Breed history

The Saint Bernard Pass

The origin of the Saint Bernard Dog is inextricably bound to the mountain pass and the monastery which bear the same name. The Great Saint Bernard Pass, which provides a route between Switzerland and Italy, has a rich history.

In 57 B.C., during the Gallic wars, Caesar attempted to conquer the alpine tribes and assure safe passage over the Alps. However, it was not until 7 to 6 B.C. that the Roman legions, under Augustus, conquered the alpine region and secured the pass. The “Tropaeum Alpinum” in La Turbie, stands as monument to past victories by Roman legions and lists the Alpine tribes, whom they defeated.

The small path over the Summus Poeninus, as the Saint Bernard was then called, was enlarged by the Emperor Claudius in the year 43. The improved route could accommodate carriages and was given the rank of an imperial road. Roman garrisons from Aosta and Martigny were responsible for the safety of travelers. A small temple in honor of Jupiter (Jovis) was build on top of the pass at an altitude of 2464 m. and a small “mansio” was added to accommodate travelers. The pass was the most important cross ing over the Alps and provided the shortest path to the newly conquered province, Britannia. In honor of Jupiter the mountain was renamed “Mons Jovis.”

After the Teutonic incursion (starting around the year 500), the pass lost it’s importance and was used less and less during the following centuries. Roads leading toward the pass became desolate. The pass regained its importance during medieval times, but was plagued by brigands and robbers who preyed on travelers.

Not all travelers were saved. The unlucky ones were brought to a morgue erected in 1476 The monastery in winter (ca. 1950) Legend states that the Monastery was founded around the year 950, by the Holy Saint Bernard of Montjou (deacon in Aosta, canonized in 1123). However, historical fact confirms a meeting between Bernard and the emperor Henry IV in the year 1086, while both men were in Pavia and where Bernard tried to convince (in vain) Henry IV not to go to war against Pope Gregor VII. Bernard died shortly after this meeting on June 12th and was buried on June 15th.
Thus, it is unlikely that Bernard founded the Monastery 130 years before the date of his death. It is believed that the Monastery was actually founded in or around the year 1050. The evil spirits that Bernard supposedly defeated, were most probably the bands of robbers who frequented the pass.

Once founded, the Monastery required a reliable income in order to fulfill it’s duties. A complete list of all donations to the monastery commenced in 1125. In 1177, a Papal Bull from Pope Alexander III placed the Monastery under papal shelter. At that time, the Monastery’s assets enumerated around 80 estates from Sicily, France, Switzerland and England.

The pass over Mont-Joux, as the pass was then called, regained its prior importance for commercial travelers and pilgrims to Rome. During the next four hundred years the Monastery grew to about it’s current size. It was in the sixteenth century that the pass and the Monastery were given the name of the Saint Bernard.

The history of the Saint Bernard Dog, is predicated on access to the Monastery. The pass was deserted for centuries, thus preventing the routine shipment of animals to regions surrounding the pass. From the Roman age to the time during which the Monastery was founded, there was not a steady influx of dogs. The interruption of the shipment of dogs to the area is important to understanding the origin of the Saint Bernard.

The Origins of the Dogs

The scientist C. Keller, derived the Saint Bernard Dog from the Roman “Molossian,”, a dog supposedly descended from the Tibetan Mastiff. Marco Polo (1290) described the Tibetan Mastiff: “as large as a donkey” Surely, the breed was never quite that large. From the Tibetan highlands, the dog is said to have found it’s way to Nepal and India and from there, into Babylonian and Assyrian cultures. Supposedly, Alexander the Great brought the Tibetan Mastiff to Greece, where it served as found ation stock for the Molossians.

Between 1200 and 1100 BC, the Phoenicians advanced from Cyprus, toward the west and established colonies in Sicily, Spain, France and England. In a fascinating and sharp-witted treatise, Tschudy proposed the theory that the descendants of the old Assyrian dogs existed along the old commercial roads of the Phoenicians. Tschudy suggested that the Assyrian dogs, brought to Europe by the Phoenicians, were the ancestors of the Pyrenean Mountain Dog in Spain, the Dogue de Bordeaux in France, the Mastiff in Engla nd and the Saint Bernard Dog in Switzerland.

Strebel pursued this question about the Molossians very thoroughly. After having consulted all known historical sources he came to the following conclusion: Next to the large and mostly dark colored dogs belonging to the Assyrians and Babylonians there existed a brighter and lighter dog used as a cattle dog and for hunting purposes. This breed, he concluded, must be called the Molossian.

All known Greek and Roman illustrations show the Molossian as a large, well muscled dog with erect ears, a lean head and a mane. The characteristic curled tail and darker color of the Assyrian dogs is never pictured or described by either the Greeks or the Romans. A direct relation between the Tibetan Mastiff and the Molossian is therefore very unlikely.

Even though many authors (Keller, Krämer, Tschudy, Heim and others) tried to trace the origin of the Saint Bernard Dog and the other Swiss cattle dogs to the Tibetan Mastiff via the Molossians there are absolutely no scientific facts to support this thesis; No written documents, no pictures and no osteological proof could be found to endorse these views!

Greek and Roman dogs (more on full-size pic) from left to right – lower row: two Neolithic dogs and an Iron Age dog. Upper row: two “Küherhunde” (cowherd’s dogs) and Barry. An ‘evolution’ from the Stone Age dogs to Barry may be explained by a gradual increase in body size of local populations Prof. Th. Studer devoted his scientific work to the exploration of the origin of the domestic dog and published many papers on prehistoric dogs. He maintained that as early as the bronze age (Hallstatt period a & b, 1200 – 800 B.C.) there existed a Mastiff-like dog breed of medium size (65 – 70 cm at the withers). It is likely that this breed lived in Central Europe and thus can be placed in the region now called Switzerland at a date long before the arrival of the Romans.

Studer came to this conclusion after studying many ancient dog skulls and specifically, a Bronze Age skull from Karlstein. He mentions the “Kollektivrasse der grossen Alpenhunde” (collective breed of large alpine dogs), from which all modern breeds could easily be traced.

Hauck, an expert on canine history, came to a similar verdict. He wrote: “I cannot agree with ancient tales about the transplanting of large Mastiffs from Asia towards Europe. There are no osteological and no pictorial representations to allow an unambiguous proof.”

Both Studer and Hauck came to the conclusion that all European Mastiff types evolved locally from Neolithic dogs at different times and at different locations. Prehistoric trade between East and West was not a prerequisite to the existence of similar dog breeds in different locations.Further, the capacity to rear different breeds from local stock was present everywhere.

We cannot deny that, during Roman times, some Roman dogs did mix with local dog populations. However these dogs were by no means huge and did not immediatly affect size within local populations.

Gradually, functional divisions resulted in phenotypic differences between watch dogs, hunting dogs and herding dogs. Later, lap dogs and companion animals were developed. It should be noted that the all-purpose or mixed-breed has probably always outnumbered the specialized or purebred dog.

Thus the direct ancestors of our Swiss dog breeds, which were entered in the first stud books at the end of the last century, were by no means of pure breed. They were dogs suited for specific tasks. Breeders chose certain styles according to their idealistic notions of structure as it enhanced “function.” The fact that many dogs exhibited similar morphology, cannot be used as proof for the existence of (genetically) purebred dogs.

The Dogs from the Hospice

The first dogs were probably kept at the Hospice between years 1660 and 1670. Undoubtedly, their initial purpose was that of watch dog. Around 1690, Salvatore Rosa painted two dogs from the Hospice. They are described as “Küherhunde” (cowherd’s dogs) with slightly heavier heads. The first dog is splash-coated or “patched.” The second dog is a “Mantelhund” (dog with a mantle) with primarily, a white head.

The first written reference to dogs at the Hospice, dates from 1703. Prior Balalu mentions that his cook, Vincent Canos, built an exercise wheel to which a dog could be harnessed. When the dog walked, a cooking spit would turn. This invention was not new and considering the number of travelers that had to be fed, it is not surprising that Canos thought of finding kitchen help. The volume of visitors through the Monastery grew such that by 1898, between 18,000 and 20,000 travelers passed through it’s entrance, annually. Visitors were afforded three days free lodging with meals, which consisted primarly of meat and bread.

In 1707, a notation in the archives states: “we have lost a dog in an avalanche”. In 1731, furs from dogs are mentioned as bed-side rugs. A bill from 1735 shows that the Prior paid for the repair of a dog-collar. In a note from 1787, we read that the Monastery’s dogs have successfully warded off a band of brigands. These are the first written documents about dogs at the Hospice. But from where did those dogs come? Certainly, the breed did not have its origin at the Hospice.

The dogs from the Hospice are nearly always described as having exceptional size. But this must be seen as a relative size and probably was considerably smaller than that of modern Saint Bernards. Chroniclers seem to agree that the color of the Hospice dogs was typically red-brown and white. This coloration was wide-spread among farm dogs in Switzerland. Even today, when there are few red farm dogs in Switzerland, we have a saying, used to describe that which is common; “vo dämm git’s meh weder rot Hüng” (there’s more of that than red dogs). Thus, the red-white coloring was the singular recognizable characteristic of the Saint Bernard. Consequently many red farm dogs, whose ancestors had never seen the Hospice, were sold by enterprising farmers as true Saint Bernard dogs.

Dogs at the Monastery did not achieve great age and on several occasions, the stock vanished completely. In the “Tierbörse” from 1899, a magazine devoted to animal fanciers, we find a hint as to why the monks seemed to have troubles in their kennel. It says that “the dogs from the Great Saint Bernard do not attain the usual age, 6 to 8 years is the maximum… this is a result of the humidity in their quarters, which leads to rheumatism.”

It was not difficult for the monks to provide themselves with similar dogs as need occurred. In the isolation of the Monastery on Saint Bernard Pass, local styles could evolve rather quickly. Old skulls in the collection of the Natural History Museum, reveal a diversity in head shapes. The collection shows at least two variations which lived during the same period of time: The larger heads have a pronounced stop and a short muzzle while the smaller skulls reveal much less stop with longer muzzles. Saints and Great Swiss Cattle Dogs, then well known as “Küherhunde” (cowherd’s dogs) and “Metzgerhunde” or butcher’s dogs), portray similar skull shapes. There can be no doubt that initially, it was difficult to distinguish between the two breeds,

Red-white dogs were very common until the turn of the century. We continue to admire them on post-cards as “Käsereihunde” (dairy dogs) or common farmer’s dogs. Prof. Studer said: “In large parts of Switzerland, in the valleys and in the mountains, a medium sized, mostly long-haired but also short-haired, heavy dog with droop ears is being kept as watch-dog, as droving-dog and also as draught-dog… In the Canton of Berne the dogs are mostly larger than 60 cm with longer fur and often of red-yellow color with white markings.”

An Englishman who visited Switzerland in order to buy Saint Bernard Dogs left us a report of his travels dated from 1860. His initial thought was to procure a number of dogs from the Hospice. However, during his journey, he found what he considered to be ideal Saints in the Canton of Berne. He never made it to the Hospice. After having purchased several dogs, the Englishman found another dog in Fribourg. He purchased this animal too. He was by no means disturbed by the fact that the dog was black with brown and white markings and not the red and white color, indicative of the Saint Bernard.

Max Siber writes in the Swiss Stud Book #1 of 1884: “some fanciers believe that Saint Bernards have only lived on the namegiving Pass. This is not true, Saints have been kept everywhere on Swiss passes and they are even at home in the valleys of the Valais and in the countryside of Berne.” One can also cite another expert on Saint Bernards, Albert Heim, who wrote in 1927: “Talhund und Hospizhund waren und sind die gleiche Rasse” (Valley dogs and dogs from the Hospice were and still are of the same breed).

Although it may be a sad fact for the romantic Saint fancier, it must be said that the origin of the Saint Bernard should be sought in the old “Küherhunde” (cowherd’s dogs) as they were still very common until the middle of the 19th century. Reports, pictures and extensive collections of skeletal materials do not allow any other conclusion. The emphasis on mastiff characteristics in later years may be attributable to three main factors: 1. From time to time some locally bred Saints at the Hospice did show the heavy head shape. 2. The English fanciers preferred and bred towards heavier heads. 3. Distinctive head shapes helped to separate the ordinary farmer’s dog from that which was more desirable and favorable for business.

Short-and Lond-Haired Saints

Before embarking on a discussion of coat-type in Saint Bernard dogs it is necessary to clarify some terminology. The term ‘short-haired’ Saint is based on the translation of the word ‘stockhaarig’. While the most common translation of ‘stockhaarig’ is short-haired (or ‘stockhaar’ to smooth coat), the ‘Trilingual Pocket Dictionary of Canine Terminology, Wien 1991 defines ‘stockhaarig’ as ‘double-coated’. In German Saint terminology there is no differentiation between ‘kurzhaarig’ and ‘stockhaarig’ and consequently ‘stockhaarig’ may be translated into English as ‘short-haired’.
A case can be made that all Saints should properly be termed as either long-haired or double-coated (or perhaps, rough-coated versus smooth-coated); and that the term short-haired should be reserved for breeds like Pinschers and Greyhounds. There is a further complication to the story. According to Dr. Hans Räber, it was not uncommon for Saints to be shown as short-haired dogs in their youth and as long-haired Saints when they were older. Therefore, considerable caution must be exercised when analyzing old pedigrees and records. In order to avoid confusion, we will always use ‘short-haired’ when translating ‘stockhaarig’.

What was the origin of the long-haired Saint Bernard dog? Heim and Schumacher believed that the monks on the Great St. Bernard crossed their dogs with Newfoundlands because the Newfoundland was crowned with the aura of a life saver. Heim sets the date of this cross-breeding at 1830 while Schumacher only says that Barry was “the representative of the old Saint Bernard breed before Newfoundlands were cross-bred”.

Schumacher described the offspring of the crosses as red with white markings, “with huge heads and until now unmatched size and heavily built”. Prior Delêglise, in a letter to Mrs. v. Tschudi, writes that “the two Newfoundlands which we have received from Stuttgart last winter have grown up very nicely, especially the male, who has taken up his service in the mountains in a very good manner.”.

However, the initial cross that resulted in the long-haired Saint may be more complicated than previously thought. The Newfoundlands previously mentioned, came from Stuttgard in or about 1830. During that time, Mr. Essig was involved in experimental crosses between the Newfoundland, Saint Bernard and Great Pyrenean Mountain Dog. These crosses are believed to have produced the first Leonbergers.

First mention of the Leonberger Breed was in 1846, approximately fourteen years after the initial cross reported by Heim and Schumacher. However, this does not preclude the Leonberger as being central to the foundation of the long-haired Saint Bernard. Mr. Essig is known to have used Saint Bernards from the Hospice and in return, sent two Leonbergers to the Hospice as payment.

The Newfoundland is, no doubt, a direct ancestor to both the long-haired Saint Bernard and Leonberger. Whether the Leonberger, Newfoundland or a combination of the two provided the foundation for long-hair, remains a question. Even though the Leonberger is not mentioned as a breed until 1846, Mr. Essig was in the process of developing the breed, prior to this date.

To further confuse matters, Max Siber and Siegmund mention breedings between Saint Bernards and long-haired dogs from the Canton of Valais (a breed related to the long-haired Pyrenean Mountain Dog). Siegmund reports that these crosses occasionally resulted in long-haired puppies. Max Siber mentions these dogs in his short history of the Saint Bernard, published in the first Swiss Stud Book in 1884. He describes the dogs as follows: “long-haired shepherd from the Valais” (a breed related to the long-haired Pyrenean Mountain Dog)… Studer confirms these reports on “common long-haired dog from the Alps” from the valleys. Siber categorically denies any cross-breeding with Newfoundlands, as well as with Leonbergers. He does, however, mention unsuccessful crosses with Leonbergers attempted in Germany.

Dr. E. Schmid in his essay on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Swiss Saint Bernard Club reports a cross-breeding of Saints and Newfoundlands in 1856. Schumacher did not mention this specific cross, making this tale difficult to verify. Stories surrounding the Newfoundland will remain in doubt. Evidence supporting their accuracy, does not exist in the archives at the hospice.

Long-haired Saint Bernards were not suited for the duties in the mountains and were given to patrons in the valleys. In the lowlands, the fancier long-haired dogs were preferred over the short-haired ones. Before long the general opinion was that the Saint Bernard Dog had always been long-haired and was more valuable than the short-haired version which were believed to have come from Saint Gotthard.

Count v. Rougemont gave a short-haired Saint, who originated from the Hospice to Mr. Klopfenstein in Neuenegg. Mr. Klopfenstein, in turn, sold him to Schumacher in 1855. The dog was named Barry I and became an important stud dog in Schumacher’s kennel.

The issues surrounding long vs. short-hair was a topic for heated debate. Problems arose when the FCI accorded both varieties, (long and short-haired) the expectation of achieving international conformation championships (CACIB) and thus, prevented intercrossing of both varieties. Experience showed that a separation of the two varieties resulted in loss of proper phenotype. Two separate breeds would have evolved if long and short-haired Saints had not been allowed to be bred together. In the early 1980’s, the FCI established a list of all interbreedable varieties. Both long and short-haired Saints were mentioned as varieties that could be interbred. The CACIB was no longer reserved for dogs who belonged to the same variety for three or more generations.

In the United States, the prevailing thought is that short-haired dogs must be used, at least every second or third generation to maintain proper type. It is felt that the continuous crossing of long-haired to long-haired Saint will result in loss of correct phenotype. On the other hand, some breeder’s in Switzerland feel that the exclusive breeding of short-haired Saints will cause a loss of type and a convergence towards the old “Küherhunde” (cowherd’s dogs).

Breeders in both Switzerland and the United States feel that long-haired Saints impart increased size. In Switzerland, long-haired Saints are usually larger, have stronger stops, shorter muzzles and tend to have more ‘loose’ skin. Some Swiss believe that this loose skin contributes to a higher incidence of ectropion in long-haired dogs. Howerver, only an epidemiological study will verify these claims.

Their Rescue and Life-Saving Work

In 1774, the painter M. J. Bourrit from Geneva, wrote about the monks and their dogs. He indicated that the contributions by dogs to rescue work on Saint Bernard Pass was well known. The archives at the monastery do not tell us when dogs were first used for rescue work. In the description of the Hospice, that was written in 1644 for the “Acta Sanctuorum”, we find the Hospice’s agenda with a description and enumeration of the tasks of the monks and their servants. The duties listed included keeping the pass open, yet no dogs were mentioned.

We are not certain if the note from 1707 “a dog was lost in an avalanche” refers to a dog used for rescue work. Prior Ballalu recounts that in 1700, between November 11th and May 15th, servants called “Marronier” (maron, marron = mountain guide) were assigned to accompany travelers between the Hospice and Bourg-Saint-Pierre. The Prior made no mention of dogs.

Records reveal that by 1750, marroniers were routinely accompanied by dogs. The dog’s broad chests helped to clear paths for travelers. The reports about rescue work grew more numerous as reports about deadly accidents began to decline. The dog’s primary purpose was to accompany the marroniers, as their excellent sense of direction proved most beneficial. The dogs possessed an uncanny ability to maneuver through heavy fog or snow-storms. The dogs were always accompanied by a monk or marronier. Only later, do we read about excursions that the dogs made on their own.

During the 200 or so years that the dogs served on the Saint Bernard Pass, approximately 2,000 people were rescued. When Napoleon and his army crossed the Alps in May 1800 around 250,000 soldiers traveled through the Pass. The marroniers and their dogs were so well organized that between 1790 and 1810, not one soldier lost his life in the freezing cold of the mountains. The last documented rescue is dated in 1897. A 12 year old boy was found nearly frozen in a crevice and was awakened by a dog.

Die Schneelawine (The Avalanche) Napoleon on St. Bernard Pass on May 16, 1800. Not one of his 250,000 soldiers lost his life due to the well organized monks and their dogs

Additional historical pictures The legendary barrel strapped beneath the neck, however, seems to have been invented by alpinist Meissner who wrote in 1816 “Often the dogs receive a little barrel around their neck with alcoholic beverages and a basket with bread.” The chroniclers from the Hospice never mentioned a barrel. In 1800, however, Canonicus Murith mentioned a little saddle with which the dogs carried milk and butter from the dairy in La Pierre up to the Hospice.

And here, we may put an end to the legend about Barry having saved a child by carrying it on his back. This legend, along with an illustration (Knabe , by Rittmeyer (who falsely painted Barry as a long-haired Saint), is simply not true. It is pure invention; told and retold by many authors (Scheitlin, Tschudy, Brehm, Strebel etc.). Barry was a legend during his life. The story, probably invented by P. Scheitlin, was often narrated and was cited in many books and journals. Even though it was fabricated, it was of great importance in the rising fame of the Saint Bernard Dogs.

Barry, the most famous Saint, lived in the Monastery from 1800 to 1812. With his help, over 40 people were saved. A monk escorted the aging Barry to Berne, where Barry died two years later. In 1815, Barry’s body was put on exhibition at the Natural History Museum where he continues to be admired today.

The Beginning of Purebred Saints

Siegmund writes in 1893, “At the beginning of the pure bred Saint Bernards the enthusiastic fanciers could only acquire very few dogs directly from the Hospice. But nevertheless they found many large farm-dogs in the countryside who all more or less showed their ancestry from Saint Bernard Dogs or from the ancestors of the dogs that finally were chosen for the Saint Bernard Hospice.”

Dr. Straumann, another expert, remembers having seen many draught-dogs on the market at Berne who, according to their stature and color could be called “Saint Bernard Dogs”. Consequently, the dog was present in many locations, not only at the Hospice.

These were the conditions when Heinrich Schumacher, butcher and innkeeper in Holligen near Berne, began his breeding program in the latter 1850s. Schumacher was the first individual to use a stud book (first Swiss Stud Book, 1884), thus creating accurate pedigrees. Schumacher must be considered the first breeder of purebred Saints. Schumacher’s first entry was Apollo I, SHSB #3 (SHSB #1 was Leon who belonged to E. Baur and B. Siegmund). It should be noted that the first stud book comes well after Schumacher began his breeding program and thus, many of his early dogs had no SHSB numbers. Barry I, who is mentioned earlier, was used as sire to provide foundation for Schumacher’s kennel. Barry I, born in 1854, had no SHSB number and should not be confused with other later dogs also called Barry.

Barry I was a short-haired, red and white male, whose grand-parents came directly from the Hospice to the Count of Rougemont. Blässi was Schumacher’s first bitch (long-haired, born in 1856). She too, came from the Hospice. Schumacher’s first breeding resulted in a short-haired dog named Sultan who was white with red and black patches. Sultan was bred to a short-haired, yellow colored bitch, who possessed white markings and a dark mask. Her sire came directly from the hospice while her dam was of unknown ancestry. Sultan and the yellow bitch produced the famous Favorita I, who together with Sultan I won the first prize at the 1867 World Fair in Paris.

A repeat breeding yielded Barry II and Toni I. Favorita and Barry II had brindle patches. Toni I was long-haired. According to pedigree records, Toni I was not used and was the last long-haired dog in Schumacher’s kennel. Schumacher’s “newly edited and revised” pedigree of short-haired Saint Bernards (October 22, 1886.), reveals that he continued to use dogs from the Hospice during each third generation of breeding. Overall, however, he maintained strong inbreeding.
After the third generation of offspring, Schumacher bred only short-haired dogs.

Schumacher kept in constant contact with the monks from the Hospice, his main goal being the revival of the old Barry-type dog. In 1862, he began shipping Saint Bernard dogs to England, Russia and the United States of America. While Schumacher’s breeding program worked toward an ideal, embodied in the old Barry, other breeders found favor in heavy heads, strong stops and short muzzles. Künzli described them as “rachitische Wasserköpfe” (rachitic hydrocephalus) with a more or less strong prognathism.

Breeders entered the market and began breeding indiscriminately. Selling puppies was very lucrative and many dogs which only slightly resembled the Saint Bernard were sold for large sums of money.

Dr. Künzli wrote the following about the Saints at the August 12 -14,1899 exhibition in Thun: “Among others we saw dogs which resembled seriously some brave butcher’s dogs. One fatal error in breeding of the short-haired St. Bernards is the recklessness with which breeders neglect good hindquarters. They believe the only goal in breeding lies in the head. As soon as a certain size is reached, many dogs, mostly of outstanding type and with considerable heads, show more or less miserable hindquarters, loose and clumsy gait.”, and, “Another sin is being done inasmuch that the albinism of the head is not being eliminated.”

These thoughts were echoed by A. Tagmann in the “Tierbörse”: “It is obviously not very easy to swim against the prevailing stream, fashion has a great power.”

The confusion was profound. Views on what the ideal Saint Bernard should look like, differed markedly. The Hospice was of little aid, as it also presented different styles. This inconsistency was a direct consequence of having to periodically replenish their stock from the valley.

Germany established their own standard in 1878. They rejected the name “Saint Bernard” and used “Alpenhund” (Dog from the Alps). Thus, the same dog could be exhibited under several different names. Saint Bernard, Alpenhund and Leonberger were often shown in the same ring. Fortunately, a degree of organization arrived with the recognition of the Swiss Standard in 1887.

Through confirmation of the Swiss Standard, Swiss breeders were validated as the premier authoriry on Saint Bernards. Interestingly, the Hospice continued to ignore aspects of the Standard. In 1917, 12 of 13 dogs from the Hospice were “Mantelhunde” (dogs with mantle) and only one had patches on white ground. All missed the dark mask. Eight years later, in 1925, Hospice dogs were described as rather small, many were completely white, and all had a curled-up tail. Contrary to popular belief, the Hospice had little to do with the formation ofthe Standard by which we continue to judge our dogs, today.

Schumacher retired from breeding in 1890. He stated that “new breeders” were trying to ruin his work by exaggerating size, breeding dogs with short, thick, round heads and muzzles which were not long enough. Those dogs, according to Schumacher, lost their harmony (“Ebenmass”) in gait as well as intelligence and agility. Regardless of Schumacher’s criticism the public favored the heavy, long-haired dogs.

Most of today’s Saints can be traced back to Schumacher’s dogs. The fact that the old “Küherhund” (cowherd’s dog) has completely disappeared, shows that even Schumacher’s dogs were not at all purebred dogs. The Natural History Museum Berne contains 36 skulls from “Schumacher dogs.” When viewed and measured, we see large variability in size and shape.We assume corresponding variance as we imagine other aspects of these dogs including body size, length of flew etc. These differences in styles continue to exist today. However, the current degree of morphometric variance may be attributed to line breeding and subjective interpretations of the Standard, rather than to inpure lineage. Dr. Künzli’s and Schumacher’s comments concerning gait, are appropriate when applied to the modern Saint.

The Legendary Barry at the Natural History Museum

As was mentioned before, Barry (1800 – 1814) is the most famous Saint Bernard Dog. The Hospice continues to honor Barry by always having one dog at the Hospice named Barry. Even so, none of Barry’s descendants have achieved similar notoriety.

The mounted Barry, as put on exhibit at the Natural History Museum Berne, shows a large and strong dog, but much smaller than the modern Saint. While modern Saints weigh 65 to 85 kg., Barry weighed under 50 kg (probably between 40 kg and 45 kg). Barry’s mounted height is approximately 64 cm, but the living Barry was probably slightly smaller. His markings are very similar to those on a painting by Salvatore Rosa, a painting that remains in the Hospice.

The stuffed Barry shows a compromise between what the taxidermist (or his boss, the director of the Museum) thought was a good representative of the Saint Bernard Dog and the way Barry actually looked. Further, skull shape was altered to represent that which was popular in 1923. In reality, Barry’s skull was rather flat with a moderate stop. In other words, Barry was a true “Küherhund” (cowherd’s dog). For some unknown reason the taxidermist was convinced to model a larger head with a more pronounced stop.

However Barry did not gain fame as model for the perfect Saint. He was heralded for his deeds in rescue work, having saved 40 or so lives. This number is disputable. For the monks at the monastery, caring for travelers was an everyday task and detailed records of successful rescues were not kept. Furthermore, it would have been difficult to assess each case and whether travelers would have arrived safely without the aid of the dogs.

The inscription on the Barry-monument (which by the way shows a long-haired dog with no apparent resemblance to a Saint Bernard!) in Asnière near Paris states: “Il sauva la vie à 40 personnes. Il fut tué par le 41ème” (He saved the lives of 40 persons. He was killed by the 41st). As mentioned earlier, this is not true.

The remounted Barry (1923) as displayed until 1998 Barry was brought to Berne by a monk in 1812. This is a fact that the old Prior confirmed to Heinrich Schumacher in 1866. Barry remained in Berne and finally died at the age of 14. His body was stuffed and put on exhibit. The taxidermist gave Barry a rather humble and meek attitude because the Prior wanted Barry to serve as a reminder of constant servitude to future generations. In 1923, the old mounted Barry was refurbished. Barry had become rather brittle and his coat had dissolved into over 20 pieces. It is thanks to the craftsmanship of the next taxidermist, Georg Ruprecht that Barry was so expertly preserved.

Today, 180 years after his death, Barry still has the honor of being exhibited in the main entrance of the Museum (new display 1998). He is an eternal reminder of the unselfish work performed by so many dogs on the Great Saint Bernard Pass.


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We would like to express our gratitude to Susan Lennard for her editorial help and to Dr. Hans Räber of Switzerland for his generous assistance. In particular, we thank Dr. Räber for giving us permission to use the valuable information obtained both from personal conversation and from his published research. Dr. Räber is the senior editor-in-chief of the “Hundesport”, member of the FCI Standard Commission, and a member of the Albert Heim-Foundation. Dedication

This page is dedicated to the late Professor Walter Huber (1917-1984), director of the Natural History Museum Berne. The photo shows W. Huber at the historical moment in 1978 when he finally removed the little barrel that hung on Barry’s neck for over 50 years. One more legend hopefully died once and for all! Copyright

These pages may be copied and used for non-commercial purposes as long as no part is altered and reference to it’s authors is made.
(NMBE 12-DEC-1994)