Pyrs were bred centuries ago to work with shepherds and herding dogs in the Pyrenees Mountains, the natural border between France and Spain. The Pyr’s job was to watch the flock and deter predators, whether wolves, bears, or livestock thieves. Their innate patience came in handy when sitting atop a freezing-cold mountain for days on end with nothing to do but look at sheep. The Great Pyrenees is a working dog as well as a companion and family dog.
The American Kennel Club allowed the Great Pyrenees official recognition in February, 1933, and beginning April, 1933, separate classification began for the breed.
Great Pyrenees Appearance
Great Pyrenees are 25 to 32 inches tall and weigh up to over 100 pounds. Frequently described as “majestic,” Pyrs are big, immensely strong mountain dogs. These steadfast guardians usually exhibit a Zen-like calm, but they can quickly spring into action and move with grace and speed to meet a threat.
Their lush weatherproof coat is all white, or white with markings of shades of gray, tan, reddish-brown, or badger. For all their abundant fur, Pyrs don’t require a lot of grooming, as their coat is dirt and tangle resistant. They have a double coat, with a long outer coat and a soft undercoat. They shed the undercoat with great zeal leaving a snowstorm of fur behind. A thorough brushing with a pin brush or slicker brush at least once a week helps to reduce the shedding hair. Never clip a Pyr in the summer; a Pyrenees needs his coat for protection from the sun.
Pyrs life expectancy is 10 to 12 years. They combine a great intelligence with a deep devotion to family and home, and a natural-born instinct to guard and protect. While trustworthy, affectionate, gentle and tractable, they can become, when and if the need arises, protective guardians of their family and their territory commanding respect as watch dogs as well as admiration as pets.
Adult Pyrs are placid by nature and calm in the house, enjoying quiet periods in which to rest and sleep. But they are a large breed and are not always suited to live in a small apartment or urban setting with little yard space and lots of activity around. They want their life to be consistent and predictable.
The Great Pyrenees is proving itself very versatile, gaining fame as therapy dogs, rescue dogs, and many activities with its human companions making extraordinary ambassadors for the breed in many settings such as hospitals and old age homes. They are very social dogs in the family and get along extremely well with other animals that belong to the family. They are nurturing of small, young, or sick animals.
Pyrs are wary of strangers in the work environment including the home. They have a special ability to identify and distinguish predators or unwelcome intruders. They a guard dog and cannot be expected to welcome uninvited strangers onto your property but they will accept anyone whom you invite into your home. They are not “attack” dogs, but can be very intimidating to a surprised visitor.
Caring for a Great Pyrenees
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for a Great Pyrenees.
Some owners note that Great Pyrenees seem to eat a relatively small amount for a dog of their size and they have a low metabolism. A high-quality dry dog food that is low-protein and specially formulated for large breeds is a good idea. Pyrenees are susceptible to bloat, or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), where the stomach distends and twists. The causes of bloat aren’t fully understood, but experts agree that multiple small meals per day and preventing vigorous exercise around mealtimes may help reduce the chances of it happening. Always have clean, fresh water available for your Pyr to avoid dehydration.
Pyrs are not a highly active breed. They need exercise, but not as much as you’d think; 20 to 30 minutes of activity (such as a walk) a day is fine. The Pyr can be checked to determine if he is receiving the right balance of food and exercise. First, look down at him; you should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can’t, he needs less food and more exercise.
Pyrs were bred to be independent thinkers; although they are intelligent, standard obedience training will be met with indifference. They don’t see the point of all that sitting, heeling, and staying and their boredom will show by performing any task you deem important with extremely slow responses. Nonetheless, early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended. From the start, show your puppy who is master for he may well try to be his own! Use kindness and firmness. A displeased tone of voice uttered as a reprimand is usually sufficient discipline. If an older pup needs more discipline, shake the dog by the back of the neck.
A variety of conditions can affect Great Pyrenees, including elbow and hip dysplasia, eye disorders, luxating patellas, and neurological and immune-mediated disorders. Some cancers occur in the breed, as well as bloat, a life-threatening condition where the stomach suddenly distends and sometimes twists.
Pyrs need their toenails and dewclaws regularly clipped. This insures that they do not grow so long as to curl under and cut into the flesh which can be very painful. Watch for fungus between the toes and “hot spots”, which sometimes occur on the skin of long-haired, double-coated dogs. Check the ears periodically for mites, dampness and excess wax. Keep ears dry as damp ears often play host to fungus infections or mites. A swab of cotton on the finger, dampened with alcohol, can be used to clean the exterior ear canals. Dry ear powder may also be used to keep ears dry. Check eyebrows at least monthly to make sure they do not curl downward and possibly into the eyes, causing irritation. If necessary, clip them, being very careful of the sharp points of the scissors. The teeth should be brushed often, using a toothpaste designed for dogs. Gum disease can lead to organ damage.