St. Bernard and Pup rescue dogs from Alps

St. Bernard and Pup rescue dogs from Alps

Who can think of the Alps without thinking of a St. Bernard with a small keg of brandy tied to its neck, searching in the mountains for lost hikers? Well, they are not used for that any more, since there are far better ways, but the legends are still wonderful.

The ancestors of the St. Bernard share a history with the Sennenhunds, also called Swiss Mountain Dogs or Swiss Cattle Dogs, the large farm dogs of the farmers and dairymen of the livestock guardians, herding dogs, and draft dogs as well as hunting dogs, search and rescue dogs, and watchdogs. These dogs are thought to be descendants of molosser type dogs brought into the Alps by the ancient Romans, and the St. Bernard is recognized internationally today as one of the Molossoid breeds.[2]

The earliest written records of the St. Bernard breed are from monks at the hospice at the Great St. Bernard Pass in 1707, with paintings and drawings of the dog dating even earlier.

The most famous St. Bernard to save people at the pass was Barry (sometimes spelled Berry), who reportedly saved somewhere between 40 and 100 lives. There is a monument to Barry in the Cimetière des Chiens, and his body was preserved in the Natural History Museum in Berne.

The classic St. Bernard looked very different from the St. Bernard of today because of cross-breeding. Severe winters from 1816 to 1818 led to increased numbers of avalanches, killing many of the dogs used for breeding while they were performing rescues. In an attempt to preserve the breed, the remaining St. Bernards were crossed with Newfoundlands brought from the Colony of Newfoundland in the 1850s, and so lost much of their use as rescue dogs in the snowy climate of the alps because the long fur they inherited would freeze and weigh them down.

The dogs never received any special training from the monks. Instead, younger dogs would learn how to perform search and rescue operations from older dogs.

Location: 15-B4

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