20 Cool Facts About Saint Bernards

The Saint Bernard is a breed of dog that is usually associated with rescuing people in the Alps with a barrel of brandy around its neck as this is the way they have been depicted in the media. This dog is also perceived as being a loveable and peaceful breed, despite its large size. Although this is a well-known canine breed, there are plenty of things that people do not know about Saint Bernards. Here are 20 cool facts about Saint Bernards that you probably didn’t know.

They Originate from the French Alps

Unlike many breeds of dog that are currently recognized by The Kennel Club that are actually reasonably new, the Saint Bernard is a breed with a long and interesting history. They share a history with the Sennenhunds and were originally the farm dogs of farmers living in the French Alps. The first written record of this breed dates back to 1707 when the monk of the hospice at the Great St. Bernard Pass wrote about these dogs and painted them. The monks were given their Saint Bernards by farmers living in the area. These dogs were smaller than the Saint Bernards we recognize today. Many of the saint Bernards dogs were wiped out in avalanches. However, the monks tried to improve them and preserve the breed by breeding them with Newfoundlands which they had come across after the breed was brought into the area.

They Are Descendants of the Molosser Type Dogs

Scientific studies have shown that it is likely that the Saint Bernard is most likely to be a breed that is a descendant of the Molasser type dogs from Roman times. The Ancient Romans brought Molossoid breeds to the Alps and it is believed that cross-breeding of these led to the creation of the Saint Bernard. This breed is now officially recognized internationally as a Molossoid breed. Some of the physical characteristics and personality traits of their earliest ancestors still remain in this breed to this day.

The Saint Bernard Was the First Registered Breed of the Swiss Stud Club

The Saint Bernard has achieved many firsts throughout its history and one of these was that it was the first breed of dog registered by the Swiss Stud Club. In 1884, the Swiss St. Bernard Club was founded in Basel and in the same year, the St. Bernard was the first registered breed entered into the Swiss Stud Club. However, the Saint Bernard was not considered an official standard breed until 1888. Ever since, the Saint Bernard has been considered the Swiss national dog, despite its origins being in France. The purpose of the stud book was to allow breeders to correct errors they found in working dogs. By breeding them with other working dog breeds, they could eliminate these errors and improve the breeds.

This Breed Has Not Always Been Called the Saint Bernard

The name by which this breed is now known is the Saint Bernard and this name comes from the monks of the Saint Bernard monastery from the hospice at the St. Bernards Great Pass who kept the dogs for rescue missions in the Alps. However, they were not known by this name until around the middle of the 19th century. The name of the dogs, the hospice, the Great Pass and the Little Pass are all named after an 11th-century monk called Bernard of Menthon who established the stations. Prior to this, the breed was known by many other names, including Saint Dogs, the Alpenmastiff, Barry Dogs, and Noble Steeds. The name Saint Bernard is now sometimes abbreviated to St. Bernard.

There Are Many Related Breeds

The Saint Bernard has many strong and desirable characteristics. It is strong, large, loving, loyal, intelligent, and makes a good companion. For this reason, it has been used in various breeding processes to create new breeds of dog that will take on some of the good characteristics of the Saint Bernard. It also shares ancestors with many breeds, so there are striking similarities. The Alpine Mastiff is an ancestor of both the English Mastiff and the Saint Bernard, therefore there are many similarities between these breeds. Other dogs with which the Saint Bernard shares similarities are the four Sennenhund breeds; the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Appenzeller, and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog. They are similar in appearance and come from the same region of the world. However, while Saint Bernard dogs are red and white, these four breeds are tricolor.

Saint Bernards are Classified as a Giant Breed

Dogs are categorized in accordance with their size. As one of the largest dog breeds, a Saint Bernard is classified as a giant dog breed. The average healthy adult will reach a height at the withers of between 28 and 35 inches. A Saint Bernard’s average weight is usually between 140 and 260 pounds. There are both long and short-haired varieties of this breed. Another interesting point is that the life expectancy of this breed is something of a matter for debate. While the breed clubs of the UK and the United States say that a Saint Bernard has an average lifespan of between eight and ten years, various breed surveys put the lifespan of a Saint Bernard at anywhere between seven and 13 years.

Various Kennel Clubs Categorize This Breed Differently

Kennel clubs across the globe categorize dogs into different groups and there are various criteria they use to do this. Not all kennel clubs have the same groupings or call similar groupings by the same name. For this reason, the Saint Bernard is in different groups depending on which of the clubs they are registered with. For example, the Saint Bernard is recognized as part of the Working Dog group by The Kennel Clubs of the United States, the UK, and Canada. It is in the Utility Group of the Australian National Kennel Council and the New Zealand Kennel Club. The United Kennel Club of the United States classifies the Saint Bernard as a breed in the Guardian Dog Group. According to the Federation Cynologique Internationale, the Saint Bernard is a Molosser in Group 2, Section 2.

Moscow Watchdogs Are Crossbred from Saint Bernards

An interesting bred that have been crossbred form Saint Bernards is the Moscow Watchdog. These were created by army kennels in Russia by crossing the Saint Bernard with Caucasian Ovcharkas, also known as the Caucasian Shepherd. It is believed that several other breeds of Spotted Hounds were used in the creation of the Moscow Watchdog. This breed has the size and appearance of the Saint Bernard but has inherited a range of other traits, such as assertiveness and alertness, from the other breeds used to make this new breed. The Russians continue to use this breed as military service dogs. This is a relatively rare breed of dog and just 27 are registered in the United States.

Saint Bernards Were Once Used as Mountain Rescue Dogs

The predominant working use of Saint Bernards was originally as mountain rescue dogs. Although they originate from farm dogs, the monks who kept them realized they had a good sense of smell and that they would be ideal for supporting search and rescue missions. Strangely, the monks never trained them how to do this. The younger dogs simply learned the role from the older dogs. Saint Bernards no longer play a role in mountain rescue missions and they last served in mountain search and rescue mission in 1955, even though the hospice remained until 2004. In most cases, Saint Bernards are now simply kept as loving family pets. However, some dogs are part of performance teams that show off the skills of this breed.

Several Saint Bernards Have Broken Records for Their Size

Although the Saint Bernard is well-known as a large dog, there are some examples of individual dogs of this breed that have well exceeded average expectations of the breed in terms of height and weight. This increase in size is possibly down to the fact that Saint Bernards were crossed with mastiffs to make a larger dog when Saint Bernards first came to England in the mid-nineteenth century. At that time, the most famous of these larger dogs was called Plinlimmon and he measured 34 ½ inches and weighed 210 pounds. He was sold for $7000 to an American. In 1981, a Saint Bernard called Benedictine V Schwarzwald Hof won a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. This dog came from Pierson, Michigan, and weighed a staggering 315 pounds. There are also reports from an 1895 edition of the New York Times that reports a dog measuring eight feet and six inches. If this report is true, then the Saint Bernard, called Major F., would be the longest dog in the world

It is Known as a Calm and Patient Dog

Each dog has its own set of characteristics. In the case of Saint Bernards, most of these are positive. It has become associated with personality traits including patience, loyalty, and gentleness. This may seem surprising giving the large size of the breed. Their traits make them ideal for keeping as family pets as the largest threat they pose is knocking over a small child. However, despite their gentle nature, it is still important to mix these dogs with children and in a variety of social settings from a young age. It is also important that training begins early.

There Are Some Health Problems to Which This Breed is Prone

Most breeds of dogs have specific health problems to which they are prone. This certainly applies to Saint Bernard dogs as there are several health conditions that have particularly high rates of occurrence with this breed. One of the major health problems associated with this breed is the deterioration of bones and this is caused by their rapid rate of growth. The best way to avoid this health problem is to make sure a Saint Bernard has a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. Other bone related conditions are bone cancer, hip dysplasia, and elbow dysplasia. Saint Bernards are also susceptible to eye disorders called ectropion and entropion. Both the conditions involve the dog’s eyelids turning inside out. Further conditions to which the Saint Bernard is prone include seizures, epilepsy, eczema, and dilated cardiomyopathy. Another condition linked to this breed which has sparked several scientific studies is polyneuropathy.

A Saint Bernard Was the Star of ‘Beethoven’

There are many examples of the Saint Bernard appearing in the media, but ‘Beethoven’ is one of the best examples of these as this breed of dog played the starring role. This 1992 family comedy film was about a family adopting a large but mischievous Saint Bernard they called Beethoven. The movie was directed by Brian Levant and co-written by John Hughes and Amy Holden Jones. It starred Charles Grodin, Bonnie hunt, Dean Jones, Oliver Platt, and Stanley Tucci. The film was a commercial success as it grossed $147.2 million from a budget of $18 million. It was also critically well-received and won the 1993 Genesis Award for the Best Feature Film.

In ‘Beethoven’s 2nd’ There Were Over 100 Saint Bernard Puppies Used

‘Beethoven’ was such a successful family film it spawned five sequels and three stand-alone films made suing the ‘Beethoven’ name. The first of the sequels was ‘Beethoven 2nd’ and this was released in 1993. This was written by Len Blum and directed by Rod Daniel. It starred Charles Grodin and Bonnie Hunt from the first film and also starred Debi Mazar and Chris Penn. In this film, Beethoven gets a love interest and becomes a father to a litter of pups. It is an interesting fact that over 100 Saint Bernard puppies were used in the making of this film. This was because Saint Bernard pups have such a fast growth rate that the filming and production couldn’t keep up with the growth of the puppies. Therefore, they needed constant replacements to finish the film. This sequel was also a success and grossed $118,243,066 from a budget of just $15 million.

The Saint Bernards Neck Barrel is a Myth

Carrying a neck barrel filled with brandy is something with which Saint Bernards are commonly associated. However, this is a complete myth as Saint Bernards have never carried a neck barrel filled with brandy. The monks from the hospice at the St. Bernard’s Great Pass have confirmed that none of the Saint Bernard dogs they have used for mountain search and rescue missions have ever worn a neck barrel filled with brandy. However, there is a theory about how this myth began. There is a famous painting from 1820 by a painter called Edwin Landseer. This features a Saint Bernard wearing a neck barrel and is titled ‘Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler’. This later became a famous engraving by Charles Landseer in 1831. This depiction of the breed is believed to have started the myth. In fact, it has become a standing joke that the Saint Bernard is the alcoholic of dogs and there are several comic strips featuring this breed drinking from their neck barrel. The monks have admitted that they posed their Saint Bernards in neck barrels purely for the entertainment of tourists.

Barry Was the Most Legendary Saint Bernard Rescue Dog

As previously mentioned, the role by which Saint Bernards are most commonly associated is as mountain rescue dogs. Although this was a role fulfilled by many dogs of this breed, the most famous of them was a dog called Barry. His full name was Barry der Meschenretter, although he is more commonly referred to simply as Barry. During his lifetime, this dog is credited with rescuing over 40 people from the perilous conditions of the Alps. One legend about this dog is that he found a young boy in the snow and rescued him by persuading the child to climb on his back and then carrying him to safety. There is another a legend that Barry was killed while attempting to rescue a traveler. However, this is a complete myth. He was actually happily retired to Bern, Switzerland. When he died, his body was given to the Natural History Museum of Bern where he was preserved. Since his death, there was always a dog called Barry at the hospice in his honor. In 2004, the Foundation Barry du Grand Saint Bernard was established to care for breeding dogs from the hospice.

A Saint Bernard Called Bamse was Honored for His World War II Efforts

Another role fulfilled by Saint Bernards is supporting the military forces during World War II. One of the most famous dogs to have fulfilled such a role was Bamse. His name is Norwegian for teddy bear and he was considered a hero. He became the mascot of the Free Norwegian Forces during World War II and was also made the official Allied Forces Mascot by the PDSA. He was bought by Captain Erling Hafto in Oslo and was taken to sea from a very young age. The vessel on which he sailed was called Thorodd. This vessel was drafted into the Royal Norwegian Navy at the beginning of the Second World War and this was when Bamse began his military service. Not only did he boost the morale of his crew, he was also well-known amongst the civilian population. One of his main riles while docked in Scotland was to round up the crew and escort them back to the ship. He would often travel back to the ship alone on the bus. Bamse died on the dockside at Montrose in 1944 from heart failure. He was buried with full military honors and his funeral was attended by hundreds of servicemen. He received many awards posthumously and there is still a commemorative ceremony every decade in honor of Bamse.

They Drool…. A Lot!

One problem with Saint Bernards is that they drool a lot and anyone who has ever owned a dog of this breed will agree. There are actually medical reasons for this drooling. Not only does the Saint Bernard have a large head, it is also an unusual shape for a dog and this is one of the main reasons why they drool. Furthermore, the shape of their jaw, their loose lips and the skin that hangs down around their mouths means that they produce much more drool than many other breeds of dog. There are many other factors that can contribute to the amount of drool they produce. These include overheating, hunger, and excitement. If you are an owner of a Saint Bernard, then these are points to bear in mind so that you can reduce the drooling behavior. One way in which Saint Bernards’ owners overcome this problem is by carrying a drooling rag around with them so they can wipe away some of the drool.

Saint Bernard and Kim Kardashian

Saint Bernards Are Popular with Celebrities

There are many celebrities who are huge fans of Saint Bernards and have owned one as a pet. British comedian Bernie Winters had a pet Saint Bernard called Schnorbitz. The dog worked alongside Winters as his on-stage partner during the later years of his career. Indian film actor Salman Khan is a big dog lover and has a Saint Bernard called Saint. He also owns a Retriever called Mowgli and a Napoleon Mastiff called Mylove. He has also had three French Mastiffs called Myson, Myjaan, and Veer. Another fan of Saint Bernards is actress Anna Kendrick and she has posted pictures of herself with her dog on social media.

They Helped Napoleon

There are many examples of how Saint Bernards have played a significant role in history. However, one of the most interesting stories is of how they helped Napoleon. Between 1790 and 1810, Napoleon and his army needed to cross a mountain pass in the Alps. They were supported in this task by a group fo dedicated Saint Bernard dogs. The support from these loyal animals and the assistance they gave is one of the predominant reasons why Napoleon and his army managed to travel through the mountain pass with no loss of life.


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