Saint Bernard, breed of massive working dog developed in Switzerland in the 18th cent. and perfected by British breeders during the 19th cent. It stands from 25 to 29 in. (64–74 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs from 140 to 170 lb (64–77 kg). There are two varieties of St. Bernard, the smooth-coated, with very dense, short hair, and the rough-coated, with medium-length, straight or slightly wavy hair. In color the coat may be white with red markings, red with white markings, white with brindle, or brindle with white. The muzzle is white and the face characteristically marked with black. The St. Bernard was originally bred by the monks at the Hospice of the St. Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps for rescue and guide work. Early in its history, the St. Bernard became a legendary figure as a result of the widespread stories of its valiant missions to save the lives of snowbound travelers in the pass. This rescue work, however, has undoubtedly been overemphasized. Endowed with an uncanny sense of direction, the St. Bernard was used primarily to guide the monks over trails often obliterated by windblown snow. Today it is gaining popularity as a show competitor and family companion. See dog.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.