Saint Bernards are intelligent, hard working, calm, and usually friendly. In combination with their keen sense of smell and dense coat, these traits originally made Saint Bernards good farm dogs, and later search and rescue dogs. Their participation in dog sports such as draft work pulling carts, weight pulling, agility, tracking, and obedience as sport provides physical and mental challenges while bonding them more closely to their families. Saint Bernards have occasionally been described as protective, but this may be a self-defense response in which socialization can minimize the development of fear-based defensive aggression.
The St. Bernard was developed in the Swiss-Italian Alps some 350 years ago and their rescuing abilities are legendary. The breed was developed by a group of monks tending a hospice at the Great Saint Bernard Pass. They are likely descended from the Asian "Molosser," which was introduced to Switzerland by Roman armies long ago. St. Bernards were trained to work their rescue missions in packs of four. Once a victim was found, two of the dogs would lay near to keep them warm, one would try to revive the victim by licking his face and the fourth would go off to seek help. Since the time the breed began working as rescue dogs, they are believed to have saved over 2000 people. The most famous St. Bernard (Barry) is credited with saving somewhere between 40 and 100 lives. His body was preserved and still stands in the Natural History Museum in Berne. The modern name, St. Bernard, was given the breed in the 1850's, and they were introduced to the United States in 1870. They were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1898.