The breed takes its name from the Hospice of the Great Saint Bernard Pass which was founded in AD980 by St Bernard de Menthon as a refuge for travellers through the dangerous Alpine pass between Switzerland and Italy. By 1707 the overworked monks realised that dogs with their superior noses, strength and weather-resistant coats were better equipped to rescue travellers. They had an in-bred sense of direction which was the key to survival in blizzards which caused humans to become totally lost and disorientated. Early records have been lost but by 1800, the monks had established their own breeding programme, calling the dogs Alpine Mastiffs. Edwin Landseer painted these dogs on canvas, one entitled, 'Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller' portrayed two dogs standing over a fallen traveller. One of the dogs was baying for help, and the other had the well-known brandy cask around its neck, attempting to revive the man by licking his hand. This famous, though non-existent brandy keg has carried as a symbol through the years. Tales of great rescues were reported with one of the most famous dogs, Barry, having saved the lives of 40 people. On his 41st mission, the traveller killed the poor dog in a 'fit of cowardly terror'. Around 1810 the breed was often referred to as Barry hounds. In the 1830's many of the dogs were lost due to interbreeding, disease and bad winters causing the monks to outcross the remaining dogs with Newfoundlands, Great Pyrenees and also, it is thought, Great Danes. This established the St Bernard's breed. Today the breed is still a mascot at the monastery. In 1870 the Reverend J C Macdona, an English owner, brought the breed before the public, making a sensation in America. In 1877 the first St Bernards' were shown at Westminster Kennel Club and in their catalogue, asking prices for sales of some of the breed reached US$1000. The breed still enjoys tremendous popularity in America, although its numbers in Britain and the Continent remain limited.



One of the instantly recognisable breeds, St Bernards stand tall with massive frames which make them so remarkable. They are muscular dogs with powerful, imposing heads, and are capable of covering very rough ground with unhurried, smooth movements.

Size Giant
Colour This breed can be solid white with red markings; solid red with white markings or brindle patches with white. There are both long and short haired St Bernards.
Coat Length Short Medium
Weight/Height Range The dog stands at a minimum of 70cms and the bitch at 65cms. There are no upper limits but the tallest recorded is 91cms. Their weight depends on the size and build of the dog or bitch but is normally around 68 to 91 kgs.
Ailments The very size of St Bernards make them susceptible to a variety of skeletal and bone-related problems. Hip dysplasia is a very serious problem and parents must be hip-scored with good results before any breeding takes place. The eye problems are less serious and hemophilia B and epilepsy, whilst infrequent, have been reported. Care must be taken not to exercise 1-2  hrs after feeding to avoid gastric dilation & torsion.
Breed Classification St Bernards belong to the pastoral group and their true function is search and rescue work. They make excellent family pets and, of course, are admired in the show-ring.

Feeding & Ownership

Feeding St Bernard puppies takes knowledge, time and money. It is imperative they are given the correct feeding when young to ensure correct growth and development of bones. Advice must be taken from the breeder as diet greatly affects this breed's orthopedic well being. Over-supplementation, along with feeding lesser quality food can result in growth complications.

Food Cost More than $20
Other Expenses Definitely one of the most expensive breeds to own, with large feeding bills. Yearly health check-ups at your vet are to be recommended.



A 'gentle giant' sums up the character of the St Bernard. They are good-humoured, trustworthy and benign. This is a breed that loves family life and revels in the company of children. They are very loyal dogs who rarely bark, but will defend you and your possessions if necessary. They normally accept other household animals with no problems. The breed is not the most extroverted but is a slow, deep thinker.


Intelligence Because they are slow thinkers, St Bernards require a lot of understanding from their owners during training. Young dogs must be taught from an early age not to pull on their leads as this habit will be difficult to break when they are older.
Energy Medium
Suitability for Children High
Tendency to Bark Low
Overall Exercise Requirement Exercising St Bernard puppies must be done very gradually to avoid putting excess strain on their growing bones and tender tissues and, even with the adult dog, care must taken to build up exercise gradually. Having said that, for their size they really do not need copious amounts of exercise. As puppies, they must not be allowed to go up and down stairs. Care must again be taken if giving free running off the lead to ensure they do not damage their limbs. Roadwork is ideal to keep them controlled and muscled up. Do not exercise after feeding.
Suitability as a Guard Dog Medium
Ease of Transportation Low
Level of Aggression Low
Other Animal Compatibility High



Grooming is not a problem apart from the amount of coat to get through! St Bernards need brushed or combed daily to remove loose hairs. The ears should be kept clean and the eyes checked very regularly, especially those dogs with drooping eyelids. St Bernards are clean animals but do tend to slobber.

Grooming Requirements Every Day
Amount of Hair Shed Heavy

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