It is thought that the Great Pyrenees originated in Central Asia or Siberia and followed the Aryan migration into Europe. Great Pyrenees likely descended from the Hungarian Kuvasz and the Maremmano-Abruzzese. While there has surely been some cross breeding over the many centuries, the Great Pyrenees is not a mastiff. There are other dogs of the region, such as the Pyrenean Mastiff, and the Spanish Mastiff that fill that description. It is no coincidence that the Great Pyrenees is approximately the same size as the European Grey Wolf. The Pyr is also a relative of the St. Bernard, contributing to their development (credit: The American Kennel Club Online).
The breed takes their name from the mountain range in southwestern Europe, where they are and have been used to guard flocks on the steep slopes from such predators as wolves and bears. In addition to their association with the peasant shepherd, the Great Pyrenees was also cherished by the nobility and appointed the Royal Dog of France in the 17th century. By the late 17th century, every French noble wanted to own one!
The Great Pyrenees has proven to be a very versatile breed, working as an avalanche rescue dog, a cart-puller, sled dog, a pack dog on ski trips, a flock guardian, and as a companion and defender of family and property.
In 1931 a Massachusetts couple first introduced the breed to the United States, and the AKC officially recognized the Great Pyrenees in 1933.
Pyrs are devoted to family, very gentle, and can be a wonderful guardian. When not provoked, these dogs are very calm, well-mannered and somewhat serious. They can be somewhat stubborn and independent. This is not a breed that can typically be off leash, or in an unfenced backyard, as they do like to wander, believing the world is their backyard to patrol and protect. Great Pyrenees are known to be great with children, cats, and other species of animals. It is incredibly rare for this to not be true, as this is one of their favored traits. On the whole, a Great Pyrenees isn't know to have a great prey drive outside of protecting their home/farm from external intruders and animals. However, if someone or something poses a threat, they are incredible guardians with striking bite force and drive to protect.
There are varying opinions about how Great Pyrenees interact with the same or opposing sex of dogs. I've come across many people who had been told by someone that Pyrenees males are aggressive towards other males. Our experience has told us that male or female has had little to do with the experience, and merely it will come down to basic dog, alpha/submissive tendencies. We have seen very little significant demonstration of any "rule" regarding males not liking other males, females not liking other females, etc. Every dog is unique.
I have read some literature and websites which suggest that Great Pyrenees score low on a scale regarding friendliness, whether it be with other dogs or people. I feel this is tragically misleading, and may speak exclusively to their tendency to be a little aloof. Unlike a Lab or Golden who greats most people with undying enthusiasm, a Great Pyrenees may be calm and warm. While they may not jump up and show great excitement towards all new things, they are reliable, friendly, safe, and affectionate. Most Pyrenees will not ask a new dog to play immediately, preferring some "get to know you" time, when you can see their playful side emerge. It is my experience that Great Pyrenees do not tend to make a ton of eye contact with unfamiliar people, reserving that intimacy for people they know.
Pyrs need daily exercise, but not excessive. A short walk, a trip to the dog park, or playing in the yard, are all effective. They enjoy hiking, especially in the cold and snow! Large and giant breed puppies are supposed to be allowed their rest time. Often these breeds are sleepy puppies, and it allows their big bones to grow properly. Owners need to bear in mind that this is a nocturnal breed. This doesn't meant they are up all night, but they will sleep most of the day and desire play and exercise most at twilight and dusk. As a working breed, these are the times of the day where their flock was at greatest threat from predators, and they are naturally inclined to be more active.
There are differing opinions on the amount of space a Great Pyrenees owner should be able to provide. Many sites suggest a Great Pyrenees needs a lot of room and land to roam and get exercise. Many potential owners shrink from this breed because "they don't have a big enough yard". While we may agree to disagree with other Pyrenees websites and sources, we have felt that Great Pyrenees can be a good match for apartment life, assuming the owner takes them on the appropriate amount of walks and offers healthy enrichment and exercise. They are sleepy dogs who desire to be by your side. You may own a mansion and 50 acres, but if your Great Pyrenees is a family companion versus a livestock guardian, you will learn that the 1 foot next to your ankle is about as much space as they demand.
The coat is relatively simple to care for, brushing about 30 minutes a week will keep their coat healthy and clean. If your Pyr gets into a little mud or dirt, let it dry and the dirt will brush right out. The coat of the Great Pyrenees is resilient, and retains little to no odor that can be found in other dog breeds. The biggest concern is leaving their coat unbrushed which will lead to dreads forming, primarily around their heads, rear, and tail.
Many resources score Great Pyrenees the highest rank possible with regards to shedding. Again, we agree to disagree. While of course they shed, experience has taught me that they shed considerably less than *many* breeds. They do not walk around and drop hair like a German Shepherd, and they do not nervously shed it the way many short haired breeds do. You just get a lot off when you are brushing.
We NEVER recommend shaving unless absolutely (i.e., medically) necessary, as their double coat serves as both insulation to the heat and cold, and shaving may cause them to overheat! See our post about keeping your Pyr cool in the summer for more information about this! Great Pyrenees are highly adaptable to all weather, and it is a mistake to see them and feel they can only live in cold climates.
Great Pyrenees, like many dogs with similar ears, can be prone to ear infections. Great Pyrenees owners need to commit to cleaning their Pyr's ears regularly to prevent infection. Some I have met have very little challenges with ear health, while others require once weekly cleaning to ensure debris and bacteria are not being trapped beneath their furry ears.
Great Pyrenees have double dew claws. Owners needs to be aware that this extra toe needs to be trimmed and kept short just like the rest of the nails. It is not standard to have these toes removed, as some dogs have their dew claws removed during other procedures such as spay/neuter in order to prevent snagging. I have yet to meet a Great Pyrenees whose dew claws have presented a problem.
Recommended Grooming Tools:
- Undercoat Rake [for the undercoat]
- Slicker brush [for the top coat]
- Professional nail clippers (remember how BIG/thick their nails are)
Guillotine clippers tend to split the nail and cause pain
- Dremel tool [to grind the nails]
Prevents splitting and cracking of the nails
A consideration for larger dogs is the increase in dog food. The average, healthy dog should eat 1 cup dry food per every 20 pounds of ideal dog weight. Great Pyrenees can be an exception to this rule, because a 100 pound Pyrenees may potentially burn far fewer calories than a 100 pound sporting dog. Your 100 pound Great Pyrenees may require as much as 5 cups of dry food total per day, but I've known many who require as low as 2-3 due to age and considerably lower activity level. My advice would be to start with 4 cups and increase/decrease as needed to maintain a healthy weight. Remember to always *feel* your dogs chest to access healthy weight, never try to visualize it through all that coat. You should always be able to slightly feel their ribs with minimal pressure. Keep in mind that every dog food has a different caloric value, and you may see your dog gain or lose if you switch brands.
Annual and bi-annual blood work and vet visits are straight forward for any dog regardless of size. All dogs have increased veterinary costs with age, assuming you are doing the properly suggested additional diagnostics. The only special consideration for this breed, and it's merely due to size, is that critical care and surgeries cost more. Basic hospital diagnostics and supplies are the same, however bare in mind that a giant dog requires a greater quantity of drugs, fluids, etc. and you will notice this if you ever need to hospitalize or get surgery.
Challenges of the Breed
- Pyrenees DIG. Do not adopt hoping they won't, be happy when they don't. In the summer a nice hole provides a cool place to rest. Assume to allow them 1 great spot they can dig and call their own, and they may leave the rest of the yard alone.
- Great Pyrenees are considered a harder to train dog breed. Because of this, they are not recommended for first time dog owners unless those first time dog owners have the time to spend on learning more about their dog and spending the time working on training. They were bred to rely on themselves versus their human. Their duty was to never leave their flock. If you desire a dog who will easily learn 'come', 'stay', and 'sit', this isn't the dog for you. They are trainable, but it may take more time and creativity. 'Sit' may come easily enough, but 'come' can be especially challenging if you have a great back yard they think is theirs to stay within and guard. We recommend using treat motivation in the early stages of training, as most Great Pyrenees have a "what's in it for me?" mentality.
- They like to be with their family, and if left alone for long periods of time, can be destructive when bored. This isn't unique to this breed.
- As with any breed, the dog may experience separation anxiety or have fears that can cause destruction.
- What goes in, also comes out, so remember that waste clean up should be an everyday or every other day job.
- Some Pyrs drool and you might need to carry a soft towel to wipe their precious faces.
- As mentioned before, this is not a breed that can typically be off leash, or in an unfenced backyard, as they do like to wander. They also have larger necks than heads, so they should wear a harness versus a leash unless you want them to slip away.
- Great Pyrenees are known to be night barkers. As a breed, they were bred to defend against predators who may pose the greatest threat at night. What may not cause your Pyrenees to bark in the daytime may cause considerable barking at night. This is important for anyone who has close neighbors, children, or anyone living in an apartment complex. It is key to understand the proper ways to deal with unwanted barking, as this breed believes they are doing their job. Incorrect scolding or punishment will only lead to increased barking. While this is true of most every dog, it is especially true for this breed, as barking is their key way to deter threats.
- This dog can be an escape artist. A common reason for owner surrender is constant wandering/escaping. If you intend to leave your dog unattended in a yard, you should have a 6 ft fence or higher, and a privacy fence is highly recommended. Ensure your fence has no weak places where your Pyr can "disa-pyr". Great Pyrenees consider anything they can see to be theirs to guard, and their desire to roam is not due to disliking you, rather they like you so much they want to be sure there aren't coyotes around the house.
- Great Pyrenees are the most affectionate dogs. They love hugs, kisses, and cuddling. They are far more content watching a movie by your side than doing anything else. They become extra gentle when approached by children, and demonstrate a natural ability to understand that babies and children are to be treated with extra gentleness. They are found to allow cats and other species to snuggle up on their fur, without fuss or complaint. I have known Pyrenees to become protective of other house pets, guarding them with every ounce of natural guardian tendencies.
- Low energy. Great Pyrenees don't require an owner to schedule their lives around walks and runs the way some other dog breeds do. I have met plenty of higher energy Pyrenees who may in fact wake the owner up at an early hour to pee, but the majority are cool with whatever schedule you keep. They are likely sleeping when you are at work, and don't require their daily exercise in the sense where, without it, they will destroy your home and run circles around you.
- Beauty is hardly a great reason to adopt, but we cannot ignore the natural majesty of this amazing breed. Seeing a Great Pyrenees takes your breath away, and surely there is no other dog who can compare.
- Continue reading onto "Health" to understand another amazing reason to love this breed!
Great Pyrenees are not predisposed to any particular health condition. Some breeds are often listed as being predisposed to certain cancers, heart conditions, eye conditions, or skin conditions. While a Great Pyrenees is just as able as the next dog to get ill or get a disease, they are not predisposed as a breed. All deep-chested dogs are at a higher risk of getting Gastric Dilative Volvulus. I have asked doctors if they could recall GDV in Pyrenees and none have any cases they can recall. All large breed dogs are at higher risk than small breed dogs of getting tooth fractures due to lifestyle. Great Pyrenees rank relatively low on the list of dogs on record of having hip dysplasia. I have asked every veterinarian I could if they have any specific experience with this breed and a health consideration, and every single veterinarian has told me that they infrequently see this breed in their clinic for any measurable illness. While I have met Great Pyrenees suffering from cancer, heart conditions, and entropion (eye condition), the occurrence has been very slight compared to how many Pyrs I have known.
The most frequent problems I have seen in Great Pyrenees are arthritis and ear infections. They are healthy, sturdy animals on the whole.
Is a Great Pyrenees the right breed for you??