Please note that it would take up far too much space to list ALL the questions and answers that we are asked on a regular basis. What I have done is compile a list of questions most asked together with a brief answer where possible. Further information is available on each topic by simply clicking on the “read more” tab.
If you have additional questions you are welcome to e-mail or call us to obtain our viewpoint. All answers supplied are simply my personal opinion gained from 25 years practical experience, specifically with Saint Bernards. I am not a Veterinarian and do not pretend to be one. I advise all Saint Bernard owners to develop a close relationship with their Veterinarian, who they should contact in all cases involving medical problems. I accept no responsibility whatsoever for any loss, damage or costs resulting from use or implementation of my advice.
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1) I have small children; how good are Saint Bernards with children?
A: Saint Bernards are one of the best breeds for children. They are inherently gentle animals and will remain docile and trustworthy provided they are correctly bred and raised. A Saint Bernard can join your family before you have children or after, accepting them readily in either case.
2) Is the temperature in South Africa not too hot for Saint Bernards?
A: NO, Saint Bernards will shed their undercoat and topcoat as required to maintain the correct body temperature. Remember also that the coat assists in insulating the dog against heat as well as cold. This is why shaving your Saint Bernard in summer is dangerous; it will have even less protection against the heat and lying in the sun could cause heatstroke and result in death. I have always marveled at how both smooth and rough coated Saint Bernards can sleep in the direct sun in temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius without suffering any stress. Of course, always ensure that your Saint Bernard has plenty of cool fresh water available and shelter from the sun if it chooses.
3) Will my Saint Bernard “eat me out of house and home”?
A: No. On average an adult Saint Bernard will eat half its body weight of dog food (dry pellets) per month. A large male of 80kg will therefore consume about 40 kg of dry dog food. Because there are so many different products available, you as the owner must use the food that suits your budget and the activity needs of your dog. In South Africa you can adequately maintain an adult Saint Bernard for around R250 per month, with some foods costing 4 times that amount.
4) Are Saint Bernards easy to train?
A: Yes, usually. I have had the occasional difficult dog over the past 25 years, but generally Saint Bernards love to please their owners and will try to do what is required, especially once they know what that is. Remember, Saint Bernards were originally bred specifically for rescue work in the Swiss Alps, and high intelligence and a willingness to work were two of the traits sought and developed.
5) Where will my Saint Bernard sleep?
A: Wherever you allow it to sleep. This means that if you let it sleep on your bed, it will do so. If you limit it to the floor in your bedroom then that is where you will find it in the morning. I believe that Saint Bernards are house dogs but I make mine sleep outside, usually. They all have shelter in the form of a kennel, room, garage, veranda etc. etc. Mostly they all sleep on the lawn, rain or shine, winter or summer!
6) What diseases and health problems do Saint Bernards suffer from?
A: Saint Bernards in South Africa are generally healthy dogs. Like most large breeds, hip displaysia is probably the most significant problem. Fortunately, you as the owner have a large part to play in preventing this disease from becoming a major problem. Other problems encountered have been enlarged heart, kidney failure, gastric torsion and epilepsy. All of these are not common but do occasionally occur.
7) Do Saint Bernards shed their coats and how often?
A: Yes, they do shed, usually at least twice a year. Regular brushing is necessary as standard grooming practice. Smooth coats seem to shed less than rough coats. Stripping the coat about 2 weeks after the shedding process will usually remove all loose hair and stimulate new growth. Shaving the coat does NOT assist the shedding process and is a health danger for the dog.
8) I do not want to breed; should I sterilize my Saint Bernard?
A: As a responsible pet owner you should consider sterilizing your Saint Bernard bitch if you are not planning to breed. It is not necessary to sterilize your male, unless it is for purely health reasons and not related to breeding. Sterilizing your Saint Bernard bitch for other reasons such as reducing dominance or training or “to make her friendlier” is usually a waste of time. If you do sterilize your dog it will not become fat unless you feed it too much.
9) I would like to breed with my Saint Bernard; how do I do that?
A: Please note that not all Saint Bernards are suitable for breeding. Only the best specimens that conform to the international standard should be bred with. If you believe that your Saint Bernard is of good enough quality to breed with, test your assumption by getting the opinion of other breeders, judges and even your veterinarian. You should not begin breeding a bitch before she is 2 years old anyway, so spend the first 2 years exhibiting at dog shows and learning more about the breed. If your results confirm that you have a good quality specimen and you are still determined to breed, then read our section on breeding for more information.
10) I would like to exhibit my Saint Bernard at dog shows: how do I do that?
A: Attending dog shows can be a wonderful hobby. It involves some degree of dedication to your chosen breed and since it is considered a sport, will naturally require a great deal of learning on your part, as well as ongoing training and practice. The more you put in the more you will get out. You can exhibit your dog at “Open Shows” from 4 months of age and at “Championship shows” from 6 months old. Your Saint Bernard must be registered with KUSA and cannot be sterilized.
11) I have other dogs, cats, parrots etc.Will my Saint Bernard be ok with other animals?
A: Saint Bernards are generally docile, friendly animals. If they are introduced to other animals as a puppy and correctly taught to accept other animals then you should have very few problems. In many cases adult Saint Bernards will accept other animals if introduced when young such as kittens, ducklings etc.
12) Can I shave my Saint Bernard in summer?
A: NO. The golden rule is “Never cut the coat of a Saint Bernard”, even for shows. Obviously there may be times when your veterinarian will need to cut or shave the coat to carry out medical procedures, but these are the only exceptions to the rule!
13) How often should I bath and groom my Saint Bernard?
A: As often as you like! Different homes have different living conditions. You may keep your Saint Bernard indoors 24 hours a day with short outside walks or it may live outside permanently. Bathing and grooming is an excellent training and bonding opportunity as well. Alternatively you may not have the time or ability to groom your dog but can send it to a grooming parlor on a monthly basis.
If you are exhibiting your dog at a show you should definitely ensure that it is clean and correctly groomed for the show.
14) Do Saint Bernards chew and dig holes?
A: Yes, your Saint Bernard will chew anything and dig holes until about 12 to 18 months old. Thereafter they generally grow out of these vices. Providing your puppy with SAFE toys to chew can prevent it from chewing shoes, furniture or other undesirable objects.
15) At what age will my Saint Bernard be fully grown?
A: “Fully grown” is a completely misunderstood term. To me it is at that point when the dog has stopped growing. Getting fatter is not growing. Many people confuse “fat” with “large”. – Usually a Saint Bernard bitch will be fully grown between 2.5 to 3 years old. (Full height by 15 months) A male will only be fully grown between 3 and 4 years old. (Full height by 18 to 20 months.) The larger the dog the longer it takes to complete the growth cycle. The last part to finish is the head. Many people tell me their Saint Bernard is fully grown at 12 to 18 months, only to find that at 3 years old it is much larger than in the photos taken at 18 months.
16) How much space do I need for my Saint Bernard?
A: A true Saint Bernard does not need acres of space to play in. Sure, as a puppy it may charge around the garden destroying your flowerbeds and irrigation system. By 18 months it will grow out of that. However, Saint Bernards are “people” dogs and would much rather lie at your side or walk around the house and garden with you. The important part of that statement is “WITH YOU” You should ensure that your Saint Bernard gets enough exercise, since they tend to be more sedentary as they get older. They will not exercise themselves!
A small garden is adequate for 2 Saint Bernards.
17) Do all Saint Bernards slobber? How can I prevent this?
A: Yes, all Saint Bernards do slobber to some degree. Slobbering is a natural function which assists the dog to maintain the correct temperature. It may look disgusting but it is only excess saliva which is in fact perfectly clean. Surgery to stop the slobber will simply result in other problems. – To reduce slobber keep your Saint Bernard cool and calm as heat and excitement both produce additional slobber.
18) Will my Saint need an animal companion?
A: Yes, depending on the amount of attention that you are already providing. Generally Saint Bernards are happier when they have company. You do not need another Saint Bernard for a companion; any breed will usually do the trick. Many people find that toy breeds make the best companions for Saint Bernards.
19) How long do Saint Bernards live?
A: The average male in South Africa will live to 8 or 10 years, while females generally live a year or 2 longer. The larger the dog the shorter the lifespan.
20) Do Saint Bernards make good guard dogs?
A: Saint Bernards are naturally friendly animals, initially bred for search and rescue of people lost in snow or avalanches. They should not dig you out of the snow and then eat you! However, as guard dogs their size is usually a good deterrent to would-be burglars. They do tend to sense aggression and if you have raised your Saint Bernard correctly then it will protect you to the end. They can of course be trained as well as most dogs to be a guard dog, but this is not their natural temperament.
21) Should I allow my Saint Bernard into the swimming pool?
22) How big do Saint Bernards actually grow?
A: The standard requires a minimum height for bitches of 65cm and for males of 70cm. These are in fact the average in South Africa anyway. The rule of thumb is .0.9kg mass per cm of height at the withers, for a bitch and 1kg mass per cm height for a male. This means that an 80 cm tall dog should weigh 80kg. Although this is only a guideline you should realize that any 100 kg Saint Bernard is probably grossly overweight!
I often hear of “giant” Saint Bernards which are in reality only around 75cm tall, but overweight or in need of some serious grooming. In reality an 80cm male is considered large while specimens over 85cm are not often seen. I have owned a 90cm male Saint Bernard but they are not common in South Africa and most people will never get to see one.