The Pyrenean Shepherd has been known by many names, including the Pyrenean Sheepdog, the Pyrenees Sheepdog, the Pyrenean Shepherd Dog, the Labrit, the Labri, the Chien de Berger des Pyrenees, the Berger des Pyrenees (pronounced ber-JAE day pyr-ray-NAE), the Berger des Pyrenees a Poil Long, the Long-Haired Pyrenean Sheepdog, the Petit Berger ("little shepherd") and the Pyr Shep. The smallest of all native French sheepdogs, Pyrenean Shepherds have been used to herd sheep and other livestock in the Pyrenees Mountains of Southern France for centuries. They come in two coat types: Rough-Faced and Smooth-Faced. Historically, their ears were cropped and their tails were docked. However, these practices have largely fallen out of favor, both in France and elsewhere. The Pyrenean Shepherd was officially accepted into the American Kennel Club's Herding Group in 2009. This sturdy dog continues to be used high in the Pyrenees Mountains to herd sheep and provide constant companionship to its shepherd owners. It also increasingly excels at obedience, agility, flyball and other active competitive dog sports in many different countries.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is a very old breed, and unfortunately its origins have been lost in the mists of time. These dogs have lived in the mountains of Southern France since time immemorial. Mythical tales suggest that the breed descends from native Pyrenean bears and foxes, and that this is the original dog of the Cro-Magnon people who painted the cave at Lascaux. Factually, we know that bones of small dogs abound in ancient Neolithic graveyards, and that sheep and goat herding were so well developed in the Pyrenees Mountains that by 6000 BC, the ecology of the region had been largely transformed by overgrazing. Throughout the centuries, breeding and raising livestock has been the mainstay of the economy of the mountains separating Southern France from Spain. This ancient lifestyle persists even now, in the twenty-first century. Many Pyrenean Shepherds of excellent type (but with no registered ancestors) still herd sheep every day in the Pyrenees Mountains.
This breed essentially is a smaller version of the French Catalan Sheepdog. Bred to control and manage the movement of sheep flocks during the warm months, these dogs typically worked in tandem with larger Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, more commonly called Great Pyrenees, whose primary role was to act as watchdogs and guardians of the flock against thieves and predators. The precise ancestry of the Pyrenean Shepherd is not well-established. Some authorities suggest that it descends from the Briard. However, current breed experts disagree and believe that the Pyrenean Shepherd is a true French breed in its own right. What is unequivocally clear, however, is that this breed was developed and prized for its instinctive working abilities: agility, innate herding talent, watchfulness, protectiveness, alertness, quickness, intelligence and a thick outer hair coat that provided protection against weather extremes and vicious predators.
Sheep brought from Europe to North America in the 1800s were often accompanied by Pyrenean Shepherds. France recognized the Pyrenean Shepherd as a distinct breed in 1926. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Pyr Sheps assisted French troops and lost their lives during World War I, serving as couriers, search and rescue dogs, watch dogs and guard dogs. The London Kennel Club accepted the breed for full registration in 1988. The Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America also was formed in the late 1980s, and the breed was officially accepted into the American Kennel Club's Herding Group in 2009. Today, the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognizes the Rough-Faced and Smooth-Faced Pyrenean Shepherds as separate breeds, while many other purebred dog registries, including the AKC, consider them to be varieties of a single breed. Outside of his French homeland, this breed remains rare. However, in France, his popularity as a wonderfully devoted family companion has grown considerably over the years.
The average life span of the Pyrenean Shepherd is 10 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation and epilepsy. All in all, this is a healthy, hardy breed.
The Pyrenean Shepherd has a lively, cheerful disposition that is dominated by his love of herding. He is courageous, mischievous, quick-witted, vivacious, enthusiastic, tenacious, smart, sensitive, sure-footed and brave to the point of being fearless. Although small in stature, it is said, that pound for pound, the Pyrenean Shepherd has few equals in the herding and guarding of livestock. The Pyr Shep tends to become passionately attached to his owners, to the complete exclusion of others. He is astonishingly sensitive to his owners' moods and mood changes. Pyrenean Shepherds are loyal and devoted to their human family members, both adults and children alike. They can become protective, if their people are threatened. These dogs make enthusiastic, affectionate companions for active people. They insist upon being involved in all of the day's activities, whatever and wherever they may be. Pyreneans are naturally tentative and wary around strangers. They require consistent socialization, starting in early puppyhood and continuing throughout their lives, to become comfortable and trustworthy around unfamiliar people and other companion animals.
The Pyrenean Shepherd has an enormous amount of natural energy. Fanciers of the breed proclaim that "this little dog never stops," and that it is almost impossible to tire out. These dogs thrive on working and having a job to do. They are always on alert and ready for action. Pyrenean Shepherds need regular, vigorous exercise – and lots of it – to keep them physically and mentally fit. They have great stamina and can cover upwards of 30 miles in a single day while working with their shepherd owners. If sheep are not around to be herded, owners of this breed must find other outlets for their dog's enthusiasm, energy and tireless drive. They are superb athletes that excel at obedience, agility, utility, herding and other competitive dog sports. Unfortunately, without regular exercise, Pyrenean Shepherds can become bored, noisy, unhappy and potentially destructive.
Pyrenean Shepherds need no training to perform their regular job. Their herding instincts are so deeply ingrained that from the very youngest age, these dogs know how to manage flocks of sheep, even without the example of an older dog. As far as learning other tasks or skills, Pyrenean Shepherds are quick studies. They are sensitive, smart and eager to please, which makes training them a delight. Positive training methods get the best results with this breed, as they do with most other breeds. Pyrenean Shepherds should be well-socialized from early puppyhood to counteract their natural wariness around strangers and unfamiliar animals. This will give them the best chance to become as easygoing and adaptable as possible.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is an alert, watchful breed. It makes a wonderful watchdog and normally will bark several times at any unfamiliar sounds. They love to eat and have terrific appetites, which is a good thing given their high energy and caloric requirements. These are not forward, outgoing, pushy or overly boisterous dogs, nor are they especially cuddly. However, they also are not nervous, clingy, yappy or easily stressed. Pyrenean Shepherds are instinctively reserved around unfamiliar people and animals. They may need a little coaxing to come out of their shells in new situations.
A small, sinewy, lean, lively dog whose sparkling personality and quicksilver intelligence are reflected in the vibrant expression of his unique triangular head and windswept face. A superb athlete, his beautiful, flowing gait "shaves the earth." Uncoiffed, light-boned and built as a horizontal rectangle, his high energy and intelligent, cunning, mischievous attitude show that he is always on alert, suspicious, ready for action. An ardent herder of all kinds of livestock, his vigilant attitude and great vivacity of movement give this little dog a highly singular gait and appearance, characteristic of no other breed. The Pyr Shep is naturally distrustful of strangers, but when well-socialized from a young age, he or she has a very lively, cheerful disposition. The two varieties, Smooth-Faced and Rough-Faced (including both demi-long and long-haired coat types) are born in the same litters.
Size, Proportion, Substance
Size - Rough-Faced: males: 15 ½ to 18 ½ inches at the withers, females: 15 to 18 inches. Smooth-Faced: males 15 ½ to 21 inches at the withers, females 15 ½ to 20 ½ inches at the withers. Weight - An absolute minimum of weight is required -- just enough flesh to cover the bones; the ribs should be readily felt. Disqualification - Individuals under the minimum height, or exceeding the maximum height by more than ½ inch. Proportion - In rough faced dogs the body is clearly long (from the point of shoulder to the ischium) in proportion to the height of the dog, whereas Smooth-Faced dogs appear much more square. Substance - The dog in good working condition is lightly boned and sinewy, correctly proportioned and well-balanced, and must never appear overdone.
The head is generally triangular in shape, rather small in proportion to the size of the dog, well-filled-in under the eyes; the top skull is nearly flat. Expression - Intelligent, alert, and cunning, even a little mischievous. Eyes - The eyes are almond-shaped, open, and very expressive. They are neither prominent nor deeply set. They are dark brown in color. Partially or completely blue eyes are acceptable only in merles. Eye rims are black no matter what color the coat. Disqualification - Missing pigment on the eye rims. Disqualification - Blue eyes in a dog of coat color other than merle. Ears - Both cropped and uncropped ears are equally acceptable. The ears are rather short, moderately wide at the base, set on top of the head. Ears are traditionally cropped straight across and stand erect. Natural ears are semi-prick with one-third to one-half of the leather falling either straight forward, or to the side in the case of a rose ear. Skull - The skull is almost flat on top with only a slight central furrow, gently rounded on the sides, and with only a slight development of the occiput. The top of the skull slopes gently to the nearly-parallel muzzle with no marked stop, and the sides of the skull blend gently into the muzzle, giving the head a triangular wedge shape. Faults - too much hair on the head - particularly if it veils the eyes. Muzzle - Straight, slightly shorter than skull, it lets the skull dominate the face; narrow, but not exaggeratedly so, it affects a wedge shape, well filled-in under the eyes. This lends a triangular shape to the head. In Smooth-Faced dogs, the muzzle is slightly longer and more pointed than in the Rough-Faced dog. This is emphasized by the distinctive smooth face with its short, fine muzzle hair. In Rough-Faced dogs, the hair on the end of the muzzle and chin must be naturally short and it lengthens as the muzzle widens toward the skull. This gives the characteristic windswept appearance so necessary for correct expression. Nose - Black. Disqualification - Nose other than black. Lips - Tight-fitting, often giving the impression that the dog is smiling. The mucous membranes of lips and palate are black or strongly marked with black. Bite - The teeth are large and strong. Complete dentition is preferred. A scissors bite is strongly preferred, an even bite is admissible. Faults - More than 1 missing incisor or 2 missing premolars. Teeth broken or missing by accident shall not be penalized. Disqualification - Overshot or undershot bite.
Neck, Topline, Body
Neck - Rather long, well-arched flowing smoothly into the shoulders, and well muscled, well set from the shoulders. Topline - The topline is firm and strong. The tops of the rather long shoulder blades clearly project above the line of the back. The back is level. The loin is slightly arched, and is slightly higher than the top of the shoulder blades. In Rough-Faced dogs, especially among the long-haired coat type, the rounded loin is accentuated by the coat. In Smooth-Faced dogs, the topline appears much more level. Body - Cleanly boned, the body is rather long and well supported, the loin is short, the croup is rather short and oblique, flank well tucked up, ribs slightly rounded and extending well to the rear. The chest is of medium development and descends only to the elbow. Tail - The tail may be docked, natural bob, or naturally long. All are equally acceptable. The naturally long tail must not rise above the level of the back but should continue along the slope of the croup. It should be set on rather low and forming a crook at the end; well fringed in Rough-Faced dogs, well plumed in Smooth-Faced dogs.
Shoulders - Shoulder blades are rather long, of moderate angulation. Upper Arm - Oblique and moderately long. Forelegs - Light-boned, sinewy, rather finely made. Rough-Faced: Fringed with rather long hair in long-haired dogs, rather shorter hair in the demi-long haired dog. Smooth-Faced: The hair is short on the fronts of the legs, and may be furnished with feathering along the back of the leg from elbow to pastern. Pasterns - Strong, sloping. Dewclaws - The front legs should carry single dewclaws, not to be removed. Feet - Oval shaped. The foot of the Smooth-Faced dog is a little shorter and more cupped than in the Rough-Faced dog. The pads of the feet are dark. Nails - The nails are hard and dark.
Hind Legs - The stifle is well bent. The upper thigh is rather short. The lower thigh is long. The hocks are clean, well let down, well angulated and often close together. When viewed from the rear, the legs present parallel columns of support from hip to hock. Rough-Faced dogs with demi-long coat are generally not as heavily furnished in the rear as the long-haired dogs. Feet - The foot of the Smooth-Faced dog is a little shorter and more cupped than in the Rough-Faced dog. Dewclaws - Double dewclaws, single dewclaws, or lack of dewclaws in the rear are all acceptable, however as dewclaws are an ancient breed characteristic, all else being equal, the dog possessing dewclaws must be preferred. Feet - Oval shaped. The foot of the Smooth-Faced dog appears a little shorter and more cupped than in the Rough-Faced dog. The pads of the feet are dark. The hind feet characteristically toe out slightly and this must not be faulted.
Pyrenean Shepherd - Rough-faced variety
Coat quality is more important than abundance. Rough-Faced - The Rough-Faced dog's coat can be of long or demi-long hair, almost flat or slightly wavy. Demi-long dogs have culottes on the rump, while the long-haired dogs are often more heavily furnished with woollier hair that may cord, especially on the elbows, croup, and thighs, but never on the head. The texture is harsh, being halfway between the hair of a goat and the wool of a sheep. The undercoat is minimal. The hair on the end of the muzzle and the chin must be naturally short and it lengthens as the muzzle widens toward the skull. The longer hair on the sides of the muzzle and cheeks is swept back giving a windblown look. The eyes must be readily visible, not veiled by hair. Smooth-Faced - The muzzle is covered with short, fine hairs, hence the term Smooth-Faced. The hair becomes somewhat longer on the sides of the head, blending into a modest ruff. The hair on the body is fine and soft, attaining a maximum length of no more than 3 inches for the ruff and culottes, 2 inches along the back. The fronts of the legs are covered with short, fine hairs; there is often some furnishing on the elbows and thighs. Faults - Excessively long coat, excessive furnishings. Too much hair on the head, especially if the hair veils the eyes or displays a pronounced moustache or beard. NO RIBBON SHALL BE AWARDED TO A DOG WHOSE COAT HAS BEEN SCISSORED, ESPECIALLY ON THE FACE, EXCEPT FOR NEATENING OF THE FEET.
Various shades of fawn from tan to copper, with or without a mixture of black hairs; grey, ranging from charcoal to silver to pearl grey; merles of diverse tones; brindle; black; black with white markings not exceeding 30% of the body surface. A little white is acceptable on the chest, head, and feet. Faults - Too many white patches or white patches that are too big; black with tan points. Disqualifications - White coat color covering 50% or more of the body.
The trot -- our little shepherd's favorite gait -- must be solid and vigorous. At the jog trot, the head is carried rather high. As the stride lengthens the head lowers to become level with the backline. It is a very flowing gait. The feet barely leave the ground. He "shaves the earth." The correct gait is very pleasant to the eye. It is a result of the harmony of the front and rear angulations. As speed increases, the legs converge under the body toward the centerline.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is not merely a header or a drover. Such a division of labor is unknown to him. He is a versatile herder to his very soul and has the intelligent initiative to adapt to all manner of changing circumstances in order to fulfill the human shepherd's every need with unequalable prowess. The powerful herding instinct is so strong in him that from the very youngest age he knows how to manage the flock even without the example of an older dog. He is dominated by his love for his work. He has the tendency to become passionately attached to his owner to the complete exclusion of all others and is astonishingly sensitive to his owner's moods. As a companion, he is very active and enthusiastic and insists upon being involved in the day's activities whatever they may be. He is very affectionate with the members of his immediate family, but is distrustful of strangers.
.. Individuals under the minimum height -
Rough-Faced: males - under 15 ½ inches at the withers, females - under 15 inches at the withers.
Smooth-Faced: males - under 15 ½ inches at the withers, females - under 15 ½ inches at the withers
.. Individuals exceeding the maximum height by more than ½ inch.
Rough-Faced: males - more than ½ inch above 18 ½ inches at the withers, females - more than ½ inch above 18 inches at the withers.
Smooth-Faced: males - more than ½ inch above 21 inches at the withers, females - more than ½ inch above 20 ½ inches at the withers
.. Missing pigment on eye rims.
.. Blue eyes in an individual of coat color other than merle.
.. Nose other than black.
.. Overshot or undershot bite.
.. White coat color exceeding 50% of the body.
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Sources: American Kennel Club