A well-bred Saint Bernard is calm, relaxed, and sensible. That is, an adult Saint Bernard is calm, relaxed, and sensible.
Young Saints are as boisterous and bouncy and silly as any other breed and must be patiently taught not to jump and not to run around indoors.
All Saint Bernards need space and deserve a roomy home with a spacious fenced yard in the suburbs or country. This breed needs daily exercise (whether he seems to want it or not) to stay fit, although long daily walks will do, along with regular opportunities to stretch out and lope around.
Most Saints love to romp in the snow, and pulling a cart or carrying a backpack gives him a purpose in life.
Companionship is of prime importance to this sociable breed. Left alone too much, he becomes dispirited – and destructive.
With strangers, most Saints are relaxed and accepting, but some individuals are more outgoing, while others are more introspective and standoffish.
Because of the breed’s size and strength, he requires early and frequent excursions into the world so that he grows up to trust (or at least respect) other people.
Unfortunately, there are some bad temperament genes in the breed’s gene pool. Dogs who inherit genes for a high-strung, timid, or suspicious temperament can be just as difficult to live with as those who inherit genes for aggression.
Most Saint Bernards are fine with other animals when raised with them. But there is some dog aggression, which can be frightening to experience because of this breed’s sheer bulk and power.
Saints have an independent streak, but they are willing to please if you can establish consistent rules through motivational training methods that include praise and food rewards.
Saint Bernards are hard to beat as droolers, slobberers, and loud contented snorers.
If you want a dog who…
Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.
- You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you’re getting, and plenty of adult Saint Bernards have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
- If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can’t tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
- Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Saint Bernard to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.
More traits and characteristics of the Saint Bernard
If I was considering a Saint Bernard, I would be most concerned about…
- Providing the proper balance of exercise. Young Saint Bernards need enough exercise to keep them lean and healthy, but not so much that their soft growing bones, joints, and ligaments become over-stressed and damaged. Adult Saint Bernards need more exercise to keep them in shape, but not in hot or humid weather for fear of overheating. The proper amount of exercise can be difficult to regulate in giant breeds.
Since you need to minimize their exercise, young Saint Bernards can be rambunctious, romping with uncoordinated gawkiness all over your house. You need to substitute extra quantities of companionship and supervision during this time. Otherwise, left alone, young Saint Bernards become bored and destructive, and their powerful jaws can literally destroy your living room. I strongly recommend that you get your Saint Bernard involved in obedience classes at the intermediate or advanced level, or pulling a cart or sled, or hiking and swimming.
- Providing enough socialization. Saint Bernards need extensive exposure to people and to unusual sights and sounds. Otherwise their natural caution can become extreme shyness, suspiciousness, or aggression, all of which are difficult to live with, especially with such a massive dog.
- Heavy shedding. Saint Bernards shed a LOT. You’ll find hair and fur all over your clothing, upholstery, carpeting, under your furniture, on your countertops, even in your food. Make sure everyone in your family is okay with this.
- Slobbering. Most people are not prepared for how much Saint Bernards slobber and drool. When they shake their heads after eating or drinking, you will literally be toweling saliva and slime off your clothes and furniture.
- Serious health problems. The lifespan of a Saint Bernard is short, and an alarming number of Saints are crippled by bone and joint diseases and/or succumb to cancer in middle age.
- Stronger temperament than you might think. Though Saint Bernards look like huge teddy bears, they are not pushovers to raise and train. Some individuals, especially males, are willful and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say. Some Saint Bernard males are also dominant or aggressive toward other male dogs.
In other words, you must teach your Saint Bernard to respect you. A dog who respects you will do what you say and will stop what he’s doing when you tell him “No.” Read more about Saint Bernard Training.