Text and Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The lovely Saint Bernard is one of the jewels of Nature and the national dog in Switzerland. Its origins date back to the old Tibetan Mastiff, forefather of all the later molossi, which once tamed spread to China, India and Nepal. Therefore, the Molossus, a variant of the old Tibet Mastiff, was first introduced in the classical Greece, then in the Roman Empire and finally in Switzerland, a country which within time would become into its more traditional abode.
From 1659 on, the monks of the Hospice Monastery of the Great Saint Bernard, a famous mountain path right in the middle of the Alps, separating Switzerland and Italy, took charge of this gorgeous dog, that for the time being had lost some of the aggressiveness and fierceness inherent to the old Tibetan Mastiff.

They began a very comprehensive program of breeding selection, which brought about changes both regarding its originally fit for transporting food supplies through the mountains, its irreplaceable ability to rescue people on the snow was brought to light, a task in which the Saint Bernard is considered the deftest dog in the world.

They also wiped out their negative traits of personality, progressively replacing them with qualities of intelligence, kindness, self-confidence, obedience, loyalty and choice capacity.
The first official mention of Alpine rescue was in 1707, a date pointing out the beginning of a great number of rescue operations (in which the undoubtable champion was the well-known ´Barry´, that was able to rescue at least 44 people by itself).
Around 1820, very knowledgeable Swiss experts set about the selective breeding of Saint Bernards, with excellent results, while great English and USA breeders started to focus their efforts on this wondrous breed, developing its body size and creating 1 m high and 100 kg specimens.
Currently, there´re two types of Saint Bernards: the long haired variant and the short haired one, the advantage of the latter being the fact that the snow hangs less from its fur, allowing it greater freedom of movements.
The fur of the thick haired sample is plain or slightly waved, but never curled, longer in thighs and tail, while the fur of the short haired specimen is dense, smooth and strong, without perceptible changes in length on the various areas of the body.
A very typical feature of the Saint Bernard is its huge head, with the skull slightly arched, covered in hair, shaping characteristic wrinkles, specially visible when the fairly beautiful animal adopts an alert pose or is engrossed by something. It makes him appear rather sad, an effect emphasized by the upper lid, which casts a great deal on its eye, which often has a part of the nictitating membrane exposed. The nose bridge is straightforward and the nozzle full and not very long. The upper lip hangs, while the lower one has a normal size; the ears also hang, are relatively small and are placed on top of the head. The neck is sturdy, with a dewlap, and it fits in the well rounded but not prominent enough chest. Its huge and muscled body rests on equally very muscled straight legs, together with big and compact feet, preventing the dog from sinking on the snow.
The Saint Bernard is one of the most appreciated dog breeds, both by dog pundits and normal people, and very specially by kids. Its mere display always provokes waves of wonder and everybody becomes absent-minded looking at this very beautiful animal, good-natured, very noble and tremendously affable and friendly, very powerful, quick and nimble in spite of its size, and it is also considered as one of the best watchdogs.


Likewise, it is proverbial and very famous the typical little barrel Saint Bernards use to wear under their neck in the Swiss Alps, full of cognac, to relieve the rescued people from cold.

On the other hand, it is absolutely loyal and defender of its owner.

From these lines, I do wish to heartily thank the collaboration offered by Mr Marcelo Jorge Poymulle and Sandra Mangione, owners of the fabulous Saint Bernard "Beethoven", whose photograph illustrates this article, which wouldn´t have been feasible without their cooperation.
"Beethoven": LOE 0832823, born on March 11th 1997, son of Zano von Geutenreuth and Ninfa.

© Copyright José Manuel Serrano Esparza