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Subject: rec.pets.dogs: Saint Bernards Breed-FAQ
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:00 GMT
Posting-frequency: 30 days
Last-modified: 05 Mar 1998
There are many FAQ's available for this group. For a complete
listing of these, get the "Complete List of RPD FAQs". This article
is posted bimonthly in rec.pets.dogs, and is available via anonymous ftp
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This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below.
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
alteration provided that this copyright notice is not removed.
It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
than the URL listed above without the permission of the Author(s).
This article may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in other
documents without he Author(s)'s permission and is provided "as is"
without express or implied warranty.
Cindy Tittle Moore This version is Copyright 1995-1997 by CTM,
firstname.lastname@example.org, with the exception of the material quoted from
the SBCA, which is included with permission. My thanks to Barbara
Jansen for reading this over and suggesting corrections and additional
* November 1994
Converted to Web format; some typos, etc. corrected
* March 1995
Updates from email@example.com (Todd C. Williams)
* September/October 1995
Eliminated material quoted from _The Complete Dog Book_ to avoid
possible copyright infringement; history section and health
section both updated; online resources added. Permission secured
to use the material from SBCA.
* January 1996
Additional descriptive material added on temperament and
personality, some details and addresses added.
* Nov 1996: updated addresses, courtesy of Todd Williams.
* Aug 1997: updated addresses and links
Table of Contents
* Characteristics and Temperament
* Some Questions You May Have About the Saint Bernard
* Health Issues
+ Breed Clubs
+ Online Resources
Saint Bernards are powerful, proportionately tall, strong and
muscular, big boned and deep chested. Males weigh from 170 to over 200
pounds and are over 27 inches at the shoulders. Bitches weigh slightly
less and are at minimum 25 inches at the shoulders. The original St.
Bernard is short-haired; the long haired variety appeared in the
Acceptable colors include white with red, red with white, and brindle
patches with white markings. "Red" can vary from red to yellow-brown.
Many have a dark mask over the eyes but this is not a requirement.
The Saint Bernard appears to originate from native dogs that have been
present in the Alps for millenia. Roman armies crossed into
Switzerland in the second century possibly bringing with them an
infusion of Mastiff-type dogs. These dogs form the background of
today's Swiss breeds, including the Saint Bernard. As with all modern
Swiss breeds, (including Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Swiss Mountain
Dogs, Entlebuch Cattle Dogs, and Appenzell Cattle Dogs) these dogs
were used for a variety of duties including guarding, herding, and
drafting. By 1000AD, these ancestral dogs were apparently well known
and referred to as "Talhund" (Valley Dog) or "Bauernhund" (Farm Dog)
by this time. They came in a variety of sizes and shapes.
In 1050AD, Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon founded his famous hospice in
the Saint Bernard Pass, 8000 feet above sea level, for travellers
crossing the treacherous Swiss Alps. No one knows when dogs were first
brought to the Hospice, since early records were destroyed by fire
near the end of the 16th century. The earliest surviving written
notation of the dogs is in 1707 and it implies that the dogs were well
established at this point and their work was well known. The earliest
paintings of the Hospice dog date back to two pictures done in 1695 by
an unknown painter. These paintings depict well built shorthaired dogs
with long tails and dewclaws, typey heads and nearly white: one is a
mantle and the other is splash coated. From these portraits, it's
clear that these dogs were already established as a breed by this
Independent records suggest that these dogs were initially used as
watchdogs and companions for the Monks. Since the Hospice was largely
isolated from the rest of the world, especially during the long winter
months, a distinctive strain of dogs doubtlessly quickly developed.
These dogs would have been bred to withstand the harsh winters, with a
short, thick, ice-proof coat and well-padded feet for walking on the
As the Monks took the dogs along with them on their trips of mercy,
they probably also quickly found that their dogs were excellent
pathfinders and able to easily locate helpless travellers lost and
buried in the storms. It's likely the Monks started intentionally
breeding the best of these dogs to assist them in their work, further
refining this breed. And capable they were: in the three centuries of
records available at the hospice, the Saint Bernards have been
responsible for saving well over 2,000 human lives.
Periodically, unusually severe winters depleted the Hospice's stock of
breeding dogs. Contrary to popular supposition, however, the dogs were
quickly replenished from good animals in the lower valleys, many of
whom were descended from surplus Hospice puppies of more populous
years. The Hospice dog has never been crossed with another breed
except once in 1830, when the Monks tried a cross with the
Newfoundland. The theory was that the Newfoundland was a dog of
similar conformation and ability to the Hospice dog, and the addition
of the long coat might improve their resistance to cold weather.
Unfortunately, the long haired variety proved inferior to the short
haired dogs as ice would build up in the longer coat. Thereafter,
long-coated puppies born at the Hospice were given away or sold to
people in the lower valleys. Shorthaired dogs were preferred in the
mountainous regions of Switzerland and the longhaired ones became well
established in the less harsh valleys.
Naming the Breed
By 1800, the "Hospice Dogs" and their work were well known, but as of
yet, they had no other name. Probably the most famous dog in history,
Barry, lived at the Hospice between 1800 and 1810; he is credited with
40 finds and for years afterwards, Hospice dogs were sometimes called
"Barryhunds" in his honor. The English who had imported some of the
Hospice dogs as early as 1810 to invigorate their Mastiffs, referred
to these dogs as "Sacred Hounds." In Germany, "Alpendog" was proposed
in the late 1820's. Daniel Wilson referred to the "Saint Bernard Dog"
in 1833, but it was not until 1880 that the name was officially
recognized for the breed by the Swiss Kennel Club.
Order out of Chaos
In the late 19th century, the development of the breed had become
somewhat haphazard. Many breeders in the low valleys were not breeding
true to type; the dogs being exported to other countries were often
not good specimens, and the St. Bernards becoming established abroad
were often widely divergent from the original stock. In some countries
such as England, the Saints were crossed with other breeds to produce
thinner and taller Saint Bernards. To address this state of affairs,
the Swiss Kennel Club (Schweizerische Kynologische Gesellschaft --
SKG) was formed in 1883 to promote the best interests of the Saint
Bernard. This in turn led to the International Congress in Zurich of
1887 that drew up a breed standard which all countries except England
(which used its own standard) accepted.
Heinrich Schumacher (1831-1903) was at this time a respected authority
on the breed. He had been deeply involved with it since 1855 when he
began his own lines with the express intent of recreating "Barry".
With the assitance and approval of the Monks, he quickly established
high quality strains of the breed which he both exported and used to
improve local stock. He started up the first stud dog book. While he
retired from breeding dogs in the 1890's, he continued to guide the
development of the breed and the breed club until his death.
While modern day developments with trains have lessened the need for
the Monks' search and rescue efforts, the Hospice continues to
maintain these dogs for companionship and to honor their close
association with the Hospice's history and traditional work.
The Saint Bernard In the US
Sometime after 1883, theater goers in America were held spellbound by
a giant dog called a Saint Bernard. This dog, named Plinlimmon, was
the first Saint to have any impact in the U.S. Born on June 29, 1883,
in England, Plinlimmon was later brought to America by an actor who
showed him in theaters throughout the country. He won dog shows in
1884, and Best St. Bernard in 1885. During this time, other dogs of
English origin were imported, and the breeding of these dogs
flourished. However, as previously noted, the English dogs at this
time were not true to type.
In 1888, St. Bernard Fanciers gathered together and originated the St.
Bernard Club of America (SBCA) and it recognized the International
Standard of 1887. However, US breeders were satisfied with the English
type, creating a great paradox. They now had the International
Standard, but had dogs from England, which did not conform to the
The SBCA was reorganized in 1897, and again in 1932. During this
period of time, breeding was mostly handled by dog dealers with little
knowledge of type. The American St. Bernard had become an amalgam of
English, German and Swiss lines. However, several Fanciers quietly
imported German and Swiss dogs to be integrated into breeding
programs. These few Fanciers recognized the dichotomy of breeding the
English dogs while being committed to the European Standard. They
opened the way to correct type of the St. Bernard in America by
believing that the original type would eventually succeed.
These German and Swiss imports did their jobs, and the revitalization
of the breed in the US began. One vitally important factor in the
continued breeding of the correct St. Bernard, and now a primary low
of breeding, is that dogs of outstanding character and quality had a
considerable amount of smooth blood in their immediate pedigrees. It
is well documented that temperament is rapidly lost by continued
breeding of only the rough coated St. Bernards.
Since 1945, the majority of imports to the U.S. have been the smooth
coated dogs, both male and female, so important for continued
revitalization of the breed. By the 1960's, the smooth coated Saint
had been accepted in America as an essential and equal partner with
the rough coated Saint.
Saints today are recognized by all major kennel clubs, including but
not limited to the American Kennel Club, the Kennel Club of Britain,
the Canadian Kennel Club, the FCI, the Swiss Kennel Club, and more.
The Saint Bernard Club of America
The Saint Bernard Club of America, Inc. (SBCA) dates from 1888, and is
one of the oldest breed clubs recognized by the American Kennel Club.
A non-profit organization, it is dedicated to the welfare of the Saint
Bernard. The SBCA has active committees, dedicated to helping you
enjoy your Saint Bernard, as well as helping the Saint Bernard lead a
long, health, and happy life.
For example, to promote the intelligence and strengths of the breed,
the SBCA's Working Dog Committee supports activities including
drafting and carting work, obedience and agility. The SBCA also
encourages the selective breeding and showing of the Saint Bernard. At
the same time, it has a national Rescue committee to help place Saints
without homes. Membership is open to everyone who is interested in the
Saint Bernard and who agrees to abide with the objectives of the club.
The club is also charged with maintaining the Standard for the breed
in this country. Note that both the British and Swiss Standards differ
from each other and with the AKC Standard.
Characteristics and Temperament
Known as the giant dogs that rescue people in the Swiss Alps, St.
Bernards are much loved as gentle family dogs with big hearts and
friendly temperaments. But think seriously about it before you decide
to bring one into your family. Saints require as much love and
devotion as they give in return. Their size alone dictates the need
for basic manners and early obedience training. The fact that they can
rest their heads on the kitchen table demands that they be taught
their limits. Although Saints dearly love to be with the family
children, their sheer size requires close supervision. They would
never intentionally harm one of their small charges, yet a huge paw or
powerful tail can accidentally knock a child over. They are
enthusiastic participants in any family activity, and will sulk if not
included. Saints seldom bark without good reason. They are good
watchdogs and protectors of their faimily, but should never be thought
of as a guard dog.
Because of their large size, you must pick out a puppy carefully,
checking into his background for common health and temperament
problems. In general, the breeder of the puppy should be able to
provide you with proof of health clearances on the parents, and you
should be comfortable with the behavior of the adult Saints at the
breeder's home. It is also important to begin obedience and
socialization training at a young age in order to assure their good
manners. Despite their large size and their tendency to physically
grow quickly, Saints generally are slow to mature mentally, and
training should be guided with a gentle, but firm, hand and a good
deal of patience and consistency. A well-trained Saint is a joy to
behold, and they love to please their human pack leaders.
Saint puppies grow at a phenomenal rate during the first year of life,
increasing in size an average of three pounds per week. They eat
somewhere between 6 and 12 cups of high quality dog food per day.
Puppy Saints should never be fed high protein puppy food, but rather
they should be fed an adult formula containing 22-26% protein with
12-15% fat. High protein foods can cause the fast growing Saint puppy
to grown even faster, and thereby acquiring any number of bone
problems. It is important for a Saint puppy to eat at least two meals
a day, to help ensure steady even growth during the initial growing
period. Most owners continue this practice of two meals a day
throughout the dog's lifetime to aid in the prevention of bloat.
Because they are slow to mature, Saints should not be pushed too
rapidly into formal and serious training for the strenuous activities
of weight pulling, high jumping and broad jumping. Their giant sized
bones do not finish growing until two years of age. Activities as
simple as jumping in and out of pick up trucks can permanently damage
a Saint's soft bones. For this reason, a Saint Bernard should not be
asked to jump or pull heavy loads before two years of age.
While adult Saint Bernards do not require a lot of exercise, they are
better off with a long walk every day. They are willing and able to do
much more than this, and their abilities as a working dog increase
with good physical training. When provided with good physical
conditioning, Saints are powerful working dogs with plenty of stamina.
Most Saints love to play games and learn new things. Ask them to find
you when you are hiding in a closet. Toss a tasty treat into the air
and they will love to catch it. They may not have quite as fast a
"recall" as the Golden Retriever next door, but they will get the job
done one way or another if you ask them to do so.
Some Questions You May Have About the Saint Bernard
(from the Saint Bernard Club of America, used with permission)
_How much do they eat?_
A Saint Bernard will not "eat you out of house and home." The fact
is, a Saint Bernard can be raised and maintained on no more food
than required for other large breeds. Since Saints are basically
placid dogs, they generally require less food per pound of body
weight than most smaller, more active breeds.
_How much do they weigh?_
Saint puppies weigh about one and one-half pounds at birth and grow
rapidly during the first year, although it may take as long as
three years before they reach full maturity. Adult males may reach
a height of 28-30 inches at the shoulder and will normally weigh
between 140 and 180 pounds. Female are somewhat smaller at about
26-28 inches at the shoulder and typically range from 120-140
_Are they good with children?_
Definitely. They have an understanding of a child's way and are
amazingly careful not to injure a child. They are excellent
babysitters and companions. Naturally, a child must never be
allowed to torment any dog, regardless of breed.
_Are they easy to train?_
Because of the size of the animal, Saint Bernards MUST be trained
and this must be done early in their lives. Fortunately, Saints are
eager to please and will begin responding to commands as soon as
they understand what you want of them.
_Do they shed?_
Yes: twice a year, usually in Spring and Fall, they lose much of
their coats to help them adjust to the changing seasons. For the
remainder of the year, there is seldom any annoyance from shedding.
_Do they drool?_
Yes. Depending on the weather, the level of excitement, and the
shape of the dog's jowls, most Saints will drool on occasion.
Technically, there is no such thing as a "dry mouthed Saint", but
most Saints do not drool to a offensive degree.
_Are they good watch dogs?_
The Saint's size and bark will discourage most intruders, yet they
will learn to recognize your friends and receive them cordially. If
an intruder gets by the size and barks, your Saint may decide to
lead the intruder straight to the family silver since they would
much prefer to be friends to all. The one exception to this is when
a member of the family is being threatened. The Saint's instinct to
protect those they love becomes apparent at this time.
_Why do some Saint Bernards have short hair?_
The original Saint Bernards were all short-haired dogs. Over 150
years ago, the Monks in Switzerland found it necessary to bring
some new blood into their breeding and interbred the long coated
Newfoundland with the Saints. Today, the influence of that breeding
is still with us and we have both long and short-haired Saint
_How much exercise do they need? Can one be kept in an apartment?_
Saint Bernards don't need as much exercise as many other breeds,
but a fenced yard should be provided so they can get whatever
amount they require. The apartment dweller must be walked
frequently to make up for the exercise they would otherwise take at
their leisure. It is not a good practice to keep a Saint Bernard
_How much care do they need?_
Clean fresh water (especially in Summer), a well balanced diet and
thorough brushing weekly, the necessary immunity shots and lots of
common sense is all that is necessary.
_Should I get a male or female?_
This is strictly a matter of personal preference. Both are equal in
pet qualities. The male, being larger, is more impressive when
first viewed. The female however must be considered his equal in
all other respects. Once you have made the decision male or female
your choice will be the right one: you will have a loving pet and a
most rewarding experience.
_How do they thrive in the hot weather?_
The dogs will do well as long as they have a cool dry place to nap
and plenty of fresh cool water. They will cut down both their food
intake and amount of activity. It must be remembered that going
from an air conditioned place into the boiling heat can be
disastrous. The abrupt change in temperature will be extremely hard
on a Saint.
_Where do I buy a Saint Bernard?_
There are breeders in most areas who are sincerely interested in
supplying you with a Saint you will be proud to own. To these
breeders, a dog is infinitely more that just a commodity to be sold
for profit. Their interest is in the animal and matching them to
the right home. They are anxious to assist you with care, feeding
and answering your questions.
Saint Bernards, as many other breeds, can have particular problems
which reputable breeders try to breed out. A reputable and
knowledgeable breeder will be glad to discuss these and other health
concerns with a puppy buyer.
Because of their large size, Saint Bernards are particularly prone to
Hip Dysplasia, a joint disease that can eventually cripple dogs,
depending on its severity. Data from the Orthopedic Foundation for
Animals shows a rate of approximately 49% of xrays sent to them for
diagnosis being evaluated as dysplastic. As many xrays are never sent
in to OFA when something is obviously wrong, the actual rate may be
As a result, you should insist on the parents of any puppy you are
considering to be OFA certified. Ask to see the certifications and
don't accept excuses for a lack of OFA certification. Ideally the
grandparents and littermates of the parents should also have OFA
As with any large or giant breed, care must be taken not to over feed
or oversupplement young puppies. Too-rapid growth or excess weight can
put undue stress on young still-growing joints and cause or exacerbate
problems in the elbows or hips. Consult with the breeder of your dog
as to when it is appropriate to switch to an adult formula and monitor
your growing Saint's weight level closely. Saints continue to grow and
mature for at least the first three years, there is no rush to get to
As with most giant breeds, Saint Bernards commonly have short lives
from 7-11 years. A few individuals may live longer, but shorter lives
are the rule and not the exception.
You should check about other conditions that Saints can get, such as
entropion (a condition of the eyelid) and epilepsy. Again, a reputable
breeder will talk freely and candidly about these problems.
In addition, as with other breeds of similar size and type, the Saint
Bernard may be subsceptible to problems such as heat stroke and bloat.
You should discuss these conditions with your vet so that you
understand what the warning signs are and seek immediate veterinary
care should they occur. With such a large breed, you must plan in
advance what you will do should your dog collapse (for whatever
reason) as they are too large to carry.
_The Complete St Bernard_
By Pat Muggleton and Michael and Ann Wensley, Howell Book House
- Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1992. The authors'
United Kingdom background is apparent in this book, but it is a
recent publication with valuable chapters on the history of the
Saint on each continent.
_The Saint Bernard Classic_
By Albert de la Rie, Briarcliff Publishing Comapnay, Kansas
City, MO, First Edition 1974 74-80478 (out of print but
available from Jerri Hobbs, Saint Bernard Club of America
Classic Chairperson, 2742 West Warren Ave, Denver CO 80219,
_This is the Saint Bernard_
By Marlen J. Anderson and Joan Brearly, TFH Publication,
Neptune City, NJ, 1973.
_Your Saint Bernard_
By Marina J. Sharp Denlinger's Publishers LTD, Fairfax, VA,
By Martin Weil, TFH Publications, Neptune City, NJ, 1982.
_The New Complete Saint Bernard_
By E.G. Raulston and Rex Roberts, Howell Book House, Inc.,
Magazines and Publications
(official publication of the SBCA, available only to members)
Lynn Jech, 11446 W. Hidalgo Ave., Tolleson, AZ 85353 (602)
_Saint Bernard Club of America, Inc._
33400 Red Fox Way, North Prairie, WI 53153
Send $5 payable to the SBCA for a detailed information packet
on the breed, including several booklets and a breeders
_Saint Bernard Rescue_
Carol Varner Beck, Rescue Committee Chair, 800 Elk Creek Rd.,
Trail, OR 97541, 541-878-8281. She keeps contact information
for various areas of the country and has a waiting list of
homes for rescued dogs.
There are local Saint Bernard clubs in various parts of the United
States: the SBCA can help you find a club in your area.
_New South Wales Saint Bernard Club_
Sharron Andrews PO Box 191 Emu Plains NSW 2750
_Saint Bernard Club of Queensland_
Michelle Noyce, 31 Elm Ave Woodridge Queensland 4114
_The St Bernard Social Club of Tasmania_
Miss Susan Teniswood, "Boronia Hill", 44 Jindabyne Rd, Kingston
_St Bernard Club of Victoria_
An Cerato, 34 Highbury Rd Tootgarook Victoria 3941
_Saint Bernard Breed Specialist Assoc._
B. Chadwick, 20 Ibis Pl, High Wycombe WA 6057, 09 255 1595
_The West Australian St. Bernard Social Club & Welfare Association,
Mrs. Donna Frizzell, P.O. Box 1203 Canning Vale W.A. 6155
_St Bernard Club of France_
Chrisian Tessier, La Valoises, Breancon, F 95640 Marines,
Anita Eriksson, Rasbokil Kolinge, 755 95 Uppsala, SWEDEN
_Schweizerischer St Bernhards Club_
Peter Buckingham, Kobelwies 1231, 9463 Oberriet, SWITZERLAND
_St Bernard Club of Ireland_
Mr Joseph A Moynihan, Ballinamona Lr., Old Parish, Co.
_St Bernhards Club of Germany_
Wolfgang Ketzler, LessingstraBe 35, 5012 Bedburg, GERMANY
_Belgische Sint-Bernard Club_,
Mr. Joseph Van Hummelen, Leliestraat 12, B-2820 Rijmeham,
_English Saint Bernard Club_
Miss Pat Muggleeton, Hon. Secretary, Stanley Cottagge Farm,
Shepherds Lane, Teversal, Notts. NG17 3JG
_United St Bernard Club_,
Mrs R J Beaver, The Cricketer's House, 80 Ashover Road, Old
Tupton, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S42 6HJ
_North Island St Bernard Assoc_
Mrs Catherine Tippett, 19 Barrett Road, New Plymouth, New
_South Island St Bernard Club_
Mrs. Megan Rogan, McIllwraith Road, Postal Delivery Centre,
Mataura, New Zealand
The S.B.C. Transvaal
Mara Morriset, P.O. Box 6425, Birchleigh - Kempton Park, South
There is an E-mail discussion group for St. Bernard fanciers. To
subscribe, send an email message to: LISTSERV@apple.ease.lsoft.com
Leave the subject line blank, and the message body should contain:
SUBscribe SAINT_BERNARD-L firstname lastname
In addition, there are several web pages:
Saint Bernard Homepage (Switzerland)
Saint Bernard Club of America Homepage
Saint Bernard Art
NSW Saint Bernard Club
Saint Bernard FAQ
Cindy Tittle Moore, firstname.lastname@example.org