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Saint Bernard Dog Breed Information, Personality, Health, Grooming, And Nutrition

Written by: Peter Laskay
Reviewed by: Amber LaRock
Last updated on:
saint bernard

Have you seen the movie, Beethoven? Then you probably know Saint Bernard dogs. There is no person who would not like these huge but pious animals. Despite their size, they are very kind and real family friends. In my article, I will write about the history of the breed, its characteristics, nutritional and grooming needs, and other important information. If you are wondering if the Saints are the right dogs for you, be sure to read this writing.

Let’s start!

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Basic stats:

  • Height: 28-30 inches (male) and 26-28 inches (female)
  • Breed Group: Working Dogs
  • Weight: 140-180 pounds (male), and 120-140 pounds (female)
  • Life span: 8-10 years

About Saint Bernards In Brief

Saint Bernards are known to almost everyone. Most people associate this breed with movies or alcoholic beverages. You must have come across the classic depiction of these dogs. A bottle marked with a cross is attached to their collar.

St. Bernards have served as working dogs for centuries. They saved people from the cold winds and snow of the Alps. This is not at all surprising, as their physical and mental abilities are also excellent. They are very kind, intelligent, gentle, and they love people. However, they have a huge muscular body. They can reach 30 inches in height and weigh up to 180 pounds. Their hair can be long or short.

As I mentioned Saint Bernards are very nice dogs. This makes them really family-friendly companions. They feel good inside the house. However, they should be provided with access to the courtyard and some daily walks.

If you want a dog like this, it’s important to know that they can cause a lot of mess. They drool a lot and shed their fur. In addition, they love mud and dirt, which easily get stuck in their hair. Your future St Bernard will have a wonderful personality, but you will have to clean up a lot because of him.

Saints are real social beings. They demand humans’ company. Therefore, the most important thing for such puppies is to be at home with their family. They are not aggressive, but their defensive instincts are huge. If there is any threat, you can definitely count on this huge breed.

Saint Bernards are gentle and patient. They’re not specifically playful, but they do well with kids. However, due to their size, you should not leave them unattended with your children.

They do not require much exercise. Because these dogs are accustomed to cool climates, strenuous jogging, for example, should be avoided on hot summer days. Saints get heat stroke easily in warm conditions, so instead of training, they should be provided with shade and enough fresh cold water. But believe me, in the winter months, your Saint Bernard will be able to play with you in the snow for any length of time.

Unfortunately, like other giant dogs, Saint Bernards are not long-lived. Their average lifespan is 8-10 years. At the same time, they are also prone to various genetic diseases.

Saint Bernard is a very popular breed. For anyone who wants a huge, kind, intelligent dog with low exercise needs, I would definitely recommend these amazing creatures.

History of Saint Bernards

Saint Bernard dogs originated from Switzerland by crossing Mastiff type dogs and dogs native to the Alps. By the first millennium CE, dogs in Switzerland were simply called Talhund, or Bauernhund.

St. Bernards got their name from the Saint Bernard Pass. It is a very well-known alpine pass with an altitude of about 8000 feet. The passage is so rugged that it is only possible to pass through it during the summer months. It was named after archdeacon Bernard de Menthon in 962 AD. Bernard de Menthon founded a hospice to help travelers who crossed the pass and were injured or were in trouble somehow.

The history of St. Bernard dogs began here. We don’t know exactly when these dogs’ service was first used by the hospice. The oldest written records of these dogs from the monastery date back to 1703. At first, the monks used them to guard the area. When searching for the lost travelers, they also took the dogs with them for protection. Then they discovered that St. Bernard dogs are very good pathfinders and can easily find lost unlucky travelers. Saints later became dogs that can withstand even the harshest weather conditions. In addition, their physical qualities allowed them to become the perfect search and rescue dogs.

The breeding herd of Hospice was unique and almost completely isolated. Sometimes a replenishment was needed, which was resolved with dogs from the lower valleys. However, in many cases, these dogs were puppies of hospice dogs that were not needed at birth. In 1830, St. Bernards were crossed with the Newfoundlands. The goal was to achieve a thicker coat. Since ice easily accumulated in the long coats of the new dogs, it soon became clear that this was not such a good idea. The monks were forced to give away all the long-haired dogs.

In the three centuries of Hospice, these dogs have rescued more than 2,000 people. They did not have a specific breed name for a long time despite being famous and well known. One of the most famous hospice dogs was named Barry. In his honor, the hospice dogs were often referred to as Barryhunden.

Hospice dogs have also been noticed in other countries. The English called them Sacred Dogs and imported plenty of them into England. Their goal was to cross them with their own Mastiff. The Germans wanted to give the breed the name Alpendog. In 1833, a man named Daniel Wilson suggested that these dogs be called Saint Bernards. Almost 50 years later, this has happened. In 1880, the Swiss Kennel Club recognized this breed.

As these dogs became popular in several countries, a wide variety of crossbreeds were inevitable. In other countries, the breed became thinner and taller. The first breed standard was determined in Zurich in 1887. This was accepted in most countries.

One of the most famous Saint Bernard in the United States was Plinlimmon, who was an actor’s dog and has won several dog shows. In 1888, the Saint Bernard Club of America was founded. The club accepted the above-mentioned Swiss breed standard. The American Kennel Club has also registered this breed and is currently ranked 39th place.

Nowadays, Saints are very popular. They can be found as family dogs, at dog shows, and even in movies. There are such dogs in Saint Bernard Hospice in Switzerland to this day. Although their purpose today is more to illustrate the past.

Some Interesting Facts About Saint Bernards

  • St. Bernard has many related breeds (e.g. Bernese Mountain Dog, and Appenzeller)

  • Saint Bernard is a giant breed

  • There are specific health issues to which this breed is prone

  • The best known St. Bernard movie star starred in Beethoven

  • A bottle full of brandy attached to their necks is just a myth


Saint Bernards are extremely friendly dogs. They have a calm and kind temperament and get along well with the kids. They are easy to train, but it is worth starting the training as soon as possible. Clearly, St. Bernard puppies are easier to teach than adults. 

Sometimes they can be stubborn, but they are never aggressive. The only exception to this is when a family member is in danger.

Like other breeds, early socialization is necessary for Saint Bernards. It is important for the proper development of their personality that they are exposed to a wide variety of voices, people, animals, and experiences at a young age. So they can become well-rounded dogs.

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Health care

Saint Bernards are basically healthy dogs. However, there are some health conditions to which they may be prone. I will detail these below. You should know that this does not mean that all of the listed diseases will occur in your Saint. Moreover, it is conceivable that none will occur. 

When buying a new puppy, always consult an experienced and reliable breeder. A good breeder can show you the health clearances of your puppy’s parents. This is one of my most important pieces of advice.

  • Hip Dysplasia: It is an inherited condition. The thighbone in dogs with hip dysplasia does not fit properly into the hip joint. Symptoms include pain and lameness. In some cases, this condition may be asymptomatic. It can later develop into arthritis. As this is an inherited disease, dogs suffering from it should not be bred.

  • Elbow dysplasia: Like hip dysplasia, it is also an inherited disease. The elbow is made up of three bones. In elbow dysplasia, these three bones grow at different rates. This unfortunately results in joint laxity. The most common symptoms are pain and lameness. This condition can be treated surgically.

  • Entropion: During the disease, the eyelid rolls inwards, causing irritation and sometimes injury to the eyeball. The disease causes dogs to rub at their eyes. Fortunately, this condition can be treated surgically.

  • Epilepsy: It is an inherited disease that causes seizures of varying severity. The condition can be caused by many things. For example, metabolic disorders, tumors, infectious diseases, poisoning, or head injuries. In some cases, the cause is completely unknown. Epilepsy is treated with medication, but it is not a curable disease. With proper management, any epileptic dog can live a normal life. If your dog has a seizure, take him to the vet immediately.

  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy: In this disease, the heart muscle becomes so thin that it will be unable to contract normally. As a result, the heart works harder and enlarges. Symptoms include abnormal heart rhythm, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, difficulty breathing, and so on. Unfortunately, the disease cannot be cured, but it can be treated with rest, proper diet, and medication.

  • Cataracts: Cataracts are a medical condition that also occurs in humans. The eye becomes cloudy, opacity develops on the lens. This causes difficulty in seeing. Cataracts mainly develop in elderly dogs. It can be removed surgically.

  • Allergies: Almost all breeds are prone to allergies, including Saint Bernards. Allergies can be contact allergies or food allergies. The former can be a reaction to touching something. Examples are shampoo, bedding, dust, and so on. The latter is a reaction to some food. In both cases, it is worth treating the allergy in such a way that the root cause must be removed from the dog’s life and diet. In some cases, medication may also be needed.

  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus: This is also known as bloat. In most cases, it occurs in large, deep-chested dogs. Triggers include one large meal once a day, eating too fast, or strenuous exercise after a meal. Older dogs are more at risk for this condition, but it can occur at any age. In the case of bloat, the stomach fills with air and twists. The dog is in no way able to get rid of excess air. Blood cannot return to the heart properly. Because of this, blood pressure drops in a critical way, which can even be fatal for the dog. Possible signs include a distended abdomen, excessive drooling, restlessness, and depression. If you notice any of these signs, be sure to take your puppy to the vet.

Feeding and nutrition

High quality is very important when it comes to food. You may want to get the best dog food for Saint Bernards. Such food has usually been developed for large breeds, in many cases with the help of veterinarians. The average daily dose is about 5-6 cups. To avoid bloat, divide this into two meals during the day.

The exact amount depends on many factors. What matters is your dog’s age, gender, activity, etc. If you want to be sure, ask your veterinarian for an opinion and look at the recommendations on the product packaging.

Like most dogs, St. Bernards love to eat. This can increase the risk of obesity. Taking two meals a day and monitoring your dog’s weight can help avoid unnecessary weight gain.

Treats can be useful during training. But be careful not to give too much of these to your Saint. Also, pay attention to human foods. These are good in many cases, but some contain too many calories, or worse, are unhealthy or dangerous to dogs.

Overall, you can do a lot for the health of your St Bernard with the right diet and the right amount of exercise.

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Coat and grooming

There are two types of coats in these dogs. The short coat is dense and smooth. The hair on the thighs is shaggy and the hair on the tail is long. The long coat is a bit wavy. The hair on the front and hind legs and on the tail are slightly feathery.

The color of this breed is white and red. The red color on their coat has many shades. They have a white dot on the back of their necks and a stain reminiscent of a white flame on their foreheads. The color of their ears is usually darker.

You don’t need a lot of tools to groom your Saint. For short-haired dogs, get a rubber curry brush or hound glove. I recommend a pin brush for long-haired dogs. When your Saint sheds his fur, a shedding blade also comes in handy. This will remove excess loose hair. If you notice that mats have developed in your dog’s coat, be sure to try to get rid of them.

There is no need for frequent bathing. Make sure you only use dog shampoo. This is important because dogs and humans have different pH levels. With a suitable dog shampoo, you can avoid dry skin and irritations on your pooch’s skin. Stains often appear around the eyes of Saint Bernards. These eye stains are easy to get rid of with the help of products developed for this purpose.

In addition to hair and skincare, it is also important to take care of your dog’s teeth, nails, and ears. Grooming puppies’ teeth mean 2-3 brushing a week. This will prevent the build-up of tartar and the bacteria in it. I recommend daily brushing to avoid gum disease and bad breath.

Your dog’s nails should be trimmed once a month. It is possible that your dog will wear them down naturally, in which case this is not necessary. When trimming, also cut the hair between the nails. Consider so-called dog nail grinders. These can be very useful tools if your dog is afraid of trimming.

Check your Saint’s ears regularly. If you find dirt, use an ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian. Be careful not to get anything in the ear canal.

Grooming processes can be unpleasant for dogs in many cases. You can avoid this by starting to get your own dog used to these in time. As soon as he is a puppy, take his paws in your hands, examine his mouth, eyes, and ears often. After grooming, don’t forget the praise and reward. As a result, it will all be a positive experience for him, and later veterinary visits will be easier.

Always check your dog’s body while grooming. Look for infections, wounds, rashes, allergic reactions, etc. With these simple steps, potential health problems can be identified in a timely manner. Home grooming is easy to learn, but if you’re not sure about your business, visit a professional.


St. Bernards do not require much exercise. A longer daily walk or a short half-hour of play is sufficient for them. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t like to exercise more than that. 

If you want to walk or hike for a longer period of time, your Saint will be happy to go with you. You can plan almost any activity with him. However, be careful to provide him with enough shade and fresh cold water in warm weather conditions.


Because of their huge body, early socialization and puppy training classes are of paramount importance to St. Bernards. In the training, they learn not to jump on people, especially children, and not to steal people’s food and other objects.

St. Bernards are kind and extremely intelligent. Because of this, it is very easy to understand what the trainer and the owner expect from them. They can learn various commands.

These dogs need company, especially the closeness of their family. If they don’t get this and are left alone regularly, they can develop bad behavior.

Behavior With Children And Other Pets

Saint Bernards get along very well with kids. They are extremely patient and gentle. They do not take advantage of their physical abilities at all, instead, they behave cautiously. Nonetheless, I advise you not to leave your children unattended with your Saint.

Teach your dog what to do and what not to do with children. Of course, this is also true for your children. Teach them where and where not to caress the dog. Also, teach them things like not to disturb dogs while eating.

St. Bernards also do well with other pets. Of course, early socialization helps a lot in this. However, for smaller dogs or cats, some caution does not hurt.

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Saint Bernards are very special dogs. Alongside their vast bodies, there is an even greater soul and personality. I am confident that thanks to my article you can decide if this breed is right for you. Remember, don’t buy a dog for your home if you can’t take care of him. Saints require little exercise, but you may need to clean up a lot after them. But I think it’s worth all the effort to have such a beautiful dog.

Frequently Asked Questions About Saint Bernards

Is a St Bernard a good family dog?

The answer is clearly yes! Despite their huge size, these dogs are smart, patient and gentle. They love their families more than anything. They are not aggressive, but when it comes to their loved ones, they are capable of anything.

Are Saint Bernards dangerous?

Saint Bernards have been bred for virtually centuries to save people. They pose no danger to anyone at all. However, due to their huge size, it is worth paying attention when playing with them.

Are St Bernard puppies lazy?

Saints are a little lazy in adulthood. They sleep a lot and require less exercise than other dogs. Puppies, on the other hand, are more active and energetic. They will “slow down” a bit later.

Do St Bernards turn on their owners?

No. These dogs do not attack their owners, at least not more often than other dogs. Don’t forget early socialization and puppy training classes.

Do St Bernards bark a lot?

St. Bernards are peaceful animals and usually don’t bark much. If they bark, there is always a reason for it.

Photo of author
Hey, my name is Peter, and I am the owner of this site. I have loved animals since I was a kid. I am constantly training myself; I recently obtained an accredited certificate in pet nutrition. But I am constantly learning about training, grooming for dogs and cats. I am currently a happy owner of two dogs, six cats, and two red-eared sliders. My goal is to provide my visitors with the most authentic information possible on any pet-related topic.
Amber LaRock
Reviewed By An Expert:

My name is Amber, and I am a licensed vet tech with 10 years of experience in the field. I spent the majority of my career working in emergency medicine but recently transitioned to creating accurate pet care information online. There is nothing more important to me than helping pet owners understand their furry friend’s health, and giving you the tools you need to offer your pet the best future possible!