22 May, 2016
Saint Bernard Dog
Saint Bernard Dog
- The Saint Bernard originated in Switzerland along with several other breeds, including the Bernese Mountain Dog, Entlebuch Cattle Dog, Appenzell Cattle Dog, and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.They probably were created when dogs native to the Alps were crossed with Mastiff-type dogs that came with the Roman army during the time of the emperor Augustus. By the first millennium CE, dogs in Switzerland and the Alps were grouped together and known simply as Talhund” (Valley Dog) or “Bauernhund” (Farm Dog). The Saint Bernard Pass is a well-known and treacherous alpine pass that lies roughly 8,000 feet above sea level and can only be traveled between July and September. Today remnants of the great Roman road can be seen, as well as evidence of Napoleon’s crossing.
Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon arrived at this pass, which would eventually be named after him, in 962 AD, and there he founded his hospice, which aided travelers who were overcome by crossing this treacherous pass. That’s when the Saint Bernard’s history began to branch out from the Talhund or Bauerhund. It is unclear when the dogs were first used by the Hospice, but a painting depicting well-built shorthaired dogs that greatly resembled Saint Bernards as they are today was painted in 1695. The first written mention of the breed in the monastery’s records was in 1703. The dogs were probably originally used by the hospice monks to guard the grounds. When the monks went in search of lost travelers, they may have brought along the dogs for protection and discovered by accident that they were excellent pathfinders with an ability to locate helpless travelers. The isolation of the monastery probably contributed to the refinement of the dogs into a breed that could withstand harsh winters and had the physical characteristics needed for their search and rescue work. The Hospice’s breeding stock was occasionally replenished by dogs from the lower valleys, many of which were puppies of the hospice dogs that weren’t needed at the time of their birth. In 1830, the monks attempted to improve their dogs’ coats by crossing them with the thick-coated Newfoundland. That was a mistake. The longhaired offspring were inferior because ice built up in their longer coats. After that time, the monks gave away or sold any longhaired puppies they produced.
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