Saturday, 17 May 2014

St Bernard: snow blindness

From brandy-barrel to drool bib

Last week at the Birmingham National Champ Show, this top-winning St Bernard (Chandlimore On The Bottle) failed her vet check.

According to this report in DogWorld,  examining vet John Goodyear - an eye specialist -  said the bitch's eyeballs "were too small for her eyes". 

In the dog's defence, owner Tan Nagrecha explained:
"The old Standard demands a slightly deep set eye with prominent stop and well defined orbital ridges. This is because the St Bernard’s purpose is to work in blizzard conditions in mountainous terrain and if the eye is full and forward snow would get in them. So it is preferred that the eyes should be slightly deep set to fulfil the breed’s functionality. As a breed we don’t want a big, bold, round eye as that would not serve the breed’s original purpose, plus it would detract from the benevolent expression the breed desires.” 
Oh my. 

Where to start with this Fancy-generated gibberish?

Well, first perhaps to point out that the Snow Leopard has large eyes.

And while this polar bear has smaller eyes, it has tight eyes.

Or how about the Arctic Fox?

The claim that deep-set eyes are advantageous in blizzards is breeder-bollockry on a par with Bulldog owners claiming that the Bulldog's wrinkles are there to "help channel the bull's blood away away from the dog's eyes".

Like most of the show Mastiff breeds, the show-bred St Bernard's eyes are often a disgrace. They have huge problems with entropion and ectropion; the whole eye anatomy is saggy, exposing mucous membranes that would be painful in sub-zero temperatures.  (And while I'm here, those droopy, wet, slobbery flews would be a big problem in the Swiss mountain winter weather, too)

Click to enlarge
I can't think of a single wild animal that has eyes like this. And that's because it's aberrantly abnormal. The eyelids can't close properly and the exposed haw/loose-fit attracts debris which can be painful and lead to damage and infection. It is completely dysfunctional and yet largely ignored by breeders who create nonsensical mythology to normalise it. It is rarely penalised by judges.

And so dogs with dreadful eyes continue to win. And then they're bred from and another generation of saggy-eyed giants are doomed to eyes vulnerable to discomfort at best and blindness at worst.

Here's the modern UK standard (not sure of the exact date of the change - anyone?)

Of medium size, neither deep set nor prominent, eyelids should be reasonably tight. Excessive haw must be heavily penalised. Dark in colour and not staring. There should be no excessive loose wrinkle on brow which would detract from a healthy eye. Free from obvious eye problems.

Owner Tan Nagrecha blames the KC for changing the standard:

"We’re trying to keep the breed type while satisfying the KC’s red tape. It’s going two ways: in one the eyes are becoming tighter but smaller with more cause for concern of entropion but yet it appears as a normal generic eye, and in the other the eyes are bigger but along with that comes slacker lower eyelid. That is my experience. 
  "To add to this, sometimes we have non-pigmented lower third eyelid which makes the haw look worse than it would appear in a pigmented third eyelid. The old breeders bred to the older Standard a for a diamond eye. 
  "Because the St Bernard’s characteristics, as dictated by that Standard, are so inherent in the breed they are not going to change overnight. I accept that my bitch has a slacker eye but she is a very, very big bitch and the eyeball is healthy and not affected by lashes, there is no damage and it does not affect her eyesight or cause irritation or lesions.”
I sent the picture to the Barry Foundation in Switzerland The response from their veterinary director Urs Lüscher was swift and blunt:
"The original Saints did not have such eyes and such lids. These are English inventions. The veterinarian rightly decided to eliminate this dog. These lids are not functional.”
The descent of this once powerful but always functional breed into an over-sized, lumbering, slobbery mess is a real tragedy. Most would be incapable of moving more than a few yards through deep snow. This "very, very big bitch" (as if that's somehow a good thing) is not even two years old.

Unfortunately, size for size's sake is considered desirable in many of the giant breeds - complete madness given the toll on the dogs. (It is no accident that it is the heavy, "big-boned" dogs that top the hip dysplasia league tables - and they die a lot younger, too).

The KC standard for the St Bernard proscribes a minimum height but not a maximum. In fact, the English St Bernard Club still has an older breed standard on its website which demands: "The taller the better." (The newer standard on the KC website has dropped this phrase but still states that "size is desirable".

There is a clear need for phrases such as this to be reviewed. 

The vet-check fail is, says owner Mr Nabrecha.."especially disappointing for the breed."




  1. Last time I went to a dog show here in Portugal I noticed how abnormally large and horrible the haws and jowls on these dogs were. I coudn't even see any of the dogs' eyeballs.
    It's very sad what breeders are doing to this and other over-exagerated breeds.

  2. And perpetuating the myth in the general population we have the animal rights people
    "(VIDEO) Maybe it’s the snoring, maybe its the way he’s squeezed onto the lap, but this Shar pei epitomizes relaxation, comfort and cuteness…"

  3. Sagging, droopy skin does seem to be an appealing trait to the strange humans of the dog fancy. Have you seen the state of the Field Spaniel? Ectropian, ridiculous ears, saggy jowls. They are a rare breed but it does seem that loose and sagging skin features are a result of in breeding. You would never see wild or village dogs with these features. Utterly bizarre. I just think that having those eye problems would be the equivalent of feeling like you have something in your eye irritating it. Imagine feeling that level of irritation 24/7.....

    1. Have you confused your breed with the Sussex spaniel?? A true field spaniel is a fab working dog which wouldn't function in the field. I do not think for ejits that continue breeding deformed dogs will stop until they are completely effed up - shame for all those dogs that are and will suffer and for those of us who just enjoy our pedigree dog for being dogs :-(


      According to this website, the Field Spaniel was developed exclusively for the show ring.

      Eye abnormalities and ear problems plague them.

    3. Just gave that site a quick read thanks, here in the UK the field spaniel usually depicts the working type of the cocker spaniel they have short ears usually inline with their jaws or just below, a broad head not the dome we see on the show type, free of sagging eyes and a docked tail. What is shocking about the breed aside from the obvious deformities in some is that it has so many types.

    4. Unfortunately the oh example of Field Spaniels I have seen in the UK do not look anything like the working cockers. They had terrible eyes and the droopy in bred look about them. Would like to see some examples of good working types tough.

    5. I had one which we referred to as the field because she worked and was awesome at her job but essentially it's just the cocker, the one I have now is not working and is show type but the paperwork for both dogs is cocker spaniel but omg they look nothing alike.......what the hell are we doing to these dogs as obviously there is another variant of which I was unaware????

    6. Jemima do you how many variants are there of the cocker spaniel and how many other breeds does the "type" effect? Any ideas??

    7. a Field Spaniel is a different breed to a working (or field) bred Cocker Spaniel.
      (English) Cockers are one breed but there are distinct working (or field) and show (or bench) types. Working type is very variable as the dogs are chosen on working ability rather than appearance.

    8. The Field Spaniel was developed for the show ring though. It has exaggerated conformation which would not enable to function well in the field. What I can not understand is why anyone would think that entropian aare ectropian are features to select for. Why is the droop of the jowls and the sagging skin attractive to people? Also, the ears are dangerous! What if they got caught in thorns and bramble? These are not features for working function. So calling it a Field Spaniel is strange...

    9. are you sure you are talking about the field spaniel and not the sussex spaniel.. they are not that exaggerated. sussex spaniels are on the other hand very. back in the late 1800s the field spaniel was a bit extreme and if you look at old pictures of them they were very low in the leg and almost bassetised but thankfully they were then bred to become longer legged dogs they were originally bred as a show dog, yes because they wanted an all black dog. now they are very similar to cocker spaniels just bigger, they were bred together back in the early days of the cocker spaniel when they were fixing the type. there are several types of spaniel maybe you are muddling them up. the springer(welsh and English), cocker (English and American) and clumbers have both working type and show type, yes even the clumber spaniel has a less extreme working dog. the sussex spaniel as far as I know only has show types. you also have the cavalier king Charles spaniel and the king Charles spaniel which despite what some people think are two separate breeds.

    10. Oh oh the poor Clumber spaniel, Im not sure what the intention with those are. The eyes the elbows the everything but particularily the what seems to be a complete lack of will to live, a large cuddly sack of meat and bones.

      They can often just barely it seems trot across a ring. Are they meant to be like this or is this only the show strain?

      Such a lovely looking dog at a glance.

  4. I saw that picture on the bottom of the old timey Saint Bernard and literally started crying. The difference is incredibly disturbing.
    What have we done to them?! I'm disgusted with the human race for RUINING such a BEAUTIFUL specimen. I'd have loved to take home the old Saint Bernard. I would turn my nose up at any Saint Bernard that came my way (in regards to adoption and whatnot). I bet the 1906 dog was a slobbering mess (slobber that probably freezes well in the cold).

    1. Yikes! I mean "I bet the 1906 dog was NOT a slobbering mess (slobber that probably freezes well in the cold)."
      Was NOT a slobbering mess! If it was a slobbering mess I'd think it's slobber would freeze on it. The Saint Bernards of today are the ones with "wet" mouths that sag and slobber profusely.

  5. I honestly gasped in awe when I saw the old picture of the St. Bernard Dog. That's the kind of dog I would absolutely love to have myself.
    I was wondering... If sometimes you'd have time and inspiration, maybe you'd do a whole list of those unhealthy things that breeders claim are essential for the dog because of it's ancestry and publish it with corrections, like you did above with the St. Bernard Dog and have done before with the Bulldog? That would be a wonderful thing to spread around so that poor people, who are perhaps considering some of those breeds wouldn't fall for the breeders' traps.

    1. I'd like to see a before and after they fucked it up picture book / website / etc to show the unsuspecting puppy buying public and the rest of the world along with those pathetic excuses for mutilating these poor dogs

    2. To me, the old Saint Bernard looks a lot like a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, which while it is not extremely healthy (hips for example), has its original conformation intact (and is more healthy than its relative the Bernese).

  6. Never seen a picture of an old style St. Bernard. It's gobsmacking how different it is.

  7. From an article circa early 1900s;

    By Anna H. Witney

    Forty years ago the St. Bernard was hardly more than a myth to most americans. In sunday school literature he figured occasionally, to the joy of dog loving children, but the real live hero of Alpine fame they would not have recognized had they seen him.

    Comparatively few of our countrymen visited Europe in those days: our leisure class was limited, and a journey abroad meant as long a stay as possible in the great cities, among the treasures of art. There was no time allowed for the pleasures of country life. Switzerland, our sturdy elder sister republic was merely the way into Italy. St. Bernard dogs were rare upon the great highways of travel. Their work was on the bleak mountain passes, protecting poor wayfarers from the fury of the elements, and far away from the beaten track of foreign tourists.

    Travelers who crossed into Italy by way of the Tete Noire pass, and saw beautiful young pups there, were sometimes tempted into buying them: but the risks of transportation were great, and very few crossed the Atlantic. Prior to the early seventies, most of the importations went to New York state, and the first fine collection, or kennel of them, known, belonged to Colonel Parker of Albany.

    Soon after, the era of dog-shows opened the eyes of the general public to the wonderful beauty, extraordinary size and charming character of the this breed, and then the St. Bernard bounded into popularity. England, nearer and more accessible than Switzerland, became the chief source of supply. The specimens from the native land of the "Alpine mastiff" were all of the true working type of medium size, that is, weighing from one hundred and twenty-five to one hundred and fifty pounds, the bitches somewhat less,-standing thirty to thirty-two inches in height at the shoulder, with a short, dense coat, compact body, strong, muscular legs; the general outline indicating activity, power and some grace. The head was somewhat hound'like but shorter and squarer, the ears smaller in proportion, the eyes beautifully expressive, and the whole face instinct with genital intelligence.

    The article continues with it's interesting early perspective on the breed. The photos show only one dog with haw, the rest are lovely normal eyes. I would venture to say that if a modern dog breeder or fancier saw these early examples they would accuse them of being mixed breeds.

  8. The drool would probably free'ze as well

  9. Eyes are not the only thing Saint breeders have to answer for. A recent study of hip and elbow readings in the OFA database found gradual and modest improvement over time for most of the 74 dog breeds for which data were statistically meaningful. The Saint was in marked contrast, with hip scores going from bad to awful (for 2006-10, 2.5% of dogs scored as excellent, 50.8% as dysplasic), placing them as the sixth worst breed for hips (bulldog, pug, dogue d bordeaux, otter hound and boerbul were worse, but all five showed some improvement since 1974). Need not be said, bad hips are serious in a breed as heavy as a Saint. See

    1. Its interesting to note that bad hip scores in a breed like the Boerboel most often do not mean the same thing as bad hip scores in a Saint B.

      The Boerboel has excellent hard muscle and is tightly put together. Though often much the same weight though rarely ever as tall as a Saint it rarely has problems with bad hip scores in fact it's probably one of the most fully functional and athletic mastiff breeds around today. It also doesn't have loose hanging flews so doesn't drool and its eyes are tight and of normal size. Much like a heavier muscled "Chien du Grand-Saint Bernard" pictured. They are also variable in looks and each breeder seems to have slight different types of this landrace.

      I have a feeling the hips weren't perfect then either in the SB much like many of the bigger breeds, however with its present lack of function its frame is not supported by sound ligaments and musculature and so the whole thing falls apart, literally hanging off the frame which is wobbly in the best of them.

      Many if not all show mastiffs suffer similarly.

      Anecdotal but I myself had a boerboel bitch who lived to ten and she had a very bad hip score though not once in her whole life was she unsound or showing the slightest bit of lack of athleticism or stiffness in movement getting up running, jumping which she did freely. She was a heavy bitch of 75 kg but moved effortlessly like a great cat or more like a dog of 30kg and could easily scale a six foot wall.

      The only time her hips failed was in the last weeks of her life when she suddenly lost all condition and battled to get around on them so we decided to have her put to sleep. It must be said this is how most of my large dogs have ended their lives even cross breeds.

      Im surprised that "Chandlimore On The Bottle" failed the vet test I truly am this would imply that something is actually being done which is almost rather too much good news to believe.

      These and others have been suffering for many decades and decades. Since my own first visit to a dog show in the early eighties on the continent I've seen horrific eyes in these and other dogs. Great Danes particularly Harlequins but not exclusively were even worse up there with Napoletanos.

      So horrible anyway finding myself utterly repulsed when I was looking for a large guard dog I looked to the Boerboel which is vastly, worlds apart by way of improvement. Mine was a truly working mastiff type. They hadn't been accepted in any kennel clubs then and Im appalled some breeders pushed for it and even continue today.

  10. You don't even have to go outside of dogdom to find better eyes. How about those on a husky? They're large and tight-fitting. The eyes on dogs that compete in the Iditarod? - nothing like the St Bernard's.

    I find myself admiring the St Bernard from 1906.

  11. The dog should be outcrossed to reconstructed the orignal St Bernard. I would have crossed in excellent search and rescue dog who were either border collies, KNVP dogs, or great Swiss mountain dog.

  12. Here is an interesting link to the Swiss Barry Foundation:

  13. Oh my, again I'm speechless.
    Thanks for the posting.

  14. "eyeballs were too small for her eyes"
    Maybe she should be banned because of serve ectropion? No?.. Sure, it's not the reason to ban a dog... How they could see how large the eyeballs are?))) I can't see any eyes at all, there are some slots only)))

  15. How can breeders look at that 1906 picture and think that their huge, lumbering, defective dogs are somehow better off this way?

  16. This is heartbreaking. Two things occur to me: firstly, I agree with a post above requesting a proper guide/catalogue comparing old style breeds with the mutants we have today. A big undertaking, I know , but it would certainly help to spread the truth. Second, I can't see that self-regulation will ever really work. There must be a way to legislate against what are no more than cruel experiments for profit. Breeders should be properly licensed and inspected and criminal convictions for those who breach the guidelines. I know it sounds unworkable (some may move underground for a while) but I'm sure that people in the future will look back and wonder why we did nothing to halt this exploitation of living creatures.

  17. Jemima thank you for bringing this issue to light and explaining so clearly why deep set eyes and excessive haw should be bred away from. They are features that are also common in Mastiffs and it’s so good for breeders to be made aware of why they should not be accepted in the breed. A Saint or a Mastiff with clean, tight eyes is far more attractive and wholesome looking anyway.

  18. The Moscow watch dog is St Bernard cross breed breed by the USSR military. This breed were breed as a working dog and look more similar to the original St Bernard than show St Bernard. This breed also compete in IPO. The great Swiss mountain dog also looks identical to the original St Bernard apart from the coat color.

  19. The Finnish KC has separate listings for the long haired and short haired Saint Bernard. Does this indicate that there are still sub populations of the older type?

  20. They have to old type still at the hospice or the Barry foundation and they are breeding for a lighter type. These dogs do not have entropion.

  21. Anyone else notice the "Chien du Grand Saint Bernard" pictured has double dewclaws? Is this a common mutation in the breed?

    The great Pyrenees also and the Beuceron. I've never noticed this on any dog interesting, i suppose they come with them removed.

    The Beuceron ha ha " A complete French dog in which no foreign blood has ever been used".

    Looks awfully like a Dob cross Geman Shepherd to me this French l’exception culturelle. Maybe they sneeked in over the Alps at night while no one was looking and inseminated the pure french super-race Ja? I mean Oui?

    1. "German" Shepherds or Alsatians.. are from Alsace which is an area that has interchanged from French to German multiple times.

    2. Double hind dewclaws are a pretty common mutation in the breed. I used to work in Saint rescue, and probably half of my fosters had single or double hind dews. They were a pain in the rear to keep clipped! I have no idea why they are acceptable in real working dogs like Pyrenees, although I have seen ads for livestock guard pups who have had the extra dewclaws removed.

    3. Looks like the dogs have too.

      In fact not bad looking dogs as far as function is concerned. I got quite excited it looked to be a robust working bred dog type.

      That's until I took a look over at the Chateau Sorciere, Beaucerons of Distinction and read "The Art and Science of Breeding".

      [quote] It is becoming distressingly common for breeders to be blamed for nearly all problems in dogs, as if none of them occurred before breeds were created.

      Spend an afternoon on a public blog about dogs and you will see what I mean.

      The subject of 'ethics' is always a hot topic, but in this new environment, it has become increasingly difficult for breeders to meet the obligations of breeding healthy pups...... [quote/]

      Bad dogs are a result of blogs like this one. I wonder if she thinks there were tiny severely front to back compressed brachycephalic pug like wolves all along that carried little oxygen tanks strapped to their backs as they gamely negotiated the Steppes?

      Befuddled from beginning to the end she rattles on for quite some time. She inadvertently comes quite close with the "brick in the wall" analogy as far as genes are concerned. Sadly not a word about COI, [whisper] "the big O" for outcross even.

      Her way to fix the structurally lethal crumbling wall is to plaster it all over, carry on line breeding for Biss CH. ribbons and calling people like Jemima obstructions for pointing out the cracks.

      [quote]We all want the same thing: Healthy, happy dogs [quote/]

      She got the mantra right at least.

      Anyone for a Rotweiller cross Beauceron?

  22. I thought the claws were interesting mostly because nowdays people cut them off when the puppies aren't even day old. They say they can get torn off in the snow.
    That dog seems pretty fine with his polydactyl toes.
    I've never seen dogs with torn-off dewclaws or read any reports of how they have caused trouble do I'd like to call bullshit on this practice. I'm cautious and careful about making a judgement just yet, but this picture makes me err on the side of not clipping the claws off.

    1. The hind dew claws are much different than the front ones. The hind ones are never fully attached,and having had a dog with them they do overgrow,get caught on brushes and cause pain easily despite looking okay in some photo. The front ones do touch the ground when a dog is turning quickly or running hard,the hind ones don't. So I care less if a dog has their front ones,but next dog I own with hind ones I`m going to remove them,more for the dogs sake than mine.

      I have heard of reports of injuries in the front and hind,well in personal conversation not in the news,but they at least the front have some sort of purpose and although dogs can do fine without them I find removing them pointless.

  23. Osma I was thinking the exact opposite, har har ha.

    With four of them it looks like a grappling hook that could easily get wedged in stony terrain or entangled in surface growing roots and things like alpine shrubs which are low. But anything catchy anywhere else.

    This could be a figment of my imagination as I've never seen anything so odd except for a village dog in rescue that had six proper toes on the forelegs like Hemingway's cats.

    I think if the nails were kept short there shouldn't be a problem though they don't wear down like most ordinary dogs nails do during exercise on variable surfaces. If they are left to grow long and curled I think they could be a problem.

    A concrete stretch on a drive or something like that is very useful, I never have to clip nails anymore, thanks the pope, but that won't affect dew claws of course.

    1. Yeah, I quess I have taken it as a given that all dew claws are kept clipped. They do look very long in the picture.

      Once I was in a situation where a perfectly healthy dog with clipped nails got her whole nail fall off. Only the pink, floppy "heart" of the nail was there, like a feet without a sock. So I don't really feel like claws are especially difficult thing - sometimes there is problems no matter what you do.

      The dog was a daschund though, so maybe her short feets contributed to it? Who knows.

    2. Ouch I never had that before in a dog, makes me think of a crab claw when you pull out the meat.

      I was a steward on an eventing course and a horse got it's hoof stuck at full tilt between two rocks (they had drifted slightly off course on a sharp bend but remained by shoving the tape outwards in limit) the whole hoof came off. Unfortunately I couldn't stop them in time and they got over two more fences like that before I could radio anyone to stop them.

      Not pretty the rider was inconsolable as you can imagine.

  24. Some dew claws are perfectly functioning little digits. I just looked at my dogs one was stretching out it's front legs and the dew claws opened and closed along with the other digits. Quite a cute little fully functional digit that I never really took much notice of at all, the nail is well worn so she is using it for something maybe when she climbs trees or large boulders. Mine don't have hind dews at all not even the Caucasian Shepherd maybe they removed his along with his ears (poor boyz), they came like that off the cargo ship before I was given them as a gift as puppies.

    I know on some big dogs the hind dew claw is not attached to a joint and just hangs attached by skin, these might be more problematic as they aren't held close or forward so could snag.

    Those look quite sturdy on that dog maybe used like crampons in the icy snow, or breaks going down hill. (:

  25. The 1906 St. Bernard does look much better. However, even that individual has double dewclaws on its hind feet. This trait is touted as an aid to climbing in mountain dogs, but no wild carnivorans have this feature, even those that climb more than dogs. So, it's really just polydactyly (abnormal number of digits), a genetic disorder due to inbreeding in dogs, as in cats, humans, and other species.

    1. Hind and double dew claws or polydactylism are useless and more likely to hinder a dog or cat than help them,but it seems to be passed down genetically very easily. So even mix breed dogs and cats of multiple generations can have it,so I`m not if inbreeding is a really a problem there.

  26. Yah it does look a little Gothic and strange. Mountain goats have two which work to keep them glued to cliff faces but no carnivorans no.

    That dog has lovely eyes and looks like he might not even drool.

  27. Front dew claws are a necessity in fast movement.

  28. Extra hind dewclaws are not rare even in small dogs, but most are removed shortly after the puppy is born, so only the breeder sees them. Extra toes are not rare in cats where it is called polydactyly. The author Hemingway was said to keep several polydactyls. Some people say that breeding for extra toes can result in squintens, kittens with deformed limbs, which some people find cute.