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Alpine Spaniel
Alpine spaniel.jpg
Drawing from "Biographical sketches and authentic anecdotes of dogs" by Thomas Brown (1829)
Other names Spaniel of St.Bernard
Bernardine Dog
Country of origin Switzerland and Savoy

The Alpine Spaniel is an extinct breed of dog that was used as a mountain rescue dog by the Augustinian Canons who run the hospices in the region around the Great St. Bernard Pass. The spaniel was a large dog with a curly coat. It is thought to be the predecessor to the modern St. Bernard and the Clumber Spaniel.



The Alpine was a large breed of spaniel, generally reaching two feet at the withers[1] and six feet from the nose to the tail.[2] It had a closely set coat, curlier than that of the English Cocker Spaniel or the English Springer Spaniel. It was described as being as intelligent as any dog, and was particularly adapted to the climate of the Swiss Alps.[3]

Old skulls in the collection of the Natural History Museum, Berne demonstrate a diversity in head shapes. The collection proves at least two distinct variations during the same time period. The larger skulls have a greater pronounced stop with a shorter muzzle while the smaller skulls show a great deal less stop whilst having longer muzzles.[4]


The stuffed body of Barry, a dog owned by the Great St Bernard Hospice around 1800.

They were kept by the canons of the monasteries in the Alps in order to search for travellers during heavy snow storms, including the Great St. Bernard Hospice in the Great St Bernard Pass between Italy and Switzerland.[3][5] The dogs would be sent in pairs to search for fallen travellers, and were trained so that upon finding them would return to the canons in order to lead them back to the unfortunate individuals.[6] The Alpine was also used as a watchdog to guard sheep and cattle of mountainous regions, including the Himalayas.[7]

Between 1800 and 1814, a dog named Barry lived as a rescue dog at the hospice, he was famous enough at the time for his body to be preserved at the Natural History Museum in Berne. Unfortunately during the preservation, the taxidermist and the director of the Museum agreed to modify the body towards what they thought was a good example of the breed during that period. The head itself was further modified in 1923 to represent the Saint Bernard of that era. Prior to this the skull was a great deal flatter with a moderate stop.[8]

In 1829 a Mastiff like dog was brought from the Great St Bernard Hospice and was exhibited in London and Liverpool to thousands of people. This publicized the existence of an Alpine Mastiff, but drawings of the dog did not match descriptions from before the exhibition, and these descriptions were ridiculed by later publications.[9]

Because of the treacherous conditions in which this breed of dogs were used, due to a succession of accidents, talk of the whole stock becoming extinct was talked about as early as 1839.[10] However at some point prior to 1847 a pestilence swept through the region and reduced the number down to a single specimen, which forced the canons into crossing it with other breeds.[9]


A drawing of the Alpine Spaniel in 1848, 18 years after they were first crossed with the Newfoundland

St. Bernard

The Alpine Spaniel was the direct genetic progenitor to the St. Bernard.[11] Starting in 1830, the monks and canons of the Swiss Alps began crossing the dogs with the Newfoundland, expecting that the resulting offspring would have the longer hair of the Newfoundland and this would protect the dogs better from the cold. Unfortunately ice would form on the longer hair, and seeing that the dogs were no longer effective rescue dogs, the monasteries gave them away to people in the surrounding Swiss valleys.[12]

In 1855 a stud book was opened for these crosses, which supplied the hospice with suitable dogs and also exported the dogs overseas. Many people began breeding them indiscriminately, which resulted in their modern appearance.[12] By 1868, the breed was commonly being referred to as the "Saint Bernard Dog" first and the Alpine Spaniel second.[13]

Clumber Spaniel

It is thought that the Clumber Spaniel originated in 18th century France from the Basset Hound and the Alpine Spaniel.[14] The name "Clumber" itself comes from Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire.[15]


  1. ^ Strong, Asa B. (1848). Illustrated Natural History of the Three Kingdoms: Containing Scientific and Popular Descriptions of Man, Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Reptiles, Insects, &c. Vol. 1. Green and Spencer. p. 163. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  2. ^ Brown, Thomas (1829). Biographical Sketches and Authentic Anecdotes of Dogs. Simpkin & Marshall. p. 278. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  3. ^ a b Brown, Thomas (1829). Biographical Sketches and Authentic Anecdotes of Dogs. Simpkin & Marshall. p. 279. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  4. ^ "The Dogs from the Hospice". Natural History Museum, Berne. Retrieved 2009-11-23.  
  5. ^ "Dog Breeds In 1853". Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  6. ^ Brown, Thomas (1829). Biographical Sketches and Authentic Anecdotes of Dogs. Simpkin & Marshall. p. 280. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  7. ^ Pritchett Blaine, Delabere (1841). Canine Pathology: Or, a Description of the Diseases of Dogs, With Their Causes, Symptoms, and Mode of Care. Hubbard Press. p. 16. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  8. ^ "The Legendary Barry at the Natural History Museum". Natural History Museum, Berne. Retrieved 2009-11-24.  
  9. ^ a b Richardson, H.D. (1847). Dogs; Their Origins and Varieties, Directions to Their General Management and Simple Instruction as to Their Treatment Under Disease. James McGlashan. p. 96. Retrieved 2009-11-22.  
  10. ^ Roads And Railroads, Vehicles, & Modes Of Travelling Of Ancient And Modern Countries; With Accounts Of Bridges, Tunnels & Canals. John W. Parker. 1839. p. 211. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  11. ^ "The Spaniel Family". Antiques Digest. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  12. ^ a b Blumberg, Jess (2008-01-08). "A Brief History of the St. Bernard Rescue Dog". Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  13. ^ Tenney, Sanborn (1868). Pictures and Stories of Animals. Sheldon and Company. p. 40. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  14. ^ "AKC Meet The Breeds: Clumber Spaniel". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  
  15. ^ "Clumber Spaniel - Breed Description & Information". Canada's Guide to Dogs. Retrieved 2009-11-21.  

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