Saint Bernards are powerful, tall and muscular dogs. They have square, well-proportioned heads with wrinkled foreheads, short muzzles, jowls, black noses and ears that hang close to the face. Their dark, deeply set eyes have a kind and wise expression. They have thick necks, broad shoulders, deep chests and strong legs. Their feet are nice and large—perfect for tracking through the snow. Saint Bernards have long, heavy tails. Their dense, short coats—either short- or longhaired—are usually white with red, mahogany, brindle, tan or black markings.
Saint Bernards are sweet, friendly dogs that possess an age-old wisdom and a steady disposition. They are powerful, to be sure, but also have a mellow gentleness that makes them superb playmates for children. Saint Bernards are especially fun to play with in the tall grass or snow.
Don’t let the mellow exterior fool you: These dogs are fiercely loyal and protective of their families. And, when they’re young, they can be a little bit stubborn. Eager to please and easy to train, Saint Bernards can be socialized from a young age to manage their large size and bold personalities.
When living with a Saint Bernard, be prepared for their size. You may need to adjust the furniture or give them a wide berth when they pass by. And be warned: They tend to drool and snore.
Saint Bernards are sensitive to heat, so they might not be the best dogs for those living in, let’s say, Miami. They need a mild climate and room to breathe: Saint Bernards will be okay living in an apartment, but they will need lots of walks and playtime in the park to offset the space limitations.
A healthy Saint Bernard can live as long as 10 years. Common health issues include heart problems, hip and shoulder problems and ectropion, which is when the eyelids fold outward. Daily brushing is recommended, as this dog tends to shed.
Named after Saint Bernard de Menthon—the patron saint of skiers and mountaineers—Saint Bernards were developed in 100 A.D. by Swiss monks who ran a rescue center in the Alps. Though their lineage is not exactly known, they could have derived from combinations of Tibetan Mastiffs, Newfoundlands and another large breeds. Over the centuries, the Swiss monks discovered that the dogs had an excellent sense of smell and direction, making them a big help finding and rescuing stranded travelers in the mountains.