Since the early 18th century monks living in the St. Bernard pass kept these dogs to help them on rescue missions after bad snowstorms. The St. Bernard pass is snowy and dangerous route through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland. In 200 years approximately 2,000 people have been rescued because of this breeds uncanny sense of direction and resistance to cold.
The breed started between 1660 and 1670 when the monks acquired their first Saint. This dog was a descendent of a mastiff style dog brought over from the Romans. These dogs were smaller, had reddish brown and white fur, and had a large tail. The first saints accompanied travellers through the pass and their broad chests helped clear paths for the travellers. The monks soon discovered the dogs keen sense of smell gave them the ability to find people buried deep in the snow. The monks would send the dogs out in packs of two or three for these search and rescue missions. One dog would dig out the missing person and lay on top of them to keep warm while the other dogs would return to the monks to let them know they had found someone.
Between 1816 and 1818 snowstorms in the pass were particularly severe and many of the dogs died in avalanches bringing the breed close to extinction. In 1830 modern breeding started with mixing the remaining dogs with Newfoundlands. This mix did not work for the climate and these dogs were given away. Throughout the years the dogs have been mixed with various breeds resulting in the modern Saint Bernard you see today. In 1880 the Swiss kennel club officially recognized the name Saint Bernard.
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