In creating the book “The Complete Guide to Saint Bernards” (written by Jessica Dillon and available on Amazon) we interviewed 7 of the top Saint Bernard breeders in the country. We used their advice and expertise to help make the book the best possible guide book for a new Saint Bernard owner.
But… there was so much good advice in those interviews that we couldn’t fit it all into the book. So we decided we’d compile the best answers to each question and present them here. If you are thinking of getting a Saint Bernard, or are a current owner, the advice that follows will be invaluable to you as you proceed on your ownership journey. Enjoy:
Question #1: What are your tips for choosing the right Saint Bernard from either a breeder or rescue?
Consensus: While it is important to ensure that a new puppy comes from parents who are tested for genetic disorders and are found to be physically sound, the environment that the canine is coming from is equally important. Expect several questions when you are first meeting with the breeder or the rescue and don’t be afraid to ask questions in return. A good breeder or rescue will interact with the dogs in their care frequently and want a placement that is beneficial for both dog and pet parent. Puppies should come with a health guarantee. Rescues will provide health records.
“Be careful to pick from a breeder that takes good care of their animals. It is a good idea to visit the breeder and see where and how the puppies are being raised. A pup that is being handled by people daily will adapt to their new home better than a puppy that isn’t socialized with people. There are many breeders out there; both licensed career breeders and smaller hobby breeders can have high-quality breeding practices. Communication with your breeder is essential. Know the base characteristics of Saint Bernards and make certain they fit your lifestyle.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
“When choosing a breeder, make sure you find a reputable one— someone who is selecting breeding stock based on temperament, health, and confirmation. Ensure the breeder is breeding to the AKC breed standard and that all puppies come with a health guarantee.” Jillian Muir- Beech Hill Saints
“Pick a breeder that has been breeding Saint Bernards for many years. One that has been showing their dogs will have dogs that will meet the physical standards. Ask about their dogs’ medical history, temperament, and if their dogs are good with people, children, and other animals? Either a rescue or a breeder should have copies of health records for each dog. A rescue may also include information about where the dog came from, why was it rescued, shot records, and a temperament test.” Dan R Wheeler- Storybooke Saint Bernards
Question #2: What are some of the most unique characteristics of the breed?
Consensus: Saint Bernards are large, dependable dogs that adore their people. The majority of these dogs deal well with children, especially if they are socialized at an early age. The most unique characteristic of the breed wasn’t as much their enormous size as their obliviousness to it combined with their lack of awareness of personal space. Breeders were quick to note that the Saint’s generally mellow nature also comes with a dash of stubbornness.
“They are very loyal to their family. They are a giant dog that has no clue just how large they really are.” Marilyn Balikowski- Cornerstone Saint Bernard Kennel
“Saint Bernards are generally extremely mellow. Known as “the nanny” of dogs, they are often great in family settings. They are gentle and love their people.” Jillian Muir- Beech Hill Saints
“Saint Bernards are utterly fabulous family dogs, stubborn but loyal. They are completely unaware of their size or what personal space means.” Cheri Moore- Ourfairview St Bernards
Question #3: What do most people not know about Saint Bernards that would surprise them?
Consensus: Most Saint Bernards have an aversion to a great deal of activity, sometimes to the point of downright laziness. Although these giant dogs truly want to please their human companions, they tend to be more stubborn than most new pet parents are expecting at first. On the positive side, they both eat and drool less than most people assume, and they are content with a small amount of space in relation to their size.
“They don’t eat as much as you might think. They don’t need a lot of space. They are not dumb, but they can be very lazy.” Marilyn Balikowski- Cornerstone Saint Bernard Kennel
“Saint Bernards do not drool as much as movies portray. They do not like to exercise as much as other breeds do. They want to please their masters greatly.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
“I have been most surprised by how stubborn they can be! They certainly have a mind of their own.” Rebekah Peters- Puppy Pawz
Question #4: How would you recommend people prepare their home for the arrival of their new puppy?
Consensus: There is quite a bit of preparation that goes into making sure that your home is ready for a new canine companion, especially if they are still a puppy. All items that are not meant to be chewed should be placed out of reach, and plenty of safe chewing alternatives should be provided. Growing Saint Bernards are not typically aware of their size, so breakable objects should be placed up high or in a room that the puppy doesn’t go into. Training should start as soon as possible to ensure that proper manners are instilled while they are still small.
“Preparing a house for a new puppy can be a very big job. Saints, like all pups, will chew on things while they are teething. Pick up items that you do not want to be chewed and provide appropriate chew toys. If you do not want a one hundred and fifty pound Saint Bernard on the couch, don’t let your Saint Bernard puppy on the couch. Keeping your pup’s boundaries small while they are potty training will make it easier for both you and the pup.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
“Sign the puppy up for training class before you bring them home. Saint Bernards, on average, grow five pounds a week through the first six months of age. Early training is extremely important to instill proper manners before the dog gets too large. Get a crate. Crate training is the best way to ensure that your puppy does not get into your belongings and chew them and will also make housebreaking easier.” Jillian Muir- Beech Hill Saints
“Remove all breakable items below waist height and check the garden fence for escape holes. Think of a Saint Bernard puppy like a nine-month-old human baby. Acquiring good cleaning products that are safe for dogs is a must. Check indoor plants and garden bushes for poisonous varieties.” Cheri Moore- Ourfairview St Bernards
Question #5: What are some unexpected things a new Saint Bernard owner might encounter in the first few weeks?
Consensus: Everything is very new for your dog when they are first welcomed into your home. It’s a whole new family, with new schedules and new rules, and in many cases, they miss the company of their littermates. They may cry and withdraw for a little while, but extra playtime combined with kind words and actions will typically bring them out of their shell. Saint Bernards need more water than most breeds, so it is important to ensure they are not getting dehydrated by monitoring their water intake.
“The first few days the puppy may withdraw a little bit; everything is new, and they have left their littermates, the adult dogs they were with, and the people who played and fed them. You will need to spend extra time talking and playing with them until they get to know you. You will need to speak softly and be kind.” Dan R Wheeler- Storybooke Saint Bernards
“Saint Bernard puppies get too warm very easily. They may seek out cooler parts of the home. Water is very important and should be available to them at all times. I have also run into issues where puppies didn’t want to drink water at their new home because it smelled different than they were used to. Pay attention to their water intake for the first few weeks.” Tonia Collins- Southern Comforts
“Saints drink a lot of water! Be prepared for that. Pups coming from their litter might cry some. Have a lively play session before bedtime and they may sleep better. Saint Bernard pups like to crawl under things and don’t like to move. They will have to potty about every 4 hours around the clock till they get bigger.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
Question #6: What house-training advice do you have for a new owner?
Consensus: Breeders cited consistency to be the most important component to successfully house-training your Saint Bernard puppy. Utilizing a crate or baby gates to section off a small portion of your home will help you to keep an eye on your puppy while they are being house-trained. While it is useful to use paper or pad training methods for some breeds, this is impractical for most Saint Bernards and they should be taught to go to the bathroom outside.
“You should take your puppy outside after each meal, praise them after each success, and ignore any accidents. Never scold the puppy for a mistake— they are just babies. Paper training or pad training is a waste of time; they should be trained to go to the bathroom outside.” Cheri Moore- Ourfairview St Bernards
“Consistency is key! Get a crate for the puppy. If you are not able to watch your pup constantly make sure they are secure in their crate. When the puppy is young they will need to go out every few hours until they make the connection between house training and the outdoors.” Jillian Muir- Beech Hill Saints
“I always tell people a puppy is just like a human— think of them as a baby. As they get older they catch on faster; always be consistent in your training so you do not confuse them. They are fast learners and want to please their owners.” Rebekah Peters- Puppy Pawz
Question #7: What tips do you have for socializing your Saint Bernard with other pets?
Consensus: Saint Bernards are usually fairly mellow and friendly towards other dogs, but if not properly socialized, they can become aggressive and territorial. Socialization of your new puppy should start as soon as you are able, once all the vaccines have been given. Introduce your pup to as many pleasant new places, people, and pets so that they can learn to be comfortable in many different situations. Always take introductions to other animals slowly and let the more established pet set the pace.
“Start your puppy out young. Get it out at least once every few days in public to experience new and different places and people. Bring treats with you and ask people that ask to approach to offer your dog a treat so they learn quickly that good things come from being friendly to people.” Jillian Muir- Beech Hill Saints
“Start socializing your Saint Bernard as young as possible.” Tonia Collins- Southern Comforts
“Overall Saint Bernards are a social a breed. If you have adult dogs, take introductions slowly. I have never had a problem with a puppy not getting along with other pets, usually, it’s the adults that have a harder time. If they are socialized when they are young usually they are pretty fearless and get along with other pets just fine.” Rebekah Peters- Puppy Pawz
“Having your Saint Bernard around other people and pets is important! If they spend lots of time with other dogs then that is their normal. Dogs can get territorial if not exposed to other people and pets.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
Question #8: How much exercise does a Saint Bernard need? What are some good exercise habits to develop?
Consensus: This is not a particularly energetic breed and they don’t need a great deal of exercise in order to remain happy and healthy. Puppies tend to expend their energy by romping and playing, but it is important to ensure that they don’t play too hard as roughhousing with growing pups can cause irreversible damage to the hips and other joints. As adults, some Saint Bernards are more active than others, but most are satisfied with a good walk once or twice a day.
“As puppies, Saints like to romp and play. As adults, they need a good walk each day, but it shouldn’t be miles. Walking and running are good for this breed but jumping down from higher places isn’t a recommended activity due to their size. Daily walks and a play session are adequate.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
“Saint Bernards do not require much exercise. Hip problems can develop due to improper exercise when they are young, so it is helpful to limit their jumping and their trips up and down stairs. If you go on walks it is great to take them along. Don’t overdo their exercise as it can put undue stress on the puppy’s joints until they have quit growing at around two years of age.” Rebekah Peters- Puppy Pawz
“The amount of exercise will vary depending on the temperament of the dog. Some are more active than others and require more exercise to avoid boredom related behaviors.” Tonia Collins- Southern Comforts
“This is a tough one… many new pet parents overdo it and wind up with hip and other joint mobility issues. You need to be very careful; never roughhouse and limit stairs. They should be allowed limited playtime with other animals.” Marilyn Balikowski– Cornerstone Saint Bernard Kennel
Question #9: How easy or hard are they to train? What advice do you have for a new owner?
Consensus: While some Saint Bernards are a snap to train, others can be a little bit stubborn and lazy. They are both food and praise motivated, but they don’t tend to multitask very effectively. Training will typically be more successful for this breed if you work on a single command at a time until they have it mastered. Remember that these are a large breed that often looks mature long before they actually are— be patient when training young dogs, and give them clear boundaries.
“Saint Bernards can be fairly easy to train. Treats go a long way with them, as does a good rub. they like to please so that can work well when training. Being consistent in what you require from your dog will help.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
“I have had Saint Bernards learn basic obedience commands, including sit, down, stand stay, heel, and come, in thirty days then go on to learn to track a human trail in three months, and I have had others that took months just to learn to stay. Like humans, some learn very fast and others don’t care as long as they are with you. But you must assume a leadership role, have clear rules outlining what is and is not allowed, and start to teach the basic obedience commands, starting from the day you get the puppy or dog home.” Dan R Wheeler- Storybook Saint Bernards
“They are easy to train, but you should keep their age in mind and not their size. A six-month-old will be big but they are still a puppy.” Tonia Collins- Southern Comforts
“Only teach one thing at a time, puppies find multitasking difficult while training. Teach sit, then teach stay, then go on to the next lesson. One command at a time doesn’t take long.” Cheri Moore- Ourfairview St Bernards
Question #10: What are some of the unwanted behavior that a Saint Bernard might display, and what advice do you have for dealing with them?
Consensus: There are a few unwanted behaviors that are fairly commonly seen in the Saint Bernard breed. Begging, sneaking food, and food aggression are the most frequently observed negative behaviors. Ensure that your dog has plenty of food, and set strict boundaries at the dinner table and around dinner time to avoid begging. These big dogs also have a powerful jaw. Offering your Saint Bernard a variety of safe chew toys will help protect your house and furniture from damage due to chewing.
“Begging and sneaking are two bad behaviors you might see. If you don’t want your Saint Bernard to beg when eating don’t feed him while you are eating. Some try to sneak, like a child trying to sneak a cookie. Being consistent with your training methods will help.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
“Some may show food aggression if they feel they are not offered enough food, or they may eat too rapidly. When training your pup it is helpful to handle the food bowl while the puppy is eating, so they will see that as normal.” Tonia Collins- Southern Comforts
“Some can be chewers, they may chew the armrest right off of your kitchen chairs, or the siding off of your house, or perhaps the back of your couch. Whenever you cannot watch them they should be in a crate or a kennel— it helps keep them out of trouble. Make sure they have plenty of strong, sturdy toys.” Marilyn Balikowski– Cornerstone Saint Bernard Kennel
“Be aware of their size, don’t allow a puppy to do something you won’t want them to do at adult size.” Cheri Moore- Ourfairview St Bernards
Question #11: Do Saint Bernards make good travel companions? Why or why not?
Consensus: These gentle giants typically have a very mellow disposition, which makes for an easy-going traveling companion. The main challenges to traveling with your Saint Bernard are related more to their size than anything else. Check with pet-friendly hotels ahead of time to make sure that they don’t have any restrictions on the size of dog that they allow and make sure you bring all the supplies that you might need, including plenty of food, water, and dog brushes. While these dogs love accompanying their human companion on trips, they do not do well in hot conditions.
“Other than their size they are great for travel. My dogs have traveled with me thousands of miles in my car and truck. When properly trained they will ride quietly for four or five hours. I walk them at rest stops and I have never had a problem. Many motels will allow well-behaved dogs in hotel rooms. Always have baggies to pick up after your dog and carry food and water bowls.” Dan R Wheeler- Storybook Saint Bernards
“Yes. Saint Bernards love going where ever their owners go. Their size may hinder some but in all reality, they don’t take up that much room.” Rebekah Peters- Puppy Pawz
“They can make good traveling companions, but there are some things to consider when traveling. Hotels sometimes have restrictions on pet size, and extreme temperatures can make things difficult as well. Saint Bernards do not like hot weather.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
Question #12: Do they have any specific dietary needs or differences from other Breeds?
Consensus: Saint Bernards are not particularly prone to food allergies, but they can be sensitive to the ratios of nutrients in their food. A diet too high in phosphorus, calcium, or protein can encourage the dog to grow more quickly than is physically sound. This can lead to irreversible damage to the dog’s joints and ligaments due to improper growth. Regular puppy food is not recommended for giant dogs such as Saint Bernards, and only adult food or puppy food that is specifically formulated for large breeds should be offered.
“Yes. They need to be on a diet that has no more than .90 phosphorus in it and 1 to 1.2 in calcium. Amounts that are too high can cause them to grow too fast, resulting in joint issues. I never feed them puppy food and always put them straight on adult food and have never seen joint problems. If you feed your dog a large breed puppy food please make sure the phosphorus and calcium ratios are correct.” Rebekah Peters- Puppy Pawz
“Saint Bernards can bloat; feeding and exercise should never be within the same hour. You can buy slow feeder bowls to keep them from bolting their food. Giant breed food with a lower protein is ideal to keep your dog’s growth slow and steady.” Cheri Moore- Ourfairview St Bernards
“They should never be offered normal puppy food or high protein foods. It will cause them to grow too fast and is likely to cause growth issues in the joints and ligaments.” Marilyn Balikowski- Cornerstone Saint Bernard Kennel
Question #13: What grooming tips do you have?
Consensus: Although they should only be bathed as needed; this breed does require brushing and grooming on a nearly daily basis in order to keep their coats tangle-free. Start getting your puppy used to the contact involved with grooming as soon as possible, and make sure that you don’t neglect your dog’s nails or teeth when you are grooming them. Saint Bernards tend to grow fur between their paw pads and may need to have the fur on the bottom of their paws trimmed.
“Bathe them when they are dirty or smell. Brush them each day to help keep shedding in check. Saint Bernards shed heavily twice a year and moderately in between. I use a comb called a rake, a pin brush, combs, a good nail clipper, and something to brush the teeth with. Start getting your Saint ready for grooming as soon as you get them home by touching their muzzle, feet, and tail so when you start to brush it will be easier for them to accept.” Dan R Wheeler- Storybook Saint Bernards
“Get ahead of grooming from day one. Get your puppy used to scissors on feet fur and use a dog blaster regularly. A quick brush regularly is much better than trying to brush out a tangled dog.” Cheri Moore- Ourfairview St Bernards
“Grooming a Saint Bernard is a lot of fun! I have a good rake brush I use that works wonders. I also keep the hair clipped behind the ears pretty short as it gets knotted around the ears. Other than around and behind the ears, I think it is pretty simple.” Rebekah Peters- Puppy Pawz
Question #14: What kind of shedding should an owner expect? Any advice?
Consensus: For most of the year Saint Bernards are fairly moderate shedders, but they also shed heavily when they blow their coat twice a year. This is true of both the long-haired and short-haired varieties of Saint Bernard. A consistent brushing routine will help keep your dog’s shed fur under control. Most experts recommend that you start grooming your new pet as soon as possible to get them used to the type of handling that is required, including touching the feet, the tail, and the mouth areas.
“Saints shed. In summer they shed more. Get a good vacuum and spend time brushing them. Get your pup use to being brushed early as this will help later when they need to be groomed. Compared to some breeds Saint Bernards are pretty low maintenance— other than the shedding.” Van and Beth Pankratz- Pankratz Puppies
“Saint Bernards shed twice a year. There simply is no getting around it. You can brush them every day if you like to help get the shed hair out. I am used to the shedding by now and don’t mind it.” Rebekah Peters- Puppy Pawz
“A lot. Both long hair and short hair varieties shed about the same amount. Weekly brushing can cut down on the amount of shedding.” Dan R Wheeler- Storybook Saint Bernards
Question #15: Can you speak to some of the genetic health concerns associated with Saint Bernards?
Consensus: Some of the more common genetic issues that are found in Saint Bernard lines are hip and elbow dysplasia, heart conditions such as dilated cardiomyopathy, and eye disorders such as entropion. Breeders should be able to provide proof that both parents have been tested by the OFA foundation for dysplasia disorders and cleared before breeding. Saint Bernards are also prone to developing cancers, particularly cancers of the bone, which may have a genetic component.
“Saints have some genetic problems. Hips and elbows are a major concern; many breeders will claim they have no problems in their lines, but the truth is that 46 to 48% of Saint Bernards have hip problems according to the OFA foundation. Look up the Saint Bernard Club of America web site, they have a lot of information on health concerns. Do not rely on untested internet sites for information.” Dan R Wheeler- Storybook Saint Bernards
“Unfortunately Saint Bernards are known to have a handful of genetic health concerns including epilepsy, hip and elbow dysplasia, cancer, and a variety of issues with both the heart and eyes.” Jillian Muir- Beech Hill Saints
“Saint Bernards can suffer from hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Breeders can test for this. They can also suffer from inward-turned eyelashes. Have a good look at the parents’ eyes before choosing a puppy. Most Saint Bernards are wonderfully healthy and good breeders, but you should always health test.” Cheri Moore- Ourfairview St Bernards