DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD
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This article has been adapted from: DON'T BUY A BOUVIER!
by Pam Green (c.1992)(This article, written many years ago, has become
a notorious classic in Bouvier circles. It has been reprinted many times
by clubs to use for the education of prospective Bouvier owners. She gives
her permission freely to all who wish to reprint and distribute it in hopes
of saving innocent dogs from neglect and abandonment by those who should
never have acquired them in the first place).
Interested in buying a Saint? You must be or you wouldn't
be reading this. You've already heard how marvelous Saints are. Well, I
think you should also hear, before it's too late, that SAINT BERNARDS
ARE NOT THE PERFECT BREED FOR EVERYONE. As a breed , they have a few
characteristics that some people find charming, but that some people find
mildly unpleasant, and some people find downright intolerable.
There are different breeds for different needs. There
are over 200 breeds of dogs in the world. Maybe you would be better off
with goldfish, a parakeet, a hamster, or some house-plants.
DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU ARE ATTRACTED
TO THE BREED *CHIEFLY* BY IT'S APPEARANCE
The appearance of the Saint Bernard you have seen in the
show ring is the product of many hours of bathing and grooming. This carefully
constructed beauty is fleeting: a few minutes of freedom, romping through
the fields or strolling in the rain restores the natural look. The natural
look of the Saint is that of a large, shaggy farm dog, usually with some
dirt and weeds clinging to his tousled coat. The true beauty of the Saint
lies in his character, not in his appearance. Some of the long-coated and
most of the short-coated breeds' appearances are less dependent on grooming
than is that of especially the long-haired Saint.
DON'T BUY A SAINT IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO SHARE
YOUR HOUSE AND YOUR LIFE WITH YOUR DOG.
Saints were bred to share in the work of their master (they
are service dogs, used for saving lives, hiking, pulling carts, etc.) and
to spend most of their waking hours working with their master. They thrive
on companionship and they want to be wherever you are. They are happiest
living with you in your house and going with you when you go out. While
they usually tolerate being left at home by themselves (preferably with
a dog-door giving access to the fenced yard), they should not be relegated
to the backyard or kennel. A puppy exiled from the house is likely to grow
up to be unsociable, unruly, and unhappy. He may well develop pastimes,
such as digging or barking, that will displease you and/or your neighbors.
An adult so exiled will be miserable too. If you don't strongly prefer to have your dog's companionship as much as possible, enjoying having him
sleep in your bedroom at night and sharing many of your activities by day,
you should choose a breed less oriented to human companionship. Likewise
if your job or other obligations prevent your from spending much time with
your dog. No dog is really happy without companionship, but the pack hounds
for example, are more tolerant of being kenneled or yarded so long as it
is in groups of 2 or more. A better choice would be a cat, as they are
solitary by nature.
DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU DON'T INTEND
TO EDUCATE (TRAIN) YOUR DOG.
Basic obedience and household rules training is NOT optional
for the Saint. As an absolute minimum, you must teach him to reliably respond
to commands to come, to lie down, to stay, and to walk at your side, or
on or off a leash and regardless of temptations. You must also teach him
to respect your household rules: e.g. is he allowed to get on the furniture?
Is he allowed to beg at the table? What you allow or forbid is unimportant,
but it is *critical* that you, not the dog, make these choices and that
you enforce your rules consistently. You must commit yourself to attending
an 8 to 10 weeks series of weekly lessons at a local obedience club or
with a professional trainer, and to doing one or two short (5 to 20 minutes)
homework sessions per day. As commands are learned, they must be integrated
into your daily life by being used whenever appropriate, and enforced consistently.
Young Saint puppies are relatively easy to train: they are eager to please,
intelligent, and calm-natured, with a relatively good attention span. Once
a Saint has learned something, he tends to retain it well. Your cute, sweet
little Saint puppy will grow up to be a large, powerful dog. If he has
grown up respecting you and your rules, then all his physical and mental
strength will work for you. But if he has grown up without rules and guidance
from you, surely he will make his own rules, and his physical and mental
powers will often act in opposition to your needs and desires. For example:
he may tow you down the street as if competiting in a sled-dog race; he
may grab food off the table; he may forbid your guests entry to "his" home. This
training cannot be delegated to someone else, e.g. by sending the dog away
to "boarding school," because the relationship of respect and obedience
is personal between the dog and the individual who does the training. While
you definitely want the help of an experienced trainer to teach you how
to train your dog, you yourself must actually train your Saint. As each
lesson is well learned, then the rest of the household (except young children)
must also work with the dog, insisting he obey them as well. Many of the
Saints that are rescued from Pounds and Shelters show clearly that they
have received little or no basic training, neither in obedience nor in
household deportment; yet these same dogs respond well to such training
by the rescuer or the adopter. It seems likely that a failure to train
the dog is a significant cause of Saint abandonment. If you don't intend
to educate your dog, preferably during puppy hood, you would be better off
with a breed that is both small and socially submissive.
DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU LACK LEADERSHIP
Dogs do not believe in social equality. They live in a social
hierarchy led by a pack-leader (Alpha). The alpha dog is generally benevolent,
affectionate, and non-bullying towards his subordinates; but there is
never any doubt in his mind or in theirs that the alpha is the boss and
makes the rules. Whatever the breed, if you do not assume the leadership,
the dog will do so sooner or later and with more or less unpleasant consequences
for the abdicating owner. Like the untrained dog, the pack-leader dog makes
his own rules and enforces them against other members of the household
by means of a dominant physical posture and a hard-eyed stare, followed
by a snarl, then a knockdown blow or a bite. Breeds differ in tendencies
towards social dominance; and individuals within a breed differ considerably.
You do not have to have the personality or mannerisms of a Marine boot
camp Sergeant, but you do have to have the calm, quiet self-assurance and
self-assertion of the successful parent ("Because I'm your mother, that's
why.") or successful grade-school teacher. If you think you might have
difficulty asserting yourself calmly and confidently to exercise leadership,
then choose a breed known for its socially subordinate disposition, such
as a Golden Retriever or a Shetland Sheepdog, AND be sure to ask the breeder
to select one of the more submissive pups in the litter for you. If the
whole idea of "being the boss" frightens or repels you, don't get a dog
at all. Cats don't expect leadership. A caged bird or hamster, or fish
doesn't need leadership or household rules.
Leadership and training are inextricably intertwined: leadership
personality enables you to train your dog, and being trained by you reinforces
your dog's perception of you as the alpha.
DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU DON'T VALUE
LAID-BACK COMPANIONSHIP AND
A Saint becomes deeply attached and devoted to his
own family, but he doesn't "wear his heart on his sleeve." Some are noticeably
reserved, others are more outgoing, but few adults are usually exuberantly
demonstrative of their affections. They like to be near you, usually in
the same room, preferably on a comfortable pad or cushion in a corner or
under a table, just "keeping you company." They enjoy conversation, petting
and cuddling when you offer it, but they are moderate and not overbearing
in coming to you to demand much attention. They are emotionally sensitive
to their favorite people: when you are joyful, proud, angry, or grief-stricken,
your Saint will immediately perceive it and will believe himself to be
the cause. The relationship can be one of the great mellows, depth and
subtlety; it is a relation on an adult-to-adult level, although certainly
not one devoid of playfulness. As puppies, of course, they will be more
dependent, more playful, and more demonstrative. In summary, Saints tend
to be sober, noble and thoughtful rather than giddy clowns or sycophants.
DON'T BUY A SAINT IF YOU ARE FASTIDIOUS ABOUT
The Saint Bernard's thick shaggy coat (long-haired
variety) and his love of playing in water and mud combine to make him a
highly efficient transporter of dirt into your home, depositing same on
your floors and rugs and possibly also on your furniture and clothes. One
Saint coming in from a few minutes outdoors on a rainy day can turn an
immaculate house into an instant hog wallow. His full chest soaks up water
every time he takes a drink, then releases same drippingly across your
floor or soppingly into your lap. Saint Bernards are seasonal shedders,
and in spring can easily fill a trash bag with balls of hair from one grooming
session, or clog a vacuum cleaner if left to shed in the house. I don't
mean to imply that you must be a slob or slattern to live happily with
a Saint, but you do have to have the attitude that your dog's company means
more to you than does neatness, and you do have to be comfortable with
a less than immaculate house.
While all dogs, like children, create a greater or
lesser degree of household mess, almost all other breeds of dog are less
troublesome than the Saint in this respect. The Basenji is perhaps the
cleanest, due to its cat-like habits; but cats are cleaner yet, and goldfish
hardly ever mess up the house.
DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU FIND DROOL TOTALLY
Most Saint owners begin with some degree of distaste
for drool, but as this is an integral part of the Saint, this dislike
usually progresses to some level of nonchalance. A sure sign of a Saint
addict is that not only do they not understand other people's squeamishness for this substance, they spend many hours trying to come up with useful
purposes for the gallons of drool that can be produced on a regular basis.
Some say that the world record "drool toss" from an adult Saint is over
20 feet! This makes your walls and ceilings well within reach of even an
average drooler. Saint's drool because of their jaw and mouth structure,
which allows them to breath while performing tasks, this is a quality inherent
in the breed.
If you cannot get used to the idea of drool in your
house, then try one of the many breeds of dogs that do not drool. Saints
are definitely not in this category. Although I have heard of cats who
drool, the quantity is not remotely comparable, and hamsters don't drool
DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU DISLIKE DOING
The thick shaggy long-haired Saint Bernard coat demands
regular grooming, not merely to look tolerable nice, but also to preserve
the health of the skin underneath and to detect and remove foxtails, ticks,
and other dangerous invaders. For pet grooming you should expect to spend
10-15 minutes a day.
Almost every Saint that is rescued out of a Pound
or Shelter shows the effects of many months of no grooming, resulting in
massive matting and horrendous filthiness.
Many other breeds of dog require less grooming; the
short slick coated breeds require very little.
DON'T BUY A SAINT IF YOU DISLIKE DAILY EXERCISE.
Saints need exercise to maintain the health of heart
and lungs, and to maintain muscle tone. Because of his mellow, laid-back,
often lazy, disposition, your Saint will not give himself enough exercise
unless you accompany him or play with him.
DON'T BUY A SAINT IF YOU BELIEVE THAT DOGS SHOULD
Whether you live in town or country, no dog can safely
be left to run "free" outside your fenced property and without your direct
supervision and control. The price of such "freedom" is inevitably injury
or death: from dogfights, from automobiles, from the Pound or from justifiably
irate neighbors. If you don't want the responsibility of confining and
supervising your pet, then no breed of dog is suitable for you.
DON'T BUY A SAINT IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY,
FEED, AND PROVIDE HEALTHCARE FOR ONE.
Saints are not a cheap breed to buy, as running a
careful breeding program with due regard for temperament, trainability,
and physical soundness (hips especially) cannot be done cheaply. The time
the breeder should put into each puppy's pre-school and socialization is
also costly. The bargain puppy from a back yard breeder who unselectively
mates any two Saints who happen to be of opposite sex may well prove to
be extremely costly in terms of bad temperament, bad health, and lack of
DON'T BUY A SAINT IF YOU WANT THE "LATEST, GREATEST
FEROCIOUS KILLER ATTACK DOG."
The Saint's famous disposition as the "Noble Gentle
Giant" is not a fable, a Saint with the typical disposition of the breed
would prefer to slobber a criminal than attack one. Also because of selective
breeding for rescue, Saints are very laid back.
DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING
TO COMMIT YOURSELF FOR THE DOG'S ENTIRE LIFETIME.
No dog deserves to be cast out because his owners
want to move to a no pet apartment, or because he is no longer a cute puppy,
or didn't grow up to be a beauty contest winner, or because his owners
through lack of leadership and training have allowed him to become an unruly
juvenile delinquent with a repertoire of undesirable behaviors. The life
span of a Saint is about 10 years. If that seems too long a time for you
to give an unequivocal loyalty to your Saint, then please do not get one!
Indeed, as most dogs have a life expectancy that is as long or longer,
please do not get any dog.
If all the proceeding "bad news" about Saints hasn't
turned you away from the breed, then by all means DO GET A SAINT! They
are every bit as wonderful as you have heard!
NOW WHAT DO YOU DO NEXT?
1. Research, research, research - you will find most
responsible Saint Breeders are small kennels. Most produce 1-2 litters
a year, and often have a waiting list of puppy buyers. Here are some suggestions,
attend dog shows, to meet breeders and make contacts in your search for
the right Saint for you. 2. Contact the Saint Bernard Club of America.
(They request that you investigate before you invest). They provide an information
packet for the breed standard, information on joining the SBCA,
facts about the breed and a list of registered breeders. For Information
contact: Penny Janz, 33400 Red Fox Way, North Prairie, WI. 53153.
Presented by Twin Branch Saints
770 Twin Branch Road
London, KY. 40741