The dog of Mont-Saint-Bernard
We do not really know the origin of the Saint Bernard dog ...
His ancestors? probably a hound from Upper Assyria.
In fact, in this region of the Middle East, bas-reliefs dating back more than 30 centuries have been discovered, representing dogs with a striking resemblance to the current short-haired Saint Bernard. Wars and trade would have brought some specimens of these animals first from Greece, then to Rome and finally to our regions.
There is no doubt that all mountain dogs form a natural group, having as a type the gigantic Tibetan mastiff, hound of the ancients, which has the mastiff only in name.
Mountain dogs are considered to be the product of an already very old cross between the shepherd dog and the mastiff (Pyrenees) of the largest size.
It is certain that for centuries the dogs of the valleys were not recognized as part of a particular breed.
The Saint-Bernard is certainly close to our large Swiss Shepherd dogs, also called the Alpine dog; breed which was widespread from Graubünden to Austria.
This is a very difficult point to clarify and in short quite secondary.
A medieval portrait of a heavy mastiff thought to be a Saint Bernard, dating from the mid-14th century; it is the crest of a helmet, of a noble Swiss family.
The first representation of a Saint Bernard was produced by an unknown person in 1695. The painted subject is quite close to the current type.
Large guard dogs probably lived on the Grand-Saint-Bernard pass as early as the 11th or 12th century, perhaps simply to defend the hospice from brigands.
However, we do not know the name these dogs carried before their arrival at the hospice.
Several fires, mainly that of 1555, destroyed the archives of the Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard, taking away the genealogical record made by the monks.
Writings confirm the presence of dogs at the hospice around 1660, probably donated by a few wealthy families from Valais or Vaud.
However, they only made themselves famous and indispensable towards the end of the 18th century and especially at the beginning of the 19th century.
At Saint-Bernard, life was a constant struggle against fatigue, suffering, the most terrible dangers. Dogs died in the avalanches.
We understand that in such an environment, the breed of these dogs could not be preserved as it was at the origin and that having been obliged, to prolong it, to call upon various species among the most vigorous, the more resistant, have obtained subjects of various aspects and characters.
Several breeds of dogs were then employed by the monks, combining strength, endurance and courage.
Various attempts at crossings sometimes turned out to be catastrophic and the breed was even threatened with extinction.
These large dogs, with strong and massive paws, large heads and drooping lips, a more or less dark ocher-yellow coat, a little short although very thick, accompanied the Hospitallers in their races across the mountain.
The essential task of the dogs, which made them famous, was to trace, and this again with each new snowfall, what was called the "pawn"
This pawn was a trench in the deep snow, which the dogs had to trace, dig and tamp with their paws and their whole body, walking one behind the other, the most vigorous in the lead.
Around 1700, the monks discovered their aptitude as an avalanche dog. From then on, they underwent severe training to know the trail of man.
The religious rigorously selected the criteria which interested them and fixed the race by consanguinity.
During the winters of 1816 to 1818, snowstorms were so severe that many dogs died during their rescue mission. The group of Saint Bernard living at the Hospice disappeared, but not completely. The monks reconstituted the group with dogs of the same species coming from the neighboring valleys.
Towards the middle of the 19th century, the breeding of Saint-Bernard suffered a serious crisis due to too much inbreeding.
The canons used retrempes with another Molossoid, the Newfoundland (old type) with long hair, a dog that most closely resembled the Saint Bernard by their intelligence and their strength.
The desired goal was achieved and the dogs grew stronger and more enduring.
Crossbreeds with Newfoundland did little to change the coat color of the dogs. A selection was made among the puppies of the litters which were born there. The dilution and the disappearance of the black character were made by a return to the cross between Saint-Bernard.
From crossbreeds with Newfoundland, a few litters here and there had long-haired puppies which were sold. They could not be used for rescue, their hair covered with ice and weighed them down.
Since then, there have been two varieties of Saint Bernard: the longhaired and the shorthaired, the latter being the original variety of the breed.
Successively called mastiffs, mastiffs, Barry dogs, heilige hunde, these giants of the Alps became Saint-Bernard dogs in 1833 and Saint-Bernard dogs in 1862.
In 1867, a Bernese, Henry Schumacher (1831-1903) exhibited in Paris short-haired dogs originating from the Grand-Saint-Bernard and in 1884, he founded the Swiss Club and the Swiss Book of Origins. The first 29 dogs registered are Saint-Bernard, the first of which is called "Léon". The breed standard was approved in Zurich in 1887 at the International Congress of Cynology.
Saint-Bernard dogs took part in activities related to the Little Saint-Bernard, Gothard, Simplon, Splügen, Grimsel and Fürka.
The Saint-Bernard continued their activity as Samaritans until the first decade of the 20th century.
Barry, Pluto, Jupiter, Flag, Mox, Bellona, Diana, Diamond …….
Their history and by a few points illuminated with legends and tinged with marvels.
A big thank you to Sylvie Bazzanella for her historical research and writing this page!
Do not hesitate to visit its site, the fruit of a phenomenal historical documentation work ...
The link here .