Saint Bernard: More than Just a Rescue Dog – Guardian Angel of the Alps!


In the heart of the majestic Alps, amidst towering peaks and swirling snowstorms, there exists a legend of loyalty and heroism embodied by the noble Saint Bernard. Far more than just a breed of dog, the Saint Bernard is a symbol of unwavering courage, compassion, and companionship.

These gentle giants have captured people’s imaginations worldwide with a legacy steeped in tales of rescue missions and mountain expeditions. Join me as we embark on a journey to discover the remarkable history and enduring spirit of the beloved Saint Bernard.


The history of the Saint Bernard is as rich and storied as the mountains they once roamed. Originating in the Swiss Alps, these majestic dogs were bred by monks at the hospice of the Great St. Bernard Pass as early as the 17th century. Revered for their strength, intelligence, and innate sense of direction, Saint Bernards were invaluable companions to the monks, aiding them in their perilous journeys through the treacherous mountain terrain.

However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that Saint Bernard’s reputation as a rescue dog truly soared. With their remarkable ability to locate and assist stranded travelers buried under snow and avalanches, they earned the moniker of “guardian angels of the Alps.” Countless lives were saved by these noble creatures, cementing their status not just as loyal companions but as revered heroes of the mountains. Today, while the need for rescue missions has diminished, Saint Bernard’s legacy endures as a beloved breed cherished for their gentle nature and unwavering devotion.

Physical Features

The Saint Bernard is a majestic and imposing breed, known for its gentle demeanor and remarkable strength. When considering its physical features, several key characteristics stand out, contributing to its distinctive appearance:


Saint Bernards are large dogs, often towering over other breeds. Adult males typically stand between 27 to 30 inches (68 to 76 cm) at the shoulder, while females are slightly smaller, ranging from 25 to 28 inches (63 to 71 cm). These dogs can reach anywhere from 140 to 180 pounds (64 to 82 kg), with males generally being heavier than females.

Muscular Build

Built for strength and endurance, Saint Bernards have a robust and muscular physique. Their broad chest and powerful limbs enable them to navigate rugged terrain easily. Despite their size, they possess a graceful movement and can cover ground swiftly when needed.


One of Saint Bernard’s defining features is its head. It is large and imposing, with a pronounced, slightly rounded skull. The muzzle is broad and deep, tapering slightly towards the nose. A distinctive furrow runs down the center of the forehead, accentuating the thoughtful expression. The dark, expressive eyes convey a gentle and intelligent nature, while the medium-sized ears hang close to the head.


Saint Bernards boasts a dense, double-layered coat that provides insulation against harsh weather conditions. The outer coat is typically rough and either short or medium in length, while the undercoat is soft and thick. Their coat comes in various color combinations, the most common being a white base with reddish-brown, brindle, or tan patches. Regular grooming is necessary to manage shedding and keep their coat healthy.


Saint Bernards have a strong, muscular tail that is typically long and carried low. When relaxed, it hangs down with a slight upward curve. However, when alert or in motion, their tail may be raised but never curled over the back.

Overall Impression

Beyond its features, Saint Bernard presents an overall impression of strength, dignity, and kindness. Despite its formidable size, this breed is known for its gentle and affectionate nature, making it an excellent companion for families and individuals.

Temperament and Personality

Saint Bernards are renowned for their gentle and affectionate temperament, embodying strength and kindness. Despite their imposing size, they are incredibly patient, especially with children, making them excellent family pets. Known for their calm demeanor and unwavering loyalty, Saint Bernards are often described as “gentle giants,” radiating a sense of tranquility and security. Their sociable nature means they thrive in the company of people and other animals alike, making them wonderful companions for households of all kinds. However, their protective instincts can surface when they sense a threat to their loved ones, making them reliable guardians and beloved friends.

Grooming and Care

Grooming and care for Saint Bernards require attention to their specific needs, considering their large size, thick coat, and gentle disposition. Here’s a guide to keeping your Saint Bernard healthy, comfortable, and well-groomed:


Saint Bernards shed moderately throughout the year due to their dense double coat, with heavier shedding occurring during seasonal changes. Regular brushing, ideally two to three times a week, helps to remove loose fur, prevent matting, and distribute natural oils for a healthy coat. A slicker brush or a grooming glove can be effective tools for this task.


Saint Bernards generally do not require frequent baths unless they get especially dirty. Too often, bathing can strip their coat of natural oils, leading to dry skin and irritation. Use a gentle dog shampoo formulated for their coat type, and rinse thoroughly to prevent residue buildup.

Coat Care

Pay particular attention to areas where the fur is thicker, such as behind the ears, under the legs, and around the neck. These areas are prone to matting and may require more thorough brushing. Additionally, check for any signs of skin irritation, hot spots, or parasites during grooming sessions.

Nail Trimming

Keeping your Saint Bernard’s nails trimmed is essential to prevent overgrowth, which can cause discomfort and lead to joint issues. Trim their nails every few weeks, being careful not to cut into the quick blood vessels or nerves. If you’re unsure about how to trim your nails safely, consider seeking guidance from a professional groomer or veterinarian.

Ear Care

Check your Saint Bernard’s ears regularly for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or a foul odor. Gently clean their ears with a damp cloth or a veterinarian-recommended ear-cleaning solution to remove dirt and wax buildup. To prevent injury, avoid inserting anything deep into the ear canal.

Dental Hygiene

Dental health is crucial for overall well-being. Brush your Saint Bernard’s teeth regularly using a dog-specific toothbrush and toothpaste to prevent plaque buildup, tartar formation, and gum disease. Providing dental chews or toys can also help promote good oral hygiene.


Despite their large size, Saint Bernards have moderate exercise needs. Regular walks, playtime, and interactive activities help them maintain a healthy weight, prevent boredom, and strengthen the bond between you and your pet. However, avoid excessive strenuous exercise, especially during hot weather, to prevent overheating and joint strain.


Feed your Saint Bernard a balanced diet formulated for large-breed dogs, providing the appropriate nutrients for their size, age, and activity level. Be mindful of their calorie intake to prevent obesity, which can exacerbate joint and other health problems.

Veterinary Care

Schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor Saint Bernard’s overall health and promptly address concerns. Vaccinations, parasite prevention, and routine screenings are essential to their healthcare regimen.

Health Issues

Saint Bernards are generally robust dogs, but like all breeds, they are susceptible to certain health issues. Responsible breeding practices and regular veterinary care can help mitigate these concerns. Here are some common health issues associated with Saint Bernards:

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is a genetic condition in which the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to instability and, eventually, arthritis. It can cause discomfort, lameness, and difficulty moving. Regular exercise, healthy weight, and proper breeding practices can help reduce the risk.

Elbow Dysplasia

Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia involves abnormal elbow joint development. It can result in pain, lameness, and reduced mobility. Weight management and controlled exercise can help manage symptoms, but surgical intervention may be necessary in severe cases.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)

also known as bloat, this is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the stomach fills with gas and twists on itself. It can cause rapid bloating, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, and shock. GDV requires immediate veterinary attention and may necessitate emergency surgery to correct.


Entropion occurs when the eyelid rolls inward, rubbing the eyelashes against the surface of the eye. This leads to irritation, pain, and potentially corneal ulcers. Surgical correction may be required to alleviate discomfort and prevent long-term damage to the eye.


Saint Bernards are at increased risk for developing osteosarcoma, a malignant bone tumor commonly affecting large and giant breeds. It typically occurs in the limbs and can cause lameness, swelling, and pain. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, and palliative care.

Cardiac Issues

Saint Bernards can be predisposed to certain heart conditions, including dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which affects the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood effectively. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and appropriate exercise can help support heart health.


This condition involves the eyelid turning outward, leading to excessive tearing, irritation, and susceptibility to eye infections. While mild cases may not require treatment, severe ectropion may necessitate surgical correction to improve eyelid function and protect the eye.


Saint Bernards are prone to obesity, which can exacerbate other health issues such as joint problems and heart disease. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and monitoring calorie intake is essential for weight management and overall well-being.

Training Needs

Training a Saint Bernard requires patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement techniques due to their gentle nature and large size. While they are intelligent dogs, they can also be stubborn, so early and ongoing training is essential to ensure they become well-behaved companions. Here are some key aspects of training needs for Saint Bernards:


Early socialization is crucial for Saint Bernards to develop good manners and confidence around people, other dogs, and various environments. Expose them to different sights, sounds, and experiences in a positive and controlled manner to help prevent shyness or fearfulness later in life.

Basic Obedience

Start with basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. Use positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise, and play to motivate and reward desired behaviors. Consistent practice in short, frequent training sessions will help reinforce these commands.

Leash Training

Given their size and strength, leash training is particularly important for Saint Bernards. Teach them to walk calmly on a leash without pulling or lunging. Use a sturdy leash and harness combination to maintain control while providing comfort and safety for you and your dog.

House Training

Establish a consistent routine for house training, including regular bathroom breaks, meal times, and designated elimination areas. Supervise your Saint Bernard indoors and promptly reward appropriate elimination behavior. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are key to successful house training.

Gentle Handling

Due to their size and strength, it’s essential to teach Saint Bernards to be gentle and well-mannered in their interactions with people and other pets. Redirect their attention and reward calm behavior to discourage jumping up, excessive mouthing, or rough play.

Crate Training

Introduce Saint Bernard to a crate as a safe and comfortable den-like space. Use positive reinforcement to encourage them to enter the crate voluntarily, gradually increasing their time inside. Crate training can help with house training, prevent destructive behavior, and provide a secure travel environment.

Advanced Training

Once basic obedience is mastered, consider advanced training activities such as agility, obedience trials, or therapy dog work. These activities provide mental stimulation, reinforce training principles, and strengthen the bond between you and your Saint Bernard.

Consistency and Patience

Above all, training a Saint Bernard requires consistency, patience, and a gentle approach. Avoid harsh or punitive methods, as they can undermine trust and confidence. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement, clear communication, and setting realistic expectations for your dog’s learning process.

Adoption and Buying Guide

Adopting or buying a Saint Bernard is a significant decision that requires careful consideration and planning. Whether you adopt from a rescue organization or purchase from a reputable breeder, there are several factors to keep in mind to ensure a successful and fulfilling experience. Here’s a guide to adopting or buying a Saint Bernard responsibly:


Take the time to research the breed thoroughly to understand their temperament, grooming needs, exercise requirements, and potential health issues. Consider whether Saint Bernard’s traits align with your lifestyle, living situation, and preferences.


If you decide to adopt a Saint Bernard, begin your search by contacting local animal shelters, breed-specific rescues, or rescue organizations dedicated to large breeds. Many Saint Bernards need loving homes due to changes in their owners’ circumstances or abandonment. Adopting from a rescue organization allows you to give a dog in need a second chance.


If you choose to buy a Saint Bernard from a breeder, select a reputable and responsible breeder who prioritizes the health and well-being of their dogs. Look for breeders who are members of recognized kennel clubs, adhere to breed standards, and conduct health screenings for their breeding stock. Avoid purchasing from puppy mills or backyard breeders who prioritize profit over the welfare of their dogs.

Health Screening

Before purchasing or adopting a Saint Bernard, inquire about the health screening practices employed by breeders or rescue organizations. Responsible breeders will conduct health tests for common breed-specific issues such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and heart conditions. Ensure that the dog’s parents have been screened for hereditary health problems to reduce the risk of passing on genetic disorders to offspring.

Temperament Evaluation

Spend time with the prospective Saint Bernard to assess their temperament, behavior, and compatibility with your family and lifestyle. Look for traits such as friendliness, sociability, and confidence. A reputable breeder or rescue organization will allow you to interact with the dog and observe their temperament firsthand.


Request documentation of health clearances, vaccinations, and pedigree information from the breeder or rescue organization. Ensure the dog receives appropriate veterinary care and vaccinations before bringing them home. Additionally, obtain any necessary paperwork, such as adoption contracts or registration papers, to formalize the adoption or purchase agreement.

Lifetime Commitment

Bringing a Saint Bernard into your home is a long-term commitment that requires time, resources, and dedication. Be prepared to provide proper care, training, and veterinary attention throughout the dog’s life. Consider the financial responsibilities associated with pet ownership, including food, grooming, medical expenses, and training classes.

Follow-Up Support

Choose a breeder or rescue organization that offers ongoing support and guidance to assist you with the transition and adjustment period. Reputable breeders and rescue groups are invested in the welfare of their dogs and will be available to answer questions, address concerns, and provide assistance as needed.


What is the origin of the Saint Bernard breed?

Saint Bernards originated in the Swiss Alps, where monks bred them at the Great St. Bernard Pass hospice. They were initially used as rescue dogs to locate and assist travelers lost or injured in the snow.

What is the typical temperament of Saint Bernards?

Saint Bernards are known for their gentle, affectionate, and patient nature. They are generally good-natured, loyal, and friendly dogs, making them excellent family companions and therapy dogs.

How much exercise does Saint Bernards need?

Despite their large size, Saint Bernards have moderate exercise needs. Daily walks, playtime, and interactive activities are important for their physical and mental well-being. However, they should avoid excessive strenuous exercise, especially in hot weather, to prevent overheating and joint strain.

Are Saint Bernards good with children and other pets?

Yes, Saint Bernards are typically good with children and other pets when properly socialized from a young age. They are known for their patience and gentle demeanor, making them great companions for families with children and other animals.

Do Saint Bernards drool excessively?

Yes, Saint Bernards are known for their tendency to drool, particularly after eating or drinking, or when they are hot or excited. Keeping a towel handy to wipe their mouth can help manage drool, but it’s essential to accept this characteristic as part of owning the breed.

How much grooming does Saint Bernards require?

Saint Bernards have a dense double coat that requires regular brushing to remove loose fur, prevent matting, and maintain skin and coat health. They shed moderately throughout the year, with heavier shedding during seasonal changes, so brushing two to three times a week is recommended.

What are some common health issues in Saint Bernards?

Saint Bernards are prone to certain health issues, including hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus), heart problems, and osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Responsible breeding practices and regular veterinary check-ups can help mitigate these concerns.


As we bid farewell to our furry friends, the Saint Bernard leaves an indelible paw print on our hearts and minds. Their legacy of bravery and benevolence serves as a reminder of the extraordinary bond between humans and animals.

Whether traversing treacherous terrains or warming our souls with their gentle presence, Saint Bernards continue to inspire awe and admiration. So, let us toast these magnificent creatures, for in their noble spirit, we find courage, compassion, and companionship beyond measure. Long live the legend of the Saint Bernard!

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