Assesing your own dog

The following article is aimed at novice Saint owners, and people who want to learn more.  The question of 'how is my Saint SUPPOSE to look like?' will hopefully be answered.

Unfortunately the sad truth is that even if you buy a 'registered' Saint, that doesn't automatically means you buy a true and correct Saint.  Do understand that a lot of the Breed Standard  is open to interpretation, but the following will explain what the 'ideal' Saint should look like.

Also understand that there is no perfect dog, and each individual has good and bad  points, and it's good to be aware of both.  

The starting point will be  to compare your dog to the Breed Standard.  In SA we follow the FCI standard (Federation Internationale Cynoligique). That means we follow the 'standard' of the country of origin. In the St. Bernard's case, this will be Switzerland.

The most important points will be explained in simple terms  as it appears on the 'Standard'  which was accepted in April 2004.


Before anything else  is considered, keep in mind that the Saint Bernard was originally a working dog(Rescue dog), and thus the build and profile should be firstly FUNCTIONAL  (Ability to do the work it was developed for). The Standard is aimed at promoting this.

Thus temperament is also HUGELY important, as well as stamina and physical ability.


There are two varieties of the St. Bernard:

Short hair (stockhaar /smooth coated) and Long hair variety (rough coat) Both varieties are of notable size and have a balanced, sturdy, muscular body with imposing head and alert facial expression.

Smooth Type                                              Rough Type


Short-haired:  Coat short with a glossy texture. Shiney and  close fitting to the skin. It feels stiff, but not coarse to touch. Very thick with plenty undercoat, especially during winter, thus not more likely to get 'cold' then the longhaired variety. On the trunk the fur is slightly longer (2,5 -3cm) and even reaching 5cm at the rump. No fringing on the back of legs and buttocks. It can show  a slight wavng at the back, lions and rump. Hair reaches it's maximum lenght in the tail. Up to 7cm, but decreasing towards the tip of the tail. On the muzzle and face the hair is very short, smooth and soft (not more then 1,5cm.) Slightly longer on the ears.

Note of interest: The original Saints was the short haired variety, and much more succesfull in the snow. The long haired variety came about when the Saint was crossed with the Newfoundland.  However the longer hair did not have the success they thought it should have, as it matted in the snow, thus hindered movement. Mostly the smooth variety were used for actual resque work.

Long-haired:    Fur of meduim length and a semi-glossy texture, thick dense and close fitting and during winter time, boasting a very thick undercoat. Fur on trunk is from 2cm-8cm. Hair should be straight but never  curly. Can be slightly wavy on the croup and belly area.  Once again the hair on the head and face as  well as on the legs is short, but longer over the ears.    Forelegs are fringy at the  back, thighs very feathered, and a long bushy tail shaping into a crest. Hair on the tail are the longest (up to 12cm), but decreasing towards the tip of the tail.

Note of interest:  Repeat breeding with long haired dogs for more then 3 generations result in dogs with very long wafy and curly coats. Therefore it's advisable to reqularly breed long and short-haired varieties togheter, as this will result in the best coat types by far.

Coat Colour:

 The primary colour is white with smaller or larger reddish-brown patches (splash coat), up to an unbroken reddish-brown mantle covering back and flanks.

(Mantle coats). A broken reddish-brown mantle is of equal value. Brindle reddish brown permisible. Brownish-yellow tolerated. Dark shadings on the head is desirable.

Required white markings:  on chest, feet, tip of tail, muzzle band, blaze and patch on  neck.

Desired: White collar and symmetrical dark mask. Also the white on the dog should be exceptionally pure bright and shiney, without freckles and specks.  Very pleasing is the mahogony coat, consisting of tawney fur at the base, and black at the tip.

Usually it looks like darker pensil markings around the 'mantle' part of the dog. Dogs with this type of colour usually has abudant black in the facial mask. White on  the ears are permitted, as long as they don't cover more then 1/3 of outer surface of the  flap, though this is not part of the 'official' FCI standard's requirements.

IMPORTANT PROPORTIONS: ideal proportion for height at  withers to body length (measured from the point of the shoulder

 to the point of the buttocks) = 9:10.  For the ideal relationship of height at withers to depth of chest see the image below.

– The ideal relationship of the hight of withers to depth of chest is  50%/55% or 50%/45% – The total lenght of the head is slightly supperior to 1/3 of the hight  at the wither.

– Proportions between muzzle depth (measured at the root) and it's length is 2:1

– The muzzle is slightly longer then 1/3 of the total lenght of the head.

Height at withers:

-Absolute minimum:  Male 70 cm            Maximum: 90 cm

–                                     Female 65 cm                              80 cm

Dogs that exeed maximum height are nevertheless positively assessed as long as they show a balanced general appearance and a faultless gait.

To be fair, it is best to 'view' your own Saint as an 'empty' canvas. Thus ignorning all markings first to concentrate on the BUILT, as the 'markings' only serve as 'make-up and thus only the 'last' consideration.

Head: Since the Saint is considered a 'head' bread, this should be the main star of the show. Powerfull, imposing and very expressive. (Alot of SA 'pet dogs' fails at this trait) Skull should be strong and broad and slightly rounded. Supra-orbital arches strongly defined. furow runs over the whole skull. The skin of the forehed forms slight wrinkles which converge towards the furrow. When alert wrinkles are more visible, but not over pronounced.

The stop should be clearly defined (this is the part where the nose meet the forehead)

Herewith some example measurements for the head:



Nose lenght and head length      

Nose:  Always black, very broad and square with well dilated nostrils (Saints have the largest noses of he Canine species)

Muzzle: Evenly wide, nasal bridge from nose to stop should be perfectly straight and broad with a slight furrow. The muzzle should be short – about 1/3 of the total   length of the head. It should also be 1/3 higher then it's length.



Lips: Black pigmented rim, with the upper jaw flew strongly developed, taut and slighthtly prominent, forms a wide angle towards the nose. Upper flews should  have the shape of a perfect semi-circle at the bottom edge. (It should mirror the shape of the frontal profile of the cranuim (top side view of the head)   See image below.

Note: Sometimes Saints are 'advertised' in classifieds as 'drymouthed' and un-informed people might think this is a good thing. In actual fact, Saints needs the hanging lips (and accompanied drooling) as they needed to be able to grab hold of the clothing of a person in the snow and pull them out, whilst still be able to breath normally (hanging lips assist with this). Thus 'drymouthed' Saints are purely Saints bred with longer muzzles that stretches the lips, and thus less 'hang-lips'. However, this will not be a 'true' Saint, as it cannot do the job it was originally intended for.

Remember that 'functionality' is the most important trait for a dog bred for a spesific purpose. As part of 'functionality' it's more desirable if the roof of the mouth (inside) is black for the purpose of holding heat  instead of reflecting light whilst working in sub-zero conditions, considering the mouth is semi-open whilst working.



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