The Great Pyrenees is a large mountain dog whose traditional use is for protecting sheep and livestock in a pasture. The Great Pyrenees are a very old breed and have been used for over 1,000 years by the Basque people who lived in a region around the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France. In the middle ages toward the 19th century, the Pyrenees served as the official dog of the royal French court. In World War II, Pyrenees dogs were used to transport artillery over the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain.
Great Pyrenees male dogs weight between 100 and 130 pounds, or 45 to 59 kilograms. Females are a little smaller, weighing in around 85 to 115 pounds, or 39 to 52 kilograms. Great Pyrenees have white coats of long fur with shades of tan or grey in splotches on their ears, face and sometimes body—the dogs with the patches of darker colors like this are called badger faces or blarieau. Only 25 per cent of Great Pyrenees will have a pure white coat. All pure Great Pyrenees mountain dogs are identified by their double dewclaw on their hind legs—the double dewclaws are a breed standard. If you are planning on showing your dog, you can not remove the dewclaws. However, some veterinarians suggest removing the dew claws if the dog is to be a non-show dog that will primarily be indoors or outdoors. The dewclaws catch easily on carpet, furniture and other obstacles and if they tear, rip or are damaged, they can bleed extensively.
Great Pyrenees are very protective of their territory, making for a wonderful family dog. However, a Pyrenees requires room to move and a fenced yard is needed. A down fall to the breed is the seasonal ‘blowing of the coat’, which happens twice a year. Large amounts of white fur sheds from their undercoats. It’s important to groom your Pyrenees once a week to avoid mats. The breed stays clean on their own which translates to Pyrenees seldom needing a bath. Their undercoat sheds when it’s dirty—known as a self cleaning coat.
A Great Pyrenees bark is deep and booming and your neighbors may complain if your dog is left too long outside or without company. These dogs require a leash at all times—their guardian nature mans they will investigate everything and anything that is of interest to them. Pyrenees are extremely protective of their family members and will defend their owners to the death. However, they are often wary of strangers and will see no need to obey commands. Great Pyrenees do warm up to friendly people, children and women more readily.
Even though a Pyrenees can be oblivious to commands, they do respond well to positive reinforcement, however they bore of repetitious commands quickly. It’s important to train them as a puppy with obedience training and socialization. The Great Pyrenees grows into a large, heavy and strong dog quickly and is best suited to people who can handle a large breed dog.
The Great Pyrenees is suited to a family who lives on a large, fenced property who will pay it a lot of attention. They require exercise in regular walks. The Great Pyrenees is not a big ‘play’ dog, but if taught early, they can learn to fetch and play with a ball or other toy. Be aware though, if they become attached to a toy, they will be just as territorial with their toy as they are with their family.
If you are planning on getting a Great Pyrenees, it’s best to read up on the family of livestock guardian dogs. They all respond best to crate training if kept in the house, but crate training needs to be started from puppy-hood.
Great Pyrenees are excellent guardians against predators such as coyotes, wolves and foxes and will even be a good match against larger wildlife such as bears and cougars. It is said that an adult male Pyrenees can hold off a bear long enough for a shepherd to move an entire herd of sheep to safety.
These large and majestic protectors are not for everyone or for every family. They are great guardians and protectors, but if they don’t have sheep to guard or herd, they will choose their family to guard and even herd. Some Great Pyrenees can be seen herding their children in a room with gentle nudges.
There are a lot of resources for Great Pyrenees, including rescues in the United States and Canada. If you are considering the Great Pyrenees for your next family pet, ensure that you read up on the breed and their standards to make sure this pet is right for you.