The 9 Ups and Downs of having a Saint Bernard as a family pet
By Sviat Oleksiv | Updated on Mar 28, 2021
With 8 Beethoven movies and an animated TV series, Saint Bernards are one of the most filmed, famous, and beloved dog breeds. If there’s one thing that the Beethoven franchise has taught us, however, it’s that Saint Bernards are as fun to live with as they are difficult to manage. But how difficult are they to live with, exactly? Are they unmanageable or is it worth it to get one of these furry giants into your home?
What are the key characteristics that make Saint Bernards special?
Bred for centuries as rescue dogs in the snowy Alps, Saint Bernards are one of the most unique and fascinating dog breeds in the world. And they make for phenomenal family pets too!
These huge and powerful giants have gentle hearts, fast minds, and a nice & mellow temperament. They are not exactly easy to take care of, however, so you should know what you’re getting into. Good training, grooming, health care, and proper physical exercise are a must if you want your Saint Bernard to be happy and to fit well in your home.
The 9 things you should know before getting a Saint Bernard
1. This is a very intelligent breed even if they are not as eager to show it as other breeds
As a mountain rescue dog, the Saint Bernard has been bred to be as smart as possible. These dogs are able to not just locate, dig out, and rescue people from avalanches but to also communicate and coordinate with rescue teams, as well as to follow complex commands.
Does this intelligence translate well into a home environment, however?
It definitely does. Saint Bernards love to interact, play with, and please their humans, and their high intelligence means they can be taught countless tricks and commands.
It is worth noting that adult Saint Bernards are quite mellow too so they won’t always initiate the playtime themselves. However, they don’t just love to play and interact with people – they need to do so. Like other highly intelligent dog breeds, Saint Bernards need a lot of mental stimulation in the form of puzzle toys, playtime, and direct and frequent human interaction.
What does this mean, exactly?
In short, it means that leaving your Saint Bernard home alone for hours each day is not a good idea. Neglected Saint Bernards can easily become lethargic, depressed, and even disobedient and destructive toward your furniture. Separation anxiety is a problem for all highly intelligent and affectionate dog breeds and the Saint Bernard is no exception.
There should either be someone home for the dog to interact with or you should hire a dog walker/sitter. Alternatively, you can consider getting a second pet too.
2. These giants are very easy to train – just take it slow and focus on positive reinforcement
Many highly intelligent dog breeds are difficult to train but that’s not the case with Saint Bernards. These dogs love to please and love to follow orders and perform tricks or complicated work tasks.
Like most dogs, Saint Bernards perform best with positive reinforcement. They take a bit of time to train as you’ll need to be slow and meticulous but the process itself is usually easy and smooth when you know what you’re doing.
Before you start with any type of training, however, you should make sure that you’ve gone through the necessary obedience training with your Saint Bernard from the earliest possible age. The fact that most Saint Bernards have an easy-going temperament doesn’t mean that they don’t need obedience training.
Besides, even with this breed there sometimes are stubborn and unruly dogs which makes training even more important. The average Saint Bernard can grow as big as 35 inches (90 cm) and as heavy as 260 pounds (120 kg) – with parameters like these, you need to make sure that your dog is perfectly trained.
3. Saint Bernards are one of the most social, affectionate, and lovable dog breeds
All dogs are relatively social but Saint Bernards have the literal physical need of human companionship at all times. This is great as you’d absolutely want your 260-pound dog to be loving and affectionate rather than angry and aggressive.
Saint Bernards’ social nature makes them fantastic family pets, including for families with kids and even babies. Of course, you’d need to introduce your dog and children properly and you’ll have to train the pooch on how to behave around your kids. That is normal for all dog breeds, however, and Saint Bernards are certainly a better fit for families with kids than most other dogs.
4. Saint Bernards are very easy-going with strangers
Saint Bernards are working dogs and not guard or watch dogs. This, together with their typically social nature, makes them great with guests and strangers, much more so than other large dog breeds. Remember, Saint Bernards were bred to live in high mountain tourist huts where strangers were constantly coming and going.
Proper socialization is still necessary, of course – the more used your pup is to strangers, the better he will behave around them.
5. Most Saint Bernards do well with other dogs and pets but the occasional dog aggression is possible if the dog is not properly socialized
The same goes for Saint Bernards and other dogs or even pets such as cats. These large giants are not too territorial or aggressive so they generally get along with other animals. This is fantastic as you can easily satisfy the Saint Bernard’s need for social interactions by getting him a second dog.
As with strangers, however, socialization is important here as well – your pup needs to be trained to get used to the presence of other animals at home. This is an easy but vital step if you want to avoid any accidents.
1. Saint Bernards can only thrive in large and spacious homes with lots of outdoor space
Being one of the largest dog breeds out there, Saint Bernards require a lot of space to live in. You can absolutely forget about getting a Saint Bernard in an apartment or even in a small house with no spacious and well-fenced yard. This breed fares best in large suburban or even rural homes with lots of space to move and run around freely.
2. These dogs need extensive exercise even though they often don’t want it
Saint Bernards may be mellow and somewhat slow when they mature but they do need a lot of exercise to stay fit and healthy. It doesn’t have to be anything too extensive but a couple of hours of a brisk walk in the park per day plus some playtime in the yard are a must.
As working dogs, Saint Bernards especially love carrying stuff around (i.e. large wooden logs) or dragging stuff behind them such as baby carts. If you want a Saint Bernard you need to make sure that you can give the dog enough physical exercise – otherwise you’ll end up with an unfit, sickly, and unhappy dog.
3. Saint Bernards drool, slobber, shed, pass lots of gas, snore, bring in lots of dirt home, and require much grooming and care – not ideal for neat freaks
Saint Bernard owners love their large drooly pooches but many people just aren’t ok with the amount of drool a Saint Bernard can produce. Add the snoring, all the dirt they bring home with their giant paws and furry coats, and the occasional funny farts and Saint Bernards are definitely not suitable for neat freaks.
These dogs shed a lot too so you should also get ready for lots of hair brushing, big messy baths, and the almost daily vacuuming of dog hair.
4. The Saint Bernard breed is prone to many health concerns
Unfortunately, the big size of Saint Bernards brings some health issues as well. There’s no guarantee that your dog will suffer from any of these but here are the main conditions you should be on the lookout for:
Malignant hypothermia – an overheating disorder
Various skin conditions due to improper grooming
Most of those can be avoided if you just feed your Saint Bernard well, give him plenty of exercise, and take good care of him. You should also make sure that you’ve got the healthiest possible pup right from the start, however. You should only get a Saint Bernard puppy from a reputable dog breeder or a trustworthy shelter. In either case, the people there should offer you a detailed health certificate and medical history.
Routine vet check-ups are also obviously a must – at least twice a year, even then the dog seems perfectly healthy.
Who are Saint Bernards “right” for?
Saint Bernards have many features that make them easy to live with and lots of others that make them impossible for most wannabe dog owners. You should only consider getting a Saint Bernard if:
You have a spacious home and a large, well-fenced yard.
If you’re able to give your Saint Bernard plenty of human interaction and outdoor playtime.
You are ready to take care of the Saint Bernard’s other physical needs such as grooming and healthcare.
You know how to train and handle such a large dog.
If you fit those 4 points, a Saint Bernard can make for a wonderful companion for you and your family.
How to prepare for getting a Saint Bernard?
If you want to be ready for a Saint Bernard you need to make sure that your home is physically ready to contain such a giant animal. The next must-have is a matter of know-how - you need to be ready to properly train this breed if you want to avoid any problems. Saint Bernards are easier to train than most other dogs but training them is much more crucial than training most other smaller dog breeds.