Skip to main content

6 cool St. Bernard facts you probably didn’t know

Interesting facts about St. Bernards to know before you bring one home

A St. Bernard dog outside
mirekmurmir / Pixabay

When we think of St. Bernards, the first image that springs to mind is a massive dog hauling a cask of brandy up a steep, snow-covered mountain, or perhaps cutely cuddling with a much smaller animal or child. These large and lovable dogs are immediately recognizable due to their size and distinct coloration and markings, but there are many myths and fun facts you might now know about them.

If you need new facts to fuel your St. Bernard obsession, we’re here to help! Here are six amazing facts about Saint Bernards you should know if you love this dog breed.

Side profile of a St. Bernard smiling while standing outdoors.
vlaaitje / Pixabay

1. St. Bernards weren’t always called St. Bernards

We think of St. Bernards as a Swiss breed now, but many believe their ancestors were actually brought to Switzerland by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. The breed probably came about when Molossers, a large breed similar to modern-day mastiffs, mated with local mountain breeds. These tremendous dogs were known as Talhund (which means “valley dog”) or Bauernhund (meaning “farm dog”).

In 1124, a monk named Bernard de Menthon was canonized as a saint, and a mountain pass he worked to restore was named in his honor. Several hundred years later, St. Bernards were brought to the St. Bernard Pass hospice to provide protection, companionship, and rescue stranded travelers, and the name stuck.

St. Bernard standing outdoors
Vlad Rukov / Unsplash

2. Their coats are a lot more low maintenance than you think

Have you ever wondered why some St. Bernards have long fur, and others have shorter coats? As it turns out, there’s a good reason for the difference. Concerned for the health of their loyal companions during the harsh winter months, monks once crossbred St. Bernards with Newfoundlands to give them longer, thicker coats. Unfortunately, their long coats trapped the ice and snow, making them more miserable than ever.

Whether your St. Bernard has a short or long coat, you don’t need to worry about breaking the bank on grooming expenses. The St. Bernard has an oily coat, perfect for keeping out water, so you won’t have to bathe your pup too often. In fact, you shouldn’t bathe your dog more than once a week, and they can go as long as eight weeks without a bath. However, they will need frequent brushing to prevent their coat from matting.

A St. Bernard lying on a wood floor.
Seaq68 / Pixabay

3. These gentle giants love every member of the family — even cats

With a towering height of 26–30 inches at the shoulders, and weighing in at anywhere from 120 to 180 pounds, St. Bernards are one of the largest dog breeds in the world. Famous for heroic mountain rescues, they are also one of the gentlest breeds, known for their endless patience with children, other dogs, and cats. Because they aren’t prone to aggression, St. Bernards are a fantastic option for parents — and cat parents — who want a large dog.

While all dogs have their own unique personalities, it’s quite likely the only real danger a St. Bernard poses is the possibility of knocking your child over with his enthusiastically wagging tail. Your St. Bernard will retain a puppylike demeanor for a long time, but don’t worry about keeping up with a gigantic, hyper dog. St. Bernards are notoriously lazy, another reason why they’re excellent companions if you have cats.

A St. Bernard laying down
Siddharth shah / Unsplash

4. Owning a St. Bernard means drool is a fact of life

The shape of a St. Bernard’s head differs from that of most breeds. Combined with a uniquely shaped jaw and loose skin around their lips, it’s a recipe for buckets of drool. They’re also more likely to drool when they’re hungry or overheating, so keeping your pup cool, preparing his food while he’s outside, and keeping a drool rag on hand are all great ways to cut down on cleanup. All dogs can be messy, but St. Bernards more than make up for it with their affection and playfulness. Don’t let a bit of drool dissuade you from adopting one of these lovable giants.

A St. Bernard looking through a window.
Seaq68 / Shutterstock

5. St. Bernards didn’t carry casks of brandy to stranded travelers

Even if you’ve Googled “St. Bernard dogs 101,” you may not know that one of the most common misconceptions about the breed comes from the mind of a talented teenager. In the 1820s, a 17-year-old English painter named Edwin Landseer depicted a pair of St. Bernards, one wearing the now-ubiquitous small cask, in a painting titled Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler. When questioned about the cask’s contents, Landseer claimed it was full of brandy, and the myth lingers even now. In reality, the casks contained food and water.

A St. Bernard puppy sitting outdoors
pangrea / Pixabay

6. St. Bernards take a long time to reach their full size

St. Bernards are incredibly large (up to 30 inches tall!), but they don’t get that size ove night. While their puppies are also quite big, it can take up to 3 years for them to reach their full size. Most dog breeds are fully grown after only a year to a year and a half, meaning St. Bernards can take nearly two-and-half to three times as long as smaller dogs! Most St. Bernards grow to their adult height within the first two years, leaving the third year to fill out to their adult weight. Other massive dog breeds such as Great Danes and Mastiffs take a long time to grow as well, so patience is key when dealing with these big dogs!

With their massive size and ferocious-sounding bark, St. Bernards appear intimidating at first glance. But aficionados know these gentle giants are more likely to climb into your lap than show aggression. From their fascinating origins to the myth of those brandy casks, St. Bernards are one of the most storied dog breeds in history. The more we learn about them, the more we love them. We think you’ll agree.

Editors' Recommendations

Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
Is getting a puppy for Christmas a good idea? You can’t return them like an ugly sweater
Here's what to know before you bring a puppy home this holiday
Woman snuggling Samoyed puppy in front of the Christmas tree

Of all the viral holiday videos to make their way around the internet, there’s nothing quite as heartwarming (and adorable) as seeing a new puppy jump out of a box on Christmas morning. It’s easy to see why many families feel inspired to get this surprise present for their loved ones and show up with a new furry friend during the holidays!
Getting a puppy for Christmas can seem like a special, even life-changing gift, but the cleaning and work accompanying them aren’t as cute. Many families -- especially kids -- aren’t prepared for the effort and expense of raising a dog, which unfortunately leads to pets being dropped off at shelters not long after the holidays.
If you’re considering gifting a puppy to your family this Christmas, make sure you do the research and consider the obligations that pet parenthood entails. Here’s what to know.

Why getting a puppy for Christmas isn’t always smart
Although raising a dog can be a rewarding and joyful experience, it also requires work, patience, and responsibility. Is your family ready to take this on? Are you willing to pick up the slack if they prove that they're not?
According to the shelter staff at the Marion County Humane Society in West Virginia, shelter admissions tend to increase every year at the end of January. Unfortunately, many of these pets are Christmas gifts that families weren’t ready to care for.
“People that got a new puppy or a new kitten, and they expect their young child to take care of them,” one shelter tech told WDTV. "Of course, if the kid doesn't do it, the parent doesn't want to take care of them, either.”
A lack of research is also a huge factor in unsuccessful pet adoptions. Not all dog breeds will do well in all homes, so consulting an expert or doing some reading is vital before taking action. And remember — a cute, tiny puppy can still grow into a huge, rambunctious dog (depending on their breed), so you’ll need to be prepared.
It’s also important to consider where you’re adopting your new pup from because not all breeders are reliable. As awful as it is to acknowledge, some people sell sick and injured dogs for a quick buck. Needless to say, a dog with health concerns can be as loving of a companion as any other — after treatment, of course — but you have a right to be informed about the condition of your new friend, including information about the puppy's parents.
Shelters can help you get to know your pup a bit before bringing him home, but rescued dogs will still need some extra time to adjust to their surroundings. The honeymoon phase may not be as happy-go-lucky as you expect, especially if there has been any past trauma for your pup. If this is the case, don't be upset if your new dog isn't matching the holly jolly spirit!

Read more
Best reptile pets: These are the 5 most affectionate reptiles you can welcome into your home
These friendly reptiles will make great additions to your family
Basking Chinese water dragon

When you picture an adorable pet, you probably don't visualize an iguana. Reptiles aren't generally considered the cutest of animals, but that doesn't mean you can't find a cuddly one. Whether you're looking for a new buddy for yourself or for your lizard-obsessed kid, there's a reptilian beast out there that will work great in your home.

With proper socialization, these guys can learn to be handled daily, some even by children. If you want a new pet that enjoys human company, consider one of the most affectionate slitherers — they're the best reptile pets for handling.

Read more
Why is my dog whining? 6 common reasons and what you can do to stop it
If you wonder "why is my dog whining?" — check out the possible causes
Sad dog resting his head near a shoe

Let’s be honest: No matter how much we love our fur babies, living with a dog that's a whiner can drive you crazy. Whining can be irritating, heartbreaking, and even anxiety-inducing for owners. Whether it's distracting you from work, making you sad to leave the house, or making you worry that something is wrong with your dog, figuring out why your dog is whining and what you can do about it is important.

No matter how disruptive it is, always remember that whining is a form of communication for our dogs, say training experts at the ASPCA. The key is to properly interpret the noise and figure out how to work with her on it; to try to answer the question, "Why is my dog whining?"

Read more