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The Saint Bernard is one of the world’s most loved breeds. Known for its gentle nature, this large dog, although powerful, is an excellent addition to almost any home. Today, we discover the breed’s history, temperament and grooming needs.

A brief history of the Saint Bernard

The Saint Bernard, also known as the Alpine Mountain Dog or Alpine Cattle Dog, is a large breed dog from the French Alps. Used for herding, hunting, guarding and search and rescue, the St. Bernard was popular amongst farmers in the 1700s. A painting from 1690 verifies that the breed was used by monks at a monastery to rescue people at the Great St. Bernard Pass in Switzerland. The Saint Bernard of those early years, however, looked very different to the dog we know today. Between 1816 and 1818, severe weather conditions killed many of the search and rescue working dogs which were also used for breeding. To save the breed from extinction, those that remained were crossed with Newfoundlands that were brought from the Colony of Newfoundland in the 1850s. This, however, contributed to the long thick coat we know today. For this reason, the breed lost its use as a rescue dog because the short hair that was useful for extreme wet and cold conditions was now long and thick. And long thick hair gets heavy when its wet.   

Interesting side note: The St. Bernard never received formal training from the monks. Younger dogs learned how to search and rescue from the older dogs. 

Taking care of a Saint Bernard

The Saint Bernard does well on most nutritional foods that are formulated for large breeds. Because of its size, train and socialize your pup early with healthy treats. Obedience training is recommended because the breed’s size can cause some issues around children (and adults), such as jumping up and playing causing people to accidentally fall over. Vets recommend reducing the size of the meal around training times to prevent bloat, a life threatening condition common in larger breeds that requires immediate medical attention. 

Common medical concerns

As we mentioned, the Saint Bernard can suffer from bloat. Other than that, this is a healthy dog that is prone to the common conditions most other breeds get too. Some of these include; hip and elbow dysplasia, osteochondrosis and eye problems. One of the conditions Saint Bernard parents should however look out for is heatstroke. Make sure your pup has a cool spot when weather conditions are hot. 

Grooming

Your pup’s hair will require weekly brushing. When it’s shedding season, brushing daily might be required. 

Traits of the Saint Bernard

The Saint Bernard is a friendly pup that is usually good with cats and children. The breed is adaptable, affectionate and a good watchdog. 

What about the keg?

The St. Bernard is often depicted wearing a barrel around its neck. However, the belief that the barrel was used during rescue operations and contained brandy to keep travellers warm is disputed. Some believe that the keg originated from an 1820s painting of 2 Saint Bernards saving a traveller. However, whether the keg was merely used for artistic effect is not known. 

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