Height: 2.3 to 3.2 ft.
Weight: 90 to 130 lbs.
Life Span: 10-11 Years
Coloring: White with or without random markings that may be reddish brown, gray, shades of tan or badger
Area of Origin: France and Spain
Similar Breeds: Pyrenean Mastiff, Polski, Antolian Shepard, Maremma Sheepdog and the Kyvasz
History and Origin:
Known in North America as the Great Pyrenees, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog is a very old breed of large dogs that used to guard the sheep in France and Spain. It is not the same breed as the Pyrenean Mastiff. Shepherds in the foothills and mountains of Europe have utilized this breed of dogs for hundreds of years to guard the flock and protect the sheep from wolves and other predators.
The Basque people from the area near the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France and northern Spain kept these large white dogs sleeping in the fields with their sheep. The breed seems to date as far back as 1407 and in 1675 it was the favorite of The Grand Dauphin. In the early 19th century there was a high demand in the mountain towns for the dogs which were sold from there to all parts of France where these agile dogs would stand guard on steep mountain sides.
This is an ancient breed that performed general farm duties including herding stock and pulling carts much as the Swiss Mountain Dog and Bernese Mountain Dog did. They are within the Mastiff family of dogs. By the late 1800’s the breed is still divided into two major subgroups – Eastern Pyrenees and Western Pyrenees. The breed is related to other European dogs that were called livestock guardian dogs or LGD. This LGD group includes the Kuvasz, the Maremma Sheepdog, the Polis Owczrek Podhalanski, Polish Tatram, Akbash Dog, the Newfoundland and the St. Bernard. These are known in the show ring as the working dogs.
The Great Pyrenees is a gentle giant unless you pose a danger to their flock. Then they are very aggressive if any predator comes near the flock. As previously mentioned they sleep with the flock. The truth is they do not really sleep. They are nocturnal. On the flip side, give them any small, young or helpless animal or human and the Great Pyrenees will care for them with gentleness and respect. They are kind and loving with all helpless creatures.
The historical theory is that the Great Pyrenees began life in Central Asia or in Siberia and then followed the migration of the Aryan race into Europe. The Great Pyrenees are obviously named for the mountains where they guarded the sheep. They were also appointed by the King as the Court Dog in France in the 17th century. These are elegant and beautiful dogs that are pure white or white with patches of brown, tan, badger and gray.
The American Kennel Club standard for the Great Pyrenees is that it gives the general appearance of elegance and beauty along with majesty. He is intelligent and kind. They are not quite as popular as they used to be – or at least there are fewer on the AKC Registry in the US. This may be due to the fact that many rescue groups have taken them from shelters and kill shelters and rehomed.
In 2000 the Great Pyrenees was #45 on the list and in 2010 it was #71 on the list and in 2013 it was #68. At the same time other dogs in the working class that are large breeds such as the Newfoundland and St. Bernard have done much better with the masses. In 2010 the Newfoundland was at #44 and the St. Bernard was at #45. Still as mentioned previously this might not be a legitimate downfall in popularity but rather a turn to adoption from shelters and rescues instead of purchasing Great Pyrenees puppies from breeders.
Personality and Temperament:
The nature of the Great Pyrenees is to be a gentle, affectionate giant who is also very self-confident and assured. They are indeed protective of their flocks and very territorial but in general they are patient, fearless and loyal. They can be independent and strong willed when working and gentle and loving when not on duty. Their size makes them imposing and they do patrol the perimeter of their territory. They are nocturnal in order to watch over their sheep at night and they do bark to protect.
The Great Pyrenees was bred for sheep or livestock guarding and they still do this job in many places throughout the world today. Because of this they can be stubborn and slow to change their behavior when you want them to learn new commands. They are not outgoing, in fact the AKC standard calls them “reserved”. They will be hesitant with strangers until you the head of the pack, allows that stranger in the house. If you are ok with this stranger in the house then your Pyr will be too.
For as patient as he is with the children in his own family, he is equally overprotective of them when they are playing with the neighbors and friends. He might even be protective of the family against other pets within the family; They are not easy to please. You need to be in charge or the Great Pyrenees will do whatever he wants to do no matter what you tell him to do. He must respect you as the Alpha of the pack.
The Great Pyrenees appears to be reserved but is not usually shy, aggressive or nervous. They have been bred to protect themselves and their flocks/packs from danger. They have been known to take on wolves and bears. They are great guard dogs with humans as well as other predators.
Exercise & Training:
The Great Pyrenees is not your typical house dog, though they can be content and quiet indoors with you, they prefer to be outdoors and they were bred to protect a large geographical area. Because of this they want to be outside, roaming the perimeter of your property and staying on alert. When they live in the city or the suburbs you need to have fences and make sure they don’t get out or the will roam great distances.
In many places in the world they are still responsible for guarding the flocks sheep, goats, and herds of llama, cattle and horses. So keep that in mind in respect to both exercise and training. They can be companion animals and live in the house, but they will need a lot of exercise and they will need a job or they will create one for themselves.
They love to run, they love to play, they love long walks and they love the snow. They can dig under or jump over many fences. You need a good privacy fence secured at the ground. This is a dog that can run all day without being winded so be sure she gets the exercise she needs if she lives indoors.
If your training begins with a puppy, be sure to socialize him to hundreds of people and other animals in his first six months. Otherwise he could be very reserved and standoffish with other people and animals. They are intelligent, hardworking dogs, and they have a highly developed sense of justice. If you gain their trust you will do so by being fair, not by being a bully. At the same time the Pyr has to know that you are more stubborn then they are and can outlast their not obeying your command.
Be sure to touch, handle and hold your puppy when it is small so that it is receptive to such touches when it is grown. Your Great Pyrenees should be able to greet new dogs and new people while on a leash without any signs of aggression. After all this is a big dog. After all this is a dog bred to guard a flock. Training and socialization at a young age is essential.
The Great Pyrenees has a thick double coat with a top coat that is weather resistant, coarse, long and flat. The under coat is dense, woolly and fine. There is a large thick ruff thicker in males than in females. This thick coat needs to be brushed at least once or twice a month but more often would be better.
At the same time your Pyrenees will be much happier and much better looking if you can spend 30 minutes every week brushing and inspecting him. Some grooming and inspection every week is definitely needed for the life of your dog.
The Pyrs love snow and cold weather. They also tend to drool, getting their thick ruff dirty. Finally they have very large double dew claws that should be removed when they are young.
Health and Wellness:
The Great Pyrenees is all in all a fairly healthy breed, but much like any other breed, they are genetically predisposed to certain condition. These conditions include:
- Bloat is a condition that many large dogs are susceptible to. It is less common in the Great Pyrenees than other large dogs like the Great Dane. The dog’s stomach gets twisted and filled with air.
- Cancer is the number one killer of older Great Pyrenees.
- Ear infections are common in Great Pyrenees caused by allergies or substances getting in the ears.
- Hot Spots are fairly common due to allergies and moist dermatitis.
- Hip Dysplasia is serious condition that many larger dogs have. It is a congenital, hereditary disease. Genetic testing for this must be done by your breeder. The condition is extremely painful and often results in death.
- Arthritis is a serious concern for Great Pyrenees with their size and their weight. The overwhelming majority of older Prys have arthritis. It affects their joints and causes inflammation and intense pain. The only thing that can be done is to treat the pain as there is no cure. In the really severe cases arthritis can have a crippling effect on these big dogs affecting their front legs at the knees and their rear hips. It is really important not to let your Great Pyrenees get overweight. Your senior dogs should continue to exercise but limit it and don’t let it get too intense. Make sure they get a lot of rest and try to make it so they do not have to jump on or off of anything.
- Eyes are an issue for the Great Pyrenees as well. The most common issue is an eye disease called entropion and ectropion in which there are abnormalities in the eyelids. There are also issues with cataracts and PRA or Progressive Retinal Atrophy.
- Heart disease remains a minor concern for the Great Pyrenees and must be watched out for.
- The Great Pyrenees is susceptible to skin diseases due to allergies leading to pyoderma and demodectic mange. Some members of the breed have reported sevaceous adenitis.
- As much as 11% of all Great Pyrenees suffer from hypothyroidism.
- There is some deafness that is inherited and some blood-clotting diseases including hemophilia B, Factor X! deficiency and von Willebrand’s that happen with regularity in the breed.
- Degenerative spinal myelopathy and chondrodysplasia have also occurred occasionally.
The blood lines for the Great Pyrenees are small as the breed has been kept for utility and guarding for several years now. There are not that many congenital diseases but their size does lead to many of the difficulties mentioned above including Bloat, hip dysplasia, arthritis and heart disease.
Interesting Facts about the Great Pyrenees:
- Alternative Names of Great Pyrenees and Nicknames: Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Chien des Pyrenees and Chien de Montagne des Pyrenees
- Breeding Great Pyrenees for appearance was only introduced in the 19th Century
- People believe that the Great Pyrenees developed somewhere in Central Asian or Siberia and then followed the Aryan migration into Europe. Their name comes from the mountain range in southwestern Europe where they are used to guard flocks.