The Great Pyrenees has a long and interesting history. Their origins lie in the north of Spain and the south of France, in the Pyrenees mountain range that gives the breed its name. They were used as livestock guarding dogs by local shepherds. In fact, there are written records from the early 1400’s that describe how useful these large white dogs were.
In the 1600’s, these noble dogs became popular with the French royal family, and by the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, they were being bred in greater and greater numbers in small towns high in the mountains. From there, they were sold all over the country.
Unfortunately World War One reduced not only the number of Great Pyrenees in France, but also the quality of the dogs. A number of dedicated and knowledgeable breeders worked hard to improve the breed, and develop a breed standard, which was published in 1927.
The first Great Pyrenees made their way to the United States in 1931, and the breed was recognized by the AKC in 1933.
The Great Pyrenees is intimidating. Standing up to 32 inches high at the shoulder, and weighing up to 120 pounds, he is a big dog. His thick coat is mostly white, but it may have hints of gray or tan on his face.
They have a double coat, with the long outer coat being weatherproof and protecting the soft dense undercoat. This coat kept them warm during the cold mountain winters.
They have soft floppy ears, and their black nose contrasts nicely with their white fur. Both eye rims are also black, and this gives the impression they are wearing eye liner.
One characteristic of the breed is that they have two dewclaws on each back leg.
These dogs were bred to work independently of people, and to guard livestock. This gives them a unique personality. They are independent animals, and can be stubborn. Because they think for themselves, obedience training is not always easy. Many Great Pyrenees owners describe them as being more like a cat than a dog.
On a more positive note, they become very devoted to their family, and guard them just as they would a flock of sheep. They are gentle and tolerant, but won’t let you come to any harm. Although they’re not exactly an “attack” breed, their size and stature would deter any potential intruder! However, if you’re looking for a dog that wants to be with you all the time, and whose only aim in life is to please you, this isn’t the right breed for you.
In spite of the size difference, the Great Pyrenees makes a wonderful children’s companion.
The Great Pyrenees shares the same health issues as other large breeds of dogs, most of which are joint related. They do suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, and they can develop luxating patellas, or loose kneecaps. Growing dogs can develop a condition known as Osteochondrosis Dissecans, which is an abnormality of growing cartilage in the joints of both front and hind legs.
The breed also suffers from hereditary deafness, and also hereditary cataracts. The best way to avoid buying a puppy with any of these conditions is to only purchase from a registered breeder, and make sure they test their breeding animals before they are mated.
As with all deep chested dogs, they are susceptible to bloat, where their stomach fills up with gas. This can be fatal. Avoid giving your Great Pyrenees a big meal before exercise, or allowing him to drink a lot of water after dinner. Both can contribute to a dog getting bloat.
Unfortunately, the Pyrenees is susceptible to many types of cancer, with bone cancer being the most common tumor in the breed.
You may also find your Pyrenees suffers from allergies, which cause reddening and itching of his skin. These allergies can take a lot of time, money and commitment to manage properly.
One thing to keep in mind if you are considering adding a Great Pyrenees to your family, is that because of their size, health care will be expensive.
These dogs need regular grooming, and even after being brushed, they may still spread white hair throughout your house. If you don’t like dog hair everywhere, don’t buy a Great Pyrenees!
You must have a secure fence around your yard to keep your Pyrenees safe. They tend to be very good escape artists, as they want to patrol their territory. Similarly, it’s not a good idea to let them off leash; they aren’t easily trained to come back when called.
Moderate exercise is enough to keep these dogs happy, however take care when your Pyrenees is young. Too much exercise when they are a puppy can increase the chance of him developing Osteochondrosis Dissecans.
One thing that can frustrate the neighbors of Pyrenees owners is the breed’s tendency to make noise at night. Because they are bred to be guardians, they watch for any suspicious activity, and will bark if they see anything unusual. It’s not easy to train your dog out of this behavior because it is instinct. If you live in the suburbs, you may need to bring your dog inside at night, for the sake of good neighborly relations!
The Great Pyrenees is still a very useful breed today, as they work alongside people as therapy dogs, livestock protection dogs and rescue dogs. They are placid and easy going, and get along well with other animals in the household.
Many Pyrenees owners enjoy training their dogs to pull carts, and this gives them a job to do and allows them to use up their energy. However, they’re not an ideal breed if you enjoy obedience classes, or other dog sports such as agility. They’re too hard to train, and just too big.
If you can afford the expense of such a large dog, and if you don’t mind their independent, often stubborn, nature, then the Great Pyrenees will protect you and your loved ones for at least 10 years.