Don't Buy A Saint Bernard...

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 ITS 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 a Saint Bernard 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 the long haired Saint.

DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD 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, they should not be regulated 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 neighbours. An adult so exiled will be miserable too. If you don't strongly prefer to have your dog's companionship as much as possible, enjoy 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 you 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 are NOT optional for the Saint. As an absolute minimum, you must teach him to reliably respond to commands to come, lie down, to stay and to walk at your side, regardless of temptations. You must also teach him to respect your household rules: e.g. is he allowed to get on 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 8-10 week series of weekly lessons (at a local obedience club or with a professional trainer, and to doing one or two short (5-20 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 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, he will surely 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 competing in a sled dog race, he may grab food off the table, he may forbid your guests entry into "his" home. This training cannot be delegated to someone else (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 well. Many of the Saints that are rescued from pounds and shelters show clearly that they have received little or no basic training, either on obedience or household deportment; yet these same dogs respond well to such training by the rescuer or adopter. It seems likely that a failure to train the dog is a significant cause for Saint abandonment. If you don't intend to educate your dog, preferably during puppyhood, 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 (SELF-ASSERTIVE) PERSONALITY

Dogs do not believe in social equality. They live in s 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 makes his own rules and enforces them against other members of the household by means of dominant physical posture and a hard eye 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 completely. 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 a 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 a 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 CALM AFFECTION

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 whey you offer it, but they are moderate and not overbearing in coming to you to demand much attention. They are emotionally sensitive to their favourite people; when you are joyful, proud, angry or grief stricken, you Saint will immediately perceive it and will believe himself to be the cause. The relationship can be one of great mellows, depth and subtlety; it is a relationship 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 rather more demonstrative. In summary, Saints tend to be sober, noble and thoughtful rather than giddy clowns.

DON'T BUY A SAINT IF YOU'RE FASTIDIOUS ABOUT YOUR HOME

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 house. Depositing some 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 wollow. His full chest soaks up water every time he takes a drink, then releases dome 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 dogs are less troublesome than a 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 IF YOU FIND DROOL TOTALLY REPELLANT

Most Saint owners begin with some degree of distaste for drool, but as this is an integral part of a 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 well within reach of even an average drooler. Saints drool because of their jaw and mouth structure, which allows them to breathe 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 to do not drool. Saints are definitely not in this category. Although I have heard of cats that drool, the quantity is not remotely comparable, and hamsters don't drool at all.

DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU DISLIKE DOING REGULAR GROOMING

The thick shaggy long haired Saint Bernard coat demands regular grooming, not merely to look tolerably 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 filthiness.

DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD 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 BERNARD IF YOU BELIEVE THAT DOGS SHOULD RUN FREE

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 dog fights, from cars, from the pound or from justifiably irate neighbours. 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 BERNARD IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY, FEED, AND PROVIDE HEALTH CARE 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 can not 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 breeder who unselectively mates any two Saints who happen to be of the opposite sex may well prove to be extremely costly in terms of bad temperament, bad health and a lack of essential socialization.

DON'T BUY A SAINT BERNARD IF YOU WANT THE "LATEST, GREATEST FEROCIOUS KILLER ATTACK DOG"

The Saint Bernard's famous disposition as the "Noble Gentle Giant" is not a fable. A Saint with they 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 LIFE

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 show winner or because his owners through a lack of leadership and training have allowed him to become an unruly juvenile delinquent with a repertoire of undesirable behaviours. The life span of a Saint is about 8-10 years. If that seems too long a time for you to give 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.

IN CONCLUSION

If all the preceding "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?

Research, research, research. You will find most responsible breeders are small kennels. Most produce 1-2 litters per 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. There is a lot of information on the web too.