Saint Bernards are most famous for their rescue capabilities. In the Swiss Alps, the dogs who lived at the Saint Bernard de Menthon Hospice were responsible for saving the lives of 2,000 humans trapped in avalanches. The dogs would leave the hospice in packs, search for trapped or injured people. One would lay with the traveler and keep him warm, while the other dogs returned to the hospice to get help. Today, these gentle giants are still used in mountain rescues, but they are mainly family companion dogs. Saint Bernards are clumsy as puppies, causing havoc and hilarity around the house – a trait depicted in the Beethoven movies of the 1990's. As they grow up, they become more docile, happier to nap in the afternoon sun than romp around in the yard, but will always make time to play with the children in his life. Saints love snowy weather, and will entertain themselves for hours, romping, rolling and pulling children on sleds. Those people who have the time, energy and room for a Saint Bernard will find him to be a loving family companion.
Saint Bernards need moderate exercise to maintain health and happiness. They are far too large for apartment life, and are much better suited for farms or suburban homes with large yards. Saints should be walked twice a day and given time to run several times per week. The older a Saint gets, the less enthusiastic he will be to take walks, but for his health you must get him up and moving. Winter is their favorite time of year, and you won't have any trouble motivating your Saint to exercise in the snow.
Saint Bernards can be difficult to train, especially for novice dog owners. They are willful, stubborn and independent animals who sometimes listen and other times do not. They are a lot like teenagers, in that they test boundaries and like to see what they can get away with and have little regard for the rules you put in place. It is important to start training your Saint at a young age, so that he is clear on the chain of command in the house. The older and bigger your Saint gets, the more difficult he will be to control. Training should be firm, but never harsh, as Saints will tune out people who treat them with a rough hand. They respond to treats, so showing your Saint that obeying gets him a nice reward will help move things along, but getting your Saint fully trained can take a long time. Patience is an important virtue for Saint Bernard Owners.
Thanks to the Beethoven movie franchise, there was a boom of indiscriminate breeding of Saint Bernards in the last 20 years, and puppy mills cranked out many Saints with uneven temperaments. When searching for a Saint to adopt, it is crucial to do your homework on potential breeders to ensure your dog comes from an even-tempered line. It is not the Saint Bernard nature to be aggressive, so always ask to meet the parents of your potential puppy, in order to see how they behave around strangers.
Saint Bernards are not clean dogs. They slobber, shed 365 days a year, and have a tendency to make a mess of their food and water dishes. Neat freaks may want to avoid this breed.