The Importance of the Proportionately Tall Saint Bernard
Review and research over the past fifty years of Saint Bernard breed study reveals a constant concern about proportionately tall virtues and attributes of the noble and upstanding Saint Bernard. One may ask why, and for our Saint fancy it should be and needs to be very straightforward—“FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION.”
Authenticated facts of the development of this breed show that the dogs bred at the Hospice Monastery, founded in 950 A.D. by Bernard de Menthon, an Augustine monk, began in the 1660-1670s and came from the Swiss valleys.
The Swiss valley dogs served as working farm dogs. Examples of the farm chores include pulling carts weighted down by farm supplies and carrying produce. These Swiss valley dogs acted as companions and met other farm need activities created by the harsh Swiss valley environment. From the available written records, it seems that the unique lifesaving work of the dogs began about the year 1700. It appears that the dogs initially accompanied the monks on mountain patrols after bad snowstorms, seeking unwary missing or trapped travelers. The dogs seemed to have an uncanny sense to detect impeding avalanches; consequently, the monks wanted the dogs to accompany them while they traversed those perilous footpaths.
Somehow, the dogs learned rescue techniques from the monks. Eventually, male dogs were sent in unaccompanied packs of two or three to seek lost or injured pilgrims. (The monks thought this work was too arduous for the bitches.) Often, the dogs had to find people buried in the snow, dig through the overlaying snow, rouse the traveler, and lie atop the wayfarer to provide warmth if the traveler was unable to move. Meanwhile, the other dog(s) would return to the hospice to alert the monks that they needed to rescue a trapped pilgrim. Travelers who could still walk would be led back to the hospice by the dogs. The instinct to dig people buried beneath snow and to rouse those lying in snow is still evident in the breed today.
A proportionately tall Saint Bernard is equipped to accomplish the above farm and rescue tasks. It is generally agreed they functioned as a working farm dog under the arduous conditions of mountain winters and as mountain rescue dogs requiring strength, intelligence, sufficient size, and body balance demonstrating a great deal of power and endurance. Power, stamina, gait, and leverage are all needed to be effective and productive. The Saint Bernard is not too unlike an “all-around” athlete. Yes, the Saint does pull a cart on the farm, but the original Breed Standard was not written for a totally carting dog. Bone and muscle are of the type that creates a balance of power and stamina. Balance and proportion provide a large, powerful dog.
So, we now have authenticated the need for function. Let’s move on to form and present what a proportionately tall Saint Bernard presents.
The Saint Bernard Standard says, “Powerful, proportionately tall figure…” The interpretation follows by measuring the overall Height (H) of the dog from the highest point of the withers to the ground. (See illustration above.)
Height to Length Proportion
When viewing a dog in perfect profile, either in real life or in photographs that are perfectly perpendicular, the perceived length (L) of the dog is the distance from the forechest to the rump, including flesh, skin, and hair. The height-to-length ratio is the subject of the “proportionately tall figure” phrase used in the Standard. While there are many diverse opinions within the Saint Bernard world on how this phrase is to be interpreted, the consensus among today’s fancy is that a dog whose figure is approximately 10 percent longer than tall meets this requirement.
Leg Length to Body Height Proportion
In the normal stance shown on the previous page, the length of the front leg (b), from the ground to the elbow, should be equal to or slightly greater than the distance from the elbow to the withers (a). In a correctly constructed Saint Bernard, the lowest point of the chest (i.e., skeleton but not the flesh and hair) will be at the same point as the elbow. The condition of proportionately short legs is contrary to the breed’s historical task and is therefore undesirable. It is important that the height of the Saint Bernard comes from the length of leg rather than from the depth of body.
The figure below shows variations of body length. Please note that C and D are preferred.
Many champions of today exhibit a lack of being proportionate. Many of these poorly proportioned Saints exhibit excellent heads and legs. It would be inappropriate to eliminate them completely from our breeding programs, but this is often being ignored. Breeding short-legged Saints will not produce proportionately tall Saint puppies. The problem is genetic. It can be corrected. Breeders need to breed complementary Saints while keeping excellence in heads and legs.
The last figure shows the comparison of farm animals. The working Saint Bernard is more like a draft horse than a cow.
This article is dedicated to those breeders who will face the challenge and make wise breeding choices that produce the proportionately tall Sant Bernard.