This large, fluffy breed is known by different names; in most of Europe, it’s the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, while Great Pyrenees is the name used in the US and Canada. Guardian and protector against anything they might deem a threat, this dog can be quite demanding ― but the rewards are worth it.
From ancient times to Royal Dog of France
It’s believed that the Great Pyrenees can trace its ancestry back to dogs who originated in Asia Minor, 11 000 years ago. These dogs are thought to have come to the Pyrenees Mountains sometime around 3000 BC, and it was there that the Great Pyrenees was bred to aid shepherds. The Great Pyrenees was at first considered a peasants’ dog, but in 1675, the Dauphin of France declared it the Royal Dog of France. This, in turn, led to French nobles everywhere getting a Great Pyrenees (or several) of their own to guard their estates.
North America first saw the Great Pyrenees when it was imported to Newfoundland, Canada. There, breeding the Pyrenees with the Newfoundland created the Landseer Newfoundland. During the 19th century, the Great Pyrenees gained popularity in both the US and Europe, and even took part in the St. Bernard breeding program in Switzerland, in order to salvage that breed. While both World Wars took their toll on the Great Pyrenees, several dogs were imported to the US just in time. Breeders made a proper effort in replenishing the numbers of the breed, and today, the Great Pyrenees is once again thriving.
Size and appearance of the Great Pyrenees
A word often used to describe this breed is “majestic”, and it seems highly appropriate. At 27-32 inches for males, and 25-29 inches for females, they stand rather tall, and weigh up to 100 pounds or more. Their coat is thick and rough in texture, weatherproof and adapted to cold weather and snowy mountains. Most commonly seen in all-white, the coat also comes in white with markings, either gray, reddish-brown, tan, or badger. The Great Pyrenees has a certain grace about it when it moves, big and solid, practically emanating calm and strength.
They’re average to heavy shedders, but are otherwise relatively easy to groom. The thick double-coat only requires about 30 minutes of work a week, and dries out quickly if it gets wet. The Great Pyrenees has a bit of a mane around its neck, and feathering on the back of the legs ― a coat perfectly adapted to cold and snow. Don’t cut the fur in summer, though, thinking that you’re helping your dog stay cool. Their coat breathes, and protects from the hot sun as well, and they’ll be much more uncomfortable without it.
Temperament and personality
This dog is elegant, self-assured, and intelligent, with the patience suited for spending days on end just watching sheep in the mountains. While the Great Pyrenees is very trainable, this is a working dog. They need early socialization, and lots of it, in order to not become suspicious and sometimes even aggressive toward strangers and other animals. Their hearing is excellent, and they’ll let you know the moment something comes even close to breaching the perimeter of your home. And the bark of a Great Pyrenees is deep and loud, bound to deter most who would consider making a wrong move.
With these strong guarding instincts come, naturally, a sense of protectiveness. Keeping the flock safe is the highest priority for the Great Pyrenees, and this translates to a very loving, courageous, and social dog. They love spending time with their family, and while it’s a big breed, it actually doesn’t need a huge amount of exercise. About an hour a day is fine, but this dog doesn’t like being left alone for too long. The Great Pyrenees is gentle, but serious. They’re also used to figuring things out on their own, which can make them stubborn. Gentle, rewards-based training is best, since harsh methods may result in a timid and fearful dog.
A house with a yard is preferable, but this chill dog can adapt to smaller living spaces. If there’s a yard, however, there needs to be a fence, and a good one. The Great Pyrenees is a climber ― they have the double dew claws to prove it ― and tenacious, and will keep trying to explore and claim territory if not restrained. There’s a reason Pyrenees rescue groups won’t adopt to someone without a fence, since this breed simply cannot be yard-trained.
Things to consider
The Great Pyrenees is a working dog, meant for plodding through snow and guarding sheep and livestock, to deter bears and wolves and poachers. They’re incredibly brave, loyal, and caring, which are all excellent yet challenging traits. Raising and training a Great Pyrenees can be difficult, and isn’t necessarily something that should be attempted by novice owners. Properly trained and socialized, though, the Great Pyrenees makes for a great therapy dog, for instance. They love kids, but as always, never leave them alone with them; this dog is big and strong, and may accidentally hurt a small child, even when they mean well.
This dog has been shaped and honed over thousands of years, to become the ultimate guardian and protector of a flock. They can be stubborn, a little bullheaded, and prefer to do things their own way and on their own terms. But they want to work with you, they want to be part of your home, and once they are, they’ll protect it with all they’ve got. Having a Great Pyrenees can be challenging, but if you’re willing to invest the time, patience, and energy required to give this majestic pup everything it needs, you’ll be richly rewarded.