The Saint Bernard is one of the highest recognized members of the Working Group. A gentle and affectionate breed, this dog is highly devoted to its family and always willing to please. They are wonderful around children (although may not be playful enough for kids) and are easy to train.
A Brief History Of The Saint Bernard
Researchers estimate that the original roots of the Saint Bernard probably go back to the great Roman Molossian dogs. But it was not until the mid 1600s did the breed make a name for itself as a trusted saver of lives, literally.
Around this time the dogs first made their way to the famous St. Bernard Hospice, which was a refuge camp for individuals traveling between Switzerland and Germany. Originally, the dogs were used for small working tasks like pulling carts and being watchdogs. It didn’t take long for the Monks to discover that the dogs had the gift of tracking down lost people through the icy mountains.
These canines became adept at finding lost travelers quickly. When they would find someone lying in the snow the dog would lick his or her face which would help warm up and revive the individual. This invaluable service was depended on for at least three centuries. In fact, over 2,000 lives have been saved by these St. Bernards.
The most famous of these life savers was a St. Bernard named Barry. Barry is personally credited with saving a total of forty individuals. Before Barry had died the dogs were known as a variety of names. The most common was “Hospice Dogs”. Then when Barry passed away he was so widely known that to honor him people started calling the dogs “Barryhund” dogs.
Unfortunately, the breed’s numbers took a dive during the early 1800s. Inbreeding and disease caused many of the dogs to die, not to mention severe weather causing treacherous conditions for St. Bernards to deal with. A few dogs remained and were crossed with Newfoundlands during the 1830s.
The result of this cross with the Newfoundland dog had created a long-haired version of the St. Bernard. However, the long coat (although was thought may help the dog in the cold) only hindered the animal when the long strands of hair would freeze while traveling through the snow.
By 1810, the first group of St. Bernards made their way to England. The common name referred to them at this time was the “Sacred Dog”. Fifty years later, the dog became common place and was changed to its it current name, the St. Bernard.
Upkeep Requirements For The Saint Bernard
St. Bernards need exercise on a daily basis to stay healthy and fit. Just a few walks on the leash or a romp outside in the yard will be plenty. Many (new) proud owners of the breed make the mistake of keeping their St. Bernard puppies indoors but this living situation has the tendency to make puppies overweight, thus causing hip problems. It’s best to have a fenced-in yard that they can roam around in during the day, even as puppies.
It is not ideal for the breed to live in a hot climate, even if the seasons change to colder weather during the winter. They must have year-round cooler temperatures. Grooming requirements for the St. Bernard (whether you own a long-hair version or a short-hair version) consist of a thorough brushing about once per week, more when shedding. Drooling is also a common habit of these dogs.
Saint Bernard Health Concerns
The average life span of the St. Bernard is between eight and ten years. Major health problems that run common in the breed are ectropion, osteosarcoma, CHD, entropion, gastric torsion, and elbow dysplasia. Minor issues include heart conditions, hot spots, CVI, diabetes, OCD, cardiomyopathy, and seizures. Veterinarians suggest that the breed get specifically tested for eye, cardiac, hip, and elbow problems.
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