Breed Group: Working
Bred to protect sheep grazing on the open range by himself for a week or more at a time, the courageous Great Pyrenees, known as the Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog outside North America, develops his own keen intelligence to rely on. He uses this same judgment in his role as an outstanding protector of home and family. He is affectionate and gentle with his family including small children, especially those with which he is raised. His unyielding loyalty is usually reserved for those he establishes bonds with as a puppy. Once that bond is established, it is for life. A Great Pyrenees frequently uses his booming bark, especially at night to avoid confrontation. But if he determines there is an oncoming threat to either his livestock or human flock, he takes on the role of protector. Watch for the potential that he may interpret normal rough and tumble play with neighborhood children as something he needs to protect his children against with potentially unfortunate results. Aloof with strangers, he wants to know they mean no harm before accepting them. He typically accepts family pets he is raised with, canine or otherwise; but will likely drive off unfamiliar animals. Despite being a capable watchdog and fierce protector, the Pyr, as his fans call him, exhibits a calm and steadfast demeanor both inside and out. More watchful than playful, he is never underfoot nor tearing from room to room. A long daily walk meets his modest need for exercise. But keep him on leash or in a large, secure area with a strong fence because they have a tendency to roam. Some sober or drool.
One of the giant breeds, most measure 25-32 inches tall and weigh between 85 and 130 pounds with males larger than females. They are white or white marked with gray, reddish brown, badger and/or varying shades of tan. The coat is flat, thick and either slightly wavy or straight. A Great Pyrenees' coat needs Stiff brushing several times per week, especially during their seasonal shed. But they still shed heavily. Those unwilling to accept tufts of white dog hair floating throughout the house should consider another breed. Their heavy coat gives them the ability to adapt easily to frigid temperatures and results in their extreme discomfort in warm climates.
Key to understanding the Great Pyrenees is to understand this breed was developed to guard sheep for a week or more at a time with no human assistance. So they were bred to be a large, independent, dominance-seeking dog that relies on its own judgment to determine what is and is not important. The breed exhibits an innate curiosity and as one would expect, possesses an independent streak. Obedience training and early socialization with children and other pets is mandatory and should never be allowed to become a battle of wills. They are prone to ignoring mundane or repetitious commands due to its independent, somewhat stubborn nature. Ground rules, proper training, and socialization should begin from the first day the pup enters your home. Clearly, this is not a dog for a passive or first-time dog owner.
The number one cause of death in the Great Pyrenees is Bone Cancer. About 9% of dogs tested are affected by Hip Dysplasia which is less than most other breeds. As a result of a slow metabolism, Great Pyrenees are not heavy eaters. This makes high-quality food especially important for the breed. It also means they should not be casually sedated. Although not on the list of breeds most susceptible to Bloat, owners of large, deep-chested dogs should be aware of the potential for this medical emergency. Ask about any bleeding disorders that may be in a line you are considering for purchase. Heat and humidity can lead to skin problems. The lifespan of a healthy Great Pyrenees is 10-12 years.
The American Kennel Club ranks them 57th in popularity with about 2,000 Great Pyrenees registered in a typical year. The breed continues to be a popular for guarding livestock both stateside and in Europe.
The Great Pyrenees is thought to be a very old breed. Many believe they descended from the Tibetan Mastiff brought by either the Aryans or Phoenicians as they traveled west. These dogs settled in the Spanish Pyrenees then spread to various valleys in western Europe where it was used as a flock guardian to defend against threats as large as a bear. In medieval France, the breed was used as a fortress guard. Then, in the 1600’s the breed caught the attention of French nobility. In a meteoritic rise in popularity, the Great Pyrenees was declared the official dog of France by Louis XIV in 1675. In 1824, General Lafayette was the first to bring the Great Pyrenees to the U.S. as a gift for a friend. But by 1900 the breed had fallen out of favor in the French court and had ceased to exist in France except in the isolated Basque countryside. Serious importation into America in the early 1930’s led to its 1933 acceptance by the American Kennel Club.
Compared to the similar looking Kuvasz, the Great Pyrenees is less energetic and somewhat more accepting of strangers. In addition to Lafayette, Betty White owned a Great Pyrenees. The AKC parent breed club is the Great Pyrenees Club of America.