St. Bernard – Swiss national dog

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The name “St. Bernard” refers to the dogs of the hospice on the Great St. Bernard, which was founded in 1050. From the late 17th century, dogs were used to assist the monks and these dogs are considered to be the ancestors of today’s mountain dogs.

Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard

St. Bernard Dogs: From Hospice Helpers to Iconic Mountain Companions

The early St. Bernard dogs differed greatly from today’s representatives of the breed. Both their size and their colors did not correspond to today’s appearance. It was not until the 19th century that the appearance of the breed stabilized and the longhair, which was unsuitable for working on the pass, was included in the breed.

Various countries, such as Germany, developed their own breed standards under the name “Alpenhund”. Finally, in 1887, the Swiss standard was generally recognized and became the leading standard for the breed.

The St. Bernard’s fame is mainly due to its use as an avalanche dog by the Augustinian monks of the Great St. Bernard Hospice, in particular the famous avalanche dog Barry, who is said to have saved over 40 lives.

St. Bernard Swiss National Dog

St. Bernard Swiss National Dog

However, the modern Bernhardiner is no longer so well suited to this task due to its breed development. It has become heavy and bulky, which is why dogs of other breeds have replaced it as an avalanche dog.

Nevertheless, there are still a few St. Bernards that are trained as avalanche dogs, particularly at the Fondation Barry, based in Martigny, which maintains the St. Bernard tradition. The dogs can be seen on the Great St. Bernard throughout the summer. An unforgettable highlight are the hikes accompanied by the St. Bernards.

Nowadays, the Swiss national dog is mainly found as a pet and companion dog. Since 1884, it has been proudly regarded as the official Swiss national dog and enjoys great popularity with families and dog lovers all over the world thanks to its amiable nature and loyal character traits.


Anneka meets the most famous Alpine Lifesaver to have existed – The Saint Bernard – Depicted at always carrying a brandy toddy underneath his chin – this incredible dog has saved thousands of stranded travellers on the Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps as well as avalanche victims. But what are one of these GIANT dogs like as a pet – Anneka meets Rhiannon of Tomorady Saints to find out…


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