Register with BreedersOnline
Login to Your Account
Pedigree Dogs > Saint Bernard
The St. Bernard is a breed of very large working dog
from the Italian and Swiss Alps, originally bred for
rescue. The breed has become famous through tales of
alpine rescues, as well as for its enormous size.
The average weight of the breed is between 140 and 264
lb (64–120 kg) or more and the approximate height at the
withers is 27½ inches to 35½ inches (70 to 90 cm). The
coat can be either smooth or rough, with the smooth coat
close and flat. The rough coat is dense but flat, and
more profuse around the neck and legs. The coat is
typically a red color with white, or sometimes a
mahogany brindle with white. Black shading is usually
found on the face and ears. The tail is long and heavy,
hanging low eyes should have naturally tight lids, with
"haws only slightly visible". Sometimes the eyes, brown
usually, can be icy blue, nearly white.
The ancestors of the St. Bernard share a history with
the Sennenhunds, also called Swiss Mountain Dogs or
Swiss Cattle Dogs, the large farm dogs of the farmers
and dairymen of the livestock guardians, herding dogs,
and draft dogs as well as hunting dogs, search and
rescue dogs, and watchdogs. These dogs are thought to be
descendants of molosser type dogs brought into the Alps
by the ancient Romans, and the St. Bernard is recognized
internationally today as one of the Molossoid breeds.
The earliest written records of the St. Bernard breed
are from monks at the hospice at the Great St Bernard
Pass in 1707, with paintings and drawings of the dog
dating even earlier.
The most famous St. Bernard to save people at the pass
was Barry (sometimes spelled Berry), who reportedly
saved somewhere between 40 and 100 lives. There is a
monument to Barry in the Cimetière des Chiens, and his
body was preserved in the Natural History Museum in
The classic St. Bernard looked very different from the
St. Bernard of today due to cross-breeding. Severe
winters from 1816 to 1818 led to increased numbers of
avalanches, killing many of the dogs used for breeding
while they were performing rescues. In an attempt to
preserve the breed, the remaining St. Bernards were
crossed with Newfoundlands brought from the Colony of
Newfoundland in the 1850s, and so lost much of their use
as rescue dogs in the snowy climate of the alps because
the long fur they inherited would freeze and weigh them
The Swiss St. Bernard Club was founded in Basel on March
15, 1884. The St. Bernard was the very first breed
entered into the Swiss Stud Book in 1884, and the breed
standard was finally approved in 1888. Since then, the
breed has been a Swiss national dog.
The name "St. Bernard" originates from the Great St
Bernard Hospice, a traveler's hospice on the often
treacherous St. Bernard Pass in the Western Alps between
Switzerland and Italy. The pass, the lodge, and the dogs
are named for Bernard of Menthon, the 11th century monk
who established the station.
St. Bernard dogs are no longer used for Alpine rescues,
the last recorded instance of which was in 1897. As late
as 2004, the Great St Bernard Hospice still maintained
18 of the dogs for reasons of tradition and sentiment.
In that year the Barry Foundation created breeding
kennels for the breed at the town of Martigny down the
Pass, and purchased the remaining dogs from the Hospice.
St. Bernards, like all very large dogs, must be well
socialized with people and other dogs in order to
prevent fearfulness and any possible aggression or
territoriality. The biggest threat to small children is
being knocked over by this breed's larger size. Overall
they are a loyal and affectionate breed, and if
socialized are very friendly. Due to its large adult
size, it is essential that proper training and
socialization begin while the St. Bernard is still a
puppy, so as to avoid the difficulties that normally
accompany training large dogs. An unruly St. Bernard may
present problems for even a strong adult, so control
needs to be asserted from the beginning of the dog's
training. While generally not as aggressive as dogs bred
for protection, a St. Bernard may bark at strangers, and
their size makes them good deterrents against possible
US and UK breed clubs put the average lifespan for a St.
Bernard at 8-10 years.