Training A Saint Bernard

Training a Saint Bernard puppy is fairly easy - they are eager and quick to learn and often end up top in the puppy classes they attend. One thing to remember when training a Saint (or any dog) is that reward will quickly lead to the desired result whereas punishment will quickly lead to a badly behaved dog.

Basic training should begin in the first days you bring your pup home, start as you mean to go on! Remember that if a pup thinks something he is doing pleases you, then he is very likely to repeat the behaviour so the first time that cute little pup starts chewing on your slipper or chasing the cat he must be stopped - it may be funny now but just think forward to 12 months time when you have a 150 pound dog mauling and slobbering your footwear and your other pets!

Toilet Training - Requirements : A pocket full of small treats, patience.

It is easy to tell when a pup is going to pee (or poop)- he will pace around, the tail will go up in the air and the back legs will start to spread - this is the time to react! As soon as you see your pup start to do this, say "No!" in a firm voice, pick the pup up and carry him outside. Place him gently on the ground and say something like "Do peepees" or whatever you choose for such moments - I use "Quickies!" for peepees and "Do big-jobs!" for poops, both my dogs, now fully grown, still respond to these commands.

If the pup does his business then praise him to the skies, make a huge fuss of him and give him a treat. He will soon come to relate doing peepees OUTSIDE with a reward and doing it INSIDE with a reprimand. Some pups take only a few days for this to sink in whereas others may take a few months or more, however long it takes, your pup will eventually be whining at the door to be let out.

Over night, problems are bound to occur in the first few weeks, no pup can be expected to hold it in all night and you should never scold your pup for something he did hours ago, he won't understand. Simply clean up any mess and look forward to the day when your dog is able to hold his own.

The basic rule here is to be firm but gentle when reprimanding and to make sure your pup knows he's made you happy when he does something right.

The "Sit"

If you say "Sit!" as your pup is sitting down he will soon come to relate the word with his actions. To get him to sit on command, when the pup is standing, gently push down on his bottom whilst saying "Sit!" in a firm but gentle voice. If he does it right then praise him and reward him with a small treat. Another method is to take a small treat in your hand, show your pup it is there but don't give it to him, pass your hand from the front of his face over towards his shoulders whilst saying "Sit!" - your pup's natural reaction is to follow the course of the tasty morsel and he will naturally sit - I have seen this work with older dogs whose owners tell me their dog doesn't sit! Whichever way you choose,eventually you will get to the stage where you don't need to push him down or wave a treat around and he does it just when you say the word.


The "Come Here"

Once again, if you say "Come Here" as your pup is naturally coming towards you for whatever reason, he will associate the word with his actions. When teaching the "Come here" it is important to say the words in as silly and excited a voice as possible to get your dog's attention.

Take the pup out into the yard or garden. Sit him down in front of you, back off just a few paces and in your best, happy voice say "Come here!" You can add the dog's name to the end of the command if you wish. If your pup is taking no notice, keep saying "Come here" until your dog responds. Pat your leg, clap, jump up and down, anything to get your dog's attention. When he gets up and starts coming towards you, repeat the command and add "good boy", when he eventually arrives in front of you, praise him and reward him. Once he is responding each time you say "come here" you can back off a little bit further each time - it may be useful to learn the "Stay!" command before you back off too far! Once he has fully learned the "Come here" along with the "Sit!" you can get the pup to come to you and sit down calmly in front of you before praising and rewarding him, this is useful in later life when your fully grown Saint, so eager to respond to the "Come here!" command, does not rush towards you at full speed and crash into you!

The "Stay!"

This is best taught along with the previous two commands but may be too much for some dogs to take in in one go. You may also require the assistance of a friend.

Take your dog outside into an enclosed area, sit him down in front of you, put your arm out with your palm up facing the dog and say "Stay!" whilst backing off just a few paces. If your dog gets up and tries to follow you, go back to him, get him to sit and try again. If he persists in trying to follow you, get a friend to sit behind him and hold his collar while you repeat the exercise. Once you are a few feet away and your dog is staying, use the "come here" command to bring the dog to you and reward him. When he has figured out what it is you want you can start making the distance greater - do this in small stages, not all at once! - as you back off, keep repeating "Stay!" with your palm up towards the dog. Before long you will find that you are at one end of the yard/garden and your dog is at the other listening to your every word and waiting for the "come here". Don't try to keep your dog in the "stay" for too long at first, just a few seconds to begin with, eventually he should stay for quite long periods.

The "Lie Down"

This can be one of the more difficult commands to teach a Saint as not only is it difficult to make a large dog lie down if he doesn't want to, but it can also be difficult to get him back up again!

As with other commands, if you say the words as the dog is naturally doing the action, the dog will learn faster. I have found the easiest way to get a Saint to lie down on command is to get him into the "Sit" position first then try one of the following :

1) Once he is sitting, take your dog's front paws and gently pull them forward and down so that he ends up in the lying position, say "lie down" as you do this and praise and reward him once he is lying down.

2) Again, whilst he's sitting, take a treat in your hand, show it to the dog but don't give it to him and bring your hand from the dogs nose, forward and down to the ground whilst saying "lie down!", he will follow the treat and end up lying down. Once in the lie position, praise and reward him.

Repeat either of the methods above until your dog responds just to the voice command.

The "Roll Over"

Always best taught along with the "lie down" command, the "roll over" is useful for later grooming.When in the lie position, gently pull your dog over onto his back while saying "roll over" in a happy voice, once he is on his back, tickle his tummy and scratch his chest to get him to stay there for a while then say "sit" and add "up" ("situp") to get him back the right way round, praise and reward as always!


You can now take all the above commands and place them altogether in the following exercise :

Take your dog out into the yard, tell your dog to sit and sit him down in front of you (reward him), back off as far as you can saying "stay!" several times. Wait a full minute and give the "come here" command, once the pup is at your feet, give the "sit" command, then the "lie down" command. If your dog has done it all correctly then praise him and reward him.


Walking To Heel

It is a good idea to get your pup used to a collar and lead very early on, he will know that there is nothing to fear from these items if he has been introduced to them before you start using them for real. Once he is happy with these adornments you can start training him to walk to heel.

Take your dog into an enclosed space with his collar and lead already attached. Sit him down and stand by his side (the pup should be on your left). Now say "Heel" and give a light tug on the lead and say "Heel" again as you walk off, at first your dog may leap about and try to run all over the place, if he does, then say "No!" in a firm voice, gently tug the lead and repeat the heel command. Your dog's shoulder should be level with your leg as you walk, if he tries to pull forward then either gently pull him back and say "heel" or stop completely and repeat the command. If he drags then pat your leg and gently pull him forward while giving the command. If he walks happily at your side then praise him lightly by just saying "good boy, heel" - don't be too enthusiastic here as your dog may take it as a cue to be silly. He should soon learn that pulling or dragging gains him nothing whilst walking at your side gains him praise and a far more comfortable neck.

A word about collars - I personally do not recommend using full choke chains on any puppy, semi-chokes can be used but need to be used correctly. A pup should really do his heel training on an ordinary lead and collar and semi-chokes or full chokes can be used later on in life if your dog persists in pulling. There are many items available in pet shops which can be helpful for getting your dog to behave on a lead, I myself have not used any of these so cannot comment on their effectiveness, however, you should remember that a harness or a head collar which may fit your 6 month old Saint Bernard is unlikely to fit your 12 month old Saint Bernard and you will be lucky to obtain one that does! If the training is done correctly then a collar and lead should be sufficient.

The "Stand"

You may not think a "stand" command is particularly useful but you may require it one day if your vet needs to check your dogs tummy or you need to groom his chest. (The dog's chest that is, not the vets!) I have also used this command to get my dogs to pose in the show ring.

When your dog is sitting, take a treat in your hand as before and place your hand in front of the dog's nose, now bring the hand slowly forward and slightly up whilst saying "Stand!" - your pup should follow the treat and stand up. Once he is standing, tickle the underneath of his chest to get him to stay in that position and repeat the command. Once he has remained standing for a short while, praise him and reward him. If your dog does not want to follow a treat then put on his collar and lead and give a gentle tug with the command or alternately, put your hands underneath him and gently lift him into the stand position whilst giving the command.

The "Go Round"

This is a useful command to add to the "come here" command. Once your dog has come to you, get him to sit in front of you as before, lean down and take hold of his collar and say "go round" whilst gently pulling your dog around the back of your legs to your left side, once at your side, get the dog to sit, wait a few seconds and praise and reward him. Eventually your dog will not need to be pulled and upon hearing the voice command will shoot round the back of your legs and sit at your side.

The "Fetch"

There are some who reckon that getting a Saint to fetch is a near impossibility but it can be done. My two play ball regularly and whilst the ball is not necessarily brought back all the time, probably about 7 times out of 10 the ball is retrieved and spat out in a globby mess at my feet.

The best thing here is to use a toy that your dog likes - a squeaky bone, a pull-rope or a stuffed toy - anything you know your dog enjoys playing with.

Take him outside with the toy, sit him at your side, take hold of his collar and throw the toy just a few feet away. Your pup will immediately try to go after his favourite toy which you have just thrown - this is why you have kept hold of his collar. Wait a few seconds, say in a happy voice "fetch!" or "go get it" whilst pointing at the toy and release your dog. Your pup should run to the toy and pick it up, once he has it in his mouth, say "come here" or "bring it" in your happy voice and try to get the dog to bring the toy back to you. This exercise takes time and patience, quite often your pup will get as far as the toy and not pick it up (in which case go to him, pick it up and wave it at him until he takes it then go away again), or he will pick the toy up but only bring it halfway back (go to him again, pick the toy up, get him to take it and go away) or he will take the toy and run off with it in the opposite direction (go to him, put him on his lead and bring him to you). I have also found that later on in life, even though the dog has been fetching quite happily for years, if you throw the toy and say "fetch" or "go get it" the dog will look at you as though you are stupid and you can see him thinking "if you wanted it, why did you throw it away?".

Remember that Saint Bernards are not retrieving dogs so this exercise may prove more difficult that with a breed such as a Labrador but if you persist it will eventually come and play time can be so much more fun if you can play ball with your dog.

The "Leave!"

This can be a very useful command for when you don't want your dog to do something that he wants to do.

It is best taught at first with the use of a "retained reward" - in other words, he gets a reward, but only when you say he can!

To start off with, sit your dog by your side, take hold of his collar, show him a treat and place it on the ground in front of him whilst saying "leave". Keep hold of the collar, repeat the command several times then release your dog whilst saying "O.K!". Before long you will not need to restrain him and he will "leave" on command and only get what he wants when you say "O.K.!". This can be taken further with toys, other dogs, cats and maybe even the postman! (Only kidding!)

Getting Your Dog Used To Things a Vet or a Judge May Do

From a very early age your pup should be having things done to him which may need to be done in later life. It is no laugh when you have to sit on your Saint just to get his claws trimmed!

Get him used to being groomed all over, having his claws trimmed, having his ears, eyes, mouth and nose looked at. Brush his teeth, feel all over him and subject him to as many different things as possible so that when he is fully grown you do not have a major effort on your hands when you need to do these things or when he may require veterinary attention.

Problems - Chewing, Mouthing, Barking etc.

All puppies chew - especially when teething, some will chew more than others, whilst some will just chew the occasional item of footwear, clothing or cutlery, others will not be content until your three piece suite has been converted into confetti! There are several harmless but bitter tasting sprays available which can deter your pup from chewing but usually it is just a matter of waiting until the teething period has ended.

Mouthing human hands can be a serious problem with Saint Bernards, it may be a nice, warm, funny feeling when your 12 week old pup is mouthing your hands or feet but when your 12 month old Saint is doing it, it seems to lose it's appeal! Puppies should be taught from the outset that mouthing is a no-no, if a pup mouths, say a firm "No!" and push your dog way, ignore him for about a minute, regardless of how hard he is trying to get your attention. You may also need to let the pup think that what he is doing is hurting you physically so as soon as he does it, take your hand away, whine and cover your face and turn away from him and again ignore him for a minute or two. If your dog persists in this behaviour it may be necessary to get professional help.

Barking should only be done on your command or when the dog is protecting his own territory. It's a good idea to teach the commands "speak" and "quiet" which can be done quite easily. "Speak" is taught by giving the command when your dog naturally barks at something, you can enhance it by triggering the dog to bark by barking yourself! This may make the neighbours wander what on earth you are up to but if you say "speak" and then bark, often your dog will join in. To teach the "quiet" command, let your dog bark a few times, gently place your hand around his muzzle and say "quiet". Reward him when he stops barking.

Behavioural problems in Saints are not uncommon and are usually a result of bad upbringing or improper training, professional advice should be sought for more serious problems but there are a few helpful websites dealing with such things as aggression and dominance.




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