Saint Bernards are soft, cuddly animals well-known for their loyalty and their resistance. Throughout history, the Saint Bernard has served in search-and-rescue operations, especially in snowy cold areas. Iconic to the Saint Bernard is the miniature barrel hanging around the giant dog's neck. The fact is, the little jug was never part of the dog's gear.
According to the Mental Floss website, Saint Bernards never carried kegs around their neck -- that's right, the popular image is a myth. The origin of the myth comes from an 1820 painting by English artist Edwin Landseer. The piece, “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller," shows a Saint Bernard carrying a small barrel around his neck while working to rescue a man trapped in the snow. Something in the painting must have been highly inspiring, because the legend caught on and spread.
What the Keg Was Supposed to Carry
If you still want to know what was inside the keg, here it is: It was supposed to be brandy. As the myth grew, the story spread that brandy was supposed to help warm up people when they were found by the dogs. Unfortunately, brandy is a poor choice if you're stuck in cold weather, as alcohol dilates blood vessels, causing body temperature to drop, rather than increase, according to Mental Floss.
The Truth Behind the Story
One small part of the myth is true: Saint Bernards were bred to help with mountain rescues. So the image of two massive dogs helping an injured man in the snow is actually close to reality. The breed originated in the Great Saint Bernard Pass, an area in the Alps Mountains. There, a group of monks living in a monastery bred and trained what became the Saint Bernard breed -- a stocky, thick-coated dog ideal for trekking in the snow and help mountain travelers.
A Fun Bit of Information
The Great Saint Bernard Hospice and Monastery, where the dogs were bred, was built in the 11th century and still stands. Today, visitors are welcome to stay the night, have dinner or visit the chapel or museum. For those who want to take home a reminder of their travel, the monastery's gift shop sells dog collars with kegs attached to them.
- Null Hypothesis: St Bernards' Keg of Brandy
- Mental Floss: Why Are Saint Bernards Always Depicted With Barrels Around Their Necks?
- My Switzerland: Grand Saint Bernard - Pass and Saint Bernard Dogs
- Pet Adviser: What’s in the Barrel Around a Saint Bernard’s Neck?
- The Telegraph: Hiking Through the Saint Bernard Pass
- Youngstead Saint Bernards: Saint Bernard Hospice
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images