Great Pyrenees dogs are admirable companions, but they are not a breed for everyone. Learn what these dogs have to offer and the kinds of challenges that life with them presents.
History and Origin
The Great Pyrenees, also known and the Pyrenees Mountain Dog, is an ancient working dog whose purpose was to guard livestock from predators. In fact, Pyrenees were such strong fighters that they may have even been used as dogs of war. Although traces of the breed's ancestors have been recorded back to almost 2000 B.C., these dogs really became established with the nobility of France around the seventeenth century.
Although the Great Pyrenees was originally bred to guard flocks, they can now be found working in the fields of rescue and therapy.
The Pyrenees is a majestic canine, built large and strong as befits their working history. These dogs are primarily white, but they can have shadings of tan, reddish brown, and gray. These additional colors should cover no more than one third of the body on the ideal specimen. The coat is very dense and quite resistant to all kinds of weather. It also serves to protect the dogs when battling predators in the field.
The size of the breed is impressive, but the double coat adds to this perception. On average, Great Pyrenees stand about 30 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 90 to 100 pounds. They are muscular, yet very balanced. The head is wedge-shaped with rich dark brown eyes and drop ears. The coat is longer and especially dense on the neck and chest with a longer fringe along the lower body and tail. The tail is carried low, out or over the back, as the dog's mood dictates.
Pyrenees are generally calm dogs, observing everything that goes on around them. This state of alert concentration serves them well in the field. They are gentle and affectionate with members of their own family, but they are not as tolerant of strangers and other animals. Although they make good guardians for the children of their family, the dogs need to be raised with those children as pups to be properly acclimated.
When provoked, the Pyrenees is absolutely fearless and will go to great lengths to protect those in their charge. Loyalty is a key characteristic of the breed.
With such strength and a sometimes stubborn attitude, early training is essential to make Great Pyrenees good companions. It's in their nature to rule the roost if they can, and this includes trying to assert dominance over their caretakers. Therefore, the dogs should attend puppy socialization classes to learn basic manners, and then proceed on to obedience training as soon as they are old enough. It will be necessary to reinforce this training throughout the dogs' lives in order to maintain consistent behavior expectations. If you relax, your dog will take it as an invitation to take charge for themselves.
Any large working dog requires a good deal of exercise to remain physically fit and mentally balanced. Otherwise, behavioral problems can arise. Unless the Pyrenees is used as a working dog in the field, it is necessary to provide them with daily exercise. This can include long, brisk walks, jogs, and even a raucous game of fetch. When physically and mentally stimulated, these dogs are much more composed the rest of the time.
Like many large breeds, Great Pyrenees are prone to hip dysplasia, so it's important to watch their weight during their developmental years and avoid obesity to minimize joint stress.
This breed was developed for colder climates, so the dogs must be protected from extreme heat. They are also prone to developing hot spots on their skin. Other health issues encountered with this breed include, but are not limited to:
- Bloat: A painful twisting and inflation of the stomach that is usually fatal, especially if left untreated
- Entropion: A condition where the eyelids roll on themselves
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: A condition that causes blindness
- Degenerative Myelopathy: A spinal disease
- Lymphoma: A type of cancer
- Bone cancer: Cancer originating in the bones
On average, Great Pyrenees live to be 8 to 10 years old. some members of the breed exceed this range. However, larger dogs tend to have lifespans that are shorter than is typical among the smaller breeds.
This breed's dense double coat requires regular brushing to keep it in good condition and remove loose hair, especially during annual shedding each spring when these dogs lose their winter coat. Bathing such a large dog can be difficult, so it's easier to use a dry shampoo as needed and reserve full baths for when the dog is truly dirty.
If your Great Pyrenees doesn't spend a lot of time outdoors working or getting exercise, you will need to trim their nails around once a month. For dogs that spend a lot of time wearing down their nails through activity, this may not be necessary.
Fun Facts About the Breed
Although the Great Pyrenees has been around for centuries, there are still quite a few facts that not too many people are aware of:
- The breed is dated so far back, their remains have been fossilized.
- Experts believe the breed descended from white mountain dogs that first appeared 11,000 years ago in Asia Minor.
- Great Pyrenees were bred to be nocturnal, which is one of many reasons they are excellent watch dogs.
- Until recently, Great Pyrenees were used in Belgium and northern France to pull small carts to deliver milk.
- The Great Pyrenees was designated the Royal Dog of France by the Dauphin, son of King Louis XIV, in 1675.
Purchasing or Rescuing a Great Pyrenees
If you're looking for a Great Pyrenees puppy, a good place to start is the website of the Great Pyrenees Club of America. They have a breeder directory available, as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality pups. The AKC Marketplace page also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $800 to $1,500, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $2,500.
The demands of caring for such a large dog coupled with health issues has left a growing number of Pyrenees in need of rescue. If you are searching for a rescue dog, the Great Pyrenees Club of America is a great place to start. You can also search at breed-specific rescue organizations:
- Great Pyrenees Rescue Society: A non-profit rescue dedicated to dogs whose life is in danger. Dogs are adopted to those located in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.
- Great Pyrenees Association of Southern California Rescue: A private rescue and foster organization with dogs of all ages.
- Tagg Rescue: A non-profit organization rescuing large breeds and adopting them to those in the Midwest region.
- Florida Great Pyrenees Rescue: A rescue organization dependent on volunteers and foster homes adopting Great Pyrenees throughout the state of Florida.
Is This the Breed for You?
The Great Pyrenees may be the breed for you if you are an energetic person looking for a clever, affectionate companion who appreciates exercise. They're not the ideal breed for those who live in apartments, have sedentary lifestyles, or don't want to deal with fur in the house. Before taking a Great Pyrenees home, you should be willing to put in the time necessary to be a responsible Great Pyrenees owner.