Large, lumbering, and lovable. The St. Bernard is a powerful dog with a gentle, patient nature. Famous for rescuing lost travelers and skiers high in the Swiss Alps, this is a giant of a dog with a muscular frame and a friendly face—the sort of face you'd be grateful to see if you'd been stranded by an avalanche. You wouldn't be able to sip from the legendary barrel of brandy on her dog collar, however, because St. Bernards never wore them around their necks. This patient, unflappable dog is fairly low maintenance, but she does enjoy plenty of company and several long walks a day.
St. Bernards are either long-haired or short-haired. Both types of coats are very dense and adapted to cold climates. They shed or 'blow' their coats twice a year. The long-haired coats are a bit wavy with some feathering on the front legs, and the short-haired coats are smooth and thick. Coat colors are white with either red, brown, mahogany, orange, or rust, and brindle grizzle, which is blend of white with a red, orange, or brown blend. Some St. Bernards have a black mask on their faces.
Average Height: 26-30 inches
Male: 140-180 pounds
Female: 120-140 pounds
Breed Standard & History
St. Bernards are tall, powerful, and muscular, and move with a bounding quality. Hanging jowls and ears give their massive heads a droopy-dog quality. Their dark brown eyes give them a wise expression, and their overall demeanor is one of kindly tolerance.
The breed is probably a descendent of Molossers—massive Roman war dogs brought to Switzerland about 2000 years ago. These ancestors likely crossbred with alpine mountain dogs to create the St. Bernard, which was named for a dangerous pass high in the Alps used to journey between Switzerland and Italy prior to modern modes of travel. The pass was named for the monk Bernard De Menthon, who created a hospice there to give weary travelers a safe respite. St. Bernards came to the hospice as companions for the monks, but soon thereafter they also helped rescue lost or injured sojourners.
The iconic image of the St. Bernard wearing a brandy barrel around his neck came from the imagination of 17-year-old painter Edwin Landseer. In his 1820 painting, Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler, the young artist depicted one of the rescue dogs with a brandy barrel. Though fictitious, the association persists.
AKC Breed Category
St. Bernards are warm and easygoing dogs who make dedicated, loving companions to their families. They are smart and eager to please, though they can be stubborn.
Are St. Bernards Good with Kids? Yes—St. Bernards are notoriously good with kids, and they are endlessly patient with children insistent on showering them with hugs and attention. Because they are so big, they should be watched closely with small children, whom they may accidentally knock over.
(Note: Every dog has a unique personality and distinct life experiences that affect his disposition. As a rule, adults should always supervise playdates between kids and their four-legged friends.)
Are St. Bernards Good with Other Pets? St. Bernards are friendly with all of their family members, including cats and dogs. Like all dogs, St. Bernards should be closely supervised around animals they don't know, especially much smaller animals.
St. Bernards are not especially protective. It takes a lot for them to feel threatened, but if they sense danger to themselves or a family member they'll respond accordingly.
Are St. Bernards Good Guard Dogs? The deep bark and sheer size of the St. Bernard is intimidating, but this is an easy-going breed not prone to aggression or territoriality. They may or may not bark when someone approaches the house.
St. Bernards are not highly energetic, though they enjoy long walks and short play sessions.
- The St. Bernard stays a puppy for a long time.
- She sheds heavily so furniture protectors are necessary to keep sofas looking fresh.
- There is a prevalence of obesity in the breed.
- The St. Bernard is prone to drooling.
- Her thick coat makes her sensitive to heat.
St. Bernards want to be near their families indoors. Because of their sheer size, they do best in a house or large apartment. They are heavy shedders year round and 'blow' their coats twice a year, so expect to clean copious amounts of fur. You should also keep the house temperature on the cooler side year round because St. Bernards are uncomfortable in the heat.
St. Bernards are hearty dogs with thick coats that keep them comfortable in the cold and very uncomfortable in the heat. They need to spend time outside several times each day to stretch their legs and exercise, but whatever the weather, a St. Bernard should not be left alone outside for long periods of time.
Several long walks each day, along with a short play session or two in the yard or living room, will keep your St. Bernard in good physical condition. She is not a dog who will make it clear how much she wants to go outside by dancing at the door, so you'll just need to make it a part of her daily routine. St. Bernards should be monitored for signs of obesity.
These dogs were bred to have the stamina for farm and rescue work. They can keep up with your activities through the day, so long as you give them ample time to rest.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: St. Bernards shouldn't be your running companions, beyond a few dashes around the yard. Their coats are too thick and they overheat easily.
- Hiking Miles: St. Bernards will hike with you for three to four miles. As working dogs who love helping, this breed will proudly carry supplies in a dog backpack. Let them set the pace and don't take them hiking when it's hot.
This giant-sized dog requires about five to six cups of quality dry dog food each day over the course of two meals. The exact amount will vary depending upon your St. Bernard's activity level and age. Talk to your veterinarian about the optimum diet and amount of food for your dog.
St. Bernards are laid-back dogs who take time alone in stride—you can leave your St. Bernard alone for half a workday without worry. But if you must leave her alone for longer than that, arrange for a neighbor or dog walker come and take her out for exercise.
Health and Grooming
Brush your St. Bernard's coat every few days to keep it healthy and get rid of shedding hair. Give her a bath only about once a month, and avoid overbathing, which can deplete the natural oils in her coat. Clip her nails once or twice a month, or as needed. And check and gently clean her ears once or twice a month to avoid wax and dirt buildup that can cause infections.
Common Health Issues
As a large breed, the St. Bernard may have a short life expectancy and significant health concerns, such as:
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Entropion, a condition in which the eyelid rolls in and causes irritation
- Heart disease
- Gastric torsion
- Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer
You can minimize serious health concerns in a St. Bernard by purchasing from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
St. Bernards are smart, attentive, and eager to please. They are easy to train, though the training may take longer because St. Bernards stay immature longer than other breeds.
St. Bernards are more agile than they look and enjoy the challenges of advanced training. Many people train their St. Bernards to pull carts as they do on farms. They should be trained only in cool weather and should be watched closely for signs of overheating.
Sporting Dog Training
St. Bernards are working dogs and not natural hunting dogs.
Here are a few commonly asked questions about St. Bernards.
No. St. Bernards shed abundantly and, as a result, leave pet dander in your home. Dander is the cause of most pet-related allergies.
No. St. Bernards are hardworking dogs who appreciate the chance to carry a pack for their owners on a hike. They enjoy long walks and romping around the yard with their families. In between outings, however, they are fairly mellow.
St. Bernards love the water, but they can't swim for long periods of time. Your St. Bernard will enjoy wading and brief games of fetch in the water—just be sure you don't throw the toy too far from dry land.
Yes. St. Bernards are big droolers. It helps to keep a dedicated towel on hand to wipe their drool.