Welcome to the BarkPost guide to dog breeds where we belly flop straight into the depths of dog breed origin, evolution, and purpose. Follow along each week as we publish new guides that highlight the strangest, most interesting, and most surprising stuff about these creatures who have been our best buds the last 30,000 years.
(All dogs are individuals, which means any single dog from any breed can be any number of ways, both good and not so good. Keep that in mind as we discuss breed generalities!)
If you’re a lover of larger dogs—and you want a larger dog that’s going to love you just as much as you love them—then you’re definitely going to want to get to know the St. Bernard.
St. Bernards are one of the most celebrated and beloved breeds in the world. Known just as much for their sweet, loving nature as they are for their large stature, St. Bernards are a favorite breed for pet owners looking for a true companion and lifelong family member.
Want to learn more about the St. Bernard—and, more importantly, if this breed is the right choice for you and your family? Let’s take a look at all the important facts you need to know about the St. Bernard, from their history to their personality to their grooming needs (and just about everything in between!):
Also Known As…
St. Bernhardshund. Bernhardiner. Alpine Mastif (archaic). Nanny dogs (a la Nana from Peter Pan). “Holy moly, it’s the star of Beethoven!”
The St. Bernard’s origins date back to the late 1600s, where they were bred at the Great St. Bernard Hospice at the Great St. Bernard Pass on the border of Italy and Switzerland. The hospice was established to provide support for travelers braving the snowy conditions in an effort to reach Rome—and the St. Bernards were bred to aid in search and rescue, finding and retrieving trapped pilgrims from the snow.
St. Bernard’s are commonly referred to as gentle, genial giants—and for good reason! This is a large breed; on average, male St. Bernard’s grow to an average height of between 28 and 30 inches—while the female St. Bernard is slightly smaller, with an average height of between 26 and 28 inches.
Not only are St. Bernards tall—but they’re also heavy! St. Bernard’s weigh as much as some humans, with the average male weighing between 140 and 180 pounds. Again, females tend to be a bit smaller—with an average weight range between 120 and 140 pounds.
If there were two words to perfectly describe the St. Bernard, they would be “gentle giant.” These dogs have an inherently sweet nature; they’re friendly, amicable, and want nothing more than to put a smile on their families’ faces.
Intelligence / Trainability
St. Bernards were bred as search and rescue dogs. They’re intelligent, they’re hard workers, and they’re eager to please—all of which adds up to an extremely trainable dog.
Here are some tips to make the most of your St. Bernard’s training:
- Start early. You should always start training your dog as early as possible—but early training is especially important for the St. Bernard. Because St. Bernard’s are so large, you want to encourage obedience and positive behavior from puppyhood—otherwise, their size can become an issue (for example, if they jump on people or act reactively toward other dogs). If you want to successfully train your St. Bernard—and encourage positive behaviors when they’re fully grown—you should plan to get started with a training program as early in their life as possible.
- Socialize. St. Bernards are inherently friendly dogs—but if they don’t have enough exposure to other people, dogs, and animals, they may not be as friendly as they could be. If you want your dog to be the happiest and friendliest they can be, socialize your St. Bernard early and often.
- Engage in the training process. St. Bernards are incredibly devoted to their owners and eager to please—which is why if you want training to be a success, you need to fully engage in the process. The more you get involved with your dog’s training process, the more they’ll want to please and impress you—and the easier training them will be.
St. Bernards are extremely large dogs—and, as such, they need more space than smaller breeds. Ideally, St. Bernards will have space to roam around, both indoors and outdoors—so a studio apartment isn’t going to be the best fit.
St. Bernards are also extremely attached to their humans and don’t typically do well when left alone for long stretches of time. If you spend most of your time out of the house—and your dog is going to be alone for a large chunk of that time—a St. Bernard probably isn’t the best fit for you.
Good For Families And Kids?
St. Bernards are patient, loving, and watchful (they didn’t get the nickname “nanny dog” for nothing!)—making them the ideal choice for a family with children. However, if you have very small children in the home, you may want to wait to bring home a St. Bernard; because they’re so large, they may accidentally knock over smaller children and put them at risk for injury.
Larger dogs tend to have a shorter lifespan than younger dogs—and St. Bernards are no difference. On average, St. Bernards have a lifespan of between 8 and 10 years.
Overall, St. Bernards are a fairly healthy breed. But, just like any other dog breed, St. Bernards have a variety of breed-specific health issues that may occur during their lifespan—and, as a responsible pet owner, those are issues you should be aware of.
Some common health issues for St. Bernards include bloat (a life-threatening stomach condition which can occur suddenly and without warning), hip and elbow dysplasia, eye disease (including entropion and ectropion, conditions that cause the eyelid to turn inwards or outwards), and hereditary osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. St. Bernards can also struggle with hotter weather—particularly with going from air-conditioned environments directly into outdoor heat.
In order to maintain your St. Bernard’s health, make sure to schedule regular visits to the vet as well as periodic screenings for common health issues.
When it comes to energy, St. Bernards are somewhere towards the middle of the pack. They’re not overly energetic—but they’re also not couch potatoes! St. Bernards love any opportunity to play, walk, and explore—but they’re also content with more quiet activities, like curling at your feet while you relax with a book. The key to managing a St. Bernard’s energy is balance; as long as they get daily opportunities to work off some energy (and get some playtime with their people!), they’ll be more than happy to enjoy some downtime as well.
Friendly With…(Dogs? Strangers? Cats/Other Pets?)
St. Bernards are, overall, extremely friendly dogs. As long as they’re socialized and have the opportunity to interact with a variety of people, dogs, and other animals, they’ll be friendly to pretty much everyone (and every animal) they meet.
While St. Bernards are typically friendly, they can be protective of their home and/or families—and, as a result, may bark at strangers. While the St. Bernard is often not reactive, their size can make them seem intimidating—so make sure you train your pup not to bark (and inadvertently scare your houseguests!).
Coat & Grooming
St. Bernards are a massive breed—and with a massive breed comes a massive amount of dog hair! St. Bernards may have a short or long coat—but regardless of length, they need regular brushing for their coats to look and feel their best. Typically, a weekly brushing is fine—but during shedding season (which happens twice a year), daily brushing is necessary to remove excess hair. You should also plan to bathe your St. Bernard periodically, which will help to eliminate any unpleasant odors.
Toys St. Bernards Would Like Best
St. Bernards are known for being gentle, loving, and friendly—but they also have a playful side!
But what toys will your St. Bernard enjoy? Some of the best toys for St. Bernards include:
- Plush toys. As mentioned, St. Bernards are loving, gentle creatures—which is why plush toys are such a great fit for this breed. Obviously, your St. Bernard would prefer to love on you—but when you’re not around, plush toys can make the perfect substitute.
- Thinker toys. St. Bernards were originally bred for search and rescue. So why not engage their natural instinct with a thinker toy—a toy where they have to “search and rescue” a treat?!
- Tug toys. Tug of war is a favorite game for just about every dog breed—and that includes St. Bernards. Tug toys are a great way to engage with your St. Bernard, have fun, and work off some of their playful energy.
- Super Chewer Toys. These are pretty self-explanatory. They’re the toughest darn toys around and your St. Bernard will spend HOURS with them (and by hours we mean months).
Recommended Diet Or Supplements
Like all dogs, St. Bernards are going to feel their happiest and healthiest on a diet of high-quality dog food—which means dog food free from unnatural ingredients, fillers, and/or preservatives. Because St. Bernards are prone to bloat, it may also be beneficial to feed them a few small meals throughout the day (as opposed to one large meal).
Larger dogs can have trouble getting around as they get older, so adding supplements to your St. Bernard’s routine can be a great way to support mobility as they age. As always, consult your vet first.
This supplement is veterinarian-formulated, made with all natural ingredients (glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid), and comes in the form of 150 soft chews. Basically, it looks and tastes just like delicious treats, and it could really help your St. Bernard with their hip and joint issues. ($32.99.)
For St. Bernards with joint issues – or any dog who just loves to lie around! – a nice comfortable bed with orthopedic support is probably a good idea.
This ultra plush orthopedic dog bed provides support for even the most active of dogs! The combination ergonomic memory foam and gel foam relieves pressure points, and helps ease body aches caused by hip dysplasia, arthritis and other orthopedic issues. It offers the best therapeutic support for your canine companion. ($27.99-64.99.)
Notable Rescues To Find The St. Bernard Of Your Dreams
St. Bernards are beautiful dogs—and, as such, these gentle giants are an in-demand breed. But that certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t St. Bernards out there in need of love, support, and forever homes! Which is why, if you can, it’s always best to adopt a St. Bernard from a rescue—instead of buying from a breeder.
If you’re ready to bring a St. Bernard into your family, your life, and your heart, here are a few notable St. Bernard rescues where you can find plenty of adoptable St. Bernards waiting for their forever homes:
- St. Bernard Rescue Foundation, Inc., serving the continental US
- Sunny Saints St. Bernard Rescue, serving Southern California
- Colorado St. Bernard Rescue, serving Colorado
- Florida St. Bernard Rescue, serving Florida
- Saints of the West Rescue and Adoption, serving Nevada
Notable Instagram St. Bernards
If St. Bernards are your all-time favorite breed (and why wouldn’t they be?!), why not add a little St. Bernard energy to your Instagram feed?
Social media is a great place to get your daily dose of all-things-St-Bernard. Here are a few Instafamous St. Bernards you’ll definitely want to give a follow:
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Featured image via GusTheBernie/Instagram