Great Pyrenees Dog Breed

Great Pyrenees Dog Breed Information And Care

About This Breed

This giant, thick-coated dog named after the Pyrenees Mountains is a powerful dog with excellent livestock guarding skills. It is also a mellow and wonderful family companion and protector when trained and socialized correctly.

Their thick, lush coats are predominantly white, but some pups have markings that are badger, tan, gray, or reddish brown. They require some daily brushing and will shed profusely only during the shedding season. Although it may be tempting to clip its hair in the summer, please do not do it because the Great Pyrenees’ thick coat acts as insulation from the cold and hot weather.

The dogs of this breed can reach a height at the shoulder of 32 inches, and males usually weigh 100–120 lbs.

So, it is not the best dog if you live in a tiny, cluttered home. A house with a safely fenced yard is a better option, but do not leave your pup outside permanently. It needs to be with its humans and needs interaction; otherwise, it can quickly become boring, destructive, and even aggressive.

While the Pyrenean Mountains are located on the French and Spanish border, this giant dog breed is from the French side and is known locally as the Patou, which means shepherd.

Today, the dogs of this breed are still used as reliable livestock guardians against bears, wolves, and other predators in the French Pyrenees and Alps.

The Great Pyrenees, also known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, can be very calm but is always on the watch and will act instantly and move fast if a threat is detected.

Keep in mind that the dogs of this breed have exceptional hearing and will detect noises from far away and outside the house. Their natural instinct is to bark loudly, which is another thing you will need to manage and curb in a timely manner. If you live in an apartment building or home where there can be problems with the barking and the neighbors, then the Great Pyrenees may not be the best dog for you.

Since these dogs are bred to work independently and make decisions on their own, they can be pretty challenging to train, especially for inexperienced or timid owners. And if not trained or socialized properly, a dog of this size and power can become uncontrollable and dangerous.

So, it is definitely not suitable for first-time dog owners or for people who do not yet have the experience, patience, and consistency to use positive reinforcement to train it.

But when socialized and trained correctly, Great Pyrenees pups are perfect as devoted family pets, as therapy or rescue dogs, and as champions in dog carting.

Highlights/In A brief

  • Temperament: gentle, protective, aloof, willful
  • Height at the shoulder: 27-32 inches for males and 25-29 inches for females
  • Weight: 100 lbs. and more for males, and 85 lbs. and up for females
  • Life expectancy: 10-12 years
  • Breed Group: Working Group

Appearance

This majestic, giant white dog is bound to attract attention wherever it goes. It is huge in size and has an impressive, regal-like stature.

They have thick white double coats. Male dogs of this breed usually have pronounced lion-like manes around their necks, as well as some feathering on the legs, which form pantaloons.

One thing that distinguishes it from other dog breeds is that the Great Pyrenees has double dewclaws on its hind legs. These should be kept because they help the dog climb and get to the predators.

Instead, trim the nails regularly to protect them from injury.

Size

An average Great Pyrenees male dog can reach a height at the shoulders of 32 inches and weigh 100–165 lbs.

It is a giant dog with a heavy build and a long and thick double coat, which makes it look even bigger.

Coat Color

The most traditional coat color for the Great Pyrenees is white. But some pups can have grey, tan, badger, or reddish-brown markings as well.

But even with markings, the white color should be predominant, and the markings, which are usually on the head, ears, tail, or face of the pup, should not cover more than one-third of its body.

The wooly and dense undercoat is usually white or shaded in color.

Temperament

Since they were bred to watch over and protect flocks of sheep, these large-sized dogs are generally quite docile and calm. But if they are not socialized properly, they can become nervous, shy, aggressive, and dangerous.

With the right training and socializing, the Great Pyrenees can be a very calm, patient, and composed family pet. It is also a very devoted and courageous pup that will make you feel safer at home and will also keep you warm on those cold nights.

These giant pups are very intelligent but are bred to make decisions and act alone. Thus, the Great Pyrenees are rather independent and can even be stubborn. This can be a big challenge for inexperienced owners when it comes to training.

Being imposing guard dogs for sheep in the mountains, they are also loud barkers. Since the Great Pyrenees are bred to watch and guard the flock at night, they are nocturnal and can bark if danger is sensed in the middle of the night too.

Socializing your dog of this French breed is absolutely crucial if you want a well-rounded dog rather than a shy or aggressive and dangerous one.

Good For Novice Owners?

As mentioned earlier, these pups are enormous and very strong. They have powerful guarding instincts and are independent and stubborn. This makes them quite challenging to train unless you are an experienced, confident, and patient trainer who refrains from using harsh treatment and punishment and uses positive reinforcement methods instead.

Thus, they are not recommended for first-time dog owners.

Family, Children, And Other Pets

The giant shepherd is very gentle and loving to children and is an excellent, reliable protector for the entire family.

But due to its huge size, weight, and power, you should be careful about teaching and monitoring all interactions between the pup and your children.

And never allow a young child to walk the dog on a leash alone.

When raised together, introduced properly, and socialized correctly, these French-breed dogs can get along with other dogs and pets at home too.

Trainability

As we already mentioned, the Great Pyrenees is not the easiest dog to train unless you are familiar with the specifics of the breed or if you have enough confidence, patience, and experience to handle its independent and stubborn streaks and its instinct to make and act on its own decisions.

Living Needs

While it can live happily in an apartment, a better choice for a home for a giant dog like the Great Pyrenees is a larger house with a fenced backyard.

The dogs of this breed are more suitable for families with easygoing and predictable lifestyles.

It is not a high-energy pup and prefers that the entire family be home, where it can calmly watch over you.

If it gets bored or isolated, your giant dog can easily become destructive and even aggressive. So you will need to interact with it and keep it mentally and physically exercised and busy.

Due to its size, you will need to socialize the pup as early as possible if you want it to greet guests and be a friendly dog in the future.

Although it has an impressively long and thick double coat, the grooming needs of the Great Pyrenees are actually pretty moderate.

Grooming

These giant dogs from the French Pyrenees Mountains are average shedders, except during the shedding season or in very hot climates.

Their beautiful, thick double coats require little grooming, including a quick brushing of the coat every day. You can leave your pup’s soft hair outside on branches or elsewhere where nesting wild birds can collect it and make warm and comfy nests.

The upper coat of the Great Pyrenees is long and coarse to the touch. It can be straight or slightly wavy. Its undercoat is wooly and dense.

If your furry companion comes home muddy or dirty, don’t rush it into the bath just yet. As soon as the mud dries, it can easily be brushed off. This means that you can bathe your pup only once every 2-3 months. Use a suitable, high-quality dog shampoo that will not strip the pup’s coat and skin of healthy oils.

Do not trim its coat when the weather is hot because it acts as protection from the sun and as insulation from the heat too.

Conformation and show dogs of this breed can have their whiskers, eyebrows, ears, forelegs, feet, and hocks trimmed.

You should check your furry companion’s ears for a foul odor or redness once a week. Clean the flaps of the ears gently with a suitable dog ear cleaner, but without inserting anything in the ear’s canal.

Teach your pup from an early age to tolerate tooth brushing at least twice a week to keep its teeth and gums healthy and its breath fresh.

Keep in mind that the dogs of this breed have double dewclaws on their hind feet. These should not be removed. Only the nails need to be trimmed to prevent your pup from hurting itself.

Take the time to regularly examine your pup’s eyes, nose, mouth, skin, and body overall for any signs that there is an injury or something else is wrong. The earlier you take action, the easier the treatment for possible infections or other health problems will be.

Care

These dogs, bred to spend days and nights in the freezing mountains of France, prefer cooler weather. So, if it is snowing outside, your furbaby may want to spend more time than usual outdoors.

This is when a large backyard that is safely fenced can come in handy. Of course, it will be even better if you live on a ranch or farm.

But keep in mind that the Great Pyrenees is pretty independent and has a tendency to roam off, so ensure that it is fenced in safely when leaving it outdoors to enjoy the cold weather.

The pup can easily jump over or push over a fence that is not high or strong enough.

The Great Pyrenees rescue groups often have a requirement that the adopters have a fence before they can adopt a dog of this breed.

Plus, it should not be let off the leash due to its tendency to roam off and ignore commands.

This dog prefers a predictable routine and lives a quiet life. So, it is not the best dog if you live in a loud household and like to improvise and jump into action and adventures on a regular basis.

It is essential to remember that the dogs from this giant breed are highly intelligent and intuitive and have excellent memories, so training should always be gentle, with positive reinforcement and consistency, and never with harsh punishments and other negative training.

Due to its intelligence, your furry friend may easily become bored if not kept mentally stimulated with a suitable game, toy, or job to do. If left alone at home with nothing to do, your pup may start destroying your furniture and other belongings out of boredom and separation anxiety.

Suppose you are planning on traveling or boarding your pup on occasion, then crate-train it as early as possible. Make sure that the crate is large enough for it to be comfortable there and to be able to relax and sleep inside.

But never leave your pup in the crate for long hours or as a form of punishment!

Although they are big and powerful dogs, these excellent shepherds do not need too much exercise and have moderate energy levels.

About 30 minutes of exercise per day should keep an average pup of this breed happy and healthy.

When the winter and snow come, you can prolong your walks and outdoor activities and even have your four-legged companion carry your backpack or other gear when you go hiking.

Do not do this when the weather is hot, though.

Needless to say, giant and powerful dogs like this need to be socialized properly because otherwise, they can become fearful or aggressive and dangerous.

Meet your pup with different new people, invite people home, meet it with other dogs, put it in different situations, and expose it to sounds, experiences, and sights so that it gets used to them as early as possible.

Please do not leave it tied outside or in a kennel alone outdoors because it can easily become very aggressive and dangerous, even to you and your family!

Feeding

For a dog that can easily reach a weight of 120 to 165 lbs., the Great Pyrenees does not eat as much as can be expected.

Make sure to buy life-stage-appropriate dog food for giant dog breeds and one that is suitable for your pup’s health and activity level.

With a high-quality and suitable dog food labeled “complete and balanced diet,” you will ensure that your furry friend receives everything it needs to be healthy, strong, and happy without the need for added vitamins, minerals, and other supplements.

Please note that like most giant and deep-chested breeds, the Great Pyrenees is prone to bloat or gastric dilation volvulus. This condition, in which the stomach gets filled with air or gas and twists around itself, can occur suddenly and needs immediate attention, most often emergency surgery, or else it can quickly become deadly.

One of the things to do to minimize the risk of bloat is to feed your pup several small meals a day instead of feeding it a large one at once.

Plus, it would help if you prevented your dog from engaging in vigorous exercise right before or right after eating.

Remember to carefully control the portion sizes you are feeding to your furbaby, as well as its overall caloric intake, along with all treats and snacks it receives in between meals.

This will help keep it in shape and prevent excessive weight gain and obesity, which can be very harmful and shorten the lifespan of your dog significantly.

Energy Levels

Even though they were bred as shepherds who patrol their flocks day and night, Great Pyrenees dogs do not have high energy levels or exercise needs. They tend to prefer to save their energy in case of danger.

So, a moderate amount of walking and exercise of about 20 to 40 minutes a day should be enough for most dogs of this French breed.

These powerful pups do enjoy playing different games and taking part in activities, such as dog cart-pulling or obedience trials, which keep them mentally and physically entertained and stimulated.

But overall, your furbaby will most likely prefer spending the rest of the day sleeping or relaxing calmly at home with you.

Training

These pups were bred to guard and protect their flocks of sheep alone and follow their own instincts when a threat was detected. So, they are still instinctively independent and can even be stubborn when it comes to learning commands.

Even though they are highly intelligent, most dogs of this majestic breed will meet training efforts rather indifferently. So, don’t be surprised if your furry companion is very slow and lethargic when responding to your commands.

This is why the Great Pyrenees is a dog suitable for very experienced, confident, and definitely patient owners.

The earlier you start training and socializing your puppy, the better. These dogs can start learning commands as early as a couple of months old.

The older they get, the more difficult and frustrating the task will be for you.

You can enroll your puppy in a puppy kindergarten class as soon as it has had all of its vaccinations.

While you are waiting for the vaccines to be administered, you can start with the training and socialization at home yourself.

Health

These large-sized and strong dogs have a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. Those bred by responsible and ethical breeders are at low risk of developing the typical genetic diseases that can affect the Great Pyrenees, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, luxating patella, eye, immune system, and neurological disorders.

So, always choose a responsible breeder who tests all dogs and puppies for these hereditary issues.

Unfortunately, as deep-chested and large dogs, they are prone to bloat, which is a life-threatening condition, and which dog parents should be wary of and watch for symptoms at all times.

Here are the most common health problems of the Great Pyrenees dogs.

Anesthesia Sensitivity

This sensitivity is usually present in dogs with slower metabolisms. So, if your pup needs to undergo surgery or another procedure requiring anesthesia, remember to remind your veterinarian about this possible sensitivity.

Bone Care

Fast-growing giant breed puppies are at a high risk of developing bone problems. This is why you should feed your puppy only special puppy food made for giant breeds, which helps stunt this rapid growth and prevent growing pains and bone deformations. You should also limit the rough play and high-impact running on hard surfaces of your puppy, at least until it is 18 months old.

Hip Dysplasia

This is a hereditary condition that causes the thigh bone to not fit snuggly into the hip joint. This can cause pain and lameness in some dogs and can affect one or both of their rear legs.

As the dog ages, the problem may become worse, and its mobility can be affected.

Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred, so when buying a puppy, always ask for papers showing that both of its parents have been tested.

Elbow Dysplasia

This is another inherited disease of the joints that causes lameness or malformations of the pup’s elbows. It causes a misalignment of the three bones, which meet at the elbow joint. Unfortunately, it occurs most commonly among giant dog breeds. It can be treated or managed with weight control, anti-inflammatory medications, or surgery.

Patellar Luxation

Also known as “slipped stifles,” this condition is usually more prominent among small and toy dogs, but it can happen in larger pups like the Great Pyrenees as well.

It causes the kneecap to slide out of place, which can cause limping, pain, and other issues, but most dogs can live with it normally.

Gastric Torsion

Bloat or gastric torsion is more common among large, deep-chested pups. It can occur more often in older dogs, but the fact is that you need to be watchful for any worrying symptoms and know how to act if you notice that your pup is bloating. The reason is that it requires emergency treatment and surgery or can lead to death rather rapidly.

The bloating occurs when an influx of air or gas enters the stomach, causing it to distend and then twist around itself.

The common symptoms include the dog trying to vomit or belch unsuccessfully, a distended abdomen, excessive salivating, a rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, restlessness, and lethargy.

If you suspect that your pup is affected, rush it over to the emergency veterinary clinic immediately.

In order to reduce the risk of bloat, avoid feeding your pup only one large meal per day. Instead, divide it into several smaller portions throughout the day. Also, use elevated water and food bowls so that it can drink and eat without having to bend down.

Refrain from feeding your dog right after vigorous exercise.

Cataracts

This is the same as cataracts in humans and usually occurs with aging. It causes one or both eyes to look cloudy and can result in poor vision and blindness. Cataracts can be treated with surgery.

Entropion

This eye problem, which causes the dog’s eyelid to roll inward, causing discomfort and even injury to its eyeball, can usually be diagnosed when the puppy is six months old. A sign that the puppy may have entropion is if it is rubbing its eyes excessively.

The problem can be resolved surgically.

History

Breed enthusiasts and historians claim that there are fossils of dogs from the Bronze Age, between 1800 and 1000 BC, that are very similar to today’s Great Pyrenees dogs.

Although this cannot be proven categorically, it is clear that these giant dogs have been used as shepherd watchdogs and guard dogs for centuries in the Pyrenees Mountains, located on the French and Spanish border.

There are other historical artifacts and documents that depict or describe these “Great Dogs of the Pyrenees Mountains.”

There is a statue of a Great Pyrenees dog guarding the north gate of Carcassonne, France, which is from the 12th century.

The dogs of this breed were mentioned as human guards and canine assistants at the Chateau of Lourdes in the 14th century.

Today’s Great Pyrenees dog was bred in the Pyrenees Mountains, which are a natural border between France and Spain, as guard dogs for the sheep flocks.

But claims are that its ancestors originated in Asia Minor eleven thousand years ago and were later brought to the Pyrenees Mountains in 3000 B.C.

In France and Belgium, they have also been used for pulling carts with milk and delivering it, and they are still used as reliable livestock guarding dogs.

Before gaining popularity, these pups were considered dogs for peasants. But everything changed when Dauphin Louis XIV designated the Great Pyrenees as the Royal Dog of France in 1675. This is the act that started popularizing this French breed outside of the country. The dog became popular among people who were not part of the French nobility.

In the 19th century, Queen Victoria owned a Great Pyrenees dog.

The first dog of this French breed to come to North America was imported to Newfoundland in Canada, where it was used for crossbreeding with the Newfoundland to create the Landseer Newfoundlands.

The Great Pyrenees became popular throughout Europe in the early 19th century and was even introduced into the breeding program in Switzerland, attempting to revive and reestablish the St. Bernard breed.

Unfortunately, due to unethical breeding practices, the breed began deteriorating in its homeland, France.

Then the two world wars nearly wiped out all dogs of this breed. But luckily, several Great Pyrenees dogs were brought to the USA before the world wars in Europe, so the breed was saved, and soon breeders started working on recovering its former glory.

Fun/Interesting Facts

  • The breed is called Pyrenean Mountain Dog in the U.K. and Europe, Le Chien de Montagne des Pyrenees in France, and Great Pyrenean in the USA.
  • The Great Pyrenees is named after the Pyrenees Mountains, which are a natural border between France and Spain.
  • It is believed that its ancestors appeared in the Pyrenees Mountains thousands of years ago and have been used for guarding sheep since then.
  • Many of the dogs of this breed have plumed tails ending with a curvy “shepherd’s crook.”
  • They were used for pulling carts with milk and delivering it to northern France and Belgium, so they are excellent at dog cart pulling and drafting.
  • The dogs of this breed are called “patou” in France. This means shepherd.
  • There are fossils from the Bronze Age of dogs very similar to today’s Great Pyrenees.
  • They are instinctively calm, nurturing, and gentle to the sheep and also to children and small or vulnerable animals.
  • These majestic dogs are not always wholly white. They can have markings in several different colors.
  • These dogs are nocturnal animals that were bred to watch the flock and protect it at night while the shepherds were sleeping. So, there are excellent alarms and deterrents for burglars at night too.
  • The size of this giant dog is similar to that of an average wolf.
  • In 1675, King Louis XIV declared the breed the Royal Dog of France.
  • Even Queen Victoria of England owned a Pyrenees Mountain Dog.
  • The first dog of this breed was brought to the USA by a French military officer, Marquis de Lafayette, who arrived to fight in the American Revolutionary War in 1824.
  • Several Great Pyrenees dogs helped revive the St. Bernard breed after most of the original dogs of this breed were killed by distemper and avalanches at the St. Bernard hospice in Switzerland.
  • Dogs of this giant breed were used for hauling artillery in WWII and for delivering supplies and munitions from France to Spain and back through the Pyrenees Mountains.

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