Saint (St) Bernards are quite simply, ginormous. To the point where it’s only natural to question how much exercise they need. Besides, this is a dog breed you often see keeping relatively still – or lying down altogether. But what should owners expect, and how much daily activity should be provided to keep this breed happy and healthy? Here is what you need to know.
So, how much exercise does a St Bernard need? St Bernards only require a moderate amount of exercise despite their large and powerful stature. As an adult, one long walk or half an hour or structured play per day should be plenty to keep them happy. Puppies need to be exercised carefully – they must not be allowed to run up and down stairs, and walks should be on the lead for around 15 minutes at a time.
Despite not having massive exercise needs and requirements, Saint Bernards actually have an interesting working history.
They were originally bred in the 1600s by Monks in the Swiss Alps.
There, they worked in the cold and difficult terrains as search and rescue dogs for lost travelers.
That would explain the coat, at least.
They’ve also been used as guard dogs and pulling sleds, unsurprisingly.
With this all in mind, it’s important that this extra-large breed obtain sufficient and daily exercise.
But what is appropriate?
Keep reading for suggestions, ideas, tips, and tricks for exercising this beautiful breed.
How Often Do St Bernards Need To Be Walked?
St Bernards need to be exercised every day, even though their needs are moderate in this regard. Daily walks of 30 to 60 minutes at a steady pace are ideal for this breed. You may have to divide the 60 minutes of daily exercise into 3 shorter walks of 20 minutes each, along with some very short runs to increase their heart rate.
Because of their size, exercise is very important despite the precautions you need to take.
St Bernards tend to become obese very quickly and, if they are not walked every day, can become disobedient and restless.
To prevent this, one hour of physical activity per day is necessary.
But this is not the level of exercise you will give right away.
You need to build up gradually.
Naturally, puppy St Bernards need to exercise much less.
When your puppy has been fully vaccinated at around 4 months old, you will need to take them out for around 20 minutes twice a day.
At this age, taking them for a walk is as much about training them as it is about exercise.
When they are around a year old, they can be taken on short 20-minute walks 3 or 4 times per day.
They mustn’t be allowed to run or jump, as this can strain their joints and bones, which are still developing.
This principle applies to adults as well, who are prone to orthopedic problems and arthritis.
Generally, the bigger the breed, the longer it takes to reach full maturity.
At 1 year old, a St Bernard is still considered a puppy.
Even though your dog may look fully mature at this age, they are still growing, and their exercise must be done gradually.
This will avoid damage to their bodies.
There is a variation amongst individual dogs, but generally, St Bernards only reach full social and physical maturity when they are 2 and a half years old.
St Bernards historically have been bred for cold mountain climates, so they are not well suited to warmer weather.
They get heatstroke extremely quickly, so their walks should be scheduled for the coolest time of the day.
The hotter the day, the shorter the walks should be. Even if you decide to trim their fur, which is not recommended, they are still prone to overheating very quickly.
Can St Bernards Go On Long Walks?
An adult St Bernard can go on moderate to long walks and hikes as long as there are no strenuous climbs or obstacles. They can hike for approximately 3 miles, as long as you let them set the pace and only take them hiking when the weather is cool. St Bernard puppies, however, should not be taken on long walks until they are around 2.
Generally, this breed is a good hiking companion; they are working dogs by nature who will love carrying supplies.
You can even get them a doggie backpack from Amazon to help in this regard!
They have a lot of stamina and will be able to keep up with you during the day as long as they get time to rest.
Several long walks per day, as well as shorter supervised play sessions, will make sure that your dog remains in good physical condition.
You will need to dictate their daily routine, as they are not the kind of dog that will ask to go outside and play.
St Bernard puppies, however, should not be taken on long walks until they are around 2.
Owing to their large size, they can suffer from joint and structural problems.
These problems may only manifest themselves in adulthood, even though the damage has been done when they were puppies.
This is why puppies should not be exercised for too long until their bones are fully formed.
Short walks and play sessions are best for puppies, as they are energetic and will want to play just like any other young dog.
St Bernards will become obese very quickly, so a good walk each day is essential to keeping them fit and trim.
They are also prone to bloat, so they do better on 2 or 3 small meals per day instead of one large one.
Overweight St Bernards will develop multiple health problems such as heart, respiratory and digestive issues.
Do St Bernards Like To Walk?
St Bernards are not really that fond of walking; they are not very playful or energetic dogs either. They can be quite stubborn, so it may be difficult to get them up and out the door for a walk. Because they can be lazy dogs, activities that force them to participate are a good idea. Games such as tug-of-war will fit the bill quite nicely.
The hotter it is, the more stubborn they get, so try to take them on walks during the coolest part of the day.
In cold temperatures, you may notice your St Bernard has far more energy and especially loves playing in the snow.
They are completely unsuitable as a jogging or cycling companion.
Because of their large size and resultant joint and skeletal problems, strenuous exercise will place far too much stress on them.
Keeping them lean will decrease the chances of them injuring themselves when you take them for a walk.
It’s good to get them into the routine of going for a walk when they are still puppies.
Start your training early, not only to get them into good habits but also to prevent problems when they are even bigger.
St Bernards are generally obedient dogs and will learn quickly as they are quite intelligent.
As they are so big, if they are not properly trained, they will be extremely difficult to handle.
Certain behaviors can have serious consequences, such as jumping on people.
How To Keep Your St Bernard Active
Walks, games, and plenty of time to roam around off-lead will keep your St Bernard active. They love activities such as weight pulling, carting, and obedience trials which allow them to use their natural strength. All these depend on you training your St Bernard from a young age, so they are well socialized and easy to manage.
Taking them to a dog park will encourage them to run and play, as long as they don’t overdo it.
If you live in a cold, mountainous region, a St Bernard will be a perfect dog. They will be very eager to go for short hikes in the snow.
There may be dog clubs near your home, which can help you get involved in some of these activities.
Training schools are a good place to meet other St Bernard owners, get good advice about what to do and not do as well as get your puppy properly trained and socialized.
Dog sports that are not endurance-based are a great way to keep your dog active and also give them mental stimulation.
St Bernards can be very playful and love interacting with other dogs and people.
They also love a challenge, so you can teach them to play almost anything.
Swimming is a wonderful exercise.
Not only will it help cool your St Barnard down when it is hot, but it is very good for dogs who suffer from ailments such as arthritis or hip dysplasia.
Just like cats, St Barnards love it when you play with a laser pointer.
It may seem strange, but they will chase the red dot for hours.
You just need to make sure you have enough room. Otherwise, they will send everything flying off tables and knock over the furniture!
As a general rule, you don’t want to be throwing any toys or treats up in the air and encouraging your St Bernard to jump.
Repeated movements and hard landings are extremely bad for their body and will put a lot of stress on their joints, especially when you are playing with a puppy.
A St Bernard is a breed that you have to think long and hard about.
Your climate, living space, and lifestyle need to be specifically suited to such a large dog with a thick coat.
As their exercise needs are so moderate and they are so intelligent, their exercise regime won’t take up a lot of your time.
Even if you have a lot of time on your hands and a keen desire to take them out, remember not to over-exercise your St Bernard.
It’s not required, nor will they generally have the enthusiasm for it.
Besides, too much can actually be problematic – and this is especially true in developing puppies.
Nevertheless, St Bernards make wonderful companions, and if you love big dogs, they are generally a great choice.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.