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The St Bernard

The history of the St. Bernard dog would not be complete without
reference being made to the noble work that he has done in
Switzerland, his native land: how the Hospice St. Bernard kept a
considerable number of dogs which were trained to go over the
mountains with small barrels round their necks, containing
restoratives, in the event of their coming across any poor travellers
who had either lost their way, or had been overcome by the cold. We
have been told that the intelligent animals saved many lives in this
way, the subjects of their deliverance often being found entirely
buried in the snow.

Handsome as the St. Bernard is, with his attractive colour and
markings, he is a cross-bred dog. From the records of old writers
it is to be gathered that to refill the kennels at the Hospice which
had been rendered vacant from the combined catastrophes of distemper
and the fall of an avalanche which had swept away nearly all their
hounds, the monks were compelled to have recourse to a cross with
the Newfoundland and the Pyrenean sheepdog, the latter not unlike
the St. Bernard in size and appearance. Then, again, there is no doubt
whatever that at some time the Bloodhound has been introduced, and
it is known for a certainty that almost all the most celebrated St.
Bernards in England at the present time are closely allied to the

The result of all this intermixture of different breeds has been the
production of an exceedingly fine race of dogs, which form one of
the most attractive features at our dog shows, and are individually
excellent guards and companions. As a companion, the St. Bernard
cannot be surpassed, when a large dog is required for the purpose.
Most docile in temperament and disposition, he is admirably suited
as the associate of a lady or a child.

The St. Bernard is sensitive to a degree, and seldom forgets an
insult, which he resents with dignity. Specimens of the breed have
occasionally been seen that are savage, but when this is the case
ill-treatment of some sort has assuredly been the provoking cause.

The dogs at the Hospice of St. Bernard are small in comparison with
those that are seen in England belonging to the same race. The Holy
Fathers were more particular about their markings than great size.
The body colour should be brindle or orange tawny, with white
markings; the muzzle white, with a line running up between the eyes,
and over the skull, joining at the back the white collar that
encircles the neck down to the front of the shoulders. The colour
round the eyes and on the ears should be of a darker shade in the
red; in the centre of the white line at the occiput there should be
a spot of colour. These markings are said to represent the stole,
chasuble and scapular which form part of the vestments worn by the
monks; but it is seldom that the markings are so clearly defined;
they are more often white, with brindle or orange patches on the body,
with evenly-marked heads.

In England St. Bernards are either distinctly rough in coat or smooth,
but the generality of the Hospice dogs are broken in coat, having
a texture between the two extremes. The properties, however, of the
rough and smooth are the same, so that the two varieties are often
bred together, and, as a rule, both textures of coat will be the
result of the alliance. The late M. Schumacher, a great authority
on the breed in Switzerland, averred that dogs with very rough coats
were found to be of no use for work on the Alps, as their thick
covering became so loaded with snow and their feet so clogged that
they succumbed under the weight and perished. On that account they
were discarded by the monks.

In connection with the origin of the St. Bernard, M. Schumacher wrote
in a letter to Mr. J. C. Macdona, who was the first to introduce the
breed into Great Britain in any numbers: According to the tradition
of the Holy Fathers of the Great Saint Bernard, their race descends
from the crossing of a bitch (a Bulldog species) of Denmark and a
Mastiff (Shepherd's Dog) of the Pyrenees. The descendants of the
crossing, who have inherited from the Danish dog its extraordinary
size and bodily strength, and from the Pyrenean Mastiff the
intelligence, the exquisite sense of smell, and, at the same time,
the faithfulness and sagacity which characterise them, have acquired
in the space of five centuries so glorious a notoriety throughout
Europe that they well merit the name of a distinct race for

From the same authority we learn that it is something like six hundred
years since the St. Bernard came into existence. It was not, however,
till competitive exhibitions for dogs had been for some years
established that the St. Bernard gained a footing in Great Britain.
A few specimens had been imported from the Hospice before Mr. Cumming
Macdona (then the Rev. Cumming Macdona) introduced us to the
celebrated Tell, who, with others of the breed brought from
Switzerland, formed the foundation of his magnificent kennel at West
Kirby, in Cheshire. Albert Smith, whom some few that are now alive
will remember as an amusing lecturer, brought a pair from the Hospice
when returning from a visit to the Continent and made them take a
part in his attractive entertainment; but the associations of the
St. Bernard with the noble deeds recorded in history were not then
so widely known, and these two dogs passed away without having created
any particular enthusiasm.

Later on, at a dog show at Cremorne held in 1863, two St. Bernards
were exhibited, each of whom rejoiced in the name of Monk, and were,
respectively, the property of the Rev. A. N. Bate and Mr. W. H. Stone.
These dogs were exhibited without pedigrees, but were said to have
been bred at the Hospice of St. Bernard. Three years later, at the
National Show at Birmingham, a separate class was provided for the
saintly breed, and Mr. Cumming Macdona was first and second with Tell
and Bernard. This led to an immediate popularity of the St. Bernard.
But Tell was the hero of the shows at which he appeared, and his owner
was recognised as being the introducer into this country of the
magnificent variety of the canine race that now holds such a prominent
position as a show dog.

The names of Tell and Bernard have been handed down to fame, the
former as the progenitor of a long line of rough-coated offspring;
the latter as one of the founders of the famous Shefford Kennel, kept
by Mr. Fred Gresham, who probably contributed more to the perfecting
of the St. Bernard than any other breeder. His Birnie, Monk, Abbess,
Grosvenor Hector, and Shah are names which appear in the pedigrees
of most of the best dogs of more recent times. When Mr. Gresham drew
his long record of success to a close there came a lull in the
popularity of the breed until Dr. Inman, in partnership with Mr. B.
Walmsley, established a kennel first at Barford, near Bath, and then
at The Priory, at Bowden, in Cheshire, where they succeeded in
breeding the finest kennel of St. Bernards that has ever been seen
in the world. Dr. Inman had for several years owned good dogs, and
set about the work on scientific principles. He, in conjunction with
Mr. Walmsley, purchased the smooth-coated Kenilworth from Mr. Loft,
bred that dog's produce with a brindle Mastiff of high repute, and
then crossed back to his St. Bernards with the most successful
results. Dr. Inman was instrumental in forming the National St.
Bernard Club, which was soon well supported with members, and now
has at its disposal a good collection of valuable challenge cups.
The dogs bred at Bowden carried all before them in the show ring,
and were continually in request for stud purposes, improving the breed
to a remarkable extent.

At the disposal of Messrs. Inman and Walmsley's kennel, there were
such admirable dogs as the rough-coated Wolfram--from whom were bred
Tannhauser, Narcissus, Leontes and Klingsor--the smooth-coated dogs,
the King's Son and The Viking; the rough-coated bitch, Judith Inman,
and the smooth Viola, the last-named the finest specimen of her sex
that has probably ever been seen. These dogs and bitches, with several
others, were dispersed all over England, with the exception of
Klingsor, who went to South Africa.

Almost all the best St. Bernards in Great Britain at the present time
have been bred or are descended from the Bowden dogs.

The following is the description of the St. Bernard as drawn up by
the members of the St. Bernard Club:

* * * * *

HEAD--The head should be large and massive, the circumference of the
skull being more than double the length of the head from nose to
occiput. From stop to tip of nose should be moderately short; full
below the eye and square at the muzzle; there should be great depth
from the eye to the lower jaw, and the lips should be deep throughout,
but not too pendulous. From the nose to the stop should be straight,
and the stop abrupt and well defined. The skull should be broad and
rounded at the top, but not domed, with somewhat prominent brow.
EARS--The ears should be of medium size, lying close to the cheek,
but strong at the base and not heavily feathered. EYES--The eyes
should be rather small and deep set, dark in colour and not too close
together; the lower eyelid should droop, so as to show a fair amount
of haw. NOSE--The nose should be large and black, with well developed
nostrils. The teeth should be level. EXPRESSION--The expression should
betoken benevolence, dignity, and intelligence. NECK--The neck should
be lengthy, muscular, and slightly arched, with dewlap developed,
and the shoulders broad and sloping, well up at the withers. GENERAL
DESCRIPTION OF BODY--The chest should be wide and deep, and the back
level as far as the haunches, slightly arched over the loins; the
ribs should be well rounded and carried well back; the loin wide and
very muscular. TAIL--The tail should be set on rather high, long,
and in the long-coated variety bushy; carried low when in repose,
and when excited or in motion slightly above the line of the back.
LEGS--The fore-legs should be perfectly straight, strong in bone,
and of good length; and the hind-legs very muscular. The feet large,
compact, with well-arched toes. SIZE--A dog should be at least 30
inches in height at the shoulder, and a bitch 27 inches (the taller
the better, provided the symmetry is maintained); thoroughly well
proportioned, and of great substance. The general outline should
suggest great power and capability of endurance. COAT--In the
long-coated variety the coat should be dense and flat; rather fuller
round the neck; the thighs feathered but not too heavily. In the
short-coated variety, the coat should be dense, hard, flat, and short,
slightly feathered on thighs and tail. COLOUR AND MARKINGS--The colour
should be red, orange, various shades of brindle (the richer colour
the better), or white with patches on body of one of the above named
colours. The markings should be as follows; white muzzle, white blaze
up face, white collar round neck; white chest, forelegs, feet, and
end of tail; black shadings on face and ears. If the blaze be wide
and runs through to the collar, a spot of the body colour on the top
of the head is desirable.

The weight of a dog should be from 170 lbs. to 210 lbs.; of a bitch
160 lbs. to 190 lbs.

* * * * *

During the past twenty-five years St. Bernards have been bred in this
country very much taller and heavier than they were in the days of
Tell, Hope, Moltke, Monk, Hector, and Othman. Not one of these
measured over 32 inches in height, or scaled over 180 lbs., but the
increased height and greater weight of the more modern production
have been obtained by forcing them as puppies and by fattening them
to such an extent that they have been injured in constitution, and
in many cases converted into cripples behind. The prizewinning
rough-coated St. Bernard, as he is seen to-day is a purely
manufactured animal, handsome in appearance certainly, but so
cumbersome that he is scarcely able to raise a trot, let alone do
any tracking in the snow. Usefulness, however, is not a consideration
with breeders, who have reared the dog to meet the exigencies of the
show ring. There is still much left to be desired, and there is room
for considerable improvement, as only a few of the more modern dogs
of the breed approach the standard drawn up by the Clubs that are
interested in their welfare.

Next: The Newfoundland

Previous: The French Bulldog (bouledogue Francais)

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