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Saint Bernard

This gentle giant likes to cozy up to his family and friends.

Saint Bernard Breed Photo

Vital Stats

Dog Breed Group
Working Dogs
Height
Weight
Life Span
8 to 10 years

Breed Characteristics

  • Details

    Adaptability

    based on 6 ratings
  • Details

    Trainability

    based on 6 ratings
  • Details

    Health & Grooming

    based on 6 ratings
  • Details

    All-around friendliness

    based on 4 ratings
  • Details

    Exercise needs

    based on 4 ratings
  • See All Characteristic Ratings


Summary

Originally the Saint Bernard dog breed was used to guard the grounds of Switzerland's Hospice Saint Bernard as well as to help find and save lost and injured travelers. Today the St. Bernard enjoys the comforts of family life in many homes across the world. He is versatile and excels in the show ring and in obedience trials, drafting (pulling a cart or wagon), and weight pulling competitions.

Additional articles you will be interested in:

Adoption
Dog Names
Bringing Home Your Dog
Help with Training Puppies
Housetraining Puppies
Feeding a Puppy
Dog games
Teaching your dog tricks
How to take pictures of your dog

  • Overview

    A late night cold sufferer fills the TV screen. His night-time affliction causes him to toss and turn, each cough painful and every sneeze wracking his body. Then a deep-throated bark draws this invalid to his door, where he finds a massive dog with a flask attached to his collar. By the end of the commercial, the Saint Bernard has done his job and the cold sufferer is fast asleep.

    The Saint Bernard did in fact rescue people from the cold — not the virus, of course, but the chill winds and snows of the Alps, so treacherous to travelers. Not surprisingly, he's a kind, gentle, intelligent, good-natured dog. He's also a giant, a large, muscular dog who can reach a height of 30 inches and a weight of 180 pounds. The Saint comes in shorthaired and longhaired varieties, the shorthaired being the one preferred by the monks of the Saint Bernard Hospice where the dogs originated.

    Despite his size, the Saint Bernard is a quiet indoor dog who makes a wonderful family friend. Although he's calm indoors, it's nice if he has easy access to a yard where he can have a little room to spread out. He can live in small quarters, however, as long as he gets a good daily walk. More important than the size of your home is your tolerance for mess. Saints aren't the best choice for a fastidious housekeeper. They drool and shed, and they track in mud and dirt. With this breed, saintliness is not necessarily next to cleanliness.

    Saints aren't suited to living outdoors with little human companionship. They need to live in the home with their family. They're not aggressive, but they'll bark when there is cause, and any threat to their people will bring out their protective instincts. Their size is usually a deterrent to any would-be attacker or burglar.

    The easygoing Saint is gentle and patient with children if not necessarily playful. He's great to snuggle with while reading or watching television, but he can be a bit much for younger children, accidentally knocking them over with a swipe of his tail.

    The Saint Bernard does not need a lot of exercise. He's not a jogging companion and will wilt in hot climates. Saints suffer from heat exhaustion quite easily and need access to shade and plenty of fresh, cool water during hot weather. On the other hand, you'll never find a happier Saint Bernard than one who's enjoying a good romp in the snow.

    On a sadder note, the Saint's giant size condemns him to a shorter than average canine life span. He also can suffer from a variety of genetic diseases and disorders.

    The St. Bernard is a much-loved breed today. He's versatile, good-natured, and a fine choice for the person or family who would like a large but gentle dog with moderate exercise needs.

  • Highlights

    • A Saint Bernard is a giant-size breed and although they are generally quiet inside, they are not best suited to apartments. They need space to move or just to stretch out in.
    • If you consider yourself a neat freak, then the Saint Bernard is not the breed for you. They drool and their paws track in their fair share of mud. They are heavy shedders and shed, or blow, their coat twice a year.
    • Saint Bernards generally take longer to mature mentally. This leaves you with a very big puppy for several years.
    • Although Saint Bernards make wonderful family pets, they are not recommended for homes with young children, as they can unintentionally knock over and hurt small children.
    • Originally bred to withstand the cold temperatures of the Alps, the Saint Bernard does not do well in heat.
    • Saint Bernards are not known for barking without cause.
    • Saint Bernards are a short-lived breed, usually only 8 to 10 years.
    • The Saint Bernard should not live outdoors away from his family. All dogs do better when they are in the house with the family they love, and the Saint Bernard is no exception. Although their coats and build make them an obvious choice for outdoor living, their temperament and inability to cope with heat makes it a poor decision.
    • Thanks to the popularity of movies such as Beethoven, which features a large Saint Bernard, many irresponsible breeders and puppy mills produce these gentle giants. To make sure you get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
  • History

    The Saint Bernard originated in Switzerland along with several other breeds, including the Bernese Mountain Dog, Entlebuch Cattle Dog, Appenzell Cattle Dog, and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.

    They probably were created when dogs native to the Alps were crossed with Mastiff-type dogs that came with the Roman army during the time of the emperor Augustus. By the first millennium CE, dogs in Switzerland and the Alps were grouped together and known simply as Talhund" (Valley Dog) or "Bauernhund" (Farm Dog).

    The Saint Bernard Pass is a well-known and treacherous alpine pass that lies roughly 8,000 feet above sea level and can only be traveled between July and September. Today remnants of the great Roman road can be seen, as well as evidence of Napoleon's crossing.

    Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon arrived at this pass, which would eventually be named after him, in 962 AD, and there he founded his hospice, which aided travelers who were overcome by crossing this treacherous pass. That's when the Saint Bernard's history began to branch out from the Talhund or Bauerhund.

    It is unclear when the dogs were first used by the Hospice, but a painting depicting well-built shorthaired dogs that greatly resembled Saint Bernards as they are today was painted in 1695. The first written mention of the breed in the monastery's records was in 1703.

    The dogs were probably originally used by the hospice monks to guard the grounds. When the monks went in search of lost travelers, they may have brought along the dogs for protection and discovered by accident that they were excellent pathfinders with an ability to locate helpless travelers. The isolation of the monastery probably contributed to the refinement of the dogs into a breed that could withstand harsh winters and had the physical characteristics needed for their search and rescue work.

    The Hospice's breeding stock was occasionally replenished by dogs from the lower valleys, many of which were puppies of the hospice dogs that weren't needed at the time of their birth. In 1830, the monks attempted to improve their dogs' coats by crossing them with the thick-coated Newfoundland. That was a mistake. The longhaired offspring were inferior because ice built up in their longer coats. After that time, the monks gave away or sold any longhaired puppies they produced.

    During the three centuries for which the Hospice has records, Saint Bernards were credited with saving more than 2,000 travelers. By the 1800s, the hospice dogs did not have a formal name, although they were well known. Between 1800 and 1810, a hospice dog named Barry was credited with 40 finds and became one of the most famous dogs to ever live. Often the dogs were referred to as Barryhunden in his honor.

    The English referred to them as Sacred Dogs and imported many of them into England in an effort to reinvigorate their own Mastiff breed. In Germany, the name Alpendog was suggested for the breed in the 1820s. In 1833, a man by the name of Daniel Wilson suggested that the breed be referred to as the Saint Bernard Dog, and that's eventually what they became when the Swiss Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1880.

    When the breed began to be known in other countries, the Saint Bernard's type started to change. The Saint Bernards in other countries became thinner and taller, the by-product of crossbreedings. In 1887, the International Congress of Zurich drew up the first breed standard and all countries, except England, accepted it.

    In the United States, a Saint Bernard named Plinlimmon became well known in 1883. Plinlimmon was owned by an actor and became the top-winning Saint Bernard show dog of his time. His owner took him across the country, exhibiting him at theaters. In 1888, the Saint Bernard Club of America (SBCA) was founded, and the club accepted the breed standard written by the Swiss. Saints rank 39th among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the American Kennel Club.

    Today, Saint Bernards can be seen in homes, on the big screen, and at dog shows. There are still Saint Bernards at the Saint Bernard Hospice in Switzerland. They no longer seek out travelers in need but instead serve as living representatives of hospice history.

  • Size

    Male Saint Bernards stand 28 to 30 inches at the shoulder and weigh 140 to 180 pounds; females are 26 to 28 inches and weigh 120 to 140 pounds.
  • Personality

    True to their heritage as hospice dogs, Saints are friendly and welcoming. They have a steady, benevolent temperament and are kind and careful with children. They love attention but aren't as demanding of it as some breeds.

    Because of their large size, it's important to begin training Saints at an early age, while they're still easily manageable. They're intelligent and willing to please but sometimes stubborn. They should never be aggressive unless it's in defense of a family member.

    Like every dog, Saint Bernards need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they're young. Socialization helps ensure that your Saint Bernard puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.

  • Health

    Saints are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Saints will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.

    If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.

    In Saints, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).

    • Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you're buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
    • Elbow Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition common to large-breed dogs. It's thought to be caused by different growth rates of the three bones that make up the dog's elbow, causing joint laxity. This can lead to painful lameness. Your vet may recommend surgery to correct the problem, medication to control the pain, or weight management.
    • Entropion: This defect, which is usually obvious by six months of age, causes the eyelid to roll inward, irritating or injuring the eyeball. One or both eyes can be affected. If your Saint has entropion, you may notice him rubbing at his eyes. The condition can be corrected surgically.
    • Epilepsy: This disorder causes mild or severe seizures. Epilepsy can be hereditary; it can be triggered by such events as metabolic disorders, infectious diseases that affect the brain, tumors, exposure to poisons, or severe head injuries; or it can be of unknown cause (referred to as idiopathic epilepsy). Seizures may be exhibited by unusual behavior, such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good. Epilepsy can be controlled with medication, but it cannot be cured. A dog can live a full and healthy life with the proper management of this disorder. If your Saint has seizures, take him to the vet right away for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
    • Dilated Cardiomyopathy: This heart condition occurs when the heart muscle becomes very thin and is unable to contract normally. Because the heart must work harder, it becomes enlarged. Dogs with this disease have an abnormal heart rhythm and show signs of heart failure, including weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, collapse, difficulty breathing, a soft cough, and an enlarged abdomen. There is no cure, but rest, diet, and medication can help for a time.
    • Cataracts: A cataract is an opacity on the lens of the eye that causes difficulty in seeing. The eye(s) of the dog will have a cloudy appearance. Cataracts usually occur in old age and sometimes can be surgically removed to improve the dog's vision.
    • Allergies: Allergies are a common ailment in dogs. Allergies to certain foods are identified and treated by eliminating certain foods from the dog's diet until the culprit is discovered. Contact allergies are caused by a reaction to something that touches the dog, such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, or other chemicals. They are treated by identifying and removing the cause of the allergy. Inhalant allergies are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and mildew. The appropriate medication for inhalant allergies depends on the severity of the allergy. Ear infections are a common side effect of inhalant allergies.
    • Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV): Also called bloat or torsion, this is a life-threatening condition that can affect deep-chested dogs such as Saint Bernards, especially if they are fed one large meal a day, eat rapidly, drink large volumes of water after eating, and exercise vigorously after eating. Some think that raised feeding dishes and the type of food might also be factors in bloat. It is more common among older dogs, but can occur at any age. GDV occurs when the stomach is distended with gas or air and then twists (torsion). The dog is unable to belch or vomit to rid itself of the excess air in its stomach, and the normal return of blood to the heart is impeded. Blood pressure drops and the dog goes into shock. Without immediate medical attention, the dog can die. Suspect bloat if your dog has a distended abdomen, is drooling excessively and retching without throwing up. He also may be restless, depressed, lethargic, and weak with a rapid heart rate. It's important to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. There is some indication that a tendency toward GDV is inherited, so it's recommended that dogs who develop this condition should be neutered or spayed.
  • Care

    Saint Bernards need only moderate amounts of exercise, but it's important that they get it to prevent obesity. Carrying too much weight is hard on their joints and can cause arthritis or orthopedic problems.

    Limit the amount of exercise you give your Saint Bernard puppy until he reaches mature size. Don't let him put on weight too quickly or run or jump on slick floors. That's just asking for hip problems.

    Saint Bernards are prone to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Avoid letting them exercise in the heat of the day, and be sure they always have access to shade and fresh water. Be aware of the signs of fatigue and heat exhaustion, which include heavy panting, dark-red gums, and weakness or collapse.

    An untrained Saint can wreak havoc in your home and drag you down the sidewalk in his eagerness to greet people, so early training is essential. Train your Saint Bernard using a happy and relaxed approach. Lay down ground rules and be consistent in requiring that he follow them.

    Saint Bernards are naturally friendly, but all puppies benefit from puppy socialization class to help them learn how to properly react to other dogs and strangers. Investing in puppy kindergarten and obedience classes, as well as spending 10 to 15 minutes per day practicing at home, will be well worth your time, effort, and money.

    Crate training is an important tool that breeders will recommend. It aids in housetraining, keeps your dog or puppy and your belongings safe, and is a safe haven where your Saint Bernard can retreat when he's feeling overwhelmed or tired. A crate should never be used as a punishment but instead should be viewed by your dog as a cozy refuge.

    The well-trained Saint Bernard is a wonderful family companion and can go on to do many fun activities, including conformation showing (dog shows), obedience trials, and cart pulling.

  • Feeding

    Recommended daily amount: 5 to 6 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.

    Note: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl.

    Saint Bernards like to eat and are prone to obesity. Keep your Saint in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time.

    If you're unsure whether he's overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can't, he needs less food and more exercise.

    For more on feeding your Saint Bernard, see our guidelines for buying the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog.

  • Coat, Color and Grooming

    Saint Bernards can be found in two coat types: shorthaired and longhaired. The shorthaired coat is smooth but dense. The hair is slightly bushy on the thighs, and the tail is covered with long, dense hair that becomes shorter toward the tip. The longhaired coat is slightly wavy but never curly or shaggy. The forelegs have a bit of feathering, but the thighs and tail are bushy.

    Saint Bernards are various shades of red with white or white with red. The red comes in various shades, from brindle patches with white markings to brownish-yellow. The white occurs on the chest, around the neck (known as the collar), around the nose (the noseband), and on the feet and tip of the tail.

    A white spot on the nape of the neck and a white blaze on the face are especially attractive and desirable, as are dark markings on the head and ears that resemble a mask. The white markings are said to resemble the liturgical vestments worn by a priest and the black mask to reduce the glare from the snow.

    Brush your Saint
    about three times a week with a rubber curry brush or hound glove for shorthaired coats or a pin brush for longhaired coats. During shedding season, use a shedding blade to remove loose hair. If your Saint develops mats behind the ears or on the thighs, spray a detangler solution on the area and gently work out the mat with your fingers or a comb.

    St. Bernards don't need to be bathed frequently. When you do give a bath, it's easiest to do it outdoors unless you have a large walk-in shower. Wintertime baths should always be given indoors unless you live in a climate that's warm year-round.

    Use a shampoo made for dogs to ensure that the coat doesn't become dry. You may want to use a whitening shampoo to keep the coat its whitest and brightest. Saint Bernards often develop stains around their eyes. Keep the eyes stain-free by wiping them daily with a damp cloth or using a product formulated to remove eye stains, which you can find at pet supply stores.

    Other grooming needs include dental hygiene, nail care, and ear care. Brush your Saint's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.

    Trim nails once or twice a month if your dog doesn't wear them down naturally. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they're too long. Short, neatly trimmed nails keep the feet in good condition and prevent your legs from getting scratched when your Saint enthusiastically jumps up to greet you. When you trim the nails, trim the hair between the toes at the same time.

    Check ears weekly. If they look dirty, wipe them clean with a cotton ball, using an ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian. Never insert a cotton swab into the ear canal.

    Begin accustoming your Saint to being brushed and examined when he's a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he's an adult.

    As you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Your careful weekly exam will help you spot potential health problems early.

    If you are unsure about how to groom your Saint Bernard, ask your dog's breeder for advice or take your Saint to a professional groomer.

  • Children and other pets

    Saints are, well, saintly around kids. Patient and gentle, they step carefully around them and will put up with a lot. That doesn't mean they should have to, though. Supervise interactions between young children and Saints to make sure there's no ear- or tail-pulling, biting, or climbing on or knocking over on the part of either party.

    Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs and never to approach any dog while he's sleeping or eating or to try to take the dog's food away. No dog, no matter how trustworthy or well trained, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.

    Saints can also get along well with other pets, especially if they're introduced to them in puppyhood. Supervise them around smaller dogs and cats just to make sure they don't accidentally step or lie on them.

  • Rescue Groups

    Saint Bernards are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Saints in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don't see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Saint rescue.

  • All Breed Characteristics

  • Adaptability

    Measures how well this breed potentially adapts to different environments

  • Trainability

    Measures the amount and difficulty of training potentially required for this breed

  • Health & Grooming

    Measures how much effort this breed potentially needs to keep a tidy hound and home

  • All-around friendliness

    Measures this breed's potential to get along with other dogs and humans

  • Exercise needs

    Measures this breed's potential to require lots of physical activity

  • Usually

    Adapt well to apartment living

    Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn't necessarily an apartment dog make -- plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents, are all good qualities in an apartment dog.

  • Very

    Affectionate with family

    Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they've been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn't the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.

  • Moderate

    Amount of shedding

    If you're going to share your home with a dog, you'll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds: Some dogs shed year-round, some "blow" seasonally -- produce a snowstorm of loose hair -- some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you're a neatnik you'll need to either pick a low-shedding breed, or relax your standards.

  • Not usually

    Dog friendly

    Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs even if they're love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn't the only factor; dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least 6 to 8 weeks of age, and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.

  • Very high

    Drooling potential

    Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you've got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you're a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog that rates low in the drool department.

  • Somewhat

    Easy to groom

    Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog that needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.

  • Somewhat

    Easy to train

    Easy to train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word "sit"), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training. Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a "What's in it for me?" attitude, in which case you'll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.

  • Low

    Energy level

    High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they're more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells. Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you'll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.

  • Moderate

    Exercise needs

    Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise -- especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, such as herding or hunting. Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don't like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.

  • Sometimes

    Friendly toward strangers

    Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with a wagging tail and a nuzzle; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult.

  • Not particularly good

    General health

    Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn't mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they're at an increased risk. If you're buying a puppy, it's a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you're interested in, so you can ask the breeder about the physical health of your potential pup's parents and other relatives.

  • Sometimes

    Good for novice owners

    Some dogs are simply easier than others: they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They're also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies. Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time owner to manage. You'll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.

  • Medium

    Intelligence

    Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don't get the mental stimulation they need, they'll make their own work -- usually with projects you won't like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.

  • High

    Intensity

    A vigorous dog may or may not be high-energy, but everything he does, he does with vigor: he strains on the leash (until you train him not to), tries to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who's elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.

  • Sometimes

    Kid friendly

    Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who's on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (aka pit bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren't so family-friendly.

    **All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they're not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.

  • High

    Potential for mouthiness

    Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn't puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or "herd" their human family members, and they need training to learn that it's fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a chew toy that's been stuffed with kibble and treats.

  • Moderate

    Potential for playfulness

    Some dogs are perpetual puppies -- always begging for a game -- while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.

  • High

    Potential for weight gain

    Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that's prone to packing on pounds, you'll need to limit treats, make sure he gets enough exercise, and measure out his daily kibble in regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.

  • Moderate

    Prey drive

    Dogs that were bred to hunt, such as terriers, have an inborn desire to chase and sometimes kill other animals. Anything whizzing by -- cats, squirrels, perhaps even cars -- can trigger that instinct. Dogs that like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you'll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren't a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won't chase, but you'll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.

  • Moderate

    Sensitivity level

    Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called "easygoing," "tolerant," "resilient," and even "thick-skinned," can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.

  • Extra Large

    Size

    Dogs come in all sizes, from the world's smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if he is compatible with you and your living space.

  • High

    Tendency to bark or howl

    Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how the dog vocalizes — with barks or howls — and how often. If you're considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you're considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious "strangers" put him on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby?

  • Not particularly well

    Tolerates being alone

    Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive, barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.

  • Very well

    Tolerates cold weather

    Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.

  • Very poorly

    Tolerates hot weather

    Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can't pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, the dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you'll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.

  • Low

    Wanderlust potential

    Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they'll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses, or that bunny that just ran across the path, even if it means leaving you behind.

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