By Coleen Johnson
The Pyrenean Mountain Dog is called the Great Pyrenees in the United states. It is widely believed that the Pyrenees descended from mostly white colored Asian flock guardians brought to Europe between 1800 BC and 1000 BC.
The breed comes from the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains, and is closely related to the Pyrenean Mastiff. King Louie the XIV made them the Royal Dog of France during his reign.
They fall in the category of Livestock Guardians with others such as the Anatolian Shepherd, the Maremma Sheepdog, and the Kuvasz, to name a few, which we will cover in later articles.
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Great Pyrenees Characteristics
In general, Pyrenees are considered to be one of the best livestock guardian breeds available. They are large and fearless. Their instinct to guard livestock usually kicks into full gear at around 18 months, with most at a much earlier age, especially if they are exposed to livestock as puppies.
Pyrenees will bark at a perceived threat first. If that doesn’t work to deter the threat, they will confront them, barking and “puffing up” their coats. You may have heard stories of a single Pyrenees driving off wolves, coyotes, mountain lions and even bears.
Typically, it is best to have at least two working together. These dogs will not stop, if a predator does get into your herd, they are fearless and will fight until the predator runs off, or is dispatched.
On a personal note, we live on a 37-acre homestead with goats, chickens and turkeys. We have seen evidence of coyotes and cougars in the distance (tracks and images caught on our game cams), but we have never had a single predator – of any kind – get into our controlled areas. They will even chase off ravens and hawks that come around.
Great Pyrenees Breed Standards
If you go by the AKC or the UK’s Kennel Club standards, Pyrenees should be:
- Mostly white to pure white, with minimal coloration on face, ears and body.
- They can range in size – at the shoulder, from 25 – 29 inches for females, and 27 – 32 inches for males.
- They can range in weight from 85 pounds and up for females, and 100 pounds and up for males.
- Purebred Great Pyrenees always have double dew claws.
However, these standards are not exact, especially for working dogs.
While these standards are great if you want to show your dog, a true working dog can have many variations to these standards. For instance, of our seven, five have what is often referred to as “badger” markings, or are “blaireau” – French for badger. Our pack are all purebreds, and as you can see, most of them are white. Two, Hector, far left, and his daughter, Alienore in the middle, have slight gray/orange markings on their ears. They were born with dark coloration, but it often fades as they grow.
Third from the left is Talina, a badger with black on her head, face, and a spot on her left side.
Far right is Lagertha, a gray badger, with gray on her head and sprinkled throughout her fur.
Next to her, second from the right, is Uhtred, who is a full blaireau, he is a cream color with brown on his face, neck and tail.
Eowyn (shown here, third from right, with her leg fur growing back after knee surgery), is one of our pure white girls, along with her daughter, Daenerys, second from the left.
Our dogs are purebred Pyrenees, but don’t conform completely to the breed standards per AKC and the UK Kennel Club. Does that make them undesirable as working dogs? To be honest, we have found that they are often more protective and have more “guardian” traits than many purebred show quality Great Pyrenees.
Great Pyrenees Temperament
Pyrenees are very loving and loyal. They bond quickly with their human “flock” and will guard you at night (barking at everything they feel is a threat), yet try to curl up in your lap. Do they get along with other animals? Pictures are worth a thousand words…
Great Pyrenees are fantastic, loving, BIG dogs, and although they are wonderful pets, I would not recommend them as “House” pets. They need room. They need to work. They can be very noisy at night, and therefore do not make good urban pets, nor should they ever be kept in an apartment.
These dogs love to run, and an occasional trip to the dog park is not enough to keep these highly intelligent dogs occupied.
Giving them toys to play with can help alleviate boredom, but they can be territorial, and may be possessive over toys if you have more than one. It is best to give them a job. Let them do what they were bred to do: Guard your livestock.
If you truly want one of these gorgeous dogs, and do not have any livestock, be prepared to put in the work to keep them occupied, or you may have behavior problems.
If you do have livestock, I highly recommend them to watch over your goats, sheep, cattle, and many types of domesticated fowl. Although, you must spend the time to teach them that chickens and other small fowl are not chew toys.
Caring for Great Pyrenees
Great Pyrenees have double dew claws, which should not be removed unless they get caught on something. They do serve a purpose. These dogs were bred for mountainous terrain, and the double dew claw gives them a slight advantage to gain traction on rough ground.
They have a thick undercoat of fine hairs that acts as insulation, with a coarse textured outer coat that tends to shed dirt and mud. With their thick outer coat, they can be out in cold temperatures. They were bred to protect flocks in the cold Pyrenean Mountains, so cold isn’t an issue for them, but of course, if you’re like us, you let them in when the temperature drops very low, and it is gusting wind, snow, or rain.
They need a good brushing, especially in fall and spring, when shedding is the worst. They do shed year-round, but in spring their heavy top coat will shed in huge clumps and you will have piles of white fur.
The males tend to have a thick ruff around their necks, to help protect them against predators. The females get them as well, but are less developed.
It is never recommended to shave a Great Pyrenees. It takes quite a long time for their undercoat to grow back. We had to have knee surgery done on our girl Eowyn, when she played too roughly with her pack mates, and it took at least six months for all of the undercoat to grow back. It was almost a year before all of her fur had grown in.
Pyrenees generally have a lifespan of 10 to 12 years. You may think it would cost a small fortune to feed them, but Pyrenees eat about the same as a breed such as the German Shepherd, and occasionally will not eat much for several days. If they seem uninterested in their food, don’t worry, they have a slow metabolism, and sometimes, they don’t feel like eating. Unless they are vomiting or have diarrhea, then you may want to have them checked.
Pyrenees don’t have any special dietary needs or health concerns. Of course you should always keep them up to date on yearly shots, but they aren’t normally predisposed to major health issues. You should have them checked for any unusual symptoms, as you would any other breed of dog, but they tend to be healthy, happy, loving dogs.
Buying or Selling Great Pyrenees
What do you look for in a Great Pyrenees? It depends on why you are buying or breeding the Pyrenees. If you are looking for a show quality dog, check the American Kennel Club for a list of breeders. Contact them and ask questions. Get photos or videos of the parents of the puppies you are interested in, get the parents pedigree information.
If you want a Pyrenean Mountain Dog as an LGD, first ask yourself if you care about their pedigree, or their guardian capabilities. If you don’t care about papers, check with others in your area that have Great Pyrenees.
Contact the breeders and ask how they raise them. Ask the breeders if they have been exposed to livestock. Have they been around goats, sheep, cattle, domesticated fowl? These are important questions, and it is always best, if possible, to visit the breeders before making a deposit, to make sure these dogs are the right fit for your needs.
Check with others that have bought from the breeders you are considering. See what they say about their dogs guarding instincts. Get recommendations for reputable breeders.
If you are a breeder, are you breeding for a pedigree or to promote the breed? Do you breed for show, for pets, or as livestock guardians? Be sure to thoroughly vet your clientele.
Ask potential customers why they want a Great Pyrenees. As the breeder, it is your responsibility to make sure you know what your buyers are looking for. Do they want a pet, a show dog, or a livestock guardian? How do you decide who you will sell to? Ask your potential buyers what their needs are.
Try to pair your puppies with the right buyer, if the puppy shows more signs of guarding than wanting to cuddle and socialize, maybe they would be best to go to buyers who are strictly looking for a guardian. Try to meet with buyers before you release the puppy, to make sure this is a good fit for both you and the buyer. This is the best way to ensure that the buyer and the puppy have a good experience, and a good home.
What are the Pros and Cons of Owning Great Pyrenees?
There are a lot of things to consider when getting a Great Pyrenees. The benefits of owning a Pyrenees: they are loyal, intelligent, calm (unless there is a predator nearby), good with kids, and great at protecting livestock. They are such lovable dogs that you may not want to put them out with your livestock. On a cold night, they are wonderful bed warmers!
The drawbacks: They are BIG, they will jump up on you, they paw at you when they want attention, and yes, they tend to bark at night. A lot. But if you are looking for an excellent guardian, you don’t have to look any further than the Great Pyrenees or Pyrenean Mountain dog.
Want to know the other farm dogs? Read Choosing a Farm Dog: Which Breed is Best for Your Country Homestead?
To help you avoid disappointment and heartache, see my 7 Tips for Success with a Farm Dog.