Breed of the Month: Great Pyrenees

Pyrenean Mountain Dog

Description: This dog has a medium sized, wedge shaped head with a slightly rounded crown. The eyes are dark brown and almond shaped. The body is slightly longer than it is tall. The V shaped ears are held close to the head. It’s double coat has a dense under coat and a coarse outer coat. The Great Pyrenees has a white coat with patches of cream, tan, and badger (grey). The tail is feathered and can be carried over the back or down. Fur around the neck grows longer to form a mane. One notable feature is that it possesses  a single set of dew claws on the rear legs with double dew claws on the front legs.

History: The ancestors of the modern Great Pyrenees have been discovered in Asia Minor during the Bronze Age (1800 – 1000 B.C.E.). The predecessors of the Great Pyrenees eventually made its way into Europe by sea with the Phoenician traders and also by traversing the mountains where the dogs traveled with the Aryans. Traveling along the way through the mountains, the ancestors of the Great Pyrenees developed kin in isolated pockets, forming closely related breeds like the Maremma Sheepdog, the Hungarian Kuvasz, Akbash dog of Turkey, and the Polish Tatra.

Known as the Great Pyrenees in America, it is also known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog in the United Kingdom, and Le Chien de Montagne des Pyrenees in France. The dog received its name from the area where it was developed; the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France and northern Spain. Here it was used at a livestock guardian, known for its agility guarding sheep on steep mountain slopes.

Around 1407 the Great Pyrenees were discovered to be excellent guard dogs and used to patrol the Chateau of Lourdes. In 1675 they were adopted as the royal dog of France by Louis Dauphine XIV, making the Great Pyrenees highly favored by French nobility.

In the 1920’s, the breed was nearly wiped out in its native France. Monsieur Senac Lagrange formed the Reunion des Amateurs des Chien de Pyreneans which set the breed standard and brought the Great Pyrenees back from the brink of extinction.

The Great Pyrenees was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in February of 1933.

In recent years, the Great Pyrenees has seen a sudden drop in its number of registrations from the American Kennel Club, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the dogs popularity in the United States. In 2000 the Great Pyrenees was ranked the 45th most popular dog registered and dropped to 71st by 2010. Other similar large breeds like the St. Bernard and the Newfoundland seem to have maintained their breed popularity within the AKC better than the Great Pyrenees.

Size: Males: 27–32 inches at the withers, weighing 110–120 pounds. Females: 25–29 inches at the withers, weighing 80–90 pounds.

Temperament: Understanding the history of the Great Pyrenees and its use as dog that guarded flocks of sheep explains a lot of its modern characteristics. This dog is very protective of its pack family, is loyal, and gentle with children, and friendly towards cats. As the Great Pyrenees was bred to make snap decisions on which animals were friends and which were foes, this dog has a inborn quality of being wary of strangers and other dogs.

The Great Pyrenees is typically active in the winter and more lazy during summer when its hot. It also has a tendency to overheat in the summertime so this breed should be monitored during exercise to prevent heatstroke.

While this dog was bred to make decisions on its own, owners may find that it can be stubborn and difficult to train. The Great Pyrenees are also known to be excessive chewers and have been guilty of property damage as they may not be able to distinguish the difference between its toys and some of its owners belongings.

Being large and having a lot of energy makes this dog incompatible with apartment life. It is best suited for an environment where it can run and romp around; preferably a farm or large house with a large fenced yard. Fenced yards are preferable for this breed due to its nature to wander and explore it borders.

Great Pyrenees are said to be nocturnal, or as least more active at night, and will bark in the middle of the night. Some neighbors of Great Pyrenees may become annoyed due to the excessive alarm barking when visitors get too close to this dogs perceived territory.

While the Great Pyrenees isn’t for everyone, if this dog has enough space, if it is sufficiently exercised, and is well taken care of, this dog will be a loyal and wonderful companion to the right family.

Grooming: The Great Pyrenees has a weather resistant double coat which requires frequent grooming. This dog should be brushed anywhere from every other day to twice a week. Pyrenees shed throughout the year but, once a year, shed heavily. They should be bathed only when necessary to not strip the coat of its natural oils.

Health: Like other large breeds, the Great Pyrenees is prone to bloat and hip dysplasia. It may be more susceptible to dislocated knee caps, also known as patellar luxation. The Great Pyrenees are also prone to bone cancer, also known as osteosarcoma. Due to its thick double coat, it is susceptible to heat stroke and heat exhaustion in the warmer months.

Exercise: The Great Pyrenees is relatively inactive indoors but they need a daily brisk pack walk. As previously mentioned, this dog can experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke if exercised too vigorously in warm weather. Finding a balance of enough exercise and enough rest can prove to be difficult as Pyrenees tend to act out when they have pent up energy.

Lifespan: About 10 to 12 years.

Trivia: The Great Pyrenees is closely related to St. Bernard and Newfoundland.

A Great Pyrenees appeared in the 2004 film, Finding Neverland.