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.

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