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Interesting Facts About St. Bernards

At A Glance

Saint Bernard's are among the most loveable and peaceful dog breeds despite their intimidating large size. In honor of St Bernard’s Day, here are some interesting facts you might not know about this cuddly dog.

  • They can sniff out bodies buried under 20 feet of snow.
  • St. Bernards are rescue dogs and have saved many humans through treacherous mountain paths.
  • This breed is brawny in stature but gentle in nature.
  • Ever so helpful, they’re also known as ‘Nanny’ dogs.

In honor of St. Bernard’s Day, let’s take a moment to appreciate this large dog breed. When you think of a St. Bernard, you probably picture this fluffy dog bounding across the green plains beneath the Swiss Alps.

Many painters throughout history have depicted this regal dog in their gorgeous chocolate brown and cream coats, either carrying a barrel of brandy around their neck or rescuing people stranded on difficult terrains.

But did you know that the barrel-carrying image of the St. Bernard originates from a myth? In this article we’ll debunk some myths and reveal interesting facts about St Bernards, considered the ultimate rescue dog.

St. Bernard Dog

St Bernard’s Neck Barrel Is A Myth

The misconception that these dogs sported small barrels can be attributed to a 17-year-old painter in 1820s England. Edwin Landseer painted a work called Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler, which depicted two Saint Bernards coming to the rescue of an injured man.

One is barking in alarm, while the other—sporting the barrel in question—attempts to revive the hiker.

Owing to this famous St. Bernard barrel painting, the breed has always been associated with a barrel. However, this myth was debunked by the monks from the hospice at the St. Bernard Pass. Even though these dogs were deployed for many a rescue missions, these never involved bartending duties.

It is now a long-standing joke with the monks making their dogs pose with barrels of alcohol around their necks to entertain tourists.

St. Bernards Were Monastery Dogs Used As Watchdogs

Let’s look at the roots of this dog breed. Their ancestors are known to be mastiff-type dogs. In ancient Roman civilization, these mastiffs were used as guard dogs.

Perhaps this is why St. Bernards make such great watchdogs — it’s in their blood! Not only this, but they are skilled at clearing paths and digging through the snow with their mighty paws.

They could predict avalanches, and a St. Bernard’s sense of smell is so sharp that they could sniff out a body, even if it was buried under 20 feet of snow!

Did you know the first mention of a St. Bernard dog in a monastery dates back to 1703?

They were bred in monasteries on the Italian-Swiss Alps stretch as search and rescue dogs. The most notable St. Bernard rescue dog was called Barry. He was known to have rescued anywhere between 40 — 100 people! Barry’s fur was used to create a statue in his memory, with the iconic barrel collar. It is currently on display at the Bern Natural History Museum.

What’s the fact? St. Bernards from the hospice monastery were never specifically trained as rescue and watchdogs. In fact, the younger dogs would learn how to perform rescue missions from older dogs!

Crossing the Alps back then was treacherous. The harsh climate, steep cliffs, and rugged land made it extremely difficult for people to cross through safely. However, Napoleon Bonaparte’s army is said to have successfully crossed these dangerous trails with their St. Bernard companions.

In fact, Napoleon never lost a man while crossing these Alps between 1790 and 1810, and it’s all thanks to these brawny dogs!

 

St. Bernards Weren’t Always St. Bernards

One of the most interesting facts about St. Bernards is that they are a result of crossbreeding between two dog breeds. A large breed known as Molossers, who were similar to modern-day mastiffs, mated with the local breeds of the mountains of Switzerland and Italy.

The result was a mighty breed known as Talhund, which translates to “valley dog.” They were also called Bauernhund, which meant “farm dog.”

Molossers were known to have broad muzzles and were tall and heavily built — characteristics that the modern St. Bernard also shares.

St. Bernard Dog with puppies

St. Bernards Are Also Known As Nanny Dogs

You might be surprised to know that this brawny and brave dog actually has the most gentle and sweet disposition. Maybe because it comes from a long line of dogs known to have protected, rescued, and guarded humans for centuries.

“They are nanny dogs meaning that they are very sensitive to your needs. If I ever need some time alone and need a quiet companion she is there. These dogs also become distressed and want to help if they hear another dog crying or see a baby that is upset which is incredibly sweet.” – says H. Kuhn, a pet mom from Texas.

Their easy-going temperament, patience, and calmness make them absolutely great with kids. It’s no surprise why the St. Bernard dog is among the 50 most popular breeds in America.

Be sure to train them while they’re still young, because even though they’ve got the best intentions — they tend to forget how big they are. Don’t tell us we didn’t warn you if they happen to knock over a family member just because they’re excited!

Take it from dog mom Chelsea Maxwell: “Young Saints are as boisterous and bouncy and silly as any other breed and must be patiently taught not to jump and not to run around indoors.”

St. Bernard Dog

St. Bernard Is a Notorious Stubborn Dog

St. Bernard’s are one of the most intelligent dog breeds out there. Training them is a breeze because they’ve got great memory and instincts.

However, this intelligence is probably what makes them quite stubborn at times. Even though they learn quickly, they can be stubborn about obeying, according to the VCA.

An interesting fact about St. Bernards is that they won’t obey just for obeying sake. These dogs probably know their commands down pat but might not be interested in performing for you when you demand it. Some might think they’re divas, but we think this is how they express their individuality!

A pet handler from the UK, Bethann Siviter, states, “They have natural “guardian” nature and are intelligent (and have the instincts) to identify a threat. They are powerful, stubborn and if all else fails, they can defeat an intruder by drowning them in slobber.”

St. Bernard Dog

The St. Bernard Was Canonized As A Saint

We can trace their history all the way back to 11th century Switzerland. They’re traditionally known to have originated at a monastery hospice in the Alps, but their first verifiable appearance occurred around 600 years later.

Monastery records going back to 1703 have mentions of the St. Bernard.

Did you know that in 1124, Bernard of Menthon, an Italian monk, was canonized as a saint, and the pass he helped restore was named after him? The pass is now called, you guessed it, the Great St. Bernard Pass. It has a whopping elevation of 2,469 meters.

The dogs, the hospice, and the pass are all named after Bernard of Menthon since he was instrumental in establishing the hospice.

In the three centuries that the hospice used these gentle giants, it’s estimated they saved upwards of 2000 people.

St. Bernard Dog

St. Bernards Grow Really Fast!

“When I was 10 years old we had a St. Bernard. He was so big that I could hitch my toboggan to him and he’d pull me up the hill without even noticing my weight.” – Liam Crowleigh, Dog Owner, Ontario.

If you’re looking for some fun facts about St. Bernards, you’d be surprised to know that their growth spurt is no joke. It took over 100 different Bernard pups to portray the puppies in Beethoven’s 2nd, even though the film featured only four puppies. The casting team had to constantly get new puppies on board to play the Beethoven dog breed because the older ones would grow so fast.

A St. Bernard from Michigan called Benedictine V Schwarzwald Hof was mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1981 because he weighed a staggering 315 pounds!

At just 3 months old, the male St. Bernard can weigh up to 55 pounds. A full-grown Saint Bernard dog can be 28 inches tall around their shoulders!

The average St. Bernard life expectancy is around eight to ten years, but there are records of these adorable dogs living up to 12 years!

In 1884, the Swiss St. Bernard Club was founded in Basel. Perhaps owing to their mighty stature, the St. Bernard was the first registered breed entered into the Swiss Stud Club.

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Paul Andrews
https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-andrews-172490189/

A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.