Around 1670, these dogs were brought to St. Bernard Hospice, in Switzerland, where the monks discovered that they had excellent abilities for finding paths in the deep snow. The dogs were sent out to find lost travelers and would lick their face and lay with them. The licking would wake them if asleep and lying down with the person allowed for an exchange of heat, saving many lives. 2000 lives are recorded as being saved this way. Only the short coated version of the breed are used for rescue as the long haired version tends to collect too much ice on its coat.
Slow, gentle, low key, this is not a playing dog in the least. It can be protective and a little willful as to how quickly it does things.