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Saint Bernard

Country/Date of Origin: Switzerland/1000s

Legend is wrapped all around the history of this noble breed. Its exact origins are obscure but it is of the mastiff type that came across the Alps with the Roman legions. When the centurions left, some of the dogs remained behind and the Swiss used them for guarding, herding and draft duties. Around the year 1,000 that changed. Monks founded a hospice that was a refuge for travelers crossing the dangerous alpine passes between Switzerland and Italy. It was discovered that the dogs at the St. Bernard monastery had an uncanny ability to find people buried in avalanches or lost in the snow. Soon they were trained for the job of rescuing people. They are credited with saving more than 3,000 human lives. The Saint Bernard dogs were coveted around the world. At the turn of the century, show champions commanded record prices. The US breed club was founded in 1888 and Saints were among the most numerous exhibits at early AKC shows.

Other Names Body Type Personality Coat Health Concerns

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St. Bernhardshund

AKC Group: Working

Breed Club: Saint Bernard Club of America

Rescue Club: Saint Bernard Club of America Rescue

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Body Type:

  • A large, heavy member of the mastiff family. The head is massive with a short muzzle.
  • Height: 24-28 (at shoulder)
  • Weight: 110-200 pounds
  • The natural tail is long and carried low. It is not altered
  • Ears stand slightly away from the head at the base and then drop sharply, clinging to the side of the head. They are not altered
  • Face must have heavily furrowed wrinkles


  • Gentle and tolerant, especially with children
  • Does not fawn over strangers as a rule
  • Can be used as a watchdog
  • May be a fear biter or excessively shy


  • Saint Bernards come in both a rough and smooth variety, identical in everything except coat
  • The rough variety has a medium length double coat that is straight or slightly wavy. The smooth variety has a dense double coat of short hair that is harsh to the touch
  • Permissible colors are red with white markings, or white with red markings or brindle patches on a white ground. White markings require a white chest, feet and tip of tail, noseband, collar or spot on neck. The Saint Bernard can never be of a solid color without white. Dark shadings on the head and ears (mask) are highly desired
  • Sheds heavily in the spring
  • Moderate grooming required

Health Concerns:

  • Subject to hip dysplasia Prone to arthritis Possible hot-spot skin condition Congenital heart defects Bloat Subject to rage syndrome
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Tasty Tidbits:
  • Famous as Nana in the Peter Pan story and movie
  • Famous also for drooling
  • Although the rough coated Saint Bernard is most commonly seen, the monks preferred the smooth variety for working purposes. The heavier coated dogs got "iced up" in the snow. Snow compacts and forms little, hard iceballs that cling to the dog's coat and weigh it down
  • The Saint Bernard holds two records in the Guinness Book. Duke is the heaviest recorded member of the canine species. He weighed in at 295 pounds. Thor holds the record for weight pulling. In 1974 this 177 pound dog dragged 6,000 pounds of lead for the title

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