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About St. Bernard Dogs
Original Author: Robert Leighton
The history of the St. Bernard dog would not be complete without reference being made to the noble work that he has done in Switzerland, his native land: how the Hospice St. Bernard kept a considerable number of dogs which were trained to go over the mountains with small barrels round their necks, containing restoratives, in the event of their coming across any poor travellers who had either lost their way, or had been overcome by the cold.
We have been told that the intelligent animals saved many lives in this way, the subjects of their deliverance often being found entirely buried in the snow.
The following is the description of the St. Bernard as drawn up by the members of the St. Bernard Club:
HEAD--The head should be large and massive, the circumference of the skull being more than double the length of the head from nose to occiput. From stop to tip of nose should be moderately short; full below the eye and square at the muzzle; there should be great depth from the eye to the lower jaw, and the lips should be deep throughout, but not too pendulous. From the nose to the stop should be straight, and the stop abrupt and well defined. The skull should be broad and rounded at the top, but not domed, with somewhat prominent brow.
EARS--The ears should be of medium size, lying close to the cheek, but strong at the base and not heavily feathered.
EYES--The eyes should be rather small and deep set, dark in colour and not too close together; the lower eyelid should droop, so as to show a fair amount of haw.
NOSE--The nose should be large and black, with well developed nostrils. The teeth should be level.
EXPRESSION--The expression should betoken benevolence, dignity, and intelligence.
NECK--The neck should be lengthy, muscular, and slightly arched, with dewlap developed, and the shoulders broad and sloping, well up at the withers.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF BODY--The chest should be wide and deep, and the back level as far as the haunches, slightly arched over the loins; the ribs should be well rounded and carried well back; the loin wide and very muscular.
TAIL--The tail should be set on rather high, long, and in the long-coated variety bushy; carried low when in repose, and when excited or in motion slightly above the line of the back.
LEGS--The fore-legs should be perfectly straight, strong in bone, and of good length; and the hind-legs very muscular. The feet large, compact, with well-arched toes.
SIZE--A dog should be at least 30 inches in height at the shoulder, and a bitch 27 inches (the taller the better, provided the symmetry is maintained); thoroughly well proportioned, and of great substance. The general outline should suggest great power and capability of endurance.
COAT--In the long-coated variety the coat should be dense and flat; rather fuller round the neck; the thighs feathered but not too heavily. In the short-coated variety, the coat should be dense, hard, flat, and short, slightly feathered on thighs and tail.
COLOUR AND MARKINGS--The colour should be red, orange, various shades of brindle (the richer colour the better), or white with patches on body of one of the above named colours. The markings should be as follows; white muzzle, white blaze up face, white collar round neck; white chest, forelegs, feet, and end of tail; black shadings on face and ears. If the blaze be wide and runs through to the collar, a spot of the body colour on the top of the head is desirable.
The weight of a dog should be from 170 lbs. to 210 lbs.; of a bitch 160 lbs. to 190 lbs.
Handsome as the St. Bernard is, with his attractive colour and markings, he is a cross-bred dog. From the records of old writers it is to be gathered that to refill the kennels at the Hospice which had been rendered vacant from the combined catastrophes of distemper and the fall of an avalanche which had swept away nearly all their hounds, the monks were compelled to have recourse to a cross with the Newfoundland and the Pyrenean sheepdog, the latter not unlike the St. Bernard in size and appearance. Then, again, there is no doubt whatever that at some time the Bloodhound has been introduced, and it is known for a certainty that almost all the most celebrated St. Bernards in England at the present time are closely allied to the Mastiff.
The result of all this intermixture of different breeds has been the production of an exceedingly fine race of dogs, which form one of the most attractive features at our dog shows, and are individually excellent guards and companions. As a companion, the St. Bernard cannot be surpassed, when a large dog is required for the purpose.
Most docile in temperament and disposition, he is admirably suited as the associate of a lady or a child.
The St. Bernard is sensitive to a degree, and seldom forgets an insult, which he resents with dignity. Specimens of the breed have occasionally been seen that are savage, but when this is the case ill-treatment of some sort has assuredly been the provoking cause.
The dogs at the Hospice of St. Bernard are small in comparison with those that are seen in England belonging to the same race. The Holy Fathers were more particular about their markings than great size. The body colour should be brindle or orange tawny, with white markings; the muzzle white, with a line running up between the eyes, and over the skull, joining at the back the white collar that encircles the neck down to the front of the shoulders.
The colour round the eyes and on the ears should be of a darker shade in the red; in the centre of the white line at the occiput there should be a spot of colour. These markings are said to represent the stole, chasuble and scapular which form part of the vestments worn by the monks; but it is seldom that the markings are so clearly defined; they are more often white, with brindle or orange patches on the body, with evenly-marked heads.
In England St. Bernards are either distinctly rough in coat or smooth,
but the generality of the Hospice dogs are broken in coat, having
a texture between the two extremes. The properties, however, of the
rough and smooth are the same, so that the two varieties are often
bred together, and, as a rule, both textures of coat will be the
result of the alliance. The late M. Schumacher, a great authority
on the breed in Switzerland, averred that dogs with very rough coats
were found to be of no use for work on the Alps, as their thick
covering became so loaded with snow and their feet so clogged that
they succumbed under the weight and perished. On that account they
were discarded by the monks.
In connection with the origin of the St. Bernard, M. Schumacher wrote in a letter to Mr. J. C. Macdona, who was the first to introduce the breed into Great Britain in any numbers: "According to the tradition of the Holy Fathers of the Great Saint Bernard, their race descends from the crossing of a bitch (a Bulldog species) of Denmark and a Mastiff (Shepherd's Dog) of the Pyrenees.
The descendants of the
crossing, who have inherited from the Danish dog its extraordinary
size and bodily strength, and from the Pyrenean Mastiff the
intelligence, the exquisite sense of smell, and, at the same time,
the faithfulness and sagacity which characterise them, have acquired
in the space of five centuries so glorious a notoriety throughout
Europe that they well merit the name of a distinct race for
From the same authority we learn that it is something like six hundred years since the St. Bernard came into existence. It was not, however, till competitive exhibitions for dogs had been for some years established that the St. Bernard gained a footing in Great Britain.
A few specimens had been imported from the Hospice before Mr. Cumming
Macdona (then the Rev. Cumming Macdona) introduced us to the
celebrated Tell, who, with others of the breed brought from
Switzerland, formed the foundation of his magnificent kennel at West
Kirby, in Cheshire. Albert Smith, whom some few that are now alive
will remember as an amusing lecturer, brought a pair from the Hospice
when returning from a visit to the Continent and made them take a
part in his attractive entertainment; but the associations of the
St. Bernard with the noble deeds recorded in history were not then
so widely known, and these two dogs passed away without having created
any particular enthusiasm.
Later on, at a dog show at Cremorne held in 1863, two St. Bernards were exhibited, each of whom rejoiced in the name of Monk, and were, respectively, the property of the Rev. A. N. Bate and Mr. W. H. Stone.
These dogs were exhibited without pedigrees, but were said to have been bred at the Hospice of St. Bernard. Three years later, at the National Show at Birmingham, a separate class was provided for the saintly breed, and Mr. Cumming Macdona was first and second with Tell and Bernard. This led to an immediate popularity of the St. Bernard.
But Tell was the hero of the shows at which he appeared, and his owner was recognised as being the introducer into this country of the magnificent variety of the canine race that now holds such a prominent position as a show dog.
The names of Tell and Bernard have been handed down to fame, the former as the progenitor of a long line of rough-coated offspring; the latter as one of the founders of the famous Shefford Kennel, kept by Mr. Fred Gresham, who probably contributed more to the perfecting of the St. Bernard than any other breeder. His Birnie, Monk, Abbess, Grosvenor Hector, and Shah are names which appear in the pedigrees of most of the best dogs of more recent times.
When Mr. Gresham drew his long record of success to a close there came a lull in the popularity of the breed until Dr. Inman, in partnership with Mr. B. Walmsley, established a kennel first at Barford, near Bath, and then at The Priory, at Bowden, in Cheshire, where they succeeded in breeding the finest kennel of St. Bernards that has ever been seen in the world. Dr. Inman had for several years owned good dogs, and set about the work on scientific principles.
He, in conjunction with Mr. Walmsley, purchased the smooth-coated Kenilworth from Mr. Loft, bred that dog's produce with a brindle Mastiff of high repute, and then crossed back to his St. Bernards with the most successful results. Dr. Inman was instrumental in forming the National St. Bernard Club, which was soon well supported with members, and now has at its disposal a good collection of valuable challenge cups.
The dogs bred at Bowden carried all before them in the show ring,
and were continually in request for stud purposes, improving the breed
to a remarkable extent.
At the disposal of Messrs. Inman and Walmsley's kennel, there were such admirable dogs as the rough-coated Wolfram--from whom were bred Tannhauser, Narcissus, Leontes and Klingsor--the smooth-coated dogs, the King's Son and The Viking; the rough-coated bitch, Judith Inman, and the smooth Viola, the last-named the finest specimen of her sex that has probably ever been seen. These dogs and bitches, with several others, were dispersed all over England, with the exception of Klingsor, who went to South Africa.
Almost all the best St. Bernards in Great Britain at the present time have been bred or are descended from the Bowden dogs.
During the past twenty-five years St. Bernards have been bred in this country very much taller and heavier than they were in the days of Tell, Hope, Moltke, Monk, Hector, and Othman. Not one of these measured over 32 inches in height, or scaled over 180 lbs., but the increased height and greater weight of the more modern production have been obtained by forcing them as puppies and by fattening them to such an extent that they have been injured in constitution, and in many cases converted into cripples behind.
The prize-winning rough-coated St. Bernard, as he is seen to-day is a purely manufactured animal, handsome in appearance certainly, but so cumbersome that he is scarcely able to raise a trot, let alone do any tracking in the snow. Usefulness, however, is not a consideration with breeders, who have reared the dog to meet the exigencies of the show ring. There is still much left to be desired, and there is room for considerable improvement, as only a few of the more modern dogs of the breed approach the standard drawn up by the Clubs that are interested in their welfare.