From the beginning – and for a long time – the Saint Bernard was a short-haired dog. The German word used to refer to this coat is, “stockhaarig,” which simply means “shorthaired” (and, of course, isn’t a verb as our “gotcha” title suggests). There came a time, however, when Swiss monks at the St. Bernard hospice wondered if breeding new blood into their breeding program wasn’t a good idea. Thinking that long hair would better protect the dogs in the cold, they started breeding Newfoundlands with their St. Bernards in 1830. What seemed like a good idea at the time turned out to be….not so much.
Ice formed on the longer coated dogs, and that made them less effective in their rescues. The monks ended up giving the dogs away to people in the surrounding Swiss valleys, and while that dealt with the issue at the time, you can’t fool Mother Nature. The gene for the long coat remained in the gene pool all the way to today.
A popular belief among fanciers has long been that the long coat and short coat in certain breeds (like the Saint Bernard) is controlled by a single pair of autosomal alleles, the short coat being dominant over the long coat. An abstract by Crawford RD and Loomis G based on data for 221 litters and 1,216 St. Bernard pups supports and verify this belief.