Around 1050 AD, Saint Bernard of Montjou founded a monastery high in the Swiss Alps, with the Saint Bernard Pass in the valley below. The pass was a popular route for travelers and pilgrims as well as many traders. These traders were the first to bring dogs to the Saint Bernard Monastery until 1125. For the next four hundred years the pass was largely abandoned and few travelers passed the monastery. No new dogs entered the Saint Bernard Monastery, and it was during this time that the Saint Bernard breed arose.
C. Keller, a scientist, first bred the Saint Bernard from the Roman Molossian dog. The Molossian is said to have came from the Tibetan Mastiff. The first Saint Bernards were kept at the monastery as guard dogs. The first written account of a Saint Bernard, however, was not made until 1703 by Prior Balalu. In his writing, he spoke of the cook inventing an exercise wheel for the dog to run on, which in turn would turn the cooking spit. The Saint Bernard Pass had become popular again by then, and the dogs helped feed the 20,000 travelers that passed through each year. There are other mentioning of the Saint Bernards in later passages, including that a dog was lost in a blizzard and a bill for the repair of a dog collar.
All writings about the dogs mention their large size. Dogs then were relatively smaller than they are today, so the Saint Bernards of the past were probably much smaller. The coloration of their coats has always been stated as white with red-brown patches. Dogs of this coloration are very common in Switzerland, hence the saying there is more of something than red dogs.
The monks soon began using the Saint Bernards to rescue people trapped in the cold Alpine wilderness. The shaggy dense coat of the Saint Bernard protects it from the cold and allows it to spend large amounts of time in severe conditions. The Saint Bernards also have a keen instinct for predicting bad weather, like snowstorms and avalanches, which was very useful to the monks.
The first mention of the Saint Bernards being used rescuing is not mentioned in writing until 1750, although it likely began before then. The dogs first began working with the mountain guides who led people across the Saint Bernard Pass. The dogs had an incredible sense of direction during the heavy snows and helped guide travelers to the safety of the monastery. It was not until later that excursions of the dogs alone are mentioned. The infamous barrel attached to the collar of the legendary Saint Bernard is only a legend; barrels filled with alcoholic beverages were an invention of storytellers.
Saint Bernards are divided into two categories, both of notable size. The short hair variety has a thinner smooth coat and are also known by the name of Stockhaar. The other variety is the long hair, the most common of the two. Both divisions of Saint Bernards have thick muscular bodies and are generally sturdy hardy animals. Saint Bernards have very large heads and are prone to drooling due to their large saggy lips.
Saint Bernards are gentle and calm dogs and make great pets. A Saint Bernard requires plenty of exercise and does not do well in hot weather, but for the right family they can make a wonderful addition.
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