The St. Bernard is one of the most easily and instantly recognizable dog breeds in the world thanks to a medieval monk named Bernard de Menthon who lived centuries before they the breed as we know it today ever came into being. The monastery de Menthon called home was located in the thin air and deep snow of the Swiss Alps. Few breeds could be expected to deal with the particularly harsh climate of such geography when the monks called upon them to assist in their ministrations to the needy. Which is exactly why the monks in residence at the monastery about 700 years after de Menthon died engaged in a little creative breeding that mixed in a little Newfoundland and a little mastiff with a lot of Sennunhund and a pinch of several other breed to create the ideal canine assistant recognized the world over today as the St. Bernard.
Brandy Not Included
Since their origins high in the alps, the St. Bernard is a breed that has increasingly spread throughout less suitable climate regions. Such widespread love for a breed that seems to have been designed especially to create a sense of trust and ease in people is only natural. Everything that you think you already know about the St. Bernard except for one thing is entirely true: it makes great date bait, sheds enough during the summer to create a fur coat is a protective watchdog despite not being much of a barker. The one thing you think you know about St. Bernards that actually isn’t true? Sorry, but there’s no evidence that they ever carried casks of brandy around their neck.
You might not expect that the St. Bernard would be a good pet for a family with kids due to their size. Unless you take into consideration that their enormity also makes them slow to move, which is always a plus when you combined small humans with big pets. The downside is that while they rarely move fast enough to present a real danger to young kids, they are a particularly ungainly breed. The upshot being that while a St. Bernard isn’t likely to trample over toddlers due, it is very likely to trample over anything that gets in the way between where the dog is and where the dog wants to be.
Ask ten people if a St. Bernard can be easily trained and you will get two opposing sets of answers. Those who raised their St. Bernard from a puppy will swear that this big lug will do anything they order it to do. Those who received their St. Bernard as a full-size dog will warn you that it is lovable as all get out, but you can forget about making it do anything it doesn’t want. So if you want a St. Bernard that won’t chew precious objects to pieces when left alone and that will get its lazy hairy behind up off the sofa to join you for a walk when you call it, you’d better try to find a puppy. The older, larger and more set in its ways a St. Bernard gets, the closer to impossible it becomes to train.
An Exercise of Will
Even a St. Bernard trained well as a puppy will eventually reach a point where convincing it to exercise becomes a battle of wills. Keep in mind that these dogs are big, hairy and prone to joint problems, disorders of the heart and bloating. Would you feel like going for a walk under those conditions? Well, neither would a St. Bernard. It is precisely because the breed is subject to such health issues that you need to make sure you have the will to always win the battle. A St. Bernard needs to get some vigorous exercise every now and then, but needs at least some sort of exercise a few times a day. If you can’t commit to ensuring this over the long term, start considering an alternative breed.
The Downside: Size Matters
The St. Bernard is a huggable, lovable, loyal protector of its family. You also get the additional bonus of confidence that should you for some reason become stuck in the snow, this is the breed you would want to depend upon above any other. All is not fun and games, however, and much of the downside of owning a St. Bernard is directly related to their girth. In addition to shedding prodigiously come the warmth of summer, they produce a huge quantity of slobber throughout the year. Then there is the impact of their size on your bank account. Expect to fill up a large bowl with dog food several times a day. And, of course, all those bowls of food going in are eventually going to come out in equally sizable portions. Finally, there is the matter of how the size of a St. Bernard relates to another of the disadvantages of ownership. This breed typically finds its way onto lists of those might likely to bite. Big dog. Big teeth. Big biter. Do the math and determine if the multiple pleasures of owning a St. Bernard outweigh the risk.
When you boil things down to the essentials, there is really just one aspect of the St. Bernard above all others that has made it one of the most popular large breeds for the past half century. Owning a St. Bernard is about as close as you are going to get to having a Muppet as a pet. The breed just has something about its appearance that makes people eager to adopt it into their family when they wouldn’t think twice about owning a breed with similar traits that looked less like an animated character. Is owning a St. Bernard the easiest thing in the world? Not even close. But somehow you just can’t help forgiving their transgressions and forgetting all about the work they require.