The Saint Bernard is a very ancient breed and originates from Switzerland. These dogs were widely used in the valley farms and Alpine dairies for guarding, herding and drafting. Eventually they went on to be used as avalanche and rescue dogs in the snowy passes. Their excellent sense of smell enabled them to find people hidden under many feet of snow. This breed has also been connected with the hospice at the Great St. Bernard Pass.
These powerful giants are extremely gentle and friendly and very tolerant of children. They are highly intelligent, easy to train, patient and obedient and make excellent watchdogs. They do need plenty of regular exercise and must be trained to walk well on a leash from an early age, before they get too strong. Due to their enormous size, plenty of indoor space is required to keep one of these dogs.
The Saint Bernard has a large powerful body, which is muscular and stands at around 25.5 – 27.5 inches (61 – 70cms) and weighs around 110 – 200 lbs (50 – 91kg). The head is equally as powerful, with dark brown, friendly eyes and an intelligent expression. The ears fall in the shape of a triangle and the broad and powerful tail curls slightly at the tip. The feet are well arched to make the dog sure-footed in the snow and ice. There are in fact two varieties of Saint Bernard – the shorthaired and the longhaired. The shorthaired variety is better in the snow, as it can withstand very cold temperatures and its coat repels icicles. The coat comes in a few colors: tan, mahogany, brindle and black, in various combinations.
Both types of coats are easy to groom. Brush and comb regularly and only bathe when necessary. These dogs shed twice a year; so extra grooming will be required during this time. Check the eyes regularly too, as they have a tendency to water quite a lot.
The very fast growth rate of the Saint Bernard can lead to serious deterioration of the bones if the dog does not get proper food and exercise. Puppies should not have too much exercise at first until their bones are well formed. They are also susceptible to heart problems, skin problems, hip dysplasia, entropion, ectropion, bloat and bone cancer. These dogs have a lifespan of between nine and eleven years.
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