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Saint Bernard vs. Labrador Retriever: Breed Differences & Similarities

Thinking of adopting a Labrador or Saint Bernard for your next four-legged friend? These two dogs share quite a bit in common but are also very different from one another. Find out which of these two breeds is better suited for your lifestyle.

Kelly Wilson

Last Updated: June 9, 2021 | 9 min read

Saint Bernard vs. Labrador

Are you thinking of adopting a new family dog, but can’t decide between the Labrador Retriever vs. the Saint Bernard? Both dog breeds are well-known family pets. While these breeds do have some similar traits, they are also quite different.

Labradors are one of the most popular breeds in America and the UK. Saint Bernards enjoy an almost legendary status as rescue animals made popular through cartoons and movies. But how do they both fare as family pets?

Whether you’re choosing between these two dogs for your next family pet, or you’re just curious about the differences between the breeds, this article will help educate you on the traits of both dogs. We compare both breeds to help you figure out which one better suits your lifestyle.

Breed Comparison

Saint Bernard

  • Height 32-37 Inches
  • Weight 140-180 Pounds
  • Temperament Friendly, Intelligent, Watchful
  • Energy Moderate
  • Health Slightly Below Average
  • Lifespan 8-10 Years
  • Price $2,400 - $10,000

Labrador

  • Height 21-24 Inches
  • Weight 55 - 80 Pounds
  • Temperament Hardworking, Friendly, Intelligent
  • Energy Energetic
  • Health Above Average
  • Lifespan 13-14 Years
  • Price $1,000-$1,200

Breed History

The histories of both dogs are fascinating, to say the least. Both breeds have steeped their native lands’ cultural tradition, garnering a reputation across the world for their intelligence and bravery. Both breeds also date back centuries and come from long lines of working dogs. Let’s learn a little bit more about where both breeds come from, and what they were bred for.

Saint Bernard

Large Dog Standing Profile
The history of the breed is heroic and astonishing, as they were bred to save lives from avalanches.

The Saint Bernard has a noble history that sets it apart from many other breeds. While other types of dogs have a reputation for the work they helped do or the companionship provided, the breed was known for one thing: saving lives.

Sometime around 1660, the Saint Bernard hospice monks, located in a dangerous region between the Swiss and Italian Alps, came to possess an Asiatic mastiff breed to help them with their duties.

This breed was medium-sized, with short reddish and white fur and a long tail. The dogs were excellent watchmen and were valued by the monks for their companionship.

By 1750, the monks tasked these dogs with accompanying the monastery servants to a nearby township in Switzerland. Their broad chests helped clear the path of thick snow, and the servants quickly realized that the dogs had an incredibly keen sense of smell and direction.

Eventually, the dogs had the responsibility of finding lost travelers stuck in the snow. At this point, they were bred to have thick fur, a shorter tail, and an even better sense of smell. These dogs saved thousands of lives in their tenure at the hospice, giving birth to the legend of the breed.

Today, Saint Bernards are not often used to save people from avalanches. Their appearance has changed due to frequent crossbreeding, but their reputation for being friendly, lovable, and smart companions hasn’t waned.

Labrador

Black Dog Standing Near Water
Labradors have always been highly intelligent and easily trained.

Despite its name, the Labrador Retriever originates in Newfoundland, Canada, not in the neighboring Labrador. Its lineage comes from a breed known as the Saint John’s water dog. History first records the water dog in the early 1500s during French and British colonization of the region.

Originally a fishing dog, the Saint John’s water dog thrived in its work. It would fetch fishing lines, dive in the water for fish off the hook, and even bring in entire fishing nets by itself. Local farmers and fishers of the area highly valued the breed for its work ethic, intelligence, and high energy.

Despite its local popularity, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the water dogs traveled elsewhere. Its potential in the increasingly popular field of dog breeding made it valuable amongst royalty. Various royals collaborated to evolve the water dog into a hunting dog, and thus the Labrador Retriever was born.

As the decades wore on, the Labrador gained a reputation amongst American farmers as a fantastic work dog, perfect for hunting and various farm jobs. From there, its popularity only grew, and it became quite normal to spot a Labrador on a farm or in a wealthy household.

Now, the Labrador is one of the most popular dog breeds in the US and UK. Labs even have more defined breeding lines depending on where they originate. Only a couple of other breeds can even come close to American households’ status, like the Golden Retriever.

Appearance

Two Dogs Standing on a Sunny Day
Though the Labrador can get pretty big, the Saint Bernard is a massive dog that can weigh up to 180 pounds.

These aren’t two breeds of dogs that you could confuse. While a Labrador is a medium to large-sized breed, a Saint Bernard is one of the largest dogs around. Male labs typically weigh approximately 65 to 80 pounds, with females weighing slightly less at 55 to 70 pounds.

Saint Bernards, on the other hand, weigh a hefty 140 to 180 pounds on average. These are giant dogs that are only rivaled by a couple of other breeds.

Labs have an easy to manage short coat in yellow, black, or chocolate colors in terms of appearance. They have a broad skull and chiseled features, giving them a signature look many people have grown to love. Labs have lean legs that support their muscular and robust frame.

Saint Bernards typically all have the same color range, if only slightly different, with white and brown patches throughout their body. They have thick fur meant for cold weather, a large tail, and a wide chest. While their muscles aren’t apparent, you can be sure that they’re hiding under their thick layer of fluff.

Temperament

Happy Dogs Standing Next To Each Other
Both of these breeds are known for being friendly and sociable, making them ideal as canine comrades for humans.

Labs have a reputation for being extremely energetic dogs. While typically very friendly and intelligent, they are known to be quite mischievous, even well into adulthood. They’re extremely good with children, big and small, and are fantastic playmates for the whole family.

Though their size can be a little intimidating, spending any time with a Saint Bernard will show you how incredibly friendly they are. The breed is known to be kind, watchful, intelligent, lively, and gentle.

Both breeds make excellent companions, especially for growing children. Even though a grown Saint Bernard is massive, it won’t throw its weight around like it doesn’t know. Similarly, well-trained Labs won’t get too rough with a small child, even as it’s running around like a minor lunatic.

Exercise

Two Dogs Outside Having Fun
Labradors require about twice as much active time as Saint Bernards.

As mentioned before, Labradors are full of energy that they need to exercise daily. A walk around the block will not suffice. As a rule of thumb, an adult Lab needs around 2 hours of exercise every day to keep it physically and mentally fit. This can include play sessions in the yard, swimming in the pool or lake, or playing with other dogs at the dog park.

Saint Bernards require a bit less exercise to stay healthy. Veterinarians recommend about an hour’s worth of exercise daily, including walks and time off the leash in a secured environment. Although they’re perfectly capable of playing with other dogs, you should be aware that their size may intimidate some other dog owners.

Although all dogs need adequate exercise, both of these breeds are more active than most. If you plan on picking between these breeds for a puppy, you’ll need to lead an active lifestyle to accommodate their daily activity.

Training

Handsome Dogs Lookin Up
Use treats, praise, and a firm yet gentle tone when training to develop the desired behavior.

Training both breeds of puppies are fairly similar, but there are some areas that you should stress over others depending on which puppy you have.

Both breeds will need to be adequately crate trained for transport and times when you need them out of the way. You’ll have to have a large crate for both, especially Saint Bernards, whose size prohibits anything smaller than the biggest dog crate available.

Positive reinforcement is the key to promoting good behavior in both dogs. Treats and praise will go a long way where shouting and other negative reinforcements fall flat.

When either breed does something wrong, it’s better to encourage good behavior rather than discourage bad behavior. The dog will quickly learn what to do and not do with positive reinforcement.

Specifically, you need to train a Saint Bernard not to jump from a young age. This becomes a big issue when they get older due to their size.

Similarly, training Labs not to chew or dig is key as well. They tend to be very curious dogs, but you don’t want them sticking their nose where it shouldn’t be!

Health

Older Dogs Laying Down
Common health conditions in teeth, skin, and joints occur regularly in both breeds.

All types of dogs can develop health problems specific to their breed, these dogs are no different. Both breeds tend to develop joint issues later in life, especially Saint Bernards, due to their size. Your vet may encourage less playtime to reduce the strain on their hips and knees.

However, you should be encouraging plenty of physical activity when they’re younger. Both dogs have a higher risk of obesity than other dogs. Exercise, like running, can help lessen the chance they might become obese as they get older.

Saint Bernards are more likely to have dental issues than other breeds. Using treats that promote dental health, as well as regularly brushing their teeth, can help stop this from happening.

Addison’s disease is a serious genetic condition that occurs when the adrenal glands stop functioning normally. Saint Bernards are more likely to develop this condition. Luckily, regular testing can spot the disease before it gets serious, and there is treatment available.

Labs are prone to skin conditions that many dogs can avoid. These are extremely irritating and even painful for the dog and aren’t pleasant to look at either. Consult a vet if your dog develops a rash or weird bumps to see exactly what to do.

Nutrition

Two Dogs Begging for Food
Both breeds have healthy appetites, but you’ll end up feeding more food to the Saint Bernard.

A well-balanced diet is crucial to keeping both of these breeds happy and healthy. For Labradors, this might be pretty straightforward as their diet is pretty similar to other comparable dog breeds.

Saint Bernards, however, require a bit more maintenance when it comes to their diet. Due to their size, they need a larger portion of food than other dogs might. However, overfeeding can lead to obesity and numerous health issues, so you need to closely monitor their calorie intake.

What type of food you feed your dog will dramatically affect their energy and weight. If you only stick to cheap, processed foods, your dog’s health will reflect that. There are healthy dog foods available for both breeds, but they may cost a bit more.

The alternative is making your own dog food. While this will definitely require some more effort on your part, the result will be a healthy pup, and who can put a price on that?

Grooming

Cute Puppies in Galvanized Tubs
Maintaining a regular grooming routine is essential for your dog’s coat to remain thick and healthy.

The grooming process for these two dogs is fairly different, so you should keep that in mind if you’re deciding between the two breeds.

Both breeds are big shedders, especially Saint Bernards, whose fur will come out in clumps regularly. You’ll need to brush this breed several times per week with a large grooming rake to take extra hair and prevent over-shedding.

Labradors only need grooming once per week. Although they shed a lot as well, they have a short coat that doesn’t come out as frequently. Over-grooming a Lab can actually result in skin disorders, so make sure you aren’t brushing them too much.

Bathing is important as well. Because of their thick coat, Saint Bernards need to be bathed every 8 weeks or so. They are also big droolers, which means more grooming maintenance. In contrast, you can bathe Labs if and when they need it. However, if you want a routine, a light bath once per month is totally fine.

Puppy Prices

Puppies Frolicking in the Grass
Expect to pay at least $1,000 and up for a purebred puppy of either breed.

Although you might be able to find purebred puppies in a shelter, it’s more likely that you’ll acquire a puppy from a breeder. Prices for puppies will depend on the quality of the breeder and the dog’s pedigree.

Labrador puppies typically cost anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500. Chocolate Labs, however, may cost more because of their coat color. Other rare Lab colors like red, or silver, can both also fetch well over that $1,500 price point, despite their controversy.

Saint Bernard puppies can be fairly expensive. Although they can cost little as $1,000, it’s more typical to see them for around $2,600, and even up to $10,000. Any less than $1500 should be taken with extreme caution.

Be wary of any puppy that costs less than the prices mentioned earlier. They may have health problems, or the breeder may be taking inadequate care of the puppies and parents. It’s best not to support puppy farms or breeding mills that don’t treat the animals with respect.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article has answered any questions you may have when comparing the Saint Bernard vs. Labrador Retriever dog breeds. Both breeds are excellent choices, especially if you’re raising a family, and have their own benefits and drawbacks.

Whatever breed you choose, be sure that you’ll have a happy and healthy new addition to the family with the right training, diet, and exercise. Your new canine companion is just waiting for you to welcome them into your home!

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