Saint Bernard. The Gentle Giant of the Dog World


The Saint Bernard is one of the largest dog breeds in the world. Known for their massive size and friendly temperament, Saint Bernards were originally bred as working and rescue dogs in the Swiss and Italian Alps. While not the absolute largest breed, Saint Bernards regularly weigh over 150 pounds and stand over 2 feet tall at the shoulder. Their imposing physical size goes hand-in-hand with the breed’s gentle nature and loyalty. With origins dating back to the 1600s, the Saint Bernard remains a popular and beloved breed today.

Saint Bernard History

The Saint Bernard breed originated in the Swiss Alps near the Great St Bernard Pass, a dangerous mountain pass between Italy and Switzerland that was used by monks, pilgrims and merchants traveling between Rome and Northern Europe.[1] Saint Bernard-type dogs were present in the region as early as 1660 and were bred by monks at the St Bernard Hospice to assist in mountain rescues. The original purpose of the Saint Bernard was to search for and rescue travelers who became lost and buried in the snow.[2]

The monks at the hospice bred these dogs for size, strength and intelligence to help them rescue people trapped in avalanches and snow storms. Saint Bernards would search for lost travelers, dig them out of the snow, revive them and keep them warm while rescue parties arrived. The dogs were equipped with small casks of brandy around their necks to help revive hypothermic people they found.[3] Their large size, strength, keen sense of smell and loyalty made them well-suited as alpine rescue dogs.

saint bernards were originally bred by monks in the swiss alps as rescue dogs able to dig people out of avalanches.

Saint Bernard Size

The Saint Bernard is a very large breed of dog. According to the American Kennel Club, the standard height range for the male Saint Bernard is typically between 28-30 inches tall at the shoulder, while females are usually 26-28 inches tall For weight, male Saint Bernards normally range between 140-180 pounds, while females tend to weigh between 120-140 pounds.

Another source, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, provides similar size ranges, stating that Saint Bernards stand 25-27 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh anywhere from 120-200 pounds So in summary, the typical adult Saint Bernard is between 25-30 inches tall and weighs 120-200 pounds, making them a very large and powerful breed.

World’s Largest Dog Breeds

Some of the world’s largest dog breeds include the Great Dane, Mastiff breeds like the English Mastiff and Neapolitan Mastiff, Saint Bernard, Newfoundland, and Leonberger. These gentle giants can reach incredible sizes.

The Great Dane is one of the most popular giant breeds. According to the AKC, Great Danes can stand over 30 inches tall and weigh up to 200 pounds (source). Despite their imposing size, they are known for being friendly and loving.

The various Mastiff breeds also rank among the largest dogs in the world. The massive English Mastiff can weigh over 200 pounds and stand at least 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Other Mastiff breeds like the Neapolitan Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, and Bullmastiff can also tip the scales far over 100 pounds (source).

While not quite as tall as Danes or Mastiffs, Saint Bernards are massively built, weighing up to 180 pounds. Known for rescue work, their large size matches their big hearts.

Measuring Dog Size

When determining the size of a dog breed, there are a few key factors to consider: height, weight, and body proportions. Height and weight are the two most common ways to classify a dog’s size.

A dog’s height is measured from the top of the shoulders to the ground. This is referred to as the dog’s “withers height.” To get an accurate measurement, the dog should be standing on a flat surface with its head held high and legs straight. The measuring tape is placed perpendicular to the ground, right behind the front legs. The AKC provides breed standards with preferred height ranges for each breed.

Some sources:
How to Measure a Dog: 4 Essential Dog Measurements

Weight is also used to categorize breed sizes, usually ranging from toy breeds under 10 pounds up to giant breeds over 100 pounds. However, height is generally considered a more defining trait than weight when classifying breed sizes. Two dogs of the same height could have vastly different weights based on body structure and bone mass.

Other physical traits like head size, limb length, and torso proportions also factor into a dog’s overall size impression. For example, a short-legged Corgi may weigh as much as a tall and lanky Greyhound, but their bodies give very different size perceptions.

Biggest Individual Dogs

Some of the biggest individual dogs ever recorded include Zeus, Freddy, and Aicama Zorba.

Zeus, an Great Dane from Otsego, Michigan, is said to be the tallest dog ever according to the Guinness World Records. He stood an incredible 44 inches from paw to shoulder. Zeus sadly passed away at the age of 5 in 2014.

some of the largest individual dogs on record include great danes zeus and freddy.

Another Great Dane named Freddy was officially recorded as the world’s biggest dog in 2021 by Guinness, measuring over 7 feet long and weighing over 200 pounds. Freddy lives in Essex, UK with his owners.

The record holder for heaviest dog is Aicama Zorba, an English Mastiff from the UK that weighed a massive 343 pounds. Zorba passed away in 1989.

While Zeus, Freddy, Zorba and others may be outliers when it comes to their tremendous size, it’s clear that certain breeds are genetically predisposed to be far larger than the average dog.

Why So Large?

Saint Bernards were originally bred as working dogs in the Swiss Alps during the 17th century. Their large size was selectively bred by the hospice monks at the Great St. Bernard Pass between Italy and Switzerland. The monks needed big, strong dogs that could plow through deep snow to search for lost travelers. According to the Wikipedia article on St. Bernards, they specifically bred dogs with the desirable traits of being gentle giants that could survive the harsh Alpine winters.

An article on explains how the monks selectively bred the original St. Bernard dogs for size. Barry, an original hospice dog from the early 1800s, weighed about 40-45 kg whereas modern St. Bernards can weigh over 100 kg. The breeding focused on utility and strength rather than aesthetics.

saint bernards were selectively bred for their massive size to perform alpine rescues.

So in summary, the large size of the St. Bernard was specifically bred by the monks starting in the 1600s to create big, powerful dogs that could rescue people trapped in avalanches and snowstorms high in the Alps. Their gigantic size is a result of purposeful breeding for that strength and cold tolerance over many generations.

Downsides to Large Size

One of the biggest downsides to owning a large dog breed is that they tend to have more health problems compared to smaller breeds. According to Small Breed Versus Large Breed, large breeds are prone to joint and bone problems like hip and elbow dysplasia. The sheer size and weight of big dogs puts more strain on their joints.Large breeds also have a tendency to develop heart problems and bloat. Due to their size, overheating can be an issue as well.

In addition, big dogs have a shorter average lifespan compared to little dogs. According to the AKC, large breeds live 6 to 8 years on average while small breeds live 12 to 15 years. The combination of health problems and slower metabolisms in giant breeds leads to their reduced longevity.

Advantages of Large Size

One of the biggest advantages of large dog breeds is their sheer strength and imposing presence. Large dogs like Saint Bernards have very muscular bodies and can exert a lot more force compared to smaller breeds. According to one source, “Their size gives them strength to perform tasks and protects your home”[1]. Having a large, strong dog can provide a sense of security and deter unwanted intruders. Additionally, their strength allows them to be trained to perform tasks like pulling carts or hauling heavy objects.

Large dogs also have an imposing presence due to their massive size. People are naturally intimidated by very large dogs, so they can serve as effective guard dogs and protection animals. As one article notes, large breeds are “often used as watch dogs because their size alone is threatening to strangers”[2]. Their imposing presence and intimidating look make them excellent choices for families looking for a sense of security.

the imposing presence of giant breeds like saint bernards makes them excellent guard dogs.

In summary, two key advantages of giant dog breeds are their substantial strength that aids in performing tasks, and their imposing physical presence that deters intruders and acts as a natural guard.


While Saint Bernards are undoubtedly a giant breed, and historically have been revered for their imposing size, they are not actually the largest dogs in the world. Breeds like the English Mastiff and Great Dane on average reach greater heights and weights than the Saint Bernard. When looking at the heaviest and tallest individual dogs, Saint Bernards also fall short of world records like the Guinness World Records heaviest dog record of 343 pounds held by a Mastiff named Zorba.

However, the Saint Bernard is still one of the largest breeds, with males reaching up to 180 pounds or more. Their sheer mass, powerful build, and legendary Alpine rescues have rightfully earned them a reputation as gentle giants. While a few individual dogs of other breeds have surpassed Saint Bernard size records, the breed remains iconic as a colossal canine known for its imposing stature and size.

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