Dog Breed Guide – Saint Bernards

All You Need to Know About Saint Bernards

All You Need to Know About Saint Bernards

Saint Bernard’s also are known as Alpine Mountain Dogs or Alpine Cattle Dogs. They are large breed working dogs that originated from the Western Alps in Italy and Switzerland. They are thought to be descendants of molosser type of dogs brought into the Alps by the ancient Romans.

They were breed to work as rescue dogs at the Great Bernard pass hospice built by the Italian monk Bernard of Menthon.

Originally the St. Bernard’s were the size of the German Shepherd dogs but have grown in size as kennel clubs and dog shows placed more emphasizes on the appearance over the dog’s working ability along with a closed studbook.

St. Bernards are known for their easy-going and friendly persona. They rank 49 out of 191 in popularity according to the American Kennel Club.

Physical Characteristics

Saint Bernards are large breed dogs with a block-shaped body, a fluffy tail, and droopy skin and ears.

They weigh approximately between 140-180 pounds (male), 120-140 pounds (female), and stand at a height of between 28-30 inches (males), 26-28 inches (female) at the withers.

They have both a long and short coat with the long coat having curly or wavy fur. Both coat types have dense fur. They are brown/red in color with white markings or a mahogany brindle with white. Black shading is usually found on the face and ears.

Their tails are fluffy and heavy, hanging low.

They have brown eyes though at times they can be icy blue with tight eyelids and a slightly visible nictitating membrane.

They have a life expectancy of between 8 to 10  years.

Temperament and Personality

St. Bernards make good family dogs owning to their calm and patient temperament. They are affectionate and enjoy the company of their families.

They are prone to separation anxiety and should not be left alone for long periods of time.

They get along well with children of all ages but playtime should be supervised as they can topple over toddlers. They can be difficult to train as they are naturally dominant. Training should be firm and consistent with the owner making sure the dog knows that he is the leader of the pack.

They can also be aggressive, stubborn and overprotective of their property especially when around other males of the same breed. They should, therefore, be socialized early to enable them to coexist with other animals and strangers alike.

This dog breed requires plenty of exercises to keep him healthy. He needs a compound to run around making apartment living not conducive for them especially with their large frame.

Living Conditions

St. Bernards make perfect housemates. They are kind, affectionate, loyal and easy-going.

They are gentle around children though playtime should be supervised as they can topple toddlers over.

They are prone to separation anxiety when left alone for long periods of time as they enjoy the company of family. Busy owners should consider enrolling them in a dog daycare or have a dog sitters over when away for periods of time.


St. Bernards are heavy shedders and require regular brushing at least once a week. During spring and fall, they shed more and therefore grooming should be done more regularly to keep loose hair under control.

Their ears should also be kept clean and dry to prevent bacterial or fungal infections. Nail clipping should be done at least once every month.

They are also quite slobby and they usually sling water, drool, or food debris everywhere when they shake their heads. Always remember to wipe their mouths.


Though naturally healthy dogs, St. Bernards are predisposed to various health conditions. Due to their big frame, they are prone to joint and structural problems especially when young.

They should be kept lean as they are prone to obesity and strenuous exersice kept at a minimum to prevent joint problems that may affect them later in life.

Common health conditions affecting this breed include:

  • Hip dysplacia : This is a  genetic deformity in which the head of the thigh bone doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket. Over time the constant rubbing on the joint may lead to cases of arthritis which often cause joint stiffness and lameness. Elbow dysplasia is also common. It occurs similarly though affecting the elbow.
  • Osteochondrosis : This is a defect in the formation of growing cartilage that causes it to fragment. It usually appears in dogs younger than 1 year.
  • Heatstroke
  • Cardiomyopathy : These are conditions that affect the heart muscle.
  • Cancers such as osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
  • Ectropion refers to when the lower eyelids droop or roll out. It can affect one or both eyes. It is often inherited and has a strong tendency to occur in dogs with loose droopy skin.
  • Entropion is an abnormality of the eyelids in which the eyelid rolls inward. This inward rolling often causes the hair on the surface of the eyelid to rub against the cornea resulting in pain, corneal ulcers, perforations, or pigment developing on the cornea which can interfere with vision.
  • Hypothyroidism occurs when your dog is not secreting enough of the thyroid hormones, causing your dog’s metabolism to slow down.
  • Gastric torsion (bloat)  gastric dilationtwisted stomach, or gastric torsion occurs when the stomach becomes overstretched and rotated by excessive gas content. GDV is a life-threatening condition in dogs and requires prompt treatment. It is common in deep-chested breeds such as the St. Bernard.
  • Bloat occurs when there is gas distension without stomach torsion.

Before acquiring a puppy, pet owners should research on reputable breeders. They usually produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for defects and deemed healthy for breeding.

Ideally, they should have written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) clearing your puppy’s parents of hip and elbow dysplasia, heart disease, and eye problems. PennHip certification of hips is also accepted.


Saint Bernards are loving, easy going and calm dogs that make excellent family dogs. They get along well with children of all ages and other animals.

They require plenty of exercises and a healthy diet to maintain a lean frame as they are prone to obesity. This makes also apartment living not suitable for them considering their large frame too.

They enjoy the company of their family and are prone to separation anxiety when left alone for long periods of time.

They require regular grooming as they are heavy shedders, especially during fall and spring.