Saint Bernards: Everything You Should Know About This Fantastic Breed

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Here is everything that you should know about Saint Bernard - from history to grooming. Read on to learn how to socialize this giant breed.
Dog Breed Group:
Working Dogs
2 feet, 2 inches to 2 feet, 6 inches tall at the shoulder
120 to 180 pounds
Life Span:
8 to 10 years

Breed Characteristics:

Apartment Friendly


How well will this breed adapt to apartment living? Is the apartment size the most important factor when it comes to proper living conditions? Is the breed suitable for apartment living?

Good For First-Time Owners


Some dogs aren't suitable for first-time dog owners. Is this breed a good match for someone with no dog experience? Can training help them be on their best behavior with owners with no dog experience? Are they suitable to be handled by someone who is just entering the canine world?

Overall Sensitivity


Some dogs are sensitive. Certain breeds are rough on the outside, while having the softest heart on the inside. In other words, some dogs are 'thick-skinned' while some are 'easygoing.' Is this breed prone to sensitivity?

Tolerates Being Alone


Separation anxiety in dogs is a serious condition that can affect a dog's life quality. Is this breed prone to this condition? Can you leave him alone for hours? How destructive this breed can become when bored, neglected, or not loved enough?

Affectionate With Family


How affectionate this breed will be around his humans? Will he welcome new family friends easily or he will choose to be shy? Some breeds can be clingy with owners, while others don't attach a lot. Will this breed act as the family's best friend?



Some dogs will tolerate children, while others will adore well-behaved ones. Dogs and children should always be supervised, no matter how well trained the dog might be. Will this breed act as a nanny dog or he will stay away from children?

Friendly Toward Other Dogs


Some dog breeds cannot wait to run to the dog park and run with others. Others prefer to be with their humans, and not to be a part of a multi-pet household. Is this breed dog lover or not? How friendly this breed will be toward other dogs?

Friendly Toward Strangers


Some dog breeds tend to be reserved toward strangers and highly suspicious. Others are fast to walk away with them easily. How welcoming this breed is toward strangers?

Drooling Level


If you love to clean all the time drooling level in dogs is a trait that you should mind. Is this breed less likely to drool, or you will always need a towel on hand?

Easy To Groom


Heavier shedding during the shedding season is something that every dog needs to go through. However, some dogs shed just a bit all year round. Is this breed one of them? How often should you groom this dog?

Overall Health


What can you expect from this breed in terms of health? Are there any genetic conditions to vary about? Is obesity a major issue in this breed? By knowing more about the dog's health, you are learning how to help him live a longer and healthier life.

Prone To Obesity


Treats are a great addition to training sessions. Dogs love sweet bites of dog treats but they should be served in moderation. Treats can lead to obesity, next to poor nutrition. Can this breed gain extra weight from treats? How prone to obesity this breed actually is?

Trainability Level


Training some dogs is easier than others. How easy this dog will be to train? What can you expect? Some dogs are huge people pleasers and they will master commands easily, while others will try to outsmart you.

Intelligence Level


Dogs are smart beings. We do our best to train them, but they do still end up training us to adapt to their needs. How intelligent is this breed? Will he try to outsmart you? Or he will need multiple training sessions to master basic commands?

Prey Drive


Dogs were bred for a specific purpose. Those who were bred to hunt have natural instincts to hunt, even today. This is why many dogs, like Terriers, will chase other animals. They will also have a hard time concentrating on your commands when there is something small moving. Is this breed prone to following his prey instincts?

Barking Level


How vocal this breed is? Can you expect neighbors to ring you often to calm your dog? Or you can sleep without worries of hearing your Fido bark? Some breeds are highly vocal, others have unusual sounds, and some are silent. Is this breed prone to barking?

Energy Level


Low-energy dogs are happy with regular walks and indoor chill times. High-energy dogs are always ready for action. Is this breed a couch potato, energetic dog, or somewhere in between?

Exercise Needs


Some dogs are more than happy with a slow stroll down the street. Others need hours of active time to stay happy and fit. Is this breed demanding in terms of exercise? How much exercise this breed needs to stay happy and healthy?

Playfulness Level


Some dogs never lose that puppy spirit, not even in their senior years. Others are more serious and prefer having a job to do. Is this breed demanding in terms of playfulness? Can you expect playfulness in their senior years as well?

No long introduction is needed for this popular breed. Saint Bernard gained global popularity for two reasons.

The first reason is that everyone knows that if you are out there skiing or hiking and trouble occurs, this is the breed that will bring you home alive and well.

The second reason for the breed’s popularity is the popular movie franchise, Beethoven.

The movie was such a success that some of the most surprising facts to breed were discovered. Moreover, people started, even more, showing their respect and admiration for charming Saint Bernard.

Here is what you should know about this breed if you are thinking about welcoming this playful giant into your home.

Quick Facts

Real name: St. Bernard
Other names: St. Bernhardshund, Bernhardiner, Alpine Mastiff (archaic)
Nickname: Saint
Origin: Italy, Switzerland
Breed type: Working Dogs
Weight: Male 140 to 180 lb (64 to 82 kg), Female 120 to 140 lb (54 to 64 kg)
Height: Male 28 to 30 in (71 to 76 cm), Female 26 to 28 in (66 to 71 cm)
Lifespan: 8–10 years
Color: Red shade with white, mahogany brindle with white, always included black shading around the face and ears
Coat: Long-haired

Saint Bernard History

Originally the Saint Bernard dog breed was bred to guard the boundaries of Switzerland’s Hospice Saint Bernard.

At the same time, they were used as working dogs, to save lost travelers, and to help those who are harmed. Thanks to their amazing smell skills Saint Bernards are often used in search and rescue missions, where they can track people under snow.

This is why these giant dogs are labeled as best tracking dogs not only in the mountains but on different terrain, as well.

Today, they enjoy being a family pet, while some of them are still busy helping people. Their history is well-documented and dates back to 1050.

In far 1050, within the Alps, a monk named Bernard of Menthon established a hospice to help pilgrims who traveled to Rome.

His hospice was located 8,000 feet above sea level, making it hard to reach out and carry things.

So, over time the entire hospice was surrounded by powerful and friendly working dogs who were able to help them pull things and even help track people.

Moreover, these powerful dogs were able to locate and rescue travelers who were buried by avalanches and various drifts.

Many believe that their purpose was to carry casks of brandy around their necks, but that’s just false information.

Their original purpose was to help people in food manners, and that’s why they are so great with people even today and why they can easily connect with anyone day one.

If you adopt a Saint Bernard, you will see how fast he will connect with everyone within your household, in minutes.

So, they originated in Switzerland together with other dogs, including:

  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Entlebuch Cattle Dog
  • Appenzell Cattle Dog
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

According to dog experts, they were probably crossed with Mastiff-type dogs that came with the Roman army.

By the first millennium CE, dogs in Switzerland and the Alps were grouped and known as “Talhund” (Valley Dog) or “Bauernhund” (Farm Dog).

Since hospice was so isolated, many believe that the location contributed to their robust built and capability to endure cold.

Still, monks wanted to improve dogs’ coats and cross them with the thick-coated Newfoundland. However, the result was far from what they expected so, and the long-haired offspring suffered because of ice buildup in their long coats.

Fun fact: Even their mix, Saint Berxer will have stronger hair

As the popularity of the breed grows, their physical traits started changing. They were exposed to various crossbreeding, and it resulted in specific physical characteristics.

So, in 18887, the International Congress of Zurich drew up the first breed standard that was accepted worldwide.

The famous Saint Bernard became extremely popular in the Stated in 1883, when a Bernard named Plinlimmon became the top-winning Saint Bernard show dog of his time.

In 1888, the first Saint Bernard Club of America (SBCA) was founded, and as expected, the club accepted the Swiss breed standard.

Nowadays, this breed is one of the most popular ones in the States.

Although the breed is still active as a savior in the Alps, in other places, Saint Bernard usually enjoys spending time with his family members, playing with children, and visiting dog shows when they are not busy on the big screen.

Saint Bernard Physical Appearance

Just one look at Saint Bernard is enough to realize that this is a dominant dog. This breed is proportionately built with a calm nature and intelligent expression.

The nose is broad and always black, just like lips. Ears are medium-sized, with a strongly developed burr, while the neck is set high and muscular. Shoulders are broad and sloping, next to being powerful and muscular.

The coat is short-haired, dense, and rough to the touch. Further, the tail seems bushy, although it has longer and thicker hair at the root. Legs are also very muscular.

This is a giant breed. This comes as no surprise considering the act that Saint Bernard is actually a member of the Mastiff family. Although the famous Saint Bernard has a sturdy body and seems massive, the truth is that this breed is a real gentle giant.

Still, his size is enough to keep any would-be intruders away. Even as a puppy, this breed is massive, and in no time, this breed will go from 25pounds to 180 pounds.

The size, gentle nature, and high intelligence is what attract people to this gentle giant. The only heartbreaking thing here is that Saint Bernard has a short life span of around 7 to 10 years.

Saint Bernard Personality

Bernards’ are true to their heritage as they are both welcoming and friendly. Their temperament is really steady, and they are incredibly kind and careful with children.

Although they love attention and petting seasons, they are not as demanding as some breeds are. Because Saint Bernard is a large dog breed, it’s essential to begin early training while they are puppies, and they can be manageable.

They are true people-pleasers, but they tend to be stubborn sometimes. They would never be aggressive, but they might try to do things their way.

After all, when they are in the rescue action, they must make decisions on their own. Just like any other dog, Saint Bernards need early socialization, exposure to different people, sounds, experiences, and sights, especially when they are young. Early socialization is what they need to be well-behaved.

Don’t let their size fool you, because they are among the softest dogs ever. Otherwise, experts would never use them as emotional support for children with autism – they are fluffy, gentle, patient, and big enough to keep any stranger away while playing with children.

Saint Bernard Health

Interestingly, but in the breed that doesn’t have a long life span, health problems are far more common than in breeds who live longer. Since Saint Bernard has a short life span, he may suffer from major health problems, that include:

Like any dog, Saint Bernard may develop every of the listed condition, or even none, because each dog is different.

Also, since Siant Bernard is a large breed dog, he may develop bloat, which as you may know a life-threatening stomach condition.

This is also a health condition that leads to a considerable number of deaths in canines. To avoid this condition, serve your dog great food and provide regular exercise, next to regular veterinarian check-ups.

Interestingly, for a dog who can shuffle through snow and live in cold temperatures, he can handle hot weather easily. Still, this is a massive dog with a tremendous amount of coat, so don’t leave him exposed to the sun for too long.

Also, avoid long summer walks, to prevent heatstroke.

Bernards will handle heat as long as they are in a cool place to rest, next to lots of water. Of course, make sure that the temperature is not too high.

Avoid air conditioning to cool off your Saint Bernard, because it can cause severe distress. If you have tiles, clean the room around them because that will be the favorite place during the summer for your Saint Bernard.

Here are the most recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Elbow Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Degenerative Myelopathy DNA Test

Saint Bernard Training

Large breed dogs, just like any other breed, must be exposed to different sounds, places, and people, from an early age.

Early and well-planned socialization next to puppy training classes should be a win-win combination for a well-behaved dog.

Obedience training next to positive reinforcement training will result in a good dog.

This way, you will teach your giant dog not to jump on other people, not to steal the food off the counter, and otherwise take advantage of their size. Since they are so massive, you should never leave your Saint Bernard with your children.

They are fantastic with children, and they are eager to please, but accidents can happen, especially if you live in a small place. Large dogs need a large space.

Overall, they are great with their family members, and chances are meager that you will have any behavioral problem, with this breed if you start training Bernards’ early.

Saint Bernard Grooming

Saint Bernards come in long-haired and short-haired varieties, but both types demand serious grooming and time investment.

Weekly brushing is mandatory if you want to avoid tangled hair. Weekly brushing is also a great way to track your dog’s skin changes and remove any extra dirt. You can also notice fleas when you work more often around dogs’ skin and hair.

Grooming in general, will also enhance dog’s connection with you. Your goal with this breed should be daily grooming because you can expect shedding on a daily level.

You can bath your Saint Bernard when needed, and clean teeth and ears on a regular basis.

Make sure that the nails are trimmed regularly, and the teeth are white. If you notice white gums, you should react immediately.

The Bottom Line On Saint Bernard

The famous Saint Bernard is still actively saving lost and injured people in the mountains or they are busy being family members.

So, they may not wear a brandy keg or aid-kit around their neck, but you can train them to bring you a ball.

Their heart is as big as its size. These lovable giants are great with children, amazing when it comes to keeping everyone safe and happy, but they tend to be stubborn if they are not trained well. Overall, Saint Bernard is shy, sweet, and very affectionate.

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