St Bernese

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
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Two impressive and large breeds, the docile Saint Bernard and the devoted Bernese Mountain Dog have been bred together to develop the handsome and endlessly patient St Bernese. Gentle giants, these dogs are big and stocky with thick limbs and robust bodies. They have thick and plush coats, which serve to keep them toasty and warm in the colder months.

St Bernese dogs are best-loved for their endless patience and are referred to by some as ‘nanny dogs’ thanks to the strong bonds they form with the children in the family. They take it upon themselves to act as the protectors of the family though are rarely overtly aggressive, instead asserting their position with their calm and confident nature.

About & History

The St Bernese is also known as the Saint Berner, although this name sounds very similar to the Saint Bernard and can sometimes lead to confusion. They were probably developed during the 1990s, however, little is known about the first litters.

The St Bernard

St Bernards are a Swiss breed that are well-known thanks to their appearance in a number of successful movies, such as Peter Pan and Beethoven, where they are portrayed as sweet family pets. They were first established in the 1600s by a group of monks who bred them from a number of local dogs, including the Great Swiss Mountain Dog.

As well as being employed as mountain rescue dogs, they were used by local farmers as guard dogs and integrated well into the local families as affectionate pets. These original dogs would not have been as over-sized as the St Bernards we know today and thus would have had a greater athletic ability. A much-loved local treasure, the St Bernard has earned their place as the national dog of Switzerland.

The Bernese Mountain Dog

As with the St Bernard, the Bernese Mountain Dog is another Swiss dog with a relaxed temperament but one that was bred as an all-round farm worker who was particularly good at guarding property and livestock.

Initially, they were bred in the Alps from a mix of Mastiffs and local herding dogs. They were bred to have a thick double coat that would ensure they were well able to work long hours on snowy and icy terrain. While always popular in Switzerland and Germany, the breed is becoming better known around the world where they are kept mainly as companions.


The most notable feature of the St Bernese is their epic size, with some of the larger individuals weighing over 70kg. They have thick, large skulls with large and densely furred ears spaced widely apart. Their skin is tauter than that of their St Bernard parent though they may still have mildly pendulous skin around their lips and muzzle. Their brown eyes are deeply set with a serious though kind expression. They have thick necks, wide chests and are solidly built with strong, straight limbs. Their over-sized paws are rounded to ensure a larger surface area when walking on soft snow. Their long tail should be covered with a thick plume of fur.

Giant dogs, the St Bernese weigh from 50kg to 77kg, with males typically being substantially heavier than females. When measured to the withers most will stand between 66cm and 80cm tall, though some breed members may be notably bigger than this. Having to work in freezing climates, both parent breeds of the St Bernese have a thick double coat, which offers great protection from the external elements. This straight, dense fur has been passed on to the St Bernese. Most dogs will be tricolour (black, brown and white) though some will be just brown and white. White fur on the tip of the tail is a desired breed trait.

Character & Temperament

So laid-back they’re horizontal, St Bernese dogs rarely get riled up and take everything in their stride. Calm, cool and collected they have endless patience and rarely lose their temper. These trustworthy dogs are beloved by families who attest that they are gentle and tolerant towards young children. Despite their nature, it is always essential that they are supervised around youngsters, as their sheer size and weight can mean that they could injure them without meaning to.

Natural protectors, St Berneses will always be aware of their surroundings and on the lookout for any intruder. They are fiercely loyal to their owners and will put them above all else. They are not, however, aggressive or dominant so they would rarely attempt to bite or attack anyone entering the home. Despite this, most unwelcome guests are scared away thanks to their deep bark and impressive stature.

Anecdotally, the St Bernese can take longer to mature than other dogs; which makes sense if you account for all of the growing they have to do! This means that they can remain in the goofy, puppy stage for several years, something that only adds to the attractive qualities of the breed.


Though relatively smart, many breed members are also headstrong and like to get their own way. Their natural reluctance can usually be overcome with lots of praise and high-value treats. It is especially important for the owners of giant breeds to ensure they are well trained, to avoid a giant, slobbery dog jumping up on people and ignoring their owners when they call them back in the park.

As their ancestors have historically been used as working dogs, they can grasp things quickly and are particularly good at herding and finding things. Owners can use this to their advantage and incorporate it into their daily training.


Sadly, the truth is that giant breeds do not typically enjoy the best health and have incredibly short lifespans when compared to their smaller peers. With an average lifespan of about six to nine years, you may feel like you have just gotten to know your dog when they start to show signs of getting old and slowing down.

Hip Dysplasia

As hip dysplasia can be so incredibly debilitating for a large breed dog, we should aim to eradicate it from the population whenever possible. This should mean the strict use of screening programmes and the neutering of any animals who test positive for this painful orthopaedic condition.


Deep-chested dogs are proven to be more predisposed to developing bloat, a cruel condition that can rob a dog of its life within a matter of hours. Those affected will quickly become unwell and may be seen to pant excessively and retch.

Owners will notice an obviously distended abdomen. Time is of the essence here, as failing to seek veterinary attention can lead to shock, organ failure and death.

Malignant Histiocytosis

Malignant Histiocytosis is a relatively rare condition that involves the proliferation of histiocytes (a type of blood cell). These cells multiply all over the body uncontrollably, especially in organs, such as the spleen and liver, leading to a failure to thrive and lethargy.

While there is no known effective treatment, therapeutic trials are currently being run. It’s important to not confuse this condition with the benign skin tumour type called a ‘histiocytoma’.


An aggressive and malignant bone cancer, unfortunately for many their tumour has already metastasized (spread) at the time of diagnosis. As the tumours are typically found within arm and leg bones and they cause a significant amount of local pain, amputation is commonly advised. For many though, this is purely palliative and does not cure the cancer.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Not a dog who needs to be always on the go, the St Bernese enjoys going at a steady pace and will happily trot alongside you as you go for a slow cycle or jog. They enjoy being let off the lead in the local park or woodlands when possible and will relish the opportunity to interact with any other dogs that are about.

Naturally at home when in the great outdoors, this is not a breed that enjoys being cooped up in small spaces and needs a large house with a fenced-in yard.


These dogs can shed a heck of a lot and owners need to keep on top of their grooming, which can be a real chore. If your St Bernese has any facial skin folds they will need to be cleaned on a daily basis. Similarly, any skin that gets slobbered on a lot can be prone to infection if not kept dry.

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