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rec.pets.dogs: Saint Bernards Breed-FAQ

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Archive-name: dogs-faq/breeds/stbernard
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Last-modified: 05 Mar 1998

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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
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It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
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                               Saint Bernards

   Cindy Tittle Moore This version is Copyright 1995-1997 by CTM,, 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
   Revision history:
     * November 1994
       Converted to Web format; some typos, etc. corrected
     * March 1995
       Updates from (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

     * Description
     * History
     * Characteristics and Temperament
     * Some Questions You May Have About the Saint Bernard
     * Health Issues
     * Resources
          + Books
          + 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
   mid-nineteenth century.
   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.

  Early History
   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
   International Standard.
   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
     tied up.
   _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.
Health Issues

   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.
  Hip Dysplasia
   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
   much higher.
   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
   full size!
   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.
  Other conditions
   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,
          USA, 303-936-9744).
   _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,
          1978, 77-92120.
   _Saint Bernards_
          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
   _Saint Fancier_
          (official publication of the SBCA, available only to members)
          Lynn Jech, 11446 W. Hidalgo Ave., Tolleson, AZ 85353 (602)
  Breed Clubs
    United States
   _Saint Bernard Club of America, Inc._
          Corresponding Secretary
          Penny Janz
          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
          TAS 7050
   _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,
   _Bernhardinerna Sweden_
          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.
          Waterford, IRELAND
   _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
    New Zealand
   _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
    South Africa
   The S.B.C. Transvaal
          Mara Morriset, P.O. Box 6425, Birchleigh - Kempton Park, South
          Africa 1620
  Online Resources
   There is an E-mail discussion group for St. Bernard fanciers. To
   subscribe, send an email message to:
   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,
                                 Hosted by
                                  K9 WEB 

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