Sunday, May 9, 2010
By Ruthie Bently
The Saint Bernard is named for Saint Bernard de Menthon, a monk who founded a hospice for Alpine travelers in 1049, though the first reports of their presence there date to the seventeenth century. The Saint Bernard is thought to originate from the valley below the St. Bernard pass. Through interbreeding between native dogs and Molossus dogs, the Saint Bernard was formed. It’s believed the Saint Bernard came to the hospice via the monks there , to be used as guardians and companions during the long harsh winters. Their original use by Swiss dairy farmers was for hunting, watch dogs, herders and herd guardians, and as draft animals for the farmers taking butter and milk to market.
Before their name Saint Bernard came into use in the nineteenth century, they were known as Barry Hounds or Hospice dogs, Alpenmastiff and Saint Dogs. Saint Bernards have saved over 2,000 travelers in the Saint Bernard pass during the 300 years they’ve been used by the hospice monks. They became well established for their feats in rescuing stranded travelers by 1750. The most famous Saint Bernard was named Barry. In his ten year stint at the hospice from 1800-1810, Barry rescued forty people, which brought acclaim to the breed.
The Saint Bernard is a member of the working group. The Saint Bernard Club of America, formed in 1888, is one of the oldest specialty breed clubs in the United States. Saint Bernard’s are still used to find lost travelers during snow storms, as avalanche dogs, and are shown in AKC obedience and confirmation, as well as weight and cart pulling competitions.
The Saint Bernard has two coat varieties, long and short-haired, both of which are dense and shed copiously twice a year. A friend who breeds Saints mentioned the weather has a lot to do with how much and when they shed. It is this thick coat that protects them from snow and ice, and their keen sense of smell enables them to find buried avalanche victims. Males range in weight from 150 to 180 pounds and are 27-1/2 inches at the shoulder. Adult females range in weight from 130 to 160 pounds and are 25 inches at the shoulder. Saints must be a combination of white and tan or white and brindle, and the tan color can be any shade from a light brown to a deep red.
The Beethoven movies from recent years have hurt the breed because backyard breeders jumped on the bandwagon to produce dogs like him. Like most large breed dogs, Saints can suffer from hip dysplasia. They can also suffer from arthritis and heart disease in later years. They are a deep chested breed and can be susceptible to bloat. They can also have skin conditions, tumors and eyelid abnormalities. Make sure to request a certificate from your breeder that the puppy you purchase is free of hip dysplasia. You have the right to ask to see the mother to make sure she has normal skin and eyes before you purchase a puppy.
If you are considering getting a Saint Bernard, think long and hard about it. They take extra money and extra time, so if you are a workaholic this isn’t the right breed for you. They need to be regularly groomed, especially if they spend time in the woods or fields, as they’ll come home with burrs in their coats. Saints drool a lot and my friend Jean (the breeder) mentioned that if someone could find a use for the drool they could corner the market; she mentioned it is like glue. They need a big crate and it’s tough to carry them around in a Volkswagen, so a larger vehicle is a good idea. Their vet bills will be higher because any medication will have to be adjusted to their size and their feed bills will be higher because they eat more.
Saint Bernards need obedience training for proper manners as well as sufficient exercise for their size and energy needs. If they don’t have an energy outlet, they can literally be a “bull in a china shop” and become destructive in the house. A long walk two or three times a week is good exercise, and a sturdy fenced yard is suggested. Saints are devoted to their families and demand their families reciprocate. A Saint’s devotion to its family makes it easy to train, but don’t wait too long. A Saint Bernard can be 65 pounds by the time they are five months old, so you should begin training early.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently