Are you considering buying a Saint Bernard? I think you’re choosing a wonderful breed!
Before you decide, ask yourself some questions. Can you resist buying the first cute puppy you see, on impulse? Are you prepared to make a commitment to a dog for the next 8-10 years or longer, even if you have life changes such as moving, new babies, divorce, or kids going off to college? Full responsibility for a dog is not a job for children; it requires a responsible adult, at least supervising, and should be carefully considered.
The commitment is not a small one; training a Saint Bernard to be a pleasant companion requires considerable time and patience. Saints don’t become well-behaved all by themselves! They require substantial attention and exercise throughout their lives; they are active and social animals and needs to be a part of his “human family”. Left to his own devices in the backyard, lonely, bored, uneducated in simple canine good manners and unused to being handled he will eventually be discarded as “unsuitable for the children”.
Saint Bernards SHED and DROOL! There is no such thing as a “DRY MOUTH” Saint Bernard. While some may drool less than others, all produce saliva in varying amounts. There are both shorthaired (smoothcoat) and longhaired (roughcoat) Saints. Both coat types are of equal value. And twice a year, usually in spring and autumn, they lose most of their coat to help them adjust to the changing seasons. Saint Bernards do require frequent brushing. Puppy chewing and digging can be destructive.
Do you have an appropriate environment for a puppy and are you willing to live with puppy mistakes? The Saint Bernard by nature does not require acres and acres to roam. They are not as active or nervous as some breeds and are content to remain close to home for the most part. Consequently an average fenced yard is adequate as long as there is some place for regular exercise and daily short walks are recommended.
Because of their size the Saint Bernard MUST be trained and this must be done early in life. Fortunately, Saint Bernards are eager to please and will begin responding to commands as soon as they understand what you want of them. Training a Saint Bernard can be a great joy. But a happy relaxed relationship with your Saint does not happen automatically. You must teach him a few simple rules of behavior so that he respects you and develops into a well mannered, obedient family member who is a pleasure to both you and your neighbors. Puppy pre-schools and obedience classes are excellent for the first time dog owner to learn how to get the dog to respond to his wishes.
Are you willing to spend the money it takes to provide appropriate care, including quality food and supplies, annual vaccines, heartworm testing and preventative, and spaying or neutering? Are you willing to wait for the right puppy from the responsible breeder of your choice? Remember, finding the best puppy for you is well worth the wait.
Buy a well-bred dog from a responsible breeder. Responsible breeders take care to produce healthy Saint Bernards with good temperaments. Don’t bargain-hunt and don’t buy a puppy from a pet store; often those puppies come from poor breeding, may have been kept in poor conditions with inadequate socialization, and are sometimes more expensive than puppies purchased from a responsible breeder. Responsible breeders do all they can to avoid producing serious problems, including aggressive or shy temperaments, hereditary health defects such as hip or elbow dysplasia. Remember that “AKC papers” are not an indication of quality in the dog. They only mean that the dog’s parents were AKC registered. Never buy a Saint Bernard sight unseen or over the internet – NEVER!!
Is a puppy really the right dog for me?
My Boys came to me at 19 months.
If you don’t have the time or facilities for socializing, house training, and obedience training a puppy, it’s possible that an older dog would be a better choice. Mature Saint Bernards usually adapt very well to new homes and can form very deep bonds. You can investigate Saint Bernard rescue or find a responsible breeder who may have an older dog to place in a new home.
How do I know a breeder is responsible?
Look for a breeder who:
- Is knowledgeable about the breed. Most responsible breeders continually test the results of their breeding programs by participating in conformation shows, obedience trials, rally trials, or weight pulling.
- Is knowledgeable about raising puppies. Even puppies with the best hereditary temperaments can exhibit behavioral problems if they are not socialized sufficiently or if they are removed from their dam and littermates before seven weeks of age. Socialization done by the breeder should include ensuring that each pup receives frequent human attention, is handled frequently, and is exposed to a wide variety of noises and experiences.
- Takes steps to keep the puppies as healthy as possible. Before puppies go to their new homes, they should have been wormed or checked for worms, and should have received their first shots.
- Takes steps to prevent occurrence of hereditary defects in the puppies. Both parents should have hip clearances from at least one of the following registries: OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals), PennHip, Wind-Morgan, or a foreign joint registry. Many breeders are checking parents for elbow defects as well as hips. Be sure to ask about health clearances; responsible breeders will be happy to tell you about them and will honestly discuss problems that might occur in the parents’ lines. Avoid breeders that tell you their dogs don’t need health clearances because they’ve never had a problem, or those who tell you that their ”vet said the dog was ok.” Remember that clearances on the parents don’t guarantee that the puppies will be free of problems, but your chances of buying a healthy puppy are greatly improved if the parents have been cleared.
Health problems that are common among Saint Bernards are Hip or Elbow Dysplasia, Entropian, Ectropian, Bone Cancer and Epilepsy.
Hip Dysplasia is by definition an ill-fitting hip. This can be caused by having shallow sockets, abnormal heads and necks of the femur and from excessively loose ligaments. Hip Dysplasia is a polygenetic inherited condition that is affected by environmental influences such as weight, diet and exercise, which can interact to cause rapid wear and tear of the hip joint leading to arthritic change.
Hip Dysplasia is a definite problem in Saint Bernards that needs to be assessed and taken into account before heavily working, exercising or breeding with an animal. Hip Dysplasia is a complex genetic and environmental problem but should be kept in its proper perspective relative to the breed as a whole. It is one genetic problem, not the only one.
Elbow disease is the preferred term to be used when talking about elbow problems in growing dogs. Unfortunately “elbow dysplasia” was the name given to the condition of ununited anconeal process and this term is closely linked in this way in the minds of most veterinarians and some dog breeders.
Elbow disease is a general term to denote joint problems in growing dogs and it includes ununited anconeal process (UAP), fragmented medial coronoid process (FCP) and osteochondrosis of the medial condyle of the humerus (OCD). These are the three most important conditions although there are a number of uncommon conditions included in the term.
Ectropian (the opposite of entropian) occurs when the lower eyelids roll away from the eyeball. Ectropian is common in breeds with loose facial skin. As the eyeball is insufficiently protected it is open to infection. Surgery is available to correct this problem.
Entropian (the opposite of ectropian) is a condition in which the eyelids turn inwards causing the dog’s eyelashes to rub against the cornea. This eventually causes ulcers to form and is extremely painful for the dog and if not treated can lead to blindness. There is surgery available to correct this problem but as some breeds are more prone to it than others it is best not to breed individual dogs that develop this condition.
- Does not breed bitches every time they come in season. This is extremely hard on the bitch and may indicate that profit is the breeder’s primary motive.
- Chooses breedings carefully. Ask why the particular sire was chosen. The answer should be thoughtful and knowledgeable. Answers such as “because he lived close to me” or “because he’s such a cute dog” generally don’t indicate a breeding that is being done to produce puppies that are better than their parents (the goal of every responsible breeder). One indication of a quality breeding is if the majority of dogs in the first few generations are titled (CH, OTCH, FC, CD, JH, WC and so on, before or after the dogs’ names). If the titles only appear generations back or if there are only a few in the entire pedigree, they don’t mean much.
- Lets you meet the parents of the puppies. Bitches may be sent long-distance to stud dogs, but the breeder should be able to show you photographs of the sire and answer questions about him.
- Evaluates puppy temperaments and helps you choose the puppy that is best suited to your lifestyle. A very active puppy won’t do well in a sedate environment, and a quiet puppy may be overwhelmed in an active household with noisy children. Remember that most breedings are done so the breeder can choose a puppy to carry on his or her own lines, so you may have to wait until this choice is made when the pups are 6-7 weeks old. After that, the breeder can help you decide which pup would be most suitable for you. The breeder has spent extensive time with the litter and knows the puppies best, so their advice is important.
- Will be willing to take the dog back at any time if you cannot keep it. Responsible breeders do NOT want their puppies to end up in an animal shelter or in a less-than-ideal home.
- Is someone you feel comfortable with. You may not be an expert on Saint Bernards, but you do know about people. Use your intuition. The breeder should be available for the life of the dog to answer questions, so this could be a long-term relationship. If you don’t trust the person, don’t buy a dog from them.
- Will provide appropriate documentation with the puppy, including registration papers, pedigree, and a health record.
- Is concerned about your future plans for the puppy, particularly whether you’re thinking of breeding the dog. Many responsible breeders sell pet-quality animals with mandatory spay/neuter contracts and/or Limited Registration (meaning that offspring of the dog cannot be registered). This is a good indication that the breeder cares enough about the breed to ensure that only the very best representatives are bred. Some breeders may be willing to change the Limited Registration to a Full Registration if you present the dog to them after maturity, having had all its health clearances. Then, if the breeder thinks the dog is of good quality and temperament, they may change the registration and help you with the selection of a good stud dog. Only the dog’s breeder can make this change.
How do I find a responsible breeder?
First, educate yourself. Read books on the breed. Attend dog shows or obedience trials, and talk to the Saint Bernard exhibitors. Be willing to spend some time on the phone, talking to breeders, and looking for referrals. Most responsible breeders will have a list of puppy buyers before they do a breeding, and usually don’t have to advertise in the newspaper. Please remember that the great majority of Saint Bernard breeders are hobby breeders. They are not “in business,” breeding is not their profession, and very few of them make money on their dogs. It’s a labor of love for the breed. Please give them the courtesy you’d give to your own friends and neighbors. You may not find a breeder that satisfies all these criteria, but these guidelines should be helpful in finding the best puppy for you and your situation.
How “kid and family friendly” is the Saint Bernard?
Puppies must be taught not to use their mouth on humans – even in play. They must be taught to tolerate having their ears, mouth, feet and tail handled and to allow food to be taken from their mouth. All these experiences will help ensure that the puppy is tolerant of any children who perform these actions. Teaching the puppy to sit before being patted will ensure that the dog does not jump for attention and knock children down. Although many dogs will tolerate almost any behavior from children they should not be expected to do so. Children who are not taught that it is very wrong to hit, kick, pinch or torment their own dog may one day meet a dog who is not so tolerant. Children should be seated before picking up a puppy, as a squirming puppy will usually be dropped.
A “safe” area should be provided where the puppy can go for rest and children should be told that they must not disturb him. Over-tired children and dogs both get cranky!
It is part of good parenting to supervise all activities of babies and small children and their time with the family dog should be no exception until parents are confident that both the child and dog are of an age where they can understand how to play gently and reliably together.There are a few basic rules parents should instill in their children. Children should be taught not to run up to strange dogs but to ask the owner’s permission to pat the dog. They should be taught not to hug strange dogs or to reach over the dog’s head to pat it on top of the head. If a dog is uneasy or tired of playing with children and tries to get away from them they must not follow it.
Dog owners should observe the following guidelines with visiting children. Dogs who are not used to children may be uneasy with their movements and sounds. If a dog is uneasy with visiting children he is better secured in a favorite area where the children cannot go to him. Don’t try to force your dog to allow a child to pat or play with it.
Suggested Reading; The Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete and How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With by Rutherford and Neil.