Characteristics Of The Saint Bernard Dog: The Ideal Pet

Characteristics Of The Saint Bernard Dog: The Ideal Pet

What does a Saint Bernard dog carry in its barrel? What character does it have? Or if it is an expensive dog to keep are some frequent questions that this breed raises. The Saint Bernard is a very calm, balanced dog ideal for living with children . It is the ideal pet.

Large, good-natured-looking Alpine dogs , famous for being rescue dogs , and also for appearing in films like Beethoven in 1992. Over 200 years Saint Bernard dogs have rescued thousands of people on the Alpine route between Italy and Switzerland. Since the early 18th century, the monks who lived in the St. Bernard Pass in the Alps , kept dogs to help them on their rescue missions after snowstorms.

History of San Bernardo

What does the Saint Bernard carry in its barrel?

saint bernard (7)The famous barrel that these dogs wore around their necks carried brandy or whiskey. Possibly when someone is caught in a snowstorm alcohol is not what they are most in the mood for. However, centuries ago it was thought that drinking alcohol in these conditions helped warm the body, hence the Saint Bernard dogs will carry the barrel with liquor to help people lost in the snow.

Actually alcohol accelerates hypothermia or loss of body temperature, at first when alcohol is ingested, vasodilation occurs in the blood vessels, which increases the amount of blood that circulates under the skin, but if the environment is cold past this What follows vasodilation is increased loss of body heat.

The origins of the San Bernardo have always been the result of a mixture between real history, fantasy and the desire of the admirers of the breed to magnify its development. As is usual in this type of breed, crosses and legends make it objectively impossible to delimit their etiology, but we can draw a series of lines that bring us closer to real history.


Its origin in Switzerland is a confirmed fact, with the arrival of the Roman legions settling in the territory bringing their own dogs with them. The Roman Molossians, large dogs destined for combat, would define the breeds of Switzerland for centuries to come thanks to their ability to adapt perfectly to the inclemencies of the region. Dogs such as the Swiss Grand Bouvier were born to Roman soldiers around the 2nd century, evolving over time until they reached the final appearance of the Saint Bernard .

An alternative version would be the influence of the Assyrian dogs, although the dates did not fit correctly. At the same time, a more bizarre version would place the feudal lords of the Middle Ages in Switzerland as the main benefactors of the Saint Bernard, distancing us too historically to be realistic.

Creation of the Hospice in the Swiss Alps

The great leap is found between the 10th and 11th centuries with the creation of the hospice located in the Swiss Alps and with Bernardo de Mentón as archdeacon. Due to the weather conditions, the hospice acted as a refuge for travelers trying to reach Italy by crossing Switzerland, whether they were merchants, soldiers or apprentices, being so appreciated that it is still in force today. Already at that time the use of dogs was highly appreciated in the Alps, serving as guides to move around the area without fear that the animal would faint due to the present climate. There was a great variety of sizes, but little by little the breeds were established with enough weight to maintain constant energy reserves and the robust coat as protection against the cold.

It is not possible to place a specific date of the Saint Bernard as the main breed in the hospice as its characteristics cannot be clearly defined. The documents provided by the monks relate their adventures with the dogs performing search and rescue functions , but there is no clear category to which to stick beyond the praise of their resistance and the good behavior they showed. However, it is easy to estimate that approximately in the seventeenth century we would find specimens of the San Bernardo as we know it as it is the breed that best adapts to environmental conditions. It would arise from the use of crosses between different molossi until reaching the perfect dog for the snow, with a coat so resistant and a body so thick that it could spend hours in the open.

Rescue Dogs

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Despite this, long hair was a problem as it accumulated frost, so the specimens with these characteristics were given to the inhabitants of the valley, a fact that caused the San Bernardo to spread throughout Switzerland. Thanks to this eagerness to get the perfect dog, we come to the figure of Saint Bernard as the true father of the breed. Not only did she manage to get her name adopted for her over the years, she promoted the breeding of the Saint Bernard based on her adventures, indirectly getting the best possible publicity. The specimens he used were capable of rescuing people in any situation, gaining international fame, reaching Napoleon Bonaparte himself. The hospice was becoming known to the whole world, and the coveted Saint Bernard from that fame.

The Saint Bernard in the United Kingdom and the United States

The United Kingdom was one of the most active European countries regarding dog breeding in all of Europe. Breeds such as the Boxer or the French Bulldog are clear examples, with a fervent interest on the part of the breeders to obtain breeds that fit in a society that changed year after year. Queen Victoria had already shown interest in the breed in the mid-19th century, which caused breeders to quickly start a race to profit from the Saint Bernard. In just a few years it was one more breed in England, appearing in dog shows and with the birth of the first official club in 1882 by fans of it.

However, Switzerland and England followed different paths for the approach that the Saint Bernard would take, with the Swiss model prevailing today. It was a very beloved dog , but it was also difficult to introduce it into a class society where each group already had a socially assigned breed. Being so large it was uncomfortable for the high nobility, and this very size forced a too expensive diet for the working class. Many breeders opted for extravagant specimens, causing interest in the San Bernardo to be lost.

With The Coming Of The World Wars

The breed survived thanks to the efforts of the breeders who showed more affection for it, ensuring that it remained in force until the end of the conflicts at the international level. At the same time, the United States was also key for the breed to continue to this day. During the nineteenth century many specimens ventured into the country, winning the affection of the population for being such a particular dog. The Kennel Club officially introduced it in 1888, causing hatcheries to spring up to try to meet the sudden demand. The success of the San Bernardo was already a reality, and its expansion throughout the world a matter of a few years.

Current Situation

The development of the San Bernardo has been one of the strangest on a social level. Although it is a perfectly known breed, it is not so widespread among the population as to be considered common. In turn, it is curiously one of the best known, always arousing favorable opinions due to its charming appearance and the legends that surround it. As a domestic dog it is excellent, but its enormous size makes it uncomfortable in big cities. In turn, its physical characteristics make it excellent for field work, but the need for animals is not so prevalent today, in addition to other breeds suitable for this task, better adapting to hotter climates. A race that has managed to be known throughout the world, without managing to earn a definite niche among the most popular races to live with humans.

Characteristics of the San Bernardo

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Like its origins, the characteristics of the San Bernardo do not go unnoticed by anyone. Both their appearance and their behavior are unique, being important to know them in depth before letting ourselves be carried away by the emotion of having a specimen at home as a pet.

Physical Characteristics

The San Bernardo is characterized above all by its large size . It is one of the largest dogs within popular knowledge, being able to reach 90 kilos when they are male and have a height of more than 80 centimeters. There are specimens that can even be considered gigantic, with an enormous energy according to the volume of their body. This does not mean that they are dangerous because of the way they behave, but it does mean that it is an animal that due to its size can lead to difficult situations to handle where we are not able to adapt to its size. Normally it will always be taller than it is wide, which does not mean that we do not find cases of San Bernardo relatively short with a weight according to the breed.

The head is one of its most striking points as it is larger in proportion to the rest of the body. It is robust, with a powerful muzzle and a strong bite that it will not normally take. Its nostrils are open, and it is accompanied by large ears with a tendency to fall forward. It is in your body where we will find muscles as soon as you exercise, with a robust neck and legs prepared to withstand long journeys on any type of terrain. Its official coat is white with dark spots, being able to find them in black, reddish tones, brindle and even red in some cases. It will normally show long but silky hair with fringes along the body depending on the area.


If we are lovers of good-natured dogs we will find our ideal pet in the San Bernardo . It is difficult to find such a complacent breed in the species, without any interest in showing dominance with its owners and acting at all times with kindness and sweetness. They are very pleasant dogs to live in the home, behaving perfectly according to the needs of their owners and keeping calm beyond situations that are beyond our control. Normally they are very seldom excited by daily stimuli in their environment, being able to adequately handle the conflicts that arise, which will be mostly due to their large size.

Socially it is undoubtedly one of the closest dogs to people . Emotionally they are very stable, accepting treatment with any human being who comes close to giving them a caress. This affection extends to children, tolerating their games very well as long as they do not harm them or place them in degrading positions. It is in the sociability with other people where we can find a contradictory treatment, showing from delighted to meet new people to very territorial when they deem it appropriate. They are holdovers from their past as watchdogs, being extremely defensive towards strangers when they perceive that they are invading their space. His threshold for detecting threats is very high, quickly becoming defensive when strangers appear without the express company of a family member.

Training Potential

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As a training dog, it is perfectly valid, but with nuances due to its physique. It has a good temperament , it is docile and it is an intelligent breed, so it will not be difficult for us to teach it basic behaviors such as sitting or walking by our side.

The difficulties are found above all by their physique, producing slow movements, responses with some delay and difficulties in differentiating the stages where we are applying a training program from those that are confused with the game itself. At the same time, being a breed with certain difficulties to socialize, we will have to make sure to start training from when they are puppies so that they can get used to the presence of other people and, above all, animals. The Saint Bernard, although they do not show a dominance as marked as other breeds, can develop it in the same way, with the added difficulty of having to execute the control exercises with an animal that can reach 90 kilograms.

Positive Reinforcement

Above all, it is advisable to resort to positive reinforcement , avoiding negative reinforcement and of course punishment. They are very resistant animals, with such force that any type of physical corrector such as training collars or immediate physical conditions can be easily repelled. When they are puppies it is advisable to always keep the leash on, not for fear of it escaping us, to quickly get used to small movements with the wrist relating them to the path we want to take.

Unlike other dogs, an animal of this size can become uncontrollable when we cannot apply enough force with the leash to move it. Thanks to this type of training we will be able to lay the foundations for future exercises, seeking above all that it obeys with a low response latency rather than an exact behavior to what we expect.

An example will help us: you may lie down when you feel more comfortable, but you should do it immediately. The fundamental thing is that he is calm and under our control, even if we have not managed to develop the exact behavior that interested us with modeling.

Relationship With Other Dogs

It is important to note that the relationship with other dogs must be constantly monitored . They are not aggressive animals, but their enormous size will cause collisions with those who come to play and cannot adapt to it. Normally large dogs can maintain their games without further problem, including long runs that allow them to de-stress allowing the Saint Bernard to maintain his own rhythm. With small dogs it is very likely that there will be hardly any treatment, being advisable to stay next to our pet to avoid any type of defensive response on the part of the other dogs.

These types of animals quickly understand as dominance the classic games of large dogs, such as hitting the body or raising the legs to hit the head asking to play. With some control and training focused on stimuli that allow the dog to stop its behavior and return to us, it will be enough.

Aspects to take into account of the Saint Bernard

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It is an expensive dog to keep

Already the acquisition of a puppy itself will entail a strong outlay, having to adapt to a diet very rich in protein, spending the sacks of feed at a speed impossible to predict. On the other hand, it is a breed that easily tends to develop diseases associated with the heart, joints or the dreaded hip dysplasia. In addition, gastric torsion will be relatively common if we introduce our Saint Bernard to an urban life with little exercise and a lot of food. We will have to go to the vet frequently to keep our pet’s health under control, with constant check-ups and the possibility that more profound measures will have to be taken with their corresponding additional expense.

Life Expectancy

– The life expectancy revolves around 10 years. They are not especially long-lived, and if we take into account that they can tend to get sick easily, we will find a relatively difficult animal to maintain for a complete family. If we are looking for a pet that our children grow up with, it is more advisable to bet on other races, capable of living for more years and only showing diseases in their last moments. It is common for large dogs to live less than small ones, but the Saint Bernard is a particular case due to its most obvious characteristic: its enormous size. However, life expectancy is an estimate based on the average of the breeds collected, with specimens that can live longer due to factors such as diet or early detection of diseases.

If you can be with children but with vigilance

A Saint Bernard will never do any kind of harm to the little ones in the house, always showing himself open to play and loyal to obey the orders given to him. The problem is found above all with the physical situation of the game, with children who tend to climb on top of it as if it were a riding animal, throwing themselves against its body or pulling at different parts of the body. He will not turn around or respond aggressively, but he can make strange movements, causing harm to children. That is why we will have to educate both the dog and the child for their leisure time, teaching our children that it is a living being that deserves respect and time to relax. With a little attention it will be more than enough for them to become inseparable friends.


– We will have to clean frequently , both our pet and our home. Eyes and lids tend to get infected easily, while your hair will attract dirt like a brand-new mop. When we bathe him we will have to organize the adventure completely, with a spacious place where we are not afraid of water coming out from all sides. But the biggest problem we will find with the daily coexistence, found remains of fur, saliva on the furniture and altering the order of the house due to the enormous energy they can develop. It is better to avoid games that require locomotion at home, if we dare to throw a ball in the living room we can find ourselves a real catastrophe.


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– Does not require a lot of exercise, a great advantage for people looking for quiet dogs. It is essential to take him out for a walk, but beyond special days where we enjoy good weather, we can focus on long and relaxed walks, with frequent stops and walking calmly. At home he will not get overly excited unless the game gets out of hand, being much more common that we find him lying in different corners or directly on our feet. Nor will they become dependent as to have to always find us by their side, being able to leave them at home at home to lie down in their corner while we are doing other things. However, it is recommended that we control the exercise they do at all times to avoid being overweight, one of the greatest evils for this breed by promoting cardiovascular diseases.

– In the city it can have a bad time . Its size will make it not a good fit on crowded streets, crossing constant highways, and relieving itself in small parks collapsed by families and other owners. If we have a large area where you can move freely we will have a lot of land gained, but if our idea is to live in the usual urban flat we can make you feel trapped, making it difficult to coexist to the point of feeling uncomfortable with your presence. As much as we like it, it is better to assess how well it is the right dog for our personal situation. You may also be interested in Curiosidades del San Bernardo.



Divyesh Patel