Games to Teach St. Bernards

Saints have a nose for tracking games.
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Chess is probably out of the question, since a Saint Bernard’s paws are too large to manipulate the small pieces on the chessboard. But don’t let that damper your enthusiasm. Saints are huge but playful, and they’re ready at a moment’s notice to take part in fun and frolic.

Outdoor Tracking Games

Your Saint’s ancestors sniffed out lost travelers in the Swiss Alps, and you can turn your dog’s scenting skills into an outdoor game. Start by asking your Saint to sit while you place his favorite toy a few yards away where he can see it. Encourage him to “go get it,” cheering excitedly when he brings it back. As he gets used to the game, move his toy farther away and eventually behind a tree or shrub. When he masters that task, take him to a park where the scents are new and hide the object while he’s not looking and tell him to “go get it.”

By now, he knows he’s supposed to find the object and he’ll follow the path you took to find the object and bring it back. It takes a lot of practice to reach this stage, but tracking offers years of fun for you and your big boy. If your Saint loves tracking, the two of you can take part in canine tracking competitions.

Find the Hat

Find the Hat is a mild indoor variation of tracking that you can play without knocking over too many lamps and vases. Use an old ball cap or another soft item that has your scent. Let your Saint sniff or carry the hat around a bit, and then tuck it under your shirt. With enthusiasm, ask your Saint, “Where’s the hat?” Your giant furkid will sniff around your shirt and eventually will push aside the shirt fabric and grab the hidden cap. Reward him with “good job,” and a behind the ear tickle. You can tuck the hat under a sofa cushion if you like, but Find the Hat is the most fun and rewarding when you hide it somewhere on your person.

Water Fetch

Most Saints love the water, but they’re not endurance swimmers. Water fetch involves tossing a floating toy off a dock or from the side of a boat into a pond or lake and letting your dog fetch it. The water offers a soft landing, which is important for protecting your Saint’s joints from excessive impact. This is a great game for a hot summer day, but don’t throw the item so far that your dog struggles to return it. If you’re on a boat, it’s essential that your Saint wear a giant-breed life vest before playing water fetch.

Pulling Games

The American Kennel Club categorizes Saint Bernards as working dogs, because they’re strong and willing to work. Fit an adult Saint with a pulling harness or attach side clips to a standard harness. A regular collar won’t work. Attach two side ropes to the clips and to a small wagon or sled and lead your Saint until he understands that you want him to pull the object. Pulling games aren’t intended for Saints younger than 2 years of age because they place too much stress on developing bones.

Limits of Play

Because this breed is susceptible to joint disorders, don’t encourage a young Saint to jump out of the back of a truck or off other high objects. Likewise, limit strenuous play that requires your dog to run excessively to reduce risk of damage to bones and joints. Your Saint will let you know when he’s done. After 20 or 30 minutes of physical play, he’ll simply lie down and take a long nap.

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