Gentle and dignified, the Saint Bernard is one of the most popular giant breeds. Its powerful and muscular build contrasts the wise, calm expression. The breed has either long or short hair, ranging in color from a deep to a more yellowed brown, with white markings always present.
Being powerful and well muscled, the Saint Bernard dog has the qualities required to travel through deep snow for miles. This tall and strong breed has an imposing stature. Its expression makes it look intelligent. The St. Bernard's coat, meanwhile, can be one of two varieties: one is smooth with dense and tough short hair and the other is longer with slightly wavy or straight medium-length hair.
Even though the Saint Bernard is not very playful, it is patient, gentle, and easy-going with children. It is willing to please and shows true devotion to its family. Sometimes the dog displays its stubborn streak.
The daily exercise requirements of the Saint Bernard are met with short runs and moderate walks. The dog is best when raised outdoors, keeping it away from smooth surfaces. Oversized puppies, which are brought up indoors, are susceptible to hip problems.
The Saint Bernard is not tolerant of heat; in fact, it loves cold weather. It does best when given access to the yard and the house. The coat requires weekly brushing and more frequently during shedding season. In addition, many St. Bernards have a tendency to drool.
The Saint Bernard breed, which has a lifespan of 8 to 10 years, may suffer from major health problems such as canine hip dysplasia (CHD), elbow dysplasia, gastric torsion, osteosarcoma, distichiasis, entropion, and ectropion. It is also prone to minor health issues like heart conditions, cardiomyopathy, Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD), diabetes, seizures, cervical vertebral instability (CVI), and hot spots. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may run hip, elbow, and eye exams on the dog.
Originating from the Roman Molossian dogs, the Saint Bernard developed into the impressive life-saving dog from 1660 to 1670. During this time, the first batch of these big dogs were brought to the St. Bernard Hospice, which was a refuge center for travelers moving between Switzerland and Italy. Originally, the breed helped in turning spits, pulling carts, and may have acted as companions or watchdogs, but soon the monks discovered that the dogs were exceptional pathfinders in snow. A Saint Bernard would track lost travelers, lick the lost person's face, lie next to him to provide warmth, and help revive him. The dog served this prized role for more than 300 years and saved as many as 200 lives.
The most renowned of the St. Bernard dogs was Barry, who saved some 40 lives. Prior to this dog’s death, the Saint Bernard were known as "Hospice Dogs," among other names. However, when the famous Barry died, the dogs were named Barryhund, after him.
In the early 19th century, numerous dogs died due to disease, severe weather, and inbreeding. In 1830, a few of those remaining were crossed with Newfoundlands, creating the first long-coated breed of the Saint Bernard variety. It appeared that long hair could protect the dog in very cold snow, but it was a hindrance as the snow stuck to the coat. Therefore, the long-haired varieties were not used for rescue work.
St. Bernards were exported into England in the mid-1800s, and were first referred to as the "Sacred Dog." By 1865, the breed was commonly referred to as Saint Bernard, and was registered by the American Kennel Club in 1885. At this time, U.S. dog lovers took a fancy to the breed, making the Saint Bernard extremely popular by 1900. The dog remains one of the most popular giant breeds today.