Complete Guide To Saint Bernard Dogs: Health, Grooming, Feeding and More

The Saint Bernard is one of the most recognizable breeds of dogs in the world. As such, they are also one of the most popular breeds as well. Do they make good pets? How much care do they require?

As a veterinarian with over 20+ years of experience, I’ve seen quite a few St. Bernard dogs over my career. I’ve found them to be consistently wonderful family dogs but their large size does make them more expensive to care for as well as predisposing them to certain health issues. Let’s check this awesome dog out!

How Big Do Saint Bernards Get?

Male28″ – 30″ at the shoulder140 – 180 lbs
Female26″ – 28″ at the shoulder120-140 lbs

What Do Saint Bernards Look Like?

This dog breed comes in both a long-haired and short-haired variety. Both varieties feature a thick, double coat that helps to keep the dog warm and protected, even among the toughest, snowiest winters.

Both the long-haired and short-haired varieties have the same trademark color patterns. This dog is primarily white, with a liver-colored saddle and mask around its face. While there may be a “dry mouth” Saint Bernard breed advertised, this is just a Saint Bernard who has tighter jowls, preventing excessive drooling.  

What Is The Personality Of A Saint Bernard?

Even if the Saint Bernard didn’t want to be the center of attention, he has little choice. His large size will catch every glance and stare, but luckily, this dog loves people. The Saint Bernard, by nature, is loving, extremely outgoing, and quite fond of people. The dog is happy to be with any child or adult and is quite tolerant and patient with young children. In general, the Saint Bernard is pleased to be next to his people, doing activities alongside his owner.  

This dog is an incredibly loving and affectionate dog that loves just about every person he comes in contact with. Although his large size and intimidating bark would lead you to believe he is a good guard dog, expect the dog to greet a stranger with the same love and affection as he does a regular family member. Expect this dog to make fast friends with every person he comes in contact with. Even though he is large, the Saint Bernard is generally wonderful around other pets, including cats, rodents, and small dogs.  

Although this dog is excellent with children and essentially enjoys their company, early training and socialization are essential with this giant dog breed. Although the dog will be playing and has no ill-will, a quick swipe of this large tail from a playful Saint can easily knock over and harm a small child. The dog is incredibly smart and responds well to training. Early obedience training should start at eight weeks of age. Your Saint Bernard will quickly learn to be calm and gentle around children.  

How Much Grooming Does The Saint Bernard Need?

The Saint Bernard comes in both a long-haired and a short-haired variety, but the long-haired style of Saint Bernard only needs slightly more grooming and maintenance. Brush the long fur about once per week to help keep tangles and knots at bay. Brushing the fur will also reduce the amount of shedding and bring the essential oils produced from the skin throughout his fur, making his coat even more silky and shiny. Use a rubber brush or a metal comb to work through the long hair.  

During normal circumstances, the Saint Bernard is only a moderate shedder. Routine weekly brushing will help minimize the amount of fur floating through your home. Twice per year, though, the Saint Bernard will go through a heavy shedding season. This time usually coincides with changing seasons between spring and fall. Give the Saint Bernard an occasional bath to keep him clean.

Sometimes the white parts of this dog can become stained. This staining is quite common around the eyes, as regular tearing can cause the white to be stained with a dark rust color due to a natural pigment in that fluid. 

How Much Exercise Does A Saint Bernard Need?

If left to his own devices, the Saint Bernard would be delighted to rest indoors as a couch potato. But, given the opportunity, this big goof is happy to romp and play with other dogs. Keep your Saint Bernard healthy and in shape by giving him a long walk once per day. Thirty minutes playing with his favorite canine friends can also be plenty of exercise to keep him happy.

Although the Saint Bernard may appear to be a big and lumbering dog, this breed is actually very good at canine sport and competition. Their robust and athletic body makes them well suited to drafting competitions where they are required to pull heavy weights. Further, the Saint Bernard is intelligent and can perform well with obedience training and competition.  

While the Saint Bernard is happy to accompany his human in just about any activity, he can also stay at home. Although he is a giant breed dog, the Saint Bernard can thrive in an apartment setting. Pending your dog gets enough daily exercise with one long walk per day, this big dog is happy to reside in a small, confined space, pending he has a comfortable couch to rest his head. 

Activities That I Recommend With This Breed:

  • Walking
  • Hiking (both walking and hiking can be done with your dog also wearing a weighted pack; the weight in the pack will help to tire your dog out faster; don’t do this if your dog has any orthopedic issues)
  • Swimming
  • Agility Training (these guys do great at this!!)
  • Dog Parks

What Is The Best Food For A Saint Bernard?

Personally I believe that most foods are fine for most dogs. Some dogs may not do well on some foods. However, as a rule I don’t blanket-prohibit any dietary ingredient from any breed at this time.

This is a breed that requires a large-breed puppy food to help control growth. Growing too fast can cause growing pains and potentially developmental orthopedic issues. For this reason, I recommend to my Saint Bernard owners to switch to adult food at around 6 months of age.

Best Puppy Food For Saint Bernards:

Best Adult Food For Saint Bernards:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

It’s very important they remain at their optimal weight throughout their life. Have your vet go over with you exactly where to feel to know when your dog is too big.

How Long Does The Saint Bernard Live?

8-10 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Conditions Do Saint Bernards Have?

The Saint Bernard does have a number of potential health issues largely because of its enormous size. As a prospective or new owner, you need to be aware of these. Make sure you do your due diligence on any breeder you are talking to prior to choosing a puppy. In my experience, the most common health conditions that I see in this breed include:

Keep your Saint Bernard at a healthy weight (you should be able to feel the ribs under all that hair and there should be a waist distinctively smaller than the chest) and many of the orthopedic issues will be easier to manage (if present at all).

This is definitely a breed that should start taking a joint supplement by the age of 3-4 years old to attempt to keep them as mobile and pain-free as possible.

There are definitely Saint Bernards that remain incredibly healthy throughout their life, but I have seen enough issues with different dogs to say that this breed is definitely one that should have pet insurance at a very young age.

Where Can I Find Out More About Saint Bernards?

Saint Bernard Club of America

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find a Saint Bernard?

Breeder Listing From The Saint Bernard Club of America

AKC Puppy Marketplace

There are also several opportunities to rescue a Saint Bernard. Sadly, many people will purchase an adorable Saint Bernard puppy, not entirely sure how large and cumbersome this giant breed dog will be. Saint Bernards are routinely put up for adoption and are seeking a loving home. Check with organizations such as the Saint Bernard Club of America or the Saint Bernard Rescue Foundation, Inc. for rescues close to your home.  

Fun Facts About The Saint Bernard

  • The Saint Bernard has been a member of the American Kennel Club since 1885
  • They were named after Saint Bernard who became famous around the year 1050 in establishing order in a particularly unsavory area of passage (later named for him) along the Swiss Alps. Hundreds of years later, these large dogs were helpful as companions and guard dogs to travelers and monks who still lived in the pass.
  • The Beethoven movies have been extremely popular over the years. The first “Beethoven” was actually a dog named Kris who was almost 200 lbs.
  • Saint Bernards were always originally intended to have short hair. However, a few hundreds years ago monks attempted to “thicken” the coat of their dogs to better protect them from the winter. They did this by integrating some Newfoundland dogs into the breeding lines which resulted in the longer, more lush coats that we associate with the breed today.

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