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The Great Pyrenees, known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog outside of North America, is a large breed of dog used as a livestock guardian dog. It should not be confused with the Pyrenean Mastiff.
As late as 1874 the breed was not completely standardized in appearance, with two major subtypes recorded, the Western and the Eastern. They are related to several other large, white, European livestock guardian dogs (LGD), including the Maremma Sheepdog (Italy), the Kuvasz (Hungary), the Akbash (Turkey) and the Polish Tatra Sheepdog or Polski Owczarek Podhalański, and somewhat less closely to the Newfoundland and the St. Bernard.
According to the Great Pyrenees Club of America, the Great Pyrenees is naturally nocturnal and aggressive with any predators that may harm its flock. However, the breed can typically be trusted with small, young and helpless animals of any kind due to its natural guardian instinct.
The Great Pyrenees breed has experienced a dramatic falloff in the number of U.S. AKC breed registrations from 2000 to 2010. The breed was ranked at #45 in 2000 but by 2010 had dropped to #71. In 2013 the breed was ranked #69. Other large breeds in the same working group classification, the Newfoundland and the St. Bernard, have fared far better in maintaining their breed rankings, being ranked #44 and #45, respectively, in 2010.
Males grow to 110–130 pounds (50–59 kg) and 27–32 inches (69–81 cm), while females reach 90–115 pounds (41–52 kg) and 26–31 inches (66–79 cm). On average, their lifespan is 10 to 11 years.
The weather-resistant double coat consists of a long, flat, thick, outer coat of coarse hair, straight or slightly undulating, lying over a dense, fine, woolly undercoat. The coat is more profuse about the neck and shoulders, where it forms a ruff or mane, which is more pronounced in males so that it may fend off wolf attacks. The longer hair on the tail forms a plume. There is also feathering along the back of the front legs and along the back of the thighs, giving a “pantaloon” effect. The hair on the face and ears is both shorter and of finer texture.
The main coat color is white and can have varying shades of gray, red (rust), or tan around the face (including a full face mask) and ears and sometimes on the body and tail. As Great Pyrenees mature, their coats grow thicker and the longer-colored hair of the coat often fades.
Sometimes a little light tan or lemon will appear later in life around the ears and face. The breed being double-coated, the undercoat can also have color and the skin as well. The color of the nose and on the eye rims should be jet black. Grey or tan markings that remain lend the French name, “blaireau”, (badger) which is a similar grizzled mixture color seen in the European badger. More recently, any color is correctly termed “Badger” or “Blaireau”.
One singular characteristic of the Great Pyrenees is the unique double dewclaws on each hind leg.
In nature, the Great Pyrenees is confident, gentle (especially with children) and affectionate. While territorial and protective of its flock or family when necessary, its general demeanor is of composure and patience and loyalty. It is a strong-willed, independent and reserved breed. It is also attentive, quite fearless and loyal to its duties. The Great Pyrenees’ size makes it an imposing guardian. A dog of this breed will patrol its perimeter and may wander away if left off its leash in an unenclosed space. The Great Pyrenees protects its flock by barking and, being nocturnal, tends to bark at night unless trained against such behavior.
The Great Pyrenees can be slow to learn new commands, slow to obey and somewhat stubborn to train. For this reason, the breed is ranked #64 (out of 79 ranks covering 131 breeds) in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs. Despite this relative stubbornness, it is quite unusual for the Great Pyrenees to become aggressive or turn on its master. It is wary of strangers if the person is not allowed in the house, but will settle down if the owner of the dog seems comfortable with the stranger. This dog was originally bred to be a livestock guard dog and can still be found doing that job on farms and ranches.
When kept as a house pet, the Great Pyrenees’ coat needs brushing once or twice a week. The breed needs moderate exercise but tends to be somewhat lazy, especially in warm weather. They particularly enjoy cold weather and snow. Like similar breeds, some Great Pyrenees tend to drool, especially with exercise, heat or stress.
However, this is not on a Beethoven-like scale and generally, they are not droolers. Great Pyrenees need to have their nails clipped often to avoid damage. This breed also needs to have their teeth and ears cleaned regularly to prevent infection. Great Pyrenees have a double coat, and will shed their undercoat. They shed heavily in spring, but regular brushing will keep the shedding and the hair manageable.
The Great Pyrenees were bred centuries ago to work with shepherds and herding dogs in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain.
One of the first descriptions of the breed comes from Fray Miguel Agustín, “prior” of the Temple who lived between 1560 and 1630, published in 1617, a book which he called Libro de los secretos de la agricultura, casa de campo y pastoril. It gives the reasons why shepherds prefer white puppies, excluding those born with spots of dark color.
Relates the friar: “The wool cattle dogs should not must be so big or so heavy as those of the guard of the house, but strong and sturdy, lightweight and ready to combat and fight and for run, because they have to make saves and guard against wolves and hunt them down if those take a cattle… These should be white so that the shepherd can easily see when these run after the wolf and know them in the evening and the morning.”
From 1675 the breed was a favorite of the Grand Dauphin and other members of the French aristocracy.
In the mid-19th century, the breed was not homogenized. According to the article published on February 20, 1874, in the journal Acclimatization and written by the canine expert Kermadec, says:
There in the Pyrenees various types of large dogs, called Mountain Dogs, and among other, two very different varieties:
—One, We might designate with the name “Dog of the Western Pyrenees”, particularly widespread around Bagneres-de-Bigorre; have a thick snout, hanging lips, rounded ears, a little curly coat black and white, seems to be largely the strain of large dogs designated with the name Terra-Nova Dogs, widespread throughout France.
—The Second type is the “Dog of the Eastern Pyrenees” is large, very slender shape, pointed snout, pointy ears and falls, soft, silky and abundant coat, a complete white snow color. In some cases, there is a blackish band around the eyes, but often it is completely white… It was extended once in the Republic of Andorra and part of Spain, but in Andorra is completely extirpated. It might still exist in the mountains of Spain.
Mary Crane founded the Great Pyrenees breed in America in 1931, and together with her husband Francis began Basquaerie Great Pyrenees at their Needham, Massachusetts home. Her devotion and dedication to Great Pyrenees continued for more than fifty years.
In 1931 Basquaerie imported the first Great Pyrenees from France, for the purpose of establishing the breed in America. In 1933 the Great Pyrenees was formally recognized by the American Kennel Club as a pure-bred breed eligible to complete in all AKC competition, this due in large part to the efforts of the Cranes toward achieving this recognition. Basquaerie preserved the finest Great Pyrenees dogs and bloodlines in the world from the ravages and hostilities of WWII in Europe. They imported nearly 60 Great Pyrenees from France and Europe to the United States, representing more than 10 distinct bloodlines or kennels and a diverse population of Great Pyrenees.
Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Patou, Chien Des Pyrénées, Chien De Montagne Des Pyrénées, Montañés Del Pirineo, Gos De Muntanya Dels Pirineus
Guardian Dogs (UKC)
Male: 27-32 inches (69-81 cm)
Female: 25-29 inches (63-74 cm)
Male: from 100 pounds (45 kg)
Female: from 85 pounds (38 kg)
Average $300 – $600 USD
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