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St Bernards' keg of brandy

St Bernard dogs were first bred by monks at the Hospice of St Bernard high in the Swiss Alps to help them rescue pilgrims who got trapped trying to make their way from France into Italy. The dogs were bred to be ideally suited to the weather and rescue work – huge, energetic and loyal with thick fur and keen smell and hearing.

However, the St Bernards of St Bernard’s have never and most likely will never carry small kegs of brandy around their necks – this popular conception is thanks entirely to the overactive imagination of an English painter, Edwin Landseer. In 1820, when just 17 years old, Landseer produced a painting called “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller”. The dog he painted wore a small barrel around its neck – a barrel which he claimed contained brandy. The public’s imagination was caught and the image endured.

Brandy would actually be a pretty shoddy tool for an alpine rescue dog – a slug of alcohol will cause your outer blood vessels to dilate, blood will rush to your skin and your body temperature will decrease more rapidly. It’s best to save the booze until after the rescue.

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11 Jan 2011
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