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Facts about The St. Bernard For Kids


The St. Bernard is a breed of very large working dog from Swiss Alps and north Italy and Switzerland, originally bred for rescue. The ancestors of the St. Bernard share a history with the Sennenhunds, also called Swiss Mountain Dogs or Swiss Cattle Dogs, the large farm dogs of the farmers and dairymen of the livestock guardians, herding dogs, and draft dogs as well as hunting dogs, search and rescue dogs, and watchdogs.

  • These dogs are thought to be descendants of molosser type dogs brought into the Alps by the ancient Romans, and the St. Bernard is recognized internationally today as one of the Molossoid breeds.
  • The earliest written records of the St. Bernard breed are from monks at the hospice at the Great St. Bernard Pass in 1707, with paintings and drawings of the dog dating even earlier.
  • The most famous St. Bernard to save people at the pass was Barry (sometimes spelled Berry), who reportedly saved somewhere between 40 and 100 lives.
  • There is a monument to Barry in the Cimetière des Chiens, and his body was preserved in the Natural History Museum in Berne.
  • Severe winters from 1816 to 1818 led to increased numbers of avalanches, killing many of the dogs used for breeding while they were performing rescues.
  • In an attempt to preserve the breed, the remaining St. Bernards were crossed with Newfoundlands brought from the Colony of Newfoundland in the 1850s, and so lost much of their use as rescue dogs in the snowy climate of the alps because the long fur they inherited would freeze and weigh them down.
  • Originally about the size of a German Shepherd Dog, the St Bernard grew to the size of today’s dog as kennel clubs and dog shows emphasized appearance over the dog’s working ability, along with a closed stud book.
  • An open stud book would have allowed breeders to correct such errors by breeding in Working dog of other dog breeds.
  • The name “St. Bernard” originates from the Great St. Bernard Hospice, a traveler’s hospice on the often treacherous Great St. Bernard Pass in the Western Alps between Switzerland and Italy.
  • Since the late 1800s, the St. Bernard breed has been ever refined and improved using many different large Molosser breeds, including the Newfoundland, Great Pyrenees, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Dane, English Mastiff, and possibly the Tibetan Mastiff and Caucasian Ovcharka.
  • The four Sennenhund breeds, the Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund (Greater Swiss Mountain Dog), the Berner Sennenhund, (Bernese Mountain Dog), the Appenzeller Sennenhund, (Appenzeller), and the Entlebucher Sennenhund (Entlebucher Mountain Dog) are similar in appearance and share the same location and history, but are tricolor rather than red and white.
  • The breed is recognised by The Kennel Club (UK), the Canadian Kennel Club, and the American Kennel Club in the Working Dog breed group.
  • The New Zealand Kennel Club and the Australian National Kennel Council place the breed in the Utility Group St. Bernard dogs are no longer used for Alpine rescues, the last recorded instance of which was in 1955.
  • Known as a classic example of a Gentle Giant, the Saint Bernard is calm, patient and sweet with adults, and especially children.
  • St. Bernards are often portrayed, especially in old live action comedies such as Swiss Miss, the TV series Topper, and classic cartoons, wearing small barrels of brandy around their necks.
  • Avalanche victims supposedly drank the brandy to stay warm while awaiting rescue, although this is medically unsound.
  • The monks of the St. Bernard Hospice deny that any St. Bernard has ever carried casks or small barrels around their necks; they attribute the image to an 1820 painting by Edwin Landseer, perhaps Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler.