Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Great Pyrenees: Understanding Nature versus Nurture
One of the most important things about adopting a new dog, is understanding it's breed. While great leadership and training will yield amazing results for just about any dog, each dog breed is unique. There can be decades or even centuries of breed development which will almost ensure certain traits you can expect. Our job as great owners is understanding what has been bred into our dogs to serve a beneficial purpose versus what is perhaps just naughty dog behavior, or just their unique personality. A lot of dog traits are very intentional for what their "working" purpose is, yet can be undesirable in a home setting. It's key to understand what your dog was born to think of as "good, I'm doing my job" so we can cater how we approach training if those behaviors are undesirable in the domestic setting.
So this is your first Great Pyrenees, what can you expect? Like all large breed dogs, if it's a puppy, you can expect bursts of play followed by very important periods of rest and sleep. If you've had a high energy breed puppy before, do not have the same expectations. Pyr puppies still play like the best of them, but they can crash pretty hard and do need time to rest so their huge bones can grow properly. Great Pyrenees tend to reach their full height at about 1 year old, and may continue to "fill out" for the next year. Personal experience has told me that Pyrs don't tend to tolerate ear cleanings or nail trims very well (as they are a stubborn breed) so early exposure to these routine things is key, especially since double dew claws need trimming, and they can be prone to ear infections due to having floppy, long-haired ears which can trap moisture and breed yeast and bacteria.
Expect your Great Pyrenees to want to be by your side. People often mistake the fact that they were bred as livestock guardians as a reason to think they will do well outside, alone, for long periods of time. In the absence of a farm and flock, *you* become their flock, and your house the farm. They are bred to always be with those things to protect them, and depriving your house pet of these can lead to depression and unwanted behaviors. Because this breed was in fact bred for outside work, their coats are very resilient. The coat of a Great Pyrenees reflects dirt and water very well, and requires more brushings to release dirt than baths every time they get muddy. In addition, their coats serve as amazing insulators. If you are concerned your Pyr is only a cold-weather dog, think again. While they love the snow, they tolerate reasonable heat well. Never shave a Pyr's coat, as this exposes them to direct heat and sunlight.
Pyrenees are "leaners". While a lot of people like to take it as personal compliment (ie. "he likes me!") it's a breed trait. Pyrenees didn't watch their sheep from afar, they nestled amongst them and watched for predators. Leaning enables your Pyr to know where you are without having to keep eyes on you, freeing them up to survey their surroundings. Because this is already in them, they will lean when not feeling threatened or not "working". I've noticed that we can see this trait when leash-training our Pyrs. In my experience, a Pyr is quick to lean against you as you are walking them. While I'm not super confident I could train this out of a Pyr, I have never felt it to be a detriment to their other leash walking manners.
As most know, Great Pyrenees are prone to night barking. If you have a Pyr pup, ensure you are addressing this right away. We need to respect why they do this, and not consider them naughty for it. Barking is ideal in a livestock guardian setting, as it scares away the threat. Your Pyr will absolutely think he is doing his job, and will be confused when you say otherwise. Natural, breed barking is in response to stimulus from surroundings. If your dog, any dog, barks incessantly, there may be another underlying issue. Often times, we cannot see or smell what they do, and their stimulus is beyond our immediate comprehension. Versus reprimanding a barking Pyr, I have found it more effective to show them you "see what they see", praise them for a job well done, and they should cease so long as the threat doesn't persist. This is natural for this breed, and should be expected upon adoption. A well-balanced Pyr shouldn't bark more than is justifiable.
Bored dogs will dig, yet some dogs have digging in their DNA. Pyrenees will dig, and this should be another consideration with your new dog. If you allow them a spot or two to have their hole for coolness and comfort, they are likely to leave the rest of the yard alone. It may take some patience on your part to let them find their ideal spot.
Expect your Great Pyrenees to be gentle and accepting of people, children, and other animals. A Pyrenees who is aggressive with children or cats, for example, is not the breed standard. If your Pyr shows these signs, this is something that could and should be remedied with training and guidance. The only normal time for aggression would be in a guardian setting, where the Pyr felt threatened that another dog was impeding on his property. This means your Pyr may be great with all dogs outside of the house, but potentially feel they are a threat to their "property" inside the home or the yard. While I have found most Pyrs to be sweet 99% of the time, it would not be unusual for a Great Pyrenees to insist on being the only guardian if an alpha presented himself as a threat.
It is not in this breeds nature to have any predisposed health concerns specific to the breed. Health concerns associated are more or less due to them being a giant breed, but not a Pyrenees specifically. We worry about all our large and giant breed dogs when it comes to dental and bone health. You can read a ton of literature and studies, and never see this breed pop up as a breed with specific health concerns.
Aloofness is in the nature of this dog. Your Pyrenees isn't distant, cold, or disinterested because it stares off at times. Being stoic, they tend to greet strangers thusly. That stoicism is coupled with stubbornness. Expect your Pyr to be resistant to training, perhaps only willingly sitting for a snack. This nature is key to ensure these dogs are not easily tempted to leave their flocks. If you were to visit a farm with livestock guardians and hold up a juicy slab of meat and call their name, they won't come. Good job on their part. Patience is required to teach our gentle giants to come when called and other various commands, and food/treat motivation is an expected component initially.
Understanding their nature is so important, so we select the right breed to begin with, and then to understand why they do, or don't do, certain things. Owners, through education, can be spared having to hear themselves lament, "I can't stop her from doing that!". While training does work wonders, understand you choose a Great Pyrenees, and love them for all their amazing breeding and characteristics.