Temperament Considerations in Breeding Dogs

While this excerpt, taken from Stan Zielinski’s book Saint Bernards from the Stoan Perspective, deals with Saint Bernards and their temperament, it relates equally well to all breeds of dogs and anyone who breeds them. The temperament of any dog potentially considered for breeding should be just as important, if not more so, then build, color and coat.

“As I travel throughout the United States and the world, I find a large variation in the temperament of the Saint Bernard. My image of the loving, friendly, benevolent animal that first attracted me to these dogs does not seem to be universally accepted as correct for the breed. This is a source of great concern to me.

…It would be belaboring the obvious to say that Saint breeders and owners should be especially careful about the temperaments of their dogs. Clearly, Saints are simply too large to have a dangerous temperament. The question is, “Just what is a dangerous temperament?”


One of the greatest dangers associated with a deviant temperament lies with the owners. So often, people rationalize growling, snapping, or even minor biting incidents with these stories [kids mistreated him when he was a puppy, he wasn’t socialized well as a puppy, he was attacked by another dog, he was frightened by a…], and eventually somebody gets seriously attacked. Making excuses for your dog is the moral equivalent to justifying having a live hand grenade around the house. It may not go off, but who can live with the consequences if it does?

I suggest that no matter what physical or mental trauma the dog has experienced, it must be assumed that any negative behavior is hereditary. There are no allowable excuses! Any Saint that displays negative behavior should be considered to have a genetic fault that requires just as much attention as the faults dealing with poor head type and lack of substance.

Of course, it is not enough to define “undesirable behavior,” because it is important to agree on how a Saint Bernard should act. In my opinion, the following examples constitute Saintly behavior.

  1. A Saint Bernard should suffer through any imaginable abuse from small toddlers without any display of resentment. Any Saint that will not allow a small child to poke him in the eye or sit straddling his back is not worthy of the name.
  2. When the dog has business to which he is supposed to attend, such as being in a showring or walking with his master, the dog should be expected to not challenge other dogs to a fight.
  3. A Saint is expected to love and protect his family, not be a source of bumps and bruises. I remember my surprise when I discovered our first Saint’s self-imposed duty. He felt that it was his job to stand between my small children and any perceived danger, be it traffic in the street, a passing stranger or dog, or just a loud noise. That is proper Saint Bernard behavior, as opposed to knocking down small children, intentional or not.
  4. When a dog is in a nonthreatening situation (and I expect the dog to have and to use good judgement about if and when a situation is threatening), he should wag his tail at every stranger he encounters. You want a Saint to eagerly meet new friends and to just plain like people in general!

There are literally thousands of examples of Saint Bernards behaving appropriately, but these should be enough to give you the picture. Saint Bernards should have a saintlike disposition, and this is what you should expect – nay, demand!

This brings me back to the course of action that should be followed by responsible members of the fancy. Breeders mus select for good temperament. Exhibitors and owners must demand good temperament; they must recognize poor behavior and decry it as being highly objectionable. Judges must never condone any display of deviant behavior; and any such behavior must be penalized as much as any other serious fault.

I want to leave you with these words: Those who care about Saint Bernards must always applaud a Saintly disposition and soundly condemn any behavior that doesn’t fit the Saint Bernard ideal – and never make excuses.


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