This noble breed of dogs the St. Bernard has a strong hold on popular sentiment, as they are associated with the saving of life in Alpine snows. The breed probably originated in Switzerland, certainly the name did, but the dog that we know today is largely the product of the fanciers of other lands, England in particular.
For hundreds of years the monks of St. Bernard, a monastery in the Alps at the apex of the pass of that name, kept a kennel of large dogs, which accompanied the monks who daily patrol the pass to guide and assist travelers, and they undoubtedly from time to time detected travelers who had fallen helpless in the snow and would have escaped the human eye. These occurrences served as a basis upon which some remarkable stories have been written of dogs patrolling the pass alone and making miraculous and thrilling rescues.
The most celebrated of the Hospice dogs of the last century was Barry, who is said to have assisted in the rescue of over forty wanderers. This dog, mounted, is now in the museum at Berne, Switzerland. He was smooth coated and bears little resemblance to the modern St. Bernard.
Just what the origin of the Hospice breed was it is impossible to say, but it is not unlikely that they sprang from the Pyrenean sheep dog. At least it is recorded that when the kennels were devastated by distemper, which occurred several times, and the dogs which were left showed signs of degenerating from inbreeding, the monks introduced the blood of the native Shepherd as well as the Great Dane and the Newfoundland. Through this intermixture of blood the stamina of the breed was restored, and by careful selecting the type was fixed with a reasonable degree of certainty.
The monks have never been partial to the roughcoated dogs, as they found that their heavy coat and feathering soon clogged up with snow and handicapped their movements. Consequently they retained the smooth coats for the Hospice kennels and disposed of the rough coats to Swiss fanciers, and it was from these fanciers that most of the ancestors of the dogs with which the public is now familiar were obtained. Since then English fanciers have introduced the blood of the Mastiff and the Bloodhound, and the result of this intermixture of breeds is the St. Bernard of today, a magnificent animal that commands attention in any company for his size, beautiful coat, coloring, and majestic mien.
As a rule the St. Bernard is docile in temperament and affectionate in disposition.
The monks were very particular about markings, and type was not so important so long as the dog was big and strong. White, orange, and black were the colors looked for, a white blaze running up the face and joining the collar of the same color that circled the neck and crossed the shoulders and chest. The body was patched with orange and the orange color gradually deepened in color as it approached the white until it became black at the fringe. Particularly desired was a spot in the center of the white on the forehead. The idea of these markings being the representation of the stole, the chasuble, and scapular of the vestments of their order. Present-day fanciers do not attach so much importance to these markings.
In the selecting of St. Bernard puppies at from two to four months and after, look for great size and massiveness; head medium in length, with very deep, square muzzle, decided stop, massive skull, but the substance well distributed, not broad like a Mastiff. The puppy should show signs of growing tall, and promise enormous bone, short, deep body. A rich orange is the favorite color, with white collar, blaze, and dark shadings. The roughs show more coat as puppies than the smooths.
The standard adopted by the St. Bernard Club of America is as follows:
GENERAL CHARACTER.-Powerful, tall (upstanding), figure erect, strong and muscular in every part, with powerful head and most intelligent expression. In dogs with a black mask the expression appears more stern, but never ill-natured.
HEAD.-Like the whole body, very powerful and imposing. The massive skull is wide, slightly arched and sloping at the sides, with a gentle curve into the very well developed cheek bones. Occiput only slightly developed. The supra-orbital ridge is strongly developed and forms nearly a right angle with the horizontal apex of the head. Between the two supra-orbital arches and starting at the root of the muzzle runs a furrow over the whole skull; it is very deep between the supra-orbital arches and strongly defined up to the forehead, becoming gradually more shallow toward the base of the occiput. The lines at the sides, from the outer corner of the eyes, diverge considerably toward the back of the head. The skin on the forehead forms somewhat deep wrinkles, more or less distinct, and converging from the supra-orbital arch toward the furrow over the forehead; especially in action they are more visible, without in the least causing the expression to become stern. The stop is sudden and rather steep.
MUZZLE.-The muzzle is short, not snipy, and its depth, taken at the stop, must be greater than the length. The bridge of the muzzle is not arched, but straight, and in some dogs slightly broken. From the stop over the entire bridge of the muzzle to the nose runs a rather wide, well-marked, shallow furrow. The flews of the upper jaw are strongly developed, not cut at right angles, but turning with a graceful curve into the lower edge, and are slightly overhanging. The flews of the lower jaw must not be pendant. The teeth, in proportion to the conformation of the head, are moderately strongly developed. A black roof to the mouth is desirable.
NOSE.-Is very substantial and broad, with welldilated nostrils, and, like the lips, always black. Ears.-Are of moderate size, set rather high, with very strongly developed burr. They stand slightly outward at the base, then drop with a sharp bend to the side and lie closely to the head without a fold. The flap is thin and forms a rounded triangle, slightly elongated toward the point, the front edge lying closely to the head, whereas the back edge may stand away from the head somewhat, especially when the dog is listening. Ears lightly set on, which .at the base lie close to the head, give it an oval and too slightly marked appearance, whereas a strongly developed base gives the skull a squarer, broader, and much more expressive appearance.
EYES.-Set more to the front than the sides, are of moderate size, brown or nut-brown, with a sagacious and good-natured expression, set moderately deep. The lower eyelids do not as a rule fit close to the eyeballs, and form toward the inner corner an angular wrinkle. Eyelids which are too pendant and showing conspicuously the lachrymal glands or a red, thick haw are. objectionable.
NECK.-IS set on high, very strong, and in action is carried erect; otherwise horizontally or slightly downward. The junction of head and neck is distinctly marked by a line. Neck very muscular and rounded at the sides, which makes it appear rather short. Clearly noticeable dewlaps, but too much development of this is not desirable.
SHOULDERS.-Sloping and broad, very muscular and powerful, withers strongly defined. CHEST.-Well arched, moderately deep, not reaching below the elbows.
BACK.-Very broad, slightly arched in the loin only; otherwise perfectly straight as far as the haunches, sloping gently from the haunches to the rump, and merging imperceptibly into the root of the tail.
HINDQUARTERS.-WELL developed, thighs very muscular.
BELLY.-Showing distinctly where it joins the very powerful loins, only slightly drawn up. TAIL.-Starting broad and powerful directly from the rump; is long, very heavy, ending in a blunt tip. In repose it hangs straight down, turning gently upward in the lower third. In a great many specimens the tail is carried with the end turned slightly to one side (as in all former hospice dogs, according to old pictures), and therefore hangs down in the shape of a “P.” In action all dogs must carry their tails more or less turned upward, but not too erect or over the back; a slight curling over of the tip is admissible.
FOREARMS.-Very powerful and extraordinarily muscular.
FORELEG S.-Straight, strong. HINDLEGS.-Slightly bent on the hocks, and according to the presence of single or double dewclaws, the feet turn outward more or less, which, however, must not be understood to mean cowhocked.
FEET.-Broad, with strong toes moderately well closed up, and knuckles rather high. The single or double dewclaws set on low, so as to be almost on a level with the pad of the foot, give a greater surface and prevents the dog from breaking easily through the snow. There are dogs which have on their hind feet a regularly developed fifth toe (thumbs). The so-called dewclaws (wolf-sklaun) which sometimes occur on the hindlegs are imperfectly developed toes; they are of no use to the dog and are not taken into consideration in judging.
COAT.-IS very dense, broken haired (stock haaring), lying smooth (flat), tough, without feeling rough to the touch. Thighs slightly bushy. The tail at the root is covered with longer and more dense hair, which gradually becomes shorter toward the tip. The tail is bushy, but not forming a flag.
COLOR AND MARKING s.-White, and orange and white; orange in all its various shades, white with light to dark barred brindle patches, or these colors with white markings. The colors orange or light brindle and dark are of entirely equal value. The following markings are absolutely necessary: White chest, feet and tip of tail, noseband (white muzzle); white spot on nape and a blaze are very desirable. Never self-covered or without white. Faulty are all other colors except black shadings on the face and ears.
HEIGHT.-At shoulder of the dog (measured with the hound measure) ought to be thirty-nine inches; of the bitch, thirty-seven inches. The bitches are throughout of a more delicate and finer build.
All variations not in accordance with these points are faulty.