Great Pyrenees

Breed At A Glance

Classification
Working

Personality
Affectionate and protective of family members

Life Expectancy
10-12 years

Average Height
Males 27-32 inches; Females 25-29 inches

Average Weight
Males 90-125 lbs; Females 85-115 lbs

Coat Color
White, or varying shades of grey or tan

Coat Length/Texture
Long, coarse outer coat, with soft and thick undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Heavy once per year

Also known as Chien des Pyrénées, Chien de Montagne des Pyrenées, Montañés del Pirineo, Pyrenean Mountain Dog

General Temperament

The Great Pyrenees has an illustrious history as a dedicated defender of flock, family and home. A calm and noble breed, they are extremely loyal to their masters and very obedient. They are affectionate and lovable, but can also be very serious. Great Pyrenees love to bark and are naturally wary of strangers; this, coupled with their unending courage and imposing stature make them excellent guard dogs. This breed retains its excellence as a flock guardian, and is often used for this purpose on ranches and farms to this day.

Docile and gentle with their human families, the Great Pyrenees makes an excellent companion for children, particularly children they are raised with. As adults, they are not an overly playful or rambunctious breed, but nevertheless, their massive size can be potentially dangerous for small children. Socialization with other dogs is necessary to minimize any canine aggression, particularly for the males of this breed. Surprisingly, the Great Pyrenees usually gets along quite well with other household pets, especially cats.

Once trained, they are exceptionally obedient and eager to please, but initial training can be difficult. This dog must learn to love and trust you, but also must see you as the boss. Generally, a firm tone will work to discipline this dog, but an occasional gentle grab of the back of the neck may be necessary. Formal obedience training should start around 6 months of age, but leash training should begin as early as possible (if they are suddenly expected to be on a leash in adulthood when they have no prior training, they may be uncontrollable due to their powerful size).

With consistency from their owner (always taking the dog outdoors at the same times and through the same door, etc.), the Great Pyrenees is easily housetrained. Puppies of this breed love to chew, and it’s best to have plenty of rawhides and other chew toys available to avoid the development of any destructive habits, like gnawing on shoes or other household items.

This breed has a tendency to roam, so when outdoors, be sure to keep them in a securely fenced area unless they are on a leash. They are happiest in cool climates and in a home with a medium or large yard. Great Pyrenees are not recommended for apartment life. They do not need excessive amounts of exercise, but like all dogs, they need some amount of daily exercise (such as a brisk walk) to maintain good health.

Breed History

Remains dating back to 1800 BC have been found in Europe of a dog very similar to the Great Pyrenees, although it is likely that the dog originated in Asia or Siberia. This breed was well-suited as a guardian of the flock against various animal packs that roamed the Pyrenees mountains of Southern France and Northern Spain. It was also known to have been a favorite breed of French nobility for it’s guarding prowess. Due to the isolation of the mountainous pastures that they called home, these dogs developed a strong devotion to and understanding of their human masters.

The first Great Pyrenees were introduced to the United States in 1824, as a gift from General Lafayette to author J.S. Skinner. But by the end of the 19th century, the breed neared extinction due to the vanishing of predators in their native land, as well as irresponsible breeding and selling practices. Then, after the end of World War I, breeders in France strived to restore the Great Pyrenees to it’s former glory. The result was a new breed club, the Reunion des Amateurs de Chiens Pyreneans, which achieved a breed standard.

The Great Pyrenees was accepted into the American Kennel Club in 1933.

Body Structure and Composition

The Great Pyrenees is a relatively tall dog, but nevertheless is slightly longer than it is tall. The head is well-proportioned to the body, and the small ears are set at eye level and carried close to the head. The muzzle is equal in length to the skull, which itself is equal in height and width, all of which creates a square-looking headpiece. A well-muscled neck leads down to a level topline. The chest is broad, and the legs strongly boned and muscled in proportion to the dog’s massive frame. The Great Pyrenees long plumed tail is usually carried low, in line with the hocks, except when the dog is in action.

Medical Information

Due to responsible breeding over the years, the Great Pyrenees is generally a healthy breed, but is not completely immune to hereditary diseases. As with many large dogs, Hip Dysplasia can sometimes be a problem for the Great Pyrenees. This condition occurs when the head of the thigh bone deteriorates and no longer fits into the cup provided by the hip socket, causing lameness and arthritis-like symptoms. On rarer occasions, the Great Pyrenees can also suffer from Hypothyroidism, which causes an underactivity of the thyroid gland, resulting in decreased appetite or weight gain, hair loss, recurring skin infections, and lethargy. Responsible breeders will have their breeding stock certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) prior to producing a litter to help prevent the spread of these diseases.

Great Pyrenees can also be prone to a condition called “bloat,” also known as Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV). Excess gas trapped in the dog’s stomach causes “bloat,” and twisting of the stomach (volvulus or “torsion”) causes or is caused by said excess gas. GDV is an emergency condition requiring immediate veterinary treatment. Feeding the dog two to three small meals per day (as opposed to one large meal) and avoiding exercise immediately after eating may help prevent this condition.

It may seem like shaving the dog in the summer would help keep them cool, but in reality, this makes them extremely susceptible to sunburn. They will shed their undercoat entirely once per year, but may shed a little throughout the year. Regular brushing is required to keep their long fluffy coats from matting.

Anecdotal Information

The Great Pyrenees has been featured in many Japanese anime series, including Azumanga DaiohFull Metal Alchemist, and Ginga Densetsu Weed.

The design of the mascot for the 1992 Summer Olympics was based on a Great Pyrenees.

In England and continental Europe, this breed is referred to as the “Pyrenean Mountain Dog.”

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