The St. Bernard was a watchdog for the monks of the hospice and monastery of the Great St. Bernard Pass in the Alps between Italy and Switzerland. He was also originally a companion dog. It was not until the mid-seventeenth, early eighteenth century that the dogs started their legendary jobs as rescuers.
Until the early nineteenth century, all St. Bernards were short-haired. In around1830, the monks tried breeding St. Bernards with Newfoundlands to create a long-haired St. Bernard that could stay warmer in the snowy climate of the Alps. Unfortunately, the long-haired dogs were immobilized in the snow by the weight of the icicles that formed in their long coats. While the short-haired versions of the St. Bernard were once again used for rescuing, the long-haired variety has survived as a companion dog.
While cartoons often portray the St. Bernard rescuing people from the snow and having them drink brandy from a barrel tied around their necks, this legend is not true. The monks from the monastery and hospice where the breed originated claim that the dogs never took brandy with them to rescue people and warm them with the drink. Instead, people were warmed by the dog laying on top of them and using their bodies for warmth.
The Disney Company made a movie in 1977 called Barry of the Great St. Bernard. This film was about a famous St. Bernard named Barry who actually lived in the monastery and hospice in the Great St. Bernard Pass in the Alps. This dog was famous because he saved between 40 and 100 travelers during his years as a working dog. Disney also made a sequel to this movie in 1985.
Beethoven is another popular children's film that stars a St. Bernard. This St. Bernard, named Beethoven, is entirely fictional, but he was immensely popular when the movie was released in 1992. Several sequels to the movies were released later on that also starred large, loveable St. Bernards.
One of the scariest dogs in pop culture is Stephen King's Cujo, a rabid St. Bernard who terrorizes people in the book and movie of the same name. This dog was uncharacteristic of St. Bernards, and it should be noted that Cujo was rabid; St. Bernards are not aggressive dogs like the one in Cujo the movie and the book.
Though most St. Bernards only reach between 120 to 140 pounds for females and 150 to 180 pounds for males, there was a record setting St. Bernard. Historically, the largest and heaviest dog ever was a St. Bernard named Benedictine. He weighed between 336 pounds and 357 pounds, depending on which records you believe. This dog's size was a fluke, and is not to be thought of as typical.