Historical Significance of the St Bernard Rescue Dogs

Canines in the 18th century were already living among monks to help them during rescue missions after some bad snowstorms. Basically, these dog breeds were popular for saving lives. Their name came to be as these monks lived in the snowy and dangerous St. Bernard Pass. This is where the route that goes between Switzerland and Italy.

Accordingly, there were a sum of 2,000 people, which include soldiers to children, rescued due to the heroics of these dogs. It was due to their extraordinary sense of direction and resistance to cold temperature. Following several crossbreeding though, these canines have become the domestic St. Bernard dogs common in households nowadays. Here is a brief history on how these dog breeds came to be.

St. Bernard Dogs as Hospice Hounds

In a 49-mile route into the Western Alps, which is also referred to as the Great St. Bernard Pass, a monk was able to establish a monastery and hospice in the year 1050. This was due to the treacherous nature of this route that threatened many travelers during that time.

The monks then acquired their first St. Bernards during the 1660s and 1670s to serve as their companions and watchdogs. These are the descendants of the mastiff style Asiatic dogs that were brought over by Roman soldiers. In comparison to present-day breeds, the dogs then were smaller in stature, white fur, longer tail, and shorter reddish brown fur.

It was then discovered by the servants in 1750 that these dogs were able to help them clear the paths for travelers due to their broad chests. Likewise, it was known that these dogs had a tremendous sense of smell and ability to discover people under the deep snow being buried. Since then, they were sent on packs of 2 or 3 in order to look for lost or injured people.

Rescue Dogs

More rescue missions came down St. Bernard Pass for the next 150 years. Most of the people rescued were buried travelers and these dogs managed to lie on top of those who were injured to keep them warm. The other dog would notify the monks at the hospice regarded some stranded pilgrims.

Breeding St. Bernards

At the beginning of 1830, breeding of St. Bernards was started by the monks. Thus, thoughts of having longer hair have come up, as it would better protect them from the cold. However, as ice formed on their fur, they were no longer able to become effective in rescue missions. Therefore, they were given away to nearby Swiss valleys.

An innkeeper used a studbook in 1855 in order to breed the dogs effectively. Some of the dogs produced by the innkeeper were given to the hospice, while others were exported to Russia, the United States, and England. Many names were given to this breed of dogs, until in 1880, the name St. Bernard was officially recognized by the Swiss Kennel Club.

However, the Barry Foundation was formed in 2004 to establish kennels in Martingy, which is a village below the mountain from the St. Bernard pass. Several puppies were born each year at the foundation, but rescue efforts are now handled by helicopters.

As Always,


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