The Saint Bernard originates from Switzerland and was originally bred as a herding dog for Swiss farmers. During the 17th century, monks at the monastery near the Great St. Bernard Pass began using the St. Bernard as a search and rescue dog. Their thick coats protected them well against ice and snow and their outstanding sense of smell led them to victims buried in snow banks or avalanches. Today it is gaining popularity as a show competitor, family companion and therapy dog. The Saint Bernard was registered with the AKC in 1885.
The average life span of a St. Bernard is 8-10 years. Saints have two types of coat lengths: shorthaired (also called 'smooth' coats) and longhaired (also called 'rough' coats). Although the long hair is more popular in America, the short hair coat is less labor intensive. Both varieties will 'blow' their coats twice a year (which equates to a major shed twice a year-spring and fall).
Many large-breed dogs suffer to some extent from joint problems such as hip dysplasia. A dog ramp can help prevent injuries to your Saint and minimize the stress of getting on to and off of high surfaces, such as a bed or vehicle. Deep-chested breeds are susceptible to bloat. This is when the dog's stomach becomes distended with swallowed air, and then twists. Since a Saint can be prone to this condition, feed two or three meals daily and discourage rapid eating. Do not allow exercise for two hours after a meal. Also, do not allow your Saint to gorge on water before or after vigorous exercise.
The Saint may also be a victim of heart disease, cancer, epilepsy, eyelid abnormalities, ear infections (keep them clean!) and skin conditions. Saints do not tolerate heat well and should be kept indoors in warmer climates.
Keep in mind that the larger the dog, the more expensive it is to treat and medicate, so being proactive in your dog's healthcare is a benefit to everyone and will ensure your Saint lives a long and healthy life.