The ancestry of the St. Bernard easier than that of many breeds due to the excellent records kept from an early date by the monks of the hospice at St. Bernard. It is believed that Mastiff-type dogs entered the region with their Roman masters about a hundred years before the birth of Christ. These Molassers, also referred to as Tibetan dogs, were originally from Asia. The monks probably crossed these dogs with the Great Dane and the Great Pyrenees before the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE. After that, the pass wasn’t used often for travel, which isolated the monks and their dogs. This isolation ensured that crossbreeding would be rare, thereby preserving the traits of the breed.
The original St. Bernard had a short smooth coat, but around 1830 the monks crossbred the dogs with Newfoundlands to lengthen their coats in the interest of warmth. However, this idea backfired, as the longer fur would get balls of ice in it, slowing the dogs down and actually making them colder. Soon, the monks decided to go back to the short-haired, smooth-coated dogs and gave their long-haired, rough-coated dogs to the villagers that lived in the valley below their hospice. The rough-coated type is still very popular with dog fanciers and makes as great a companion dog as the smooth-coated dogs.
Today, there is limited need for the rescue dogs of the past as there is very little foot travel, except for the rarely seen hitchhiker. If there is need for a rescue team, they will usually be able to arrive at the scene by helicopter. Just the same, there are still a good many skiers, so the hospice keeps search-and-rescue-trained St. Bernards that are occasionally called upon for their services.
The Saint Bernard weighs 120 to 200 pounds and stands 25 to 36 inches tall. The Saint Bernard is a wonderful companion dog, being calm and even tempered. They are loyal, affectionate, and patient. Their patience and large size makes them a durable companion for children, although training them to be mindful of their large size should be implemented early on to ensure they don’t accidentally harm the children. As natural watch dogs, they keep their eyes, ears, and noses peeled for their family’s safety. Although mostly friendly, some adults may grow to be indifferent toward strangers, which is not a fault.
Want to learn about the St. Bernard? Click here to read the full breed standard.