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Spotlight On The St. Bernard

August 16 2022

August 20th is St. Bernard’s Day! This is in honor of St. Bernard of Montjoux—who is also sometimes called St. Bernard of Menthon. As you can probably guess, this Italian monk is the namesake and breeder of the gentle giants we know and love today. A local vet shines the ‘spotlight’ on the St. Bernard in this article. 


St. Bernard was originally known for building a hospice near two passes through the Alps. (These two passes are now known as the Great St. Bernard Pass and the Little St. Bernard Pass.) During his residence there, he started working to develop a breed that was good at search and rescue. It’s safe to say he succeeded. Though the exact dates and lineages of those first St. Bernard litters are unknown, they were born sometime in the 1660’s. The pooches soon became renowned for their talents at search and rescue. Fido made an appearance in a painting by artist Salvadore Rosa in 1690. His first official appearance in written records happened in 1707. 

A Landslide Appearance

Today, Fido looks quite different from his earliest ancestors. From 1816 to 1818, the Alpine region was hit by unusually rough winters. The harsh conditions caused more avalanches than usual, which unfortunately led to the demise of many St. Bernards. The surviving dogs were bred with Newfoundlands. However, this had an unexpected side effect: fur that was thicker, and less resistant to ice and snow.

Fun Facts

One amazing St. Bernard, named Barry (or perhaps Berry: there’s some confusion there) rescued between 40 and 100 people. That’s pretty amazing! This very good boy has been honored with a statue, and is the reason the breed was sometimes known as the Barry Dog. Fido has since retired from search and rescue: the last recorded St. Bernard rescue happened way back in the 1950’s. Today, he is celebrated as the national dog of Switzerland. The St. Bernard is also honored by an annual celebration, which happens in Rosiere-Montvalezan in France. 


St. Bernards are true gentle giants, and are known for being loyal, calm, and steadfast, as well as brave and, well, huge. Fido’s stature does have some drawbacks. He has a shorter lifespan than littler dogs: St. Bernards usually live about 8 to 10 years. They’re prone to certain health issues, including bone cancer, hip dysplasia, and epilepsy. Training and socialization are also crucial for these big boys. Ask your vet for specific advice on your pet’s care needs.

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