The Great Pyrenees, also known as the Le Grande Chien des Montagnes, the Le Chien des Pyrenees, the Chien de Montaigne des Pyrenees, the Great Dog of the Mountains, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, the Patou (meaning "shepherd"), the Pyrenean Wolfdog, the Pyrenean Bearhound, the Pyrenean Hound, the Pyrenees or simply the "Pyr," has one of the oldest and most colorful histories of any canine breed. It has served peasant shepherds on remote mountain slopes, providing companionship and guarding flocks from thieves and other predators. It has been revered by French royalty and prized by poor fishermen. A giant dog, the Great Pyrenees takes 3 to 4 years to reach full maturity. An unusual feature of this breed is the presence of double dewclaws on its hind legs, which are required under the American breed standard. The Pyrenees was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1933, as a member of its Working Group.
Adult male Pyrenees should stand from 27 to 32 inches at the withers, with bitches standing between 25 and 29 inches in height. A 27 inch dog should weigh about 100 pounds, and a 25 inch bitch should weigh about 85 pounds. Described as an "animated snowdrift," the Great Pyrenees should look like a brown bear, except for the white color and down ears. Its double coat has a long, flat, thick outer layer over a dense, fine, wooly undercoat, providing protection in even the harshest conditions. Acceptable colors are pure white or white with subtle markings of gray, badger, reddish brown or shades of tan. Regular grooming is essential to maintain the glamorous coat of this gigantic breed. The Great Pyrenees does not do well in especially hot, humid climates.
The Pyrenees is thought to have appeared in Europe between 1800 and 1000 B.C. The breed probably originated in Central Asia or Siberia and then migrated to Europe with the Aryans. It is widely accepted that the Great Pyrenees descends from mastiff-type dogs whose fossilized remains have been found along the Baltic and North Sea coasts, in the oldest strata known to contain evidence of domestic dogs. The Pyrenees is closely related to the Italian Maremma Sheepdog and the Hungarian Kuvasz.
The Great Pyrenees' ancestors lived with peasant shepherds for several thousand years in the high, cold, isolated Pyrenees Mountains that separate France and Spain. These dogs developed their inherent devotion, keen intelligence and fidelity when living on the lonely mountain pastures of its homeland. The Pyrenees guarded the flocks from wolves, bear and other predators that roamed the slopes in large numbers. They developed masterful senses of vision, hearing and smell. Their dense armor of fur, along with the spiked iron collars provided by their owners, made them practically invulnerable to attack. Great Pyrenees were highly prized by shepherds as both working dogs and companions.
Dogs closely resembling today's Pyrenees are shown in artwork from the Middle Ages. Historians have described Pyrenees being used as guard dogs during the early 1400s, where they accompanied jailers on daily rounds. They were common on chateaux in southern France, kept in large numbers as property sentinels. The Great Pyrenees eventually became a pet of royalty in the 1600s, and continued to gain in prominence and popularity. It was dubbed the Royal Dog of France by Dauphin Louis XIV in the 17th century, which did not diminish its popularity with shepherds. In the mid-1660s, the first permanent settlement of Basque fishermen was established on Newfoundland Island. French settlers brought their dogs with them to the Canadian Maritime Provinces, where they were crossbred with black English Retrievers brought by the English settlers, producing the foundation for the modern Newfoundland and Landseer breeds.
The popularity of Great Pyrenees in France waned for a time during the 19th century, when wild predators in the high mountains started disappearing. Fortunately, many dogs were exported from France to other continental European countries. During the 20th century, dedicated sportsmen and farmers began breeding them selectively in increasing numbers, and today the breed is well-established in its native country and elsewhere.
The Great Pyrenees gained widespread prominence after it was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1933, although the first pair came to the United States with General Lafayette in 1824, as gifts for his friend, J. S. Skinner. During World War I, they were used to smuggle contraband over the French-Spanish border via routes that were inaccessible to men. The Great Pyrenees today is among the top half of annual AKC registrations. It is used for sled work in winter, pack and guide work in all seasons and cart-pulling for multiple purposes. The breed is well-represented in the show ring and continues to assist farmers with their flocks in France. Pyrenees are wonderful guardians of people, animals and property, but they are perhaps most cherished as fabulous, furry companions.
The average life span of the Great Pyrenees is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), tricuspid valve dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, congenital deafness, elbow and hip dysplasia, shoulder osteochondrosis, factor XI deficiency, osteosarcoma, entropion, ectropion, progressive retinal atrophy and assorted skin problems.
Great Pyrenees are have been described as regal dogs. They are thoughtful animals, very observant and vigilant. Their original purpose was to guard flocks and they were charged with making independent decisions about who was a friend and who was potentially dangerous. The modern Pyrenees takes his watchdog role seriously, quietly sizing up newcomers before making a decision. They are fiercely protective of their property, family, and even other household pets. Pyrenees are patient and gentle with kids in their own family, but often don't take kindly to outside children engaging in rough play with their charges.
These gentle giants love to play, and their favorite time to romp and play is after a good snow. Giving them a job to do after a snowstorm, like pulling kids in a sled or hitching the Pyrenees to a cart will keep him occupied for hours.
Great Pyrenees are large dogs that are completely unsuitable for apartment life. They require a lot of space, both indoors and out. However, exercising a Great Pyrenees can be a delicate balance. They can easily overheat, especially in summer so exercise should be kept to a minimum in warm months. This, of course can lead to pent up energy, so it can seem as if the Great Pyrenees is stuck in eternal puppyhood, bouncing around and often chewing everything in site. Taking them on regular walks and adjusting the length and speed based on the time of year is the best way to exercise the Pyrenees. Romping in the yard is fine, too. He will give cues when he has had enough exercise.
Great Pyrenees don't like to be told what to do. They were designed to be independent thinkers, capable of making their own decisions and training can be a challenge, even for experienced dog owners. Consistency and strong leadership are the keys to making a training program work. Positive reinforcement with lots of delicious treats can motivate the Pyrenees to listen. Discipline and harsh tones will get the opposite response the trainer is looking for.
Socialization is very important with this breed. They need to learn early on what the behavior of a welcome guest looks and feels like, so that they are capable of knowing the difference between the "good guys" and any potential "bad guys." If not taught to properly recognize welcome visitors, Pyrenees can assume all guests are intruders.
Because the Pyrenees were bred to drive away predator like wolves, they can be aggressive toward other dogs, especially males. They do just fine with dogs of the opposite sex and can easily be raised in multiple-dog homes, but new dogs should be introduced carefully and they may not ever accept visiting dogs. Their aggression is difficult to train out of them, and even well-socialized Pyrenees can sometimes turn dog aggressive seemingly out of nowhere, but this is simply their nature.
This breed has a reputation for household destruction. As puppies they are chewers and it can take a long time to teach a Pyrenees the difference between a chew toy and your favorite recliner. This habit can be a hard one to break, especially if owners work long hours. Great Pyrenees are best suited for farm life, where they can be "at work" guarding animals during the day, or in families where there is a stay at home parent. Even the most well behaved Pyrenees may not be able to help himself from chewing while he is left to his own devices.
This vigilant watchdog can drive neighbors crazy with their barking. They will sound the alarm when people come near his home, and tend to bark the most at night. Socialization, training to obey commands to cease barking can help, but it's difficult to train this behavioral out of the Pyrenees.
The Great Pyrenees dog conveys the distinct impression of elegance and unsurpassed beauty combined with great overall size and majesty. He has a white or principally white coat that may contain markings of badger, gray, or varying shades of tan. He possesses a keen intelligence and a kindly, while regal, expression. Exhibiting a unique elegance of bearing and movement, his soundness and coordination show unmistakably the purpose for which he has been bred, the strenuous work of guarding the flocks in all kinds of weather on the steep mountain slopes of the Pyrenees.
Size, Proportion, Substance
Size--The height at the withers ranges from 27 inches to 32 inches for dogs and from 25 inches to 29 inches for bitches. A 27 inch dog weighs about 100 pounds and a 25 inch bitch weighs about 85 pounds. Weight is in proportion to the overall size and structure. Proportion--The Great Pyrenees is a balanced dog with the height measured at the withers being somewhat less than the length of the body measured from the point of the shoulder to the rearmost projection of the upper thigh (buttocks). These proportions create a somewhat rectangular dog, slightly longer than it is tall. Front and rear angulation are balanced. Substance--The Great Pyrenees is a dog of medium substance whose coat deceives those who do not feel the bone and muscle. Commensurate with his size and impression of elegance there is sufficient bone and muscle to provide a balance with the frame. Faults--Size--Dogs and bitches under minimum size or over maximum size. Substance--Dogs too heavily boned or too lightly boned to be in balance with their frame.
Correct head and expression are essential to the breed. The head is not heavy in proportion to the size of the dog. It is wedge shaped with a slightly rounded crown. Expression--The expression is elegant, intelligent and contemplative. Eyes--Medium sized, almond shaped, set slightly obliquely, rich dark brown. Eyelids are close fitting with black rims. Ears--Small to medium in size, V-shaped with rounded tips, set on at eye level, normally carried low, flat, and close to the head. There is a characteristic meeting of the hair of the upper and lower face which forms a line from the outer corner of the eye to the base of the ear. Skull and Muzzle--The muzzle is approximately equal in length to the back skull. The width and length of the skull are approximately equal. The muzzle blends smoothly with the skull. The cheeks are flat. There is sufficient fill under the eyes. A slight furrow exists between the eyes. There is no apparent stop. The boney eyebrow ridges are only slightly developed. Lips are tight fitting with the upper lip just covering the lower lip. There is a strong lower jaw. The nose and lips are black. Teeth--A scissor bite is preferred, but a level bite is acceptable. It is not unusual to see dropped (receding) lower central incisor teeth. Faults--Too heavy head (St. Bernard or Newfoundland-like). Too narrow or small skull. Foxy appearance. Presence of an apparent stop. Missing pigmentation on nose, eye rims, or lips. Eyelids round, triangular, loose or small. Overshot, undershot, wry mouth.
Neck, Topline, Body
Neck--Strongly muscled and of medium length, with minimal dewlap. Topline--The backline is level. Body--The chest is moderately broad. The rib cage is well sprung, oval in shape, and of sufficient depth to reach the elbows. Back and loin are broad and strongly coupled with some tuck-up. The croup is gently sloping with the tail set on just below the level of the back. Tail--The tailbones are of sufficient length to reach the hock. The tail is well plumed, carried low in repose and may be carried over the back, "making the wheel," when aroused. When present, a "shepherd's crook" at the end of the tail accentuates the plume. When gaiting, the tail may be carried either over the back or low. Both carriages are equally correct. Fault-- Barrel ribs.
Shoulders--The shoulders are well laid back, well muscled, and lie close to the body. The upper arm meets the shoulder blade at approximately a right angle. The upper arm angles backward from the point of the shoulder to the elbow and is never perpendicular to the ground. The length of the shoulder blade and the upper arm is approximately equal. The height from the ground to the elbow appears approximately equal to the height from the elbow to the withers. Forelegs--The legs are of sufficient bone and muscle to provide a balance with the frame. The elbows are close to the body and point directly to the rear when standing and gaiting. The forelegs, when viewed from the side, are located directly under the withers and are straight and vertical to the ground. The elbows, when viewed from the front, are set in a straight line from the point of shoulder to the wrist. Front pasterns are strong and flexible. Each foreleg carries a single dewclaw. Front Feet--Rounded, close-cupped, well padded, toes well arched.
The angulation of the hindquarters is similar in degree to that of the forequarters. Thighs--Strongly muscular upper thighs extend from the pelvis at right angles. The upper thigh is the same length as the lower thigh, creating moderate stifle joint angulation when viewed in profile. The rear pastern (metatarsus) is of medium length and perpendicular to the ground as the dog stands naturally. This produces a moderate degree of angulation in the hock joint, when viewed from the side. The hindquarters from the hip to the rear pastern are straight and parallel, as viewed from the rear. The rear legs are of sufficient bone and muscle to provide a balance with the frame. Double dewclaws are located on each rear leg. Rear Feet--The rear feet have a structural tendency to toe out slightly. This breed characteristic is not to be confused with cow-hocks. The rear feet, like the forefeet, are rounded, close-cupped, well padded with toes well arched. Fault--Absence of double dewclaws on each rear leg.
The weather resistant double coat consists of a long, flat, thick, outer coat of coarse hair, straight or slightly undulating, and lying over a dense, fine, woolly undercoat. The coat is more profuse about the neck and shoulders where it forms a ruff or mane which is more pronounced in males. Longer hair on the tail forms a plume. There is feathering along the back of the front legs and along the back of the thighs, giving a "pantaloon" effect. The hair on the face and ears is shorter and of finer texture. Correctness of coat is more important than abundance of coat. Faults--Curly coat. Stand-off coat (Samoyed type).
White or white with markings of gray, badger, reddish brown, or varying shades of tan. Markings of varying size may appear on the ears, head (including a full face mask), tail, and as a few body spots. The undercoat may be white or shaded. All of the above described colorings and locations are characteristic of the breed and equally correct. Fault--Outer coat markings covering more than one third of the body.
The Great Pyrenees moves smoothly and elegantly, true and straight ahead, exhibiting both power and agility. The stride is well balanced with good reach and strong drive. The legs tend to move toward the center line as speed increases. Ease and efficiency of movement are more important than speed.
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Sources: American Kennel Club