I have very strong views about breeding Saint Bernard dogs. I write the information below from my heart, in an effort to explain my thought process. It is never my intention to criticise other breeders or their dogs, and I certainly do not wish to offend you in any way. I write the information below with great respect to all other Saint Bernard breeders who do their best to produce good dogs. Hopefully you can accept my viewpoint.
Before you start reading, first think about this: If a contractor arrived to clear the snow from your roads, and had a snowplough fixed to the front of his red sports car, it would not be very efficient. The correct snowplough may also be red, and basically looks the same as the sports car, because it has 4 wheels, an engine, a window, a steering wheel and all the same equipment. However, the snowplough has a different structure, because it was DESIGNED to do the job of moving snow, so the wheels are larger and wider, the engine is more powerful, it has 4 wheel drive and other features that make it efficient for the work it must do.
The Saint Bernard dog was developed for the specific purpose of working in the snow covered mountains between Switzerland and Italy. The fact that it no longer fulfils that function is totally irrelevant. In order to be called a Saint Bernard, the breed still needs to conform to the requirements essential for its original task. This is called Fit for Function.
When planning a breeding program, its important to have a picture in your mind of the type of dogs that you want. The Saint Bernard is originally a mountain working dog. In order to successfully do mountain work the dog must have a certain structure that will assist it to efficiently do the work that it was bred for.
All dogs can run, some for long distances, others very fast, some slow but strong, and so on.
The Saint Bernard movement is very specific, for climbing up and down, and also for long distance through heavy snow. This means that the structure of the skeleton must be perfect for the work required. For the Saint Bernard it means the correct leg proportions, the correct back length, the correct weight. Shoulder angulation and also rear leg angulation is extremely important, and the dog must have balance. The head is also very important in this balance, so it must be the correct length, width and the different parts of the head must be in the correct proportion.
If these proportions are incorrect, and the dog is not balanced, then it will be unable to efficiently do the work it was designed for. The important word here is : efficiently. ( The same as the sports car : it can move the snow , but it was not designed for that purpose, so it will not perform that task efficiently)
Even a Bulldog can run in the mountains through the snow. The same for a Fox Terrier, and a Whippet, and a Collie and a Boxer, Dobermann, Rottweiller, and most other dogs. However, they will not be able to do the work efficiently and with endurance, because their body structure was not designed for that type of work.
Now, if you have a Saint Bernard built like a Rotweiller,or a Doberman, then even if it resembles a Saint Bernard, without the correct structure, it will not be able to efficiently carry out its original function.
The term for this is “Fit for function” also known as “Form follows function” I have always kept on this path with my breeding, and have been successful.
Unfortunately many exhibitors of our breed show their dogs only to win. Many people do not care about the original function, but are only interested in winning in the show. This is the same with all other breeds. The truly dedicated breeder is more concerned with “Fit for Function” and always tries to maintain the correct structure of the breed. In my opinion, the truly dedicated breeder strives for improvement in his breeding program, always keeping the original function and NEVER over exaggerates aspects of the breed.
You need to decide what type of breeder you will be. Are you dedicated to the Saint Bernard breed or are you more interested in winning in the shows, or perhaps simply selling puppies?
In most shows, All Breed or multiple breed Judges are used, and normally only at the specialist shows do we see specialist judges. This is one of the main problems and one that promotes the culture of WINNING at shows, and not breeding for FUNCTION. Because the judges are not specialists in every breed, they often do not have enough knowledge about a breed to correctly place the best examples as BOB. Often it’s the popular dogs or handlers that win, or the flashy dogs that are over groomed and over handled. This is the same problem with our breed, the Saint Bernard, in most countries all around the world.
In South Africa, we use the FCI standard, as every country in Europe. Although this standard is in fact quite different from the AKC standard or the Kennel club standard in many regards, all three standards should be interpreted taking the “Fit for Function” motto as a starting point.
If you look carefully at photo below, you will see that this dog VERY closely conforms to the requirements of the FCI standard. Remember, no dog is perfect, and they all have good and bad points. Hopefully with careful breeding we can improve our dogs and produce offspring that has less faults and more good points.
As a breeder or exhibitor, its vitally important that you know the requirements of the relevant standard for your region.
You can read the ILLUSTRATED STANDARD on my website, and also the COMPARISON OF STANDARDS. These two articles will provide you with a thorough knowledge of the standards and you will have a clearer picture of what you should be aiming for in your breeding or exhibiting program.
Now look at some of the photos of your own dogs. How closely do those dogs conform to the requirements of the FCI standard. Look closely at the very important aspects such as the relationship of height to length, the length of the forelegs, the depth of the chests, the rear angulation, the angle of inclination of the croup. In addition, how do the ear-sets compare, are the muzzle lengths correct, is the muzzle end square with the frontal platform of the muzzle, and is the skull structure the correct size and shape? Other serious problems we see often are incorrect shoulder angulations, resulting in protruding chests, elbows placed incorrectly, and poor front pasterns. All this unbalance results in incorrect movement, which can be seen in the stance of the dogs, without even seeing them move. These issues are all due to incorrect structure, and unbalanced proportions.
I had Saint Bernards for several years before I started to understand these important issues, and for the past 25 years I have dedicated my time to researching and studying the physical requirements of our breed, in an effort to understand exactly what makes a Saint Bernard. I even lived with the monks and worked with the dogs at the Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps, and because of this work I learned to understand the type of mountains, the snow and the terrain that they were designed to work in.
I have imported dogs from European breeders to use in my breeding program, always keeping in mind the requirements of the FCI Standard, and the original function of the dogs in the mountains. The dogs I have today in my kennel are the results of many years of breeding , exhibiting, trial breeding, failing, succeeding, trying again and again to get the ideal TYPE with specific regard to STRUCTURE and good temperament. In most cases, with correct structure automatically comes correct movement.
So, the dogs I have at the moment are the result of many years of effort to breed the best Saint Bernards that I possibly can achieve. These dogs will be very good for any breeding program dedicated to the correct Structure, movement and temperament, and will win often, especially under knowledgeable specialist judges.
If you have not yet done so, you should attend a Saint Bernard Breed seminar, presented by a qualified, experienced FCI Breeder/ Judge, so that you can learn the correct requirements according to the FCI standard. Please note that if your country officially uses a different standard, then that is the standard that you should use when evaluating your dogs. It makes no sense to breed according to the FCI standard if you are in the USA, or in the UK, or countries that use those standards, because judges will evaluated all dogs according to the standard used in the country where they are judging.
Carefully work through the ILLUSTRATED STANDARD on this site also. One seminar will never be enough. I have attended at least 30, and also presented many myself. Learning and understanding the standard is an ongoing process that you can never do enough of, because there is always more to learn about this very complicated breed.
For now you should try to familiarise yourself with the requirements of the Saint Bernard Standard, and learn everything you can about the Saint Bernard breed.
Other very useful guides to many aspects of the Saint Bernard breed are also included in this website.