Dogs 101 Saint Bernard Interesting – Animal Facts
Ahh, the Saint Bernard – the mixologist of the Alps. Well, maybe not, but if you remember when Saturday morning cartoons were awesome, you likely think of the brandy barrel when the name Saint Bernard comes up.
The Saint Bernard is a giant, strong, muscular dog and has been a beloved breed of dog for hundreds of years and that is likely to continue well into the future.
Other than his repeated appearances in pop culture, there are plenty of fascinating facts about the lovable Saint Bernard. Let’s get to know him.
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Saint Bernards and the Brandy Barrel
10. When you think of the Saint Bernard, you probably think of the massive canine of the Swiss Alps, depicted in paintings and cartoons delivering brandy to lost or stranded hikers.
While he was an amazing rescue dog breed, those rescues involved very few adult beverages.
“What’s in the barrel then,” you ask? Well, in short… nothing. There wasn’t a barrel.
While many imagine the Saint rescuing travelers in the snow with a keg of Brandy around his muscular neck, this image is a fictitious one. Painter Edward Lanseer, a then 17-year-old artist who was traveling through the Alps in 1819 added this little detail to his painting “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler” which he claimed was brandy and the idea just kinda stuck.
But the Saint Bernard did carry around packs filled with food and water, which would be a much better idea than sending distilled spirits.
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The Great Saint Bernard Hospice and the Mont-Joux pass
9. The Saint Bernard dog got his name from the Great Saint Bernard Hospice in the western Alps. Long before helicopters, the only way to travel from the Entremont Valley to Italy was via the snowy Mont-Joux pass.
The pass was extremely treacherous. The temperatures there could drop to as low as -22°F, that’s really cold for those of you that use C instead of F, and the pass was covered in dozens of feet of snow almost year round.
Around the year 1050, a monk named Bernard De Menthon came to the pass and set up a hospice to give adventurers a place to recover from their travels. In 1124, Bernard, the monk, not the dog, was canonized as a saint and the pass was named in his honor.
Still, the Saint Bernard, the dog not the monk, did not come to Saint Bernard Pass until hundreds of years later, although the exact date is a little unclear thanks to a fire in the 16th century that destroyed archives containing their exact origin story among other things, but other historical texts lead experts to believe the Saint Bernard dog arrived somewhere between 1660 and 1670.
The St. Bernard was known as “Barry Dog” or “Noble Steed” before he became known as St. Bernard in the mid-1800s.
The Saint Bernard was not originally brought to the pass for rescue work. His initial roles were those of a guardian and a companion. After all, it gets kinda lonely in a mountain pass in the winter months.
8. Eventually, as in we don’t know an exact date, the monks inhabiting the hospice discovered that the Saint Bernard had all the makings of an ideal rescue dog. He was great at clearing paths, could predict incoming avalanches, and, thanks to his excellent sense of smell, could detect a body buried under 20 feet of snow.
In the three centuries that the hospice used the dogs, it’s estimated that they saved upwards of 2000 people.
While the St. Bernard stopped doing search and rescue in 1955, the hospice maintained several until 2004.
7. The avalanche rescue dogs were never trained by the monks, the younger dogs simply followed the older dogs until they got the hang of things.
The dogs would often travel in pairs of two, one would wait with the stranded while the other would return to the monks for help.
6. Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the greatest conquerors of his generation, and for a time he seemed like an unstoppable force.
His army crossed the Alps many times between 1790 and 1810, and despite how dangerous those trails were, Napoleon never lost a man.
Part of the reason for his unblemished record was that he always had St. Bernard dogs with him, ensuring that there was a canine safety net in case something were to happen.
5. A Saint Bernard named Hercules (because of course) was credited with saving his family only 6 hours after he was adopted when he caught a burglar trying to break in and held him by the leg until help could arrive. I guess you could say he took a bite out of crime.
Instinctively a good watchdog, the Saint is great at sensing danger and will alert his family when needed.
The Saint rarely barks, so when he does you should check your surroundings to be sure everything is OK. And, you’ll know when he barks. One does not simply not hear a Saint Bernard barking.
4. When you think of purebred dogs, you probably think of dog shows where the breeders and trainers show off their hounds’ inheritances.
The attention is drawn to the color of their coats, the shape of their faces, and all the other physical traits that make a breed instantly identifiable.
Well, when it came to the St. Bernard, that sort of breeding wasn’t really common until the 19th century.
Before then, dogs were bred more for strength, stamina, and other traits that made them useful as work dogs.
Originally, the Saint Bernard was about the same size as a German Shepherd. Today, breeders have created a much larger dog at between 130-200 pounds that can eat up to 6.5 cups of food per day. Which has caused the breed some size-related health issues, among those, is hip dysplasia.
And, his lifespan is a short 8 years on average, however, some have been known to live into their early teens.
3. The Saint Bernard is a fantastic breed for families with children. He is a gentle giant. He’s calm and patient, with an eagerness to please. Despite his intimidating size, he is very gentle with children and seem to sense their needs and wants better than many other breeds.
He is also a great big ol’ snuggle bear and makes the perfect pillow for little heads.
Although rarely aggressive, he is very protective and loyal to those that he sees as his people.
Despite his size, the St. Bernard is suitable for indoor living. Well, that is if you can deal with the drooling … did we mention the drooling?
2. Oh yeah, the Saint Bernard Drools… a LOT.
Thanks to his unusual head and jaw shape, his lips and loose skin hang down, meaning he drools more than other breeds.
This behavior tends to get worse when he is hungry, overheated, or excited. To minimize the puddles left in his wake, try to keep him cool and prepare food out of sight.
Some devoted owners will even carry around a drool rag to clean their pooch’s muzzle every once in a while.
1. One of the most famous St. Bernard dogs was named Barry, a rescue dog in Switzerland that had a statue —complete with the quintessential barrel collar – erected of his likeness after he was credited with saving upward of 40 people over the course of his career from 1800 to 1814. Although it seems that many tails of his deeds are exaggerated or just plain fabricated.
The statue is currently on display at the Cimetière des Chiens near Paris.
The Saint Bernard Hospice has continued to maintain one St. Bernard named Barry in the original’s honor.
It’s worth noting that IRL Barry never wore the clichéd barrel around his neck.
There we got through the entire video without mentioning Beethoven or Cujo… D’oh! Ehhh… you’ve seen the movies.
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