Alpine Spaniel

The Alpine Spaniel is an extinct breed of dog which was used in SAR dog by the Augustinian canons regular, who run hospices in the region around the Great St. Bernard Pass. The spaniel was a large dog notable for its thick curly coat. One of the most famous specimens of the Alpine Spaniel is, however his preserved body has been modified on more than one occasion to fit with descriptions of the extinct breed from earlier time periods. Due to the conditions in the Alps, and a series of accidents, extinction was discussed as a possibility by authors during the 1830s, and at some point prior to 1847 the entire breed was reduced to a single example due to disease. Evidence held at the Natural History Museum in Bern show that two distinct breeds of dog were being used in the area during this time period. The breed is thought to be the predecessor to the modern St. Bernard and the Clumber Spaniel.


Alpine spaniels 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. The dogs would be dispatched in pairs to search for fallen travellers, and were trained so that upon finding them would return to the canons in order to lead rescuers back to the unfortunate individuals. The Alpine breed was also used as a Guard dog to guard sheep and cattle of mountainous regions, including the Himalayas.Between 1800 and 1814, a dog named Barry lived as a rescue dog at the hospice, and was famous enough at the time for his body to be preserved at the Natural History Museum of Bern. However 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. In 1829 a English Mastiff like dog was brought from the Great St Bernard Hospice and was exhibited in London and Liverpool to thousands of people. This publicised the existence of an Alpine Mastiff, but drawings of the dog did not match descriptions of the Alpine Spaniel from before the exhibition, and the descriptions of the Spaniel were ridiculed by later publications.

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