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If you’ve made the choice to adopt a dog into your family, then you face the next decision: which one to get?
The hard-working Saint Bernard breed began as the emergency service of the French Alps. The most famous of their number is Barry, who saved more than 40 lives in his career.
But does that make the Saint Bernard dog a good fit for your family?
Read on below and we’ll take a closer look at how the Saint Bernard might fit in the family home.
St Bernards have two primary maintenance needs: grooming and provision of space.
The St Bernard sheds often, so you’ll need to brush them on a schedule to prevent buildup and problems with their coat. As large dogs with thick fur, they may begin to smell without regular bathing.
You might expect a giant mountaineering dog to need a lot of space. In fact, St Bernards do well with an enclosed yard and a house big enough to fit them. They’ll spend most of their time with the family and don’t wander often.
The main thing to remember is that your rooms need to be large enough that your St Bernard can get around without a struggle.
Maintenance is one thing, but you might also consider the impact a dog will have on your family home. For instance, do Saint Bernards shed? And how often?
Saint Bernards aren’t one of the cleanest dogs around.
The Saint Bernards’ biggest personal hygiene issue is the drool. Saint Bernards are slobbery dogs, so you can expect to end up a little damp after a cuddle. Wet patches on the floor are a fact of Saint Bernard life. For some, this will be a deal-breaker. Others find it endearing.
Saint Bernards are frequent, heavy shedders. Long hair breeds tend to have seasonal and heavy sheds, while short hair Saint Bernards may shed all year round.
If cleanliness is next to godliness for your family, the Saint Bernard might not be the best choice for you. But if you accept a messy household as inherent to raising a family, then the Saint Bernard will fit right in.
Saint Bernards are social dogs, which makes them well-suited to a busy, bustling household.
However, that does make them a poor choice for yard dogs. Saint Bernards will want to be in the thick of family activity at all times. If they’re shut out, they’ll pine and grow stressed.
This sociability can also mean that Saint Bernards often suffer from separation anxiety. Combined with their size and strength, they can be destructive when left alone.
St Bernards often do well with other dogs if they’re socialized from a young age. Keep in mind their large size if they play with smaller dogs. Socializing is a priority, as a dog this size can be a danger to others if they turn aggressive.
The Saint Bernard ancestral career of mountain rescue should give you some idea how well the breed can take to training.
That’s just as well, because it’s vital a large dog responds to your commands – for your safety and the safety of your family.
Though trainable, a Saint Bernard’s size sometimes comes with a willful personality. They may wish to lead the pack rather than follow. It’s possible to train this behavior out, but it may take more work to instill your role as the boss.
To train a Saint Bernard, you will need to be assertive and consistent. You should refresh their training often. It’s important they have good recall for when you’re out walking.
“Sit”, “stay”, and “come” are the commands with the highest priority. These will assert control and ensure your St Bernard is where he needs to be when you’re out in public or there are guests are in your house.
Saint Bernards can be energetic at a young age. They won’t yet be aware of their strength, and their size won’t slow them down. That can be a problem in their difficult middle years when their bulk and energy have yet to balance out.
But as a Saint Bernard matures, they usually settle into a placid state. They aren’t able to keep up a state of high energy due to their bulk. Like all dogs, they’ll still need frequent walks and exercise.
The lower energy of a Saint Bernard means they’ll be quick to settle down after a period of excitement. They don’t have the endless fountain of energy found in dogs such as collies, which means you can have a quiet evening when playtime is over.
If you live close to neighbors and want to avoid noise complaints, a St Bernard could be the way to go.
St Bernards tend to be quiet dogs. Their placid temperament means they don’t bark often. They also lack the yappiness of smaller dogs.
That said, you might reconsider allowing a St Bernard in the bedroom. They have an impressive set of lungs and some may snore with gusto – and that’s aside from the space they take up on the bed!
St Bernards aren’t the kind of dog to start broadcasting on Canine FM when the sun goes down, so your neighbors will appreciate the lack of midnight howling and barking.
If your St Bernard barks to excess, it’s usually a correctable behavior. With some additional training, you can keep their barking to when it’s appropriate.
All dogs can be dangerous. It’s part of a dog owner’s duty to respect that and take it into consideration when deciding what’s right for their family.
As large dogs, Saint Bernards have an impressive level of natural strength. A fully-grown Saint Bernard will tower over small children. That could mean even an accident might lead to injury. A Saint Bernard doesn’t always know its own strength.
That said, a dog’s temperament will almost always reflect its upbringing. Saint Bernards are placid dogs by nature, so that strength is unlikely to come out unless they’re exposed to mistreatment.
If you have very young children and plan to adopt a Saint Bernard, you’ll want to instill respect for your dog into your children early. That means no prodding, poking, and tail-pulling.
It’s also vital to train any tendency to pounce out of your Saint Bernard. They’re too large to receive visitors in this way and may pose a risk to children or the elderly if they don’t keep their paws on the ground.
There’s nothing quite like a big dog for security.
While Saint Bernards are even-tempered dogs, the sight of such a large dog alone is enough to deter would-be home invaders or muggers. They also have an impressive bark when they choose to use it, which they will often do when someone new enters the house.
St Bernards are also loyal and protective dogs, so they’re likely to stand by your family when they’re under duress.
This does come with the caveat that your training is likely to dull their response to strangers. In most cases that will be a good thing, but an intruder might sway a Saint Bernard to their side if they come prepared. A handful of treats could turn your guard dog into a useless sap!
One of the most overlooked considerations for adopting a dog lies in their health and longevity. It’s heartbreaking to lose a companion and member of the family. But even before that point, veterinary bills can present an impossible choice between neglecting a loved one and paying huge fees.
Sadly, the Saint Bernard life expectancy is low. Their lifespan lies in the range of 8-10 years. That means your young child could end up forced to deal with loss before they’re emotionally equipped for it.
As giant dogs, Saint Bernards can also suffer some ailments common to heavy breeds. Dysplasia of the elbows and hips can limit mobility, and this is more common in pedigree lineages bred for looks. Overfeeding can make the problem worse, as excess weight will place stress on the joints.
On the plus side, the Saint Bernard is slow to mature to its full size. That means you get to enjoy your dog’s youthful, playful stage for that much longer.
The Saint Bernard Dog has a reputation as a hard-working and loyal rescue worker, suitable for mountain conditions. Some of those traits translate better to the family home than others, but keep the above points in mind and you can make the right judgment for your unique circumstances.
Looking for more advice on the canine life? Be sure to take a look at our large dog guides.