Big, bigger St. Bernard! The dog breed from Switzerland is one of the largest dog breeds in the world. And her heart? That’s just as big!
The bigger the dog, the bigger his heart? At least that is definitely the case with St. Bernard! Because the dogs are among the largest dog breeds in the world (and also among the heaviest), despite their powerful appearance and size, St. Bernards are among the most beloved dogs of all. They get along particularly well with children, which makes them ideal family dogs, provided there is enough space in the house.
St. Bernards gained worldwide fame mainly because of their role as avalanche dogs in the Alps and as the national dog of Switzerland. In our breed portrait, you can find out why St. Bernard is no longer so well suited as an avalanche dog, how it looks, how its character is developed, and what optimal care and husbandry look like.
How big is St. Bernard?
St. Bernard is one of the very large dog breeds. Adult males can be between 70 and 90 cm tall. Bitches also reach an average size between 65 and 80 cm.
How heavy is St. Bernard?
Not only because of their size but also because of their muscular body (with quite a bit of fur), the breed also weighs quite a bit: Males reach an average weight of between 90 and 120 kg and are therefore often even heavier than their mistresses and master. Bitches weigh an average of 65 to 90 kg. Saint Bernard is clearly one of the heaviest dogs in the world.
What does Saint Bernard look like?
The appearance of St. Bernard is primarily characterized by its size, but also by its physique. Even under the dense, wispy fur, you can see the muscular and strong body. The proportions are even and St. Bernard looks more harmonious and sublime than massive.
The neck, head, and muzzle are distinctive and wide. The clear characteristics of the dogs are the strong eyebrows, the pronounced furrow on the forehead, and the moderately pronounced facial wrinkles. The dog often has oversized flews that can hang down the sides. Therefore, there is often a drool alarm in this dog.
The coat color of St. Bernard is also striking: the thick coat is usually red and white spotted. Most often, the fur on the back, sides, and head is red, while the belly, chest, legs, and tip of the tail have white fur.
There are two different types of coats in the breed: the long-haired coat and the stick-haired coat. The long-haired coat predominates in most dogs today. Only a few representatives have – like the original St. Bernards in the Alps – stock-haired fur. Due to the long fur, however, the dogs are now completely unsuitable for use as avalanche dogs.
How old does St. Bernard get?
You probably expected it: similar to most other large dog breeds, the Saint Bernard has a shorter life expectancy than smaller breeds or even the smallest dog breeds in the world.
In addition, excessive breeding in the past has also meant that the life expectancy of the breed is not very high. On average, St. Bernards live up to eight years. However, some members of the breed can live to be ten years or older if they are in good health and care.
What is the character or nature of St. Bernard?
St. Bernard is similar in character to some other powerful breeds such as the Newfoundland: Despite (or because of) their size, the dogs with good-natured faces are extremely gentle, friendly, and even-tempered. The dog is very difficult to rouse. Probably because he knows he’s one of the greats.
At the same time, the breed is very sensitive, affectionate, and cuddly. The dogs need close contact with their family and are therefore not suitable for professionals who are away from home all day. Dogs don’t like being left alone for long periods of time.
St. Bernards get along extremely well with children and show the serenity of an ancient monk. Whether playing, romping around, or as a playmate at the doll’s table – St. Bernard is hooked on everything.
The dogs show a high protective instinct towards their family. However, due to her composure and a fine sense of mischief, this rarely comes to the fore. Nevertheless, future owners should always be aware of this protective instinct in order to avoid such situations or solve them with foresight.
The history of the St. Bernard
St. Bernard is one of those dog breeds that are world-famous not only for their beautiful looks but also for their history. The origin and namesake of the dogs is the hospice of the Augustinian canons on the “Great St. Bernhard Pass” in the Swiss Alps. The hospice itself was founded at the beginning of the 11th century as a refuge and hostel for people crossing the Alps. From the 17th century, the monks began breeding St. Bernard as protection and rescue dog for residents and travelers.
Especially as an avalanche dog, St. Bernard made a name for itself by the 19th century at the latest due to its fine nose, its high endurance, and its robustness in the snow. The rescue dog “Barry” in particular became famous at the beginning of the 20th century and went down in history because, according to legend, he is said to have saved over 40 people from avalanches and snowstorms.
Uniform breeding began around the 19th century in the hospice in Switzerland. To date, the appearance of St. Bernard has changed significantly through breeding. Today’s size and weight no longer have much in common with St. Bernard, which was originally used as an avalanche dog. It was smaller and also lighter. Because breeding has also placed more and more value on today’s typical long-haired coat, Saint Bernard is no longer considered suitable for use as a rescue dog in snowy areas.
The breeding of St. Bernard to become a pure family dog is now sometimes referred to as torture breeding, since the animals are increasingly struggling with health problems due to their heavy weight and size. In the meantime, however, the standards in Europe have become much stricter and the breed is gradually becoming healthier and more robust again.
St. Bernard: The right education
Despite their gentleness and composure, St. Bernards require a consistent and loving upbringing right from the start. If the dogs are still small, cuddly puppies, you quickly forgive one or the other non-behavior – and have already made the first mistake in training. Because once the dog is fully grown and thus also weighs up to 120 kilograms (!), you suddenly have a mess when it pulls uncompromisingly on the leash and you helplessly flutter behind it like a little flag in the wind.
As with quite a few dogs, stubbornness is also widespread in St. Bernard. However, if you start training the dog with the right mix of love, respect, and consistency and set clear boundaries right from the start, St. Bernard will become a very loyal and obedient companion for the whole family. It is important here to integrate the dog closely into family life and to always spoil it with lots of cuddling and stroking.
The right attitude
Due to its size, it is obvious that the breed does not lend itself to the cramped fourth-floor apartment with no elevator. Dogs should avoid climbing stairs as much as possible to protect their joints and health. A single-story home with a spacious garden is best suited for the gentle giant where he can let off steam to his heart’s content.
While young St. Bernards are still true whirlwinds, they become calmer and lazier with age. The breed is not suitable as a companion dog for endurance sports such as jogging or cycling, nor for dog sports such as agility. Instead, try activities like tracking and mantrailing with the dog.
Especially in summer, however, you have to make sure that the dogs don’t exert themselves too much, and it’s best to ensure that they cool down enough. In winter, however, the original alpine dogs often turn into real snow hares. You should therefore regularly plan a trip to the wintry mountains for your St. Bernard.
What care does St. Bernard need?
The St. Bernard’s long, the thick coat requires moderate grooming. Brush and comb the coat carefully on a regular basis. This is particularly important during the change of coat. A brush that also reaches the undercoat and removes it optimally is particularly suitable for caring for the fur.
For comprehensive care, you should also carefully clean your eyes and ears regularly to avoid infections. Since the fluffy dogs love close contact with their people, they will endure the care with enthusiasm.
What is important in nutrition?
Nutritious and healthy dog food for large dogs is a suitable diet. Above all, it should actively support the joints and health. Food with a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, for example, is suitable for this. Also, make sure you eat a really balanced diet. It is especially important for large dogs.
In order to avoid tartar, suitable dry food and treats are available for the dogs.
What are the typical diseases of St. Bernard?
Exaggerated breeding of St. Bernard has led to its current large and heavy appearance, which unfortunately is also associated with corresponding health problems.
Like many other large dog breeds, St. Bernard is affected on average by diseases such as hip dysplasia, bone cancer, and gastric torsion.
Due to the breed’s rapid weight gain, problems and diseases of the joints and bones also occur particularly frequently. That’s why it’s all the more important to save your dog from having to climb up and down stairs too often and to pay attention to a high-quality diet.
How much does a St. Bernard cost?
Fortunately, Saint Bernards are not one of the most expensive dog breeds in the world, but they are still not cheap. Prices for a puppy from a recognized breeder range from €800 to €1,800. However, the maintenance costs of the St. Bernard are much more expensive. Because the large and heavy animals also need appropriate equipment for their home and of course a lot more food than a small Chihuahua.
If you would like to add the gentle giants to your family, look primarily to recognized breeders. In Germany, numerous St. Bernard clubs are affiliated with the FCI, which follow strict standards and therefore attach great importance to healthy and robust puppies.
For example, one of the largest clubs for Saint Bernards with a remarkable history is the St. Bernhards-Klub e. V. Here you will find information and contacts for all registered breeders. Or you look at the animal shelter or at the animal emergency aid to see whether a homeless, good-natured, and plush giant is looking for a new home.