By Kathleen Knowles
Introduction: The second in the series of Dogs as Pets
Choosing a dog to become a family member is a big decision. You must determine whether you want a mix-breed dog or a pedigreed one. A mix-breed is exactly what it implies, more than one breed of dog mixed together. A pedigreed dog is one breed only with nothing but that breed in its pedigree going back for generations. What size is right for you? Should you buy a long-haired dog or a short-coated one? A big dog or a small dog? In this series, we will examine pure-bred breeds only.
The Saint Bernard
The Saint Bernard was originally bred to locate travelers in the Swiss Alps who became buried by avalanches. Naturally, the dog had to be powerful and able to withstand the cold temperatures. Today, he remains one of the most famous and loved breeds.
Many people prefer a large dog to a small dog, and the Saint Bernard certainly fits that bill. Their enormous size certainly must be taken into consideration when choosing this breed as a pet. Saints stand 28-30 inches tall at the shoulder (26-28 for females) and weighs from 140-180 pounds (120-140 pounds for females). Their average life span is 8 to 10 years.
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A powerful, strong, muscular dog, the Saint Bernard comes in two coat types, the short-haired and the long-haired (wavy but not curly). The latter probably being the more common of the two. Their color is white with red (red can vary: brown-yellow, brindle patches with white markings etc.) The Saint has a massive head and like its body is powerful. All in all, the Saint Bernard presents an imposing figure of a dog.
Despite his huge size, the Saint Bernard is extremely gentle and friendly as well as protective and loving. As with any dog this large, it is important to start training them at a very early age. Socialization should begin early with people and other animals. Even for the strongest of humans, this breed can soon become a problem if they are not taught early on not to jump on people and to respect the authority of all those in the household. Take control early while the dog is still a manageable size or he certainly will! They are normally very tolerant and good with children. However, they will have to be watched while interacting with toddlers as they can easily and unintentionally knock them down.
Saints make excellent watchdogs. They are protective and loyal. Their size alone makes a very good deterrent for any would-be burglar! The deep, loud bark may be all it takes to send them on the run!
Although a large yard would be beneficial and preferred for exercise, it is not a deal breaker for this breed. Actually, they will do fine in an apartment if sufficiently exercised. They are relatively inactive indoors. However, they should be taken on long walks to keep them in good mental and physical condition if a yard is not available for exercise.
There is some grooming required. They should be combed and brushed with a bristle brush. As with any other dog, they will need the occasional bath. Bathing should also start at an early age to familiarize the dog with the process. Getting a full-grown Saint into a bathtub that doesn’t want a bath will turn out to be quite a chore!!
They are known for slobbering and drooling, especially after eating or drinking. Be prepared for a dog that likes to sit on your feet and lean his weight against you. Also, your Saint Bernard will shed twice a year, and again due to his size, it will be considerable. So, hair on your clothes will be inevitable, and everywhere else for that matter!! That makes it imperative to make sure your dog receives regular brushing during shedding seasons.
Health problem to look out for include: heart problems, hip dysplasia, ectropion (a folding outward of the eyelid rim), and bloat (twisting of the stomach). Due to the latter, it is best to feed them two or three smaller meals a day.
If you can handle a very big, powerful dog, don’t mind the slobber and drool, and are prepared to spend time with your canine giant to see he has the exercise he needs, the Saint Bernard may be just the breed for you!
Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.