers". As such their training can never be rushed. It's essential for puppies to be well socialised from a young enough age and it should include introducing them to new situations, noises, people, other animals and dogs once they have been fully vaccinated so they grow up to be confident, outgoing mature dogs.
Their training has to start early so that puppies can be taught the "basics" and special attention has to be paid to teaching these large dogs not to pull on their leads which if left too late could well prove to walk a powerful, fully grown St. Bernard.
The St. Bernard revels in being in a family environment. They are placid, fun-loving and completely trustworthy which is why they are such wonderful dogs to have around. However, thanks to their sheer size care has to be taken when a St. Bernard is around toddlers and young children just in case they knock them over by accident. As such any interaction between younger children and such a large dog should be supervised by an adult to make sure nobody gets frightened or hurt.
St. Bernards generally get on well with other pets in a household especially if they have grown up together. However, care has to be taken when they meet any small animals they don't already know, just in case. These large dogs are social by nature and as such they get on with other dogs and would rarely be the ones to start a fight.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of a St. Bernard is between 8 and 10 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
Like so many other breeds, the St. Bernard is known to suffer from a few hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these large and impressive dogs. The conditions that seem to affect the breed the most include the following:
As with any other breed, St. Bernards need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, dogs need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
The St. Bernard boasts a lush coat and they are known to be prolific shedders as such they need to be brushed at least a few times a week and ideally this should be daily to remove any loose and dead hair from their coats. A lot of people take their dogs to be professionally groomed at least 3 to 4 times a year which makes it that much easier for them to keep their dog's coat in good condition in between visits to the grooming parlour. They shed all year round although it tends to be more during the Spring and then again in the Autumn when more frequent grooming is necessary to stay on top of things.
Dogs with droopy eyes need to have the area around their eyes checked and gently wiped with a soft, damp cloth to keep things clean which reduces the chance of any painful sores developing. It's also important to check a dog's ears on a regular basis and to clean them when necessary. If too much wax is allowed to build up in a dog's ears, it can lead to a painful infection which can be hard to clear up. In short, prevention is often easier than cure when it comes to ear infections.
St. Bernards need to be given the right amount of daily exercise to keep them fit, happy and healthy. This means a good 60 - 80 minutes a day which should include a lot of "off the lead" time so that dogs can really express themselves. A shorter walk in the morning would be fine, but a longer more interesting one in the afternoon is a must. These dogs also like to be able to roam around a back garden as often as possible so they can really let off steam. However, the fencing has to be extremely secure to keep these large dogs in because if they find a weakness in the fence, they will soon escape out and get into all sorts of trouble.
With this said, St. Bernard puppies should not be over exercised because their joints and bones are still growing. This includes not letting a dog jump up and down from furniture or going up or down the stairs. Too much pressure placed on their joints and spines at an early age could result in a dog developing problems later in their lives.
If you get a St. Bernard puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again. It's important to get a St. Bernard's diet when they are puppies because it stands them in good stead later on in their lives and the reverse may be true if they are fed incorrectly at a crucial stage of their lives when they are still growing and maturing.
Older dogs are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed them a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature dog twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.
Because the St. Bernard is prone to suffer from bloat, it is really important that they be fed twice a day instead of giving them just one larger meal a day. It's also a good idea to invest in a stand to place their feed bowl which makes it easier for these large dogs to eat comfortably without having to stretch their necks down low to reach their food. You should never exercise a dog just before or just after they have eaten either because this puts them more at risk of suffering from bloat.
If you are looking to buy a St. Bernard, you would need to pay anything from £500 to over £1200 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old St. Bernard in northern England would be £64.15 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £114.54 a month (quote as of June 2016). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK, a dog's age and whether or not they have been neutered or spayed among other things.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £80 - £100 a month. On top of all of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with a St. Bernard and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying a dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over £2000 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for a St. Bernard would be between £150 to £220 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a pedigree or other puppy.
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