Well known for his starring roles in a number of Hollywood films like Beethoven, Peter Pan and Cujo, the St Bernard has been slowly rising the ranks on the American Kennel Club’s list of most popular dog breeds.
Although he is still not yet ranking amongst the most popular of purebred dogs in American households, the St Bernard is still a superstar in his own right. Beloved for centuries as a heroic rescue dog and made famous for his sweet demeanor, eagerness to please, and massive size, this giant dog breed makes for a wonderful addition to any family with youngsters or other household pets.
That said, the St Bernard dog isn’t the right companion for everyone. Would he fit into your home and lifestyle? Let’s find out.
Keep reading to learn more about the St Bernard.
What Is A St Bernard?
Considered gentle giants, St Bernards are some of the largest working dog breeds in the world.
Hailing from the Swiss Alps, the St Bernard dog was originally developed by hospice monks to serve as a rescue dog for lost or injured pilgrims traveling through the tretrouraous terrain. The breed is named for the monk who established the hospice in 1050, Bernard of Menthon.
For centuries the St Bernard, also spelled as Saint Bernard, rescued countless souls who got lost or became trapped in the snow covered mountains. Though successful, St Bernard dogs are no longer used for rescue missions in Switzerland today. That said, as of 1955, (when the last rescue mission with a St Bernard was recorded in the Alps) it was estimated that the breed was responsible for saving over 2,000 lives.
Today, the St Bernard is renowned not only for his incredible power, muscular build, and massive size, but also for his gentle nature, calm demeanor, and eagerness to please.
St Bernard Temperament And Personality Traits
St Bernard dogs are sweet, loving and great with children.
Despite his incredible size, the St Bernard is often described as a gentle giant. Peter Pan perhaps most perfectly captures the personality and disposition of the St Bernard by portraying the Darling Children’s own Saint Bernard, Nana, as their nursemaid.
While real life St Bernard dogs would not make ideal nannies, they do make wonderful additions to homes with little ones. They are sweet and patient, with a natural instinct to protect small children and other pets.
That said, St Bernards can have a tendency to be stubborn and will need proper training and socializing from an early age to learn what is expected of them.
St Bernards are also friendly and alert, but they are not as lively as one might assume for a dog who is known for powering through snow-covered mountains to dig people out of snow drifts. In fact, the St. Bernard is otherwise a docile dog with a very low-key temperament.
He enjoys watching the action from the sidelines and partaking in short bursts of playtime. His calm demeanor makes up for his very large size, which can be imposing upon first glance.
And speaking of the St Bernards very large size, let’s take a closer look at what this dog’s appearance could entail.
What Does The St Bernard Look Like?
St Bernards can weigh up to 200 pounds.
The St Bernard was bred as a rescue dog, and as such he needed to be big and powerful. This is a breed who was designed to pull people from avalanches and dig people from snow pits, so you can imagine it was important he was not only large but also strong.
Muscular, thick, and built for hard work, the St Bernard is one of the largest working dog breeds in the world.
Let’s take a closer look at the St Bernard’s overall appearance.
St Bernard Height: 26 – 30 Inches
St Bernard Weight: 120 – 200 Pounds
St Bernard Coat Color: Brown, yellow-brown, red and white, reddish-brown brindle, Reddish-brown mantle, Reddish-brown splash.
Coat Type: The St Bernard comes with both long and short hair. Both varieties have a thick, double coat that is weather-proof and sheds heavily.
St Bernard Appearance Overview:
Large and impressive, the St Bernard also has very big paws, a large head, shorter muzzle, and floppy ears. His sweet, round eyes and friendly face help reassure those around him that he is indeed a gentle giant.
How Do You Groom a St Bernard?
St Bernard dogs have two coat varieties including short and long.
Like all dogs, the St Bernard requires moderate and routine grooming. His ears should be cleaned and checked regularly to keep them free of waxy buildup, moisture and other debris and to prevent ear infections.
While the St Bernard does have two coat types, both varieties need about the same amount of grooming maintenance.
Grooming your St Bernard is moderate work, though these dogs are heavy shedders and shed most during shedding season, which is in spring and fall. Outside of shedding season, the St Bernard should be brushed once a few times a week with a deshedding tool and de-matting comb.
During shedding season, you may find that you will need to brush your St Bernard at least once a day to reduce and capture loose hair.
St Bernard dogs have a weather-resistant coat which helps to keep them comfortable in a variety of climates. With that being said, it is important not to shave your St Bernard in an attempt to keep him cool during the summer.
His thick, downy undercoat is designed to retain his body temperature in both hot and cold weather while his outer coat protects him from the elements like sun, snow, rain and wind. If you shave your double-coated dog, you are leaving him susceptible to heat stroke, sunburn, and hypothermia.
That said, the St Bernard can be prone to overheating and care should be taken to ensure he is properly monitored during more extreme weather conditions. Let’s talk more about the St Bernards overall health needs below.
The Average Lifespan and Common Health Issues Of A St Bernard
Like many large dog breeds, St Bernards have a shorter lifespan of only 8 to 10 years.
All dogs are susceptible to genetic health issues and the St Bernard is no exception. Unfortunately, very large dogs like the St Bernard can be prone to more serious health issues than some of his other canine counterparts. They also generally have a shorter lifespan.
St Bernards, on average, live between 8 and 10 years.
The most important health conditions a potential St Bernard owner should be aware of include:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Elbow Dysplasia
- And Gastric Torsion (AKA Bloat)
According the the National Breed Club, St Bernard dogs should undergo a series of recommended health tests including:
- Elbow Evaluation
- Hip Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- Degenerative Myelopathy DNA Test
- And Cardiac Exam
What To Know About Bloat In St Bernard Dogs
Because he is a very large, deep chested breed, the St Bernard is especially prone to suffering from bloat and any potential owner should be aware of this. Bloat is a serious and sometimes fatal condition that arises when air fills the stomach, causing it to twist.
Bloat can be caused by several different factors including eating too quickly, overexertion, eating too soon after exercising or playing, or eating too much at once.
If you notice any signs or symptoms of Bloat in your dog, take him to your nearest emergency vet immediately.
Luckily, there are ways you can go about preventing Bloat, including investing in a slow feeder, monitoring your St Bernard’s food intake, and ensuring he settles down after exercise before eating any meals.
You can also help prevent other potential health issues by following the below tips:
Ensuring your St Bernard gets proper exercise is vital to his overall health both mentally and physically. With that said, the St Bernard is a surprisingly low key dog in spite of his size and doesn’t require as much exercise as you may think.
In fact, experts agree that a good walk or hike every day should suffice. If walking or hiking isn’t your thing, a half hour to forty minutes of playtime in the backyard or dog park is enough to give your St Bernard all the exercise he needs.
A quality diet will not only keep your St Bernard looking and feeling his best, but it can also prevent future health issues in your St Bernard and even improve his lifespan. The best diet for a St Bernard is going to be a diet that is specified for large dog breeds and that will support their bones and joints.
Make sure your St Bernard’s food is made with quality ingredients like real meat proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. Try and avoid dog foods that are high in fillers, additives, byproducts, and artificial flavors.
While some dog foods can get expensive, there are some great dog foods that are affordable and healthy for St Bernards, so don’t be afraid to do your research.
Some owners also opt to feed their St Bernards homemade dog food. If you choose to do this, we suggest doing it with your veterinarian’s guidance to ensure your dog gets all the nutrients he needs and nothing essential is left out of his diet.
Grooming not only helps to collect and dispose of all that lose dog hair; it also helps keep your dog healthy. Properly grooming your St Bernard by making sure his teeth, ears, nails, and coat are clean and healthy will keep your dog living his best and most healthy life.
Routine Vet Visits
Last but not least, make sure you keep up on routine veterinary visits with your St Bernard. Wellness checkups are a great way to stay on top of your dog’s health and prevent future health issues.
What Are The Training And Exercise Requirements For A St Bernard?
St Bernards need daily walks or at least a half hour of playtime to stay healthy and happy.
For the most part, St Bernard dogs are eager to please and easy to train. Training should begin at an early age before St Bernards learn how big and powerful they are, as they do have a tendency to become stubborn.
Male St Bernards especially can be a bit hard headed, but most trainers agree that positive reinforcement, repetition, and consistency are key to ensuring your pup is well-mannered.
For the most part, St Bernard dogs are a joy to work with and they enjoy learning from their human family members. They are sensitive, however, and will not do well with punishment or scolding during training. Like many dogs, the St Bernard may even shut down if he feels you are becoming frustrated with him. Positive reinforcement training works best with St Bernard dogs, which means using lots of treats, praise and patience.
Along with training, the St Bernard should also be properly socialized at an early age to ensure they grow up happy, healthy and well-rounded.
You can socialize your St Bernard puppy by exposing him to as many new experiences as possible and ensuring these new experiences leave a good impression on him.
We also recommend handling your St Bernard often and gently playing with his paws, muzzle, ears, and tail during puppyhood so he grows up accustomed to having these sensitive areas on his body handled by people.
What Are Some Pros And Cons Of Owning A St Bernard Dog?
Saint Bernards are wonderful dogs for the right owner, but they are not right for everyone.
St Bernard dogs do make wonderful family pets, but they aren’t the best dog for everyone. Let’s go over some of the pros and cons you should consider before getting a St Bernard dog.
Pros To Owning A St Bernard:
- They are very intelligent
- They are mild-mannered and easy-going
- St Bernards are wonderful with children
- They require only moderate amounts of exercise
- They are eager to please and quick to learn
- St Bernards become very bonded to their families
Cons To Owning A St Bernard:
- St Bernards can be expensive to feed and keep due to their size
- Grooming and shedding can be quite extensive
- They are prone to several serious health concerns
- St Bernards have a shorter lifespan than some other dogs
- They are very large and need a good amount of space
What Is The Ideal Home Type For A St Bernard Dog?
Griff dogs do best in homes with adults and are not ideal companions for children.
Because St Bernards are so family-oriented, they do best in homes with families who are able to be around them often. If their social, mental, and physical needs are not met, St Bernard dogs do have a tendency to exhibit some behavioral problems including destructive behaviors like chewing and bathroom accidents.
They are also very large dogs who, while not as active as most, still require a good amount of space both inside and outside of the home.
Due to their size, they are not ideal apartment dogs and will do best in homes with at least some sort of yard to play in and large enough floor space for them to lay down where they are out of the way.
That said, St Bernards are wonderful dogs for families as they get along well with children of all ages as well as other household pets.
Choosing A St Bernard Puppy Or Rescue Dog – Tips On Finding The Healthiest St Bernard Possible
The average St Bernard puppy cost around $1,500 on average when purchased through a reputable breeder. (https://unsplash.com/photos/P4rrbhDQ-lU)
St Bernards can be susceptible to serious health problems, so it’s important to go through sources that implement responsible breeding practices and undergo health screenings for their St Bernard dogs.
Here are a few tips and tricks experts recommend you follow when looking to get the healthiest St Bernard dog possible:
Look For A Reputable Breeder
If you want to get your St Bernard puppy from a breeder, plan on spending around $1,500. While this is a steep price to pay upfront for a puppy, remember that trying to cut corners and save money by going through other sources could wind up costing even more in the long run.
One of the benefits of going through a breeder is that you can often count on your puppy’s health. Most reputable breeders will be able to provide you with a certificate of health proving that their puppies were screened for any of the major health issues prevalent in the breed.
Breeders can also give you insight into what your St Bernard puppy will grow up to look and behave like by allowing you to see the parent breeds.
Avoid Backyard Breeders and Online Sellers
$1,500 is certainly a lot of money to buy a dog from a breeder, which is why some people find themselves looking elsewhere for St Bernard dogs. However, remember that backyard breeders and online sellers could be affiliated with puppy mills, which are notorious for selling sick and dying puppies.
Buying a sick St Bernard puppy could wind up costing you much more than $1,500 in vet bills and lots of heartache if the sick puppy doesn’t make it.
Find A Reputable Shelter
If you can’t or are not willing to spend $1,500 for a dog but still have your heart set on a St Bernard, there are plenty of shelters and rescues that specialize in this large breed. rescuing a St Bernard dog has many benefits, especially when you go through a reputable shelter.
Adopting a St Bernard dog is not only going to be a fraction of the price of buying one from a breeder, but it is also going to give a dog in need a loving home and open up more room in the shelter for other dogs in need of care.
Communicate With The Shelter About Your Lifestyle
If you do plan on going through a shelter to rescue your St Bernard, make sure you communicate with the shelter about your lifestyle, schedule, and daily routine. This way the shelter can help find the St Bernard who will be the best fit for you and your family.
Exercise Patience – Sometimes You Will Need To Wait On A Waiting List
Not every dog is perfect for everyone. If you plan on rescuing your St Bernard but don’t “click” with one right away, be patient. You can even request to be put on a waiting list for certain St Bernard dogs through rescues or shelters if you are looking for something specific, like a St Bernard puppy, for example.
Our Five Favorite Products For St Bernard Dog Owners
Due to their size and special needs, there are some products we recommend potential St Bernard owners arm themselves with before getting their new puppy or rescue dog. For your convenience, we have listed some of our favorite five products for St Bernard dogs and their owners.
Take a look.
MidWest Homes For Pets XXL Dog Crate
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Because St Bernards are so big, it’s a good idea to give them a space that is all their own where they can rest and nap. When done properly, crate training your St Bernard can also help alleviate stress and anxiety when he is left alone.
The above crate by MidWest Homes is specially designed for large dogs like St Bernards who need extra space to stand up, lay down, and turn around. The crate is made with a double door opening to make exit and entry easier and durable material which prevents rust.
The Dog’s Bed orthopedic Dog Bed
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Not all dogs require an orthopedic dog bed, but very large dogs like the St Bernard are more susceptible to suffering from bone and joint issues as they age. Orthopedic dog beds like the one listed above can help alleviate pain and prevent further damage.
The above bed is made of Memory Foam and comes with a waterproof cover that is durable, strong, and machine washable. It is also available in a variety of sizes that range from small to XXXL, making it perfect for very large dogs like the St Bernard.
JASGOOD Slow Feeder Bowl For Large Dogs
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Since St Bernard dogs are so susceptible to Bloat, we highly recommend investing in a slow feeder bowl. Slow feeders prevent dogs from eating their meals too quickly, which is one of the most common causes of Bloat in dogs.
Slow feeders also help keep dogs busy and entertained during mealtime, as they are challenged in a fun and non-frustrating way when attempting to get their food.
The above slow feeder by JASGOOD is specifically designed for large dogs and is also specifically designed to prevent Bloat.
FURminator Undercoat Deshedding Brush
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Remember, the St Bernard is lots of dog with lots of fur. He is a heavy shedder, so it’s important to invest in a quality grooming tool that will not only keep him free of tangles and mats but will also remove all the loose dog hair.
The FURminator deshedding tool is one of our favorites. It is a self-cleaning deshedding brush specifically designed to get into the undercoat of double-coated dogs’ fur and remove shed hair while also reducing the amount of shed fur on furniture and clothing.
You can order the brush in different sizes but for the St Bernard we would recommend ordering a Large.
Dogswell Vitality Dry Dog Food
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Last on our list is a dog food specifically designed to support your St Bernards joints. The above dog food by DogsWell is made with real meat protein and includes chondroitin and glucosamine for healthy joints and hips.
We also like that it has no artificial flavors, sugars, wheat, or soy and is rich in superfoods that are good for large breed dogs. It also has a balanced level of proteins, carbohydrates, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that your St Bernard will need to thrive.
So, what do you think? Has this overview of the St Bernard dog made you want to get one for yourself, or would you prefer finding a dog that is a bit smaller? Let us know what you think about this gentle giant in the comment section below.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.