General Great Pyrenees Characteristics
The Great Pyrenees Dog, or Pyrenean Mountain Dog as he is known in most of Europe and the United Kingdom, is arguably one of the beautiful breeds of dog in the world. Their principally white, large and muscular body structure defines the dog as a captivating and elegant breed. They are, however much more than a pretty face. In fact, it is only within the past 100 years that they have attracted serious attention in the show ring. Prior to that, they were selectively bred for centuries as a serious and hardy working dog. Indeed, the working dog, its coat dirty and matted many times looks much differently than the look of the dog we see in show rings.
The Great Pyrenees is a large breed dog, with a average height of 27"-32" at the shoulder for dogs and 25"-29" for bitches. Although it is not as common for very large Pyrenees as it was centuries ago, they have been known to grow as large as 36" or more. Overly large size dogs lead to increased health problems and shorter life span, so the size has been reduced somewhat over the centuries, which gives the Great Pyrenees an over-average life expectancy for a large breed, at 10-12 years. The breed standard is generally limited to 32" for dogs, although that is still exceeded in some lines. Adult weight of the Great Pyrenees tends to be 85-110lbs. for bitches and 100-140lbs. for dogs. Weight is relative to height, so a very large Pyr (32"+) can weigh in upwards of 160lbs+.
The Great Pyrenees possess a very calm and placid nature. This has allowed them to gently roam in and out of their flock, without raising alarm. As many forms of livestock are easily frightened and prone to stampede, this is a critical trait. The exception to this is if the dog perceives a threat to its flock or family. Under such conditions, the dog quickly changes gears and will aggressively investigate and deal with the threat if necessary without hesitation. The breed is highly intelligent and perceptive and also very independent. Bred for centuries to deal with predators without human intervention, the Great Pyrenees has strong instincts and will act upon them, sometimes even to the chagrin of its owner.
The Great Pyrenees is a very versatile breed, making it a great companion, watch dog or livestock guardian animal, provided it receives appropriate training and socialization. It is a dominant breed and as individual dominance varies greatly from dog to dog, typically, most accredited breeders will be able to identify early on which dogs will be more suitable as pets and which would be better suited as livestock guardians. Many times the more dominant puppy will be naturally attracted to livestock while the less dominant puppy will be more people oriented. The breeds' calm nature makes them easy to train and relaxing to walk as they typically will calmly walk beside you or slightly behind you as opposed to constantly pulling as many other breeds do. Their nature also allows them to be trained for therapy work as well, where many Great Pyrenees are trained to visit hospitals and nursing homes where they help to en-richen the lives of those they meet.
The Great Pyrenees possess a very keen sense of sight and smell and is constantly very aware of its surroundings. This tends to make the Great Pyrenees slightly aloof around strangers and out of the ordinary situations. A strange noise coming from a nearby bush for example may cause the Pyr to jump back several inches out of range. This is an instinctive action, as the Great Pyrenees were bred to be very observant and possess quick reflexes so as not to be caught unaware by a stalking predator.
The Great Pyrenees has a special love of small children and makes for an excellent companion and protector if property trained and socialized. Given its dominant nature, proper socialization is critical with the breed to ensure a well balanced canine citizen. Its calm nature allows it to interact well with children, however all interactions should be supervised at all times as the Pyrenees may sometimes misinterpret some forms of human social interactions that it does not understand, such as children rough-housing or play fighting.
The Great Pyrenees has a unique personality and its temperament towards people is very loving and affectionate in a very independent way. It usually has very little desire to run around and jump up on people, but rather will many times simply push their heads or bodies towards you to encourage a pet. They are very effective at soliciting attention from you at times using their bodies and paws to attract your attention. Very little is as effective at getting your attention than a size 13 Pyr paw on you. At other times, they are quite content to lay in your yard in a location where they can keep you in view.
The Great Pyrenees is also very adaptable to different climates. Although they prefer cooler climates, they can adapt to warmer ones, although extremely hot climates should be avoided given their heavy coats. On warm days, it is common for the Pyr to dig holes in order to lay in the cooler earth. On warmer days, the Pyr will become less active and will usually prefer to rest until it begins to cool down. With cooler days usually comes increased activity. Snowfall and cooler weather usually sees the Pyr becoming more playful and it is not uncommon for an older Great Pyrenees to bound around like a 6 month old puppy during the first snowfall of the year.
Great Pyrenees also make effective watch dogs and will loudly announce the presence of any visitors or unusual traffic. Although they will many times put on a loud show for visitors, it is unusual for a well trained Pyr to take a genuine aggressive action against the stranger aside from barking unless specifically provoked or challenged. Typically, once the visitor has entered your yard, the well socialized Pyr will cautiously approach, many times with tag wagging and may continue to bark until it sees you are aware of the visitors presence. Any unprovoked aggression towards humans should be strongly discouraged as it is considered a serious breed fault.
Intelligence & Training
The Great Pyrenees is a highly intelligent and very perceptive breed. It is capable of sensing even the most subtle mood change in both humans and animals. It is this trait, among many others that allowed the Pyr to excel as a livestock guardian dog, as they were required to sort threatening from non-threatening animals. It is easily trained, however the breeds strong independence may at times require extra training and proper socialization. Simply put, it is NOT the sit, stay, roll-over, fetch type of dog and will usually pass on such activities as in the Pyr's mind, it does not see the point in such tasks and sees it as a waste of energy. Most Great Pyrenees can be trained for most routine things, such as sit, stay, come as well as agility work and carting, however it is rare to see a Pyr that will respond instantly to its owners command, regardless of how well trained it is. If the owners desire and the Pyr's desire conflict, it may take a small re-enforcement, such as a gentle pull on the leash.
The Great Pyrenees is an elegant, well proportioned animal, that with its full winter coat, appears to be larger than it actually is. The breed varies in size from 27-32" for dogs and 25-29" for bitches, although some Great Pyrenees have been known to grow much larger, some as large as 36"+. Physically, it was bred for strength and endurance and for this reason, it will usually conserve its energy until it needs it. The breed is naturally nocturnal, preferring to sleep during the day and be active at night, patrolling the yard or property. The breed requires a moderate amount of exercise, which can usually be satisfied with a number of hours outside and an enjoyable walk. The Pyr has a heavy, primarily white double coat, that consists of a soft undercoat combined with a thicker outer coat. The double coat provides a waterproof barrier from wind, rain, snow, sun as well as also providing protection from the teeth of predators. The breed will shed the undercoat once a year in the spring, which will require some extra attention to ensure it is raked out to avoid mats. The breed coat also possesses dirt resistant qualities, allowing it to shed dirt from its coat very easily once dry, returning it to its usually white appearance. Great Pyrenees are sometimes, but rarely all-white, with most having some degree of grey, badger or beige. Coloration tends to be stronger during puppy-hood, gradually lightning during maturity. Once of the breeds trademarks are double spurs, or dew-claws on the back legs, which are complete with 2 extra toes. It also has a single set of dew-claws on the front legs. These claws do not come into contact with the ground and so require periodic trimming to avoid becoming ingrown.
Is a Great Pyrenees Right for You?
That depends. The Great Pyrenees is far from an ordinary dog. It is definitely not a sit-stay-roll-play dead over type of dog like the Jones' have across the street. It was bred for a specific purpose, and as such, along with ownership comes a number of unique responsibilities. Before making any decision, you will need to weight the pros and cons very carefully to ensure that a Great Pyrenees is a fit for your personality and lifestyle. Every year hundreds of Great Pyrenees are given up or abandoned because their owner didn't do the proper research before obtaining their dog. However if you have done all the proper research and are prepared to meet the challenges head on as well as providing the proper training and socialization, you will likely find that ownership is well worth it. Visit our Finding Your Pyr Section to find out more about the ins and outs of these magnificent animals and see if its a match for you.
Next: Great Pyrenees Breed Standard