By: Christiane Sikora
Great Pyrenees are very gentle, loving and loyal dogs. They are unusually intelligent and will protect you and your family without regard for their own safety. Great Pyrenees love to snuggle with family members and will put up with just about anything from the members of their “flock”. Affection- physical and emotional- is very important. Pyr pups house train easily, but tend to be hard on furnishings. Pyrs want to be with their family and should be inside/outside dogs.
If you want a dog that will follow your every command, or if you want a “competition” obedience dog, or if you want a great off-lead companion, the Pyrenees is probably not for you.
However, if you appreciate an independent thinker with a personality of his/her own, you will be very happy with your Pyrenees Dog!
The Great Pyrenees are an ancient livestock guardian breed. They hail from the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain and were bred for the dangerous task of guarding flocks of sheep on steep mountain slopes from predators without human intervention. Literature and paintings show that they existed well over 2,000 years ago, although not under the same name. King Louis XIV elevated the Pyrenees to royal court dog, because of their beauty, elegance and majestic appearance.
Temperament and Personality
Unlike many other breeds, Pyrenees were bred to make their own decision independent of human input. They are very intelligent dogs, which can be interpreted as stubbornness. Pyrs will not always strive to please their owners or listen to your commands, as they may not agree with you on what is of importance. If your command is at war with your Pyr’s instinct, chances are that the Pyr’s instinct will win out. That is why it is imperative that Pyr owners are strong, yet patient, gentle and loving leaders. Obedience training and proper socialization is a must for the Great Pyrenees.
Pyrs appear regal and calm, and to many people, their firmly entrenched territorialism and strong protective instincts come as a surprise. Pyrs are not attack dogs and will not generally harm people, but due to their size and big, booming bark, they can be very intimidating. Responsible Pyr ownership requires assurance that the Pyrs protective instincts can be exercised in a responsible manner.
Pyrs are roamers by nature. They require secure fencing, at least 5’ tall, and must be kept on a leash at all times during walks outside the fenced area. Their independence, protective instincts and self confidence cause these dogs to seek out danger in order to keep threats from their home and family. Pyrs don’t worry about getting lost or hurt, they have no sense of vulnerability and will put their lives on the line to protect you. Their keen sense of hearing and smell allows them to sense potential predators long before you know they are around. In their effort to protect you, they can roam up to ten miles. No Pyr has 100% recall, especially when his instincts tell him he must protect you. I can promise, if you do not keep your Pyr fenced and on a leash, eventually he will be gone.
When outside in your yard, Pyrs will bark a lot, because barking to warn off undesirables is an important part of the Pyr’s duties. The typical Pyr bark is loud and booming and can disturb neighbors. It is very difficult, and with some Pyrs impossible, to train these dogs not to bark. I strongly advise against using a bark collar or debarking your dog. A Pyr will bark right through the pain of the collar, and debarking a Pyr is akin to amputating a limb, as the barking is vital to this breed. The only way to effectively stop your Pyr from barking is to call him/her into the house. Inside, adult Pyrs tend to be snuggly, affectionate couch potatoes. However, if you do not live in a neighborhood where some daytime barking is acceptable, you might not want to adopt a Pyr, or any member of the Livestock Guardian Breeds.
Pyrs tend to be aloof with people they do not know. Early and frequent socialization to other humans and pets is vital. Make sure that the humans you introduce your Pyr to know how to approach appropriately.
Great Pyrenees are very sensitive and suffer greatly from unkind treatment or rough words. Few breeds are as sensitive to their human’s moods and condition. When you need support, your Pyr will know and be close at hand to make you feel better. Pyrs make the best nurses and therapists!
Pyrs must have companionship and affection- they thrive on it and do very poorly without. A Pyr left alone for long periods of time will likely become destructive. Left outside alone for long periods of time, s/he will dig craters in your yard and/or find a way out of the fence most people would consider escape proof.
Among the Pyrenees, the females tend to be the alphas. Alpha traits may not be apparent in your dog until it turns 12 to 18 months old. That is when your adorable, easy-to-get-along female pup can become a veritable aggressive terror to other female dogs. Because of this, I advise adopters not to adopt a female Pyr if another alpha female is already present in the home, and we never adopt out two female pups together.
Despite their formidable size and bearing, Great Pyrenees are extremely sensitive, easily traumatized dogs. Never spank or beat a Great Pyrenees, and if you must shout loudly, reserve it for really dire transgressions. A firm voice usually suffices to signal your disapproval. Pyrs are able to learn a large number of human words and phrases. Use language repetitively to teach your Pyr what you need. Great Pyrenees respond well to rewards and praise.
Whenever desirable behavior is achieved, praise lavishly, and rewards with treats.
Obedience training, repetition and consistency are key to strong Pyr owner leadership. Patience is also vital in your partnership with your Pyr. Some trainers will tell you that Pyrs cannot be trained. That is incorrect. Pyrs can learn anything they need to. Great Pyrenees will always try to see what they can get away with. They will push that proverbial envelope- puppies even more so than adult dogs. But a loving Pyr- human bond, firm leadership and a reward based training method will soon create a partnership you cannot imagine living without!
A loving bond and mutual respect are vital in your relationship with your Pyr. The more love and respect develops, the better your Pyr will listen to you.
Don’t attempt to force your Pyr to give up those instinctive, century old behaviors like barking and roaming. Your efforts will not meet with success and you will, traumatize your dogs. You will also not be able to train the need for pack leadership out of an alpha female Pyr. Prepare yourself to provide mechanisms to accommodate these traits before you adopt your Pyr.
Great Pyrenees are breathtakingly beautiful dogs, and their coats require a lot of care. Pyrs shed year-round, so it’s a advisable to establish a weekly brushing ritual. The Pyrenees’ long guard hairs and thick undercoat are subject to matting and can then cause skin sores.
While it is acceptable to trim mats and tangles that may have become unmanageable, never shave a Pyr. The thick undercoat insulates your dog from extreme temperatures in summer and in winter, and once shaved, it rarely grows back properly.
Great Pyrenees have double dew claws on their hind legs. As a breed standard, these claws should not be removed, but need to be trimmed regularly. If not cared for, these curving nails might grow into the dog’s pad and cause a painful infection.
When planning a vacation, please do not kennel your Pyr in a conventional boarding facility. As guardians, Pyrs respond strongly to sensory input, and such facilities can easily over-stimulate your dog. I have known Pyrs to go “kennel crazy” from too many confusing noises and smells.
Ideally, you should plan to take your Pyr along on vacation. If you are unable to do that, hire a responsible, loving house/pet sitter and make sure your Pyr meets him/ her several times before your planned absence.
Nutritional Requirements/ Health
Pyrs are the longest lived among the giant breed dogs. In a loving, safe environment, their lifespan is documented to be between 11 and 14 years, I have known and heard of Pyrs living to 15 years of age.
Responsibly bred Pyrs have few inherent health problems. Bone cancer and bloat are the most common killers of this breed. Pyrs can also develop hip and spine problems later in life. Skin allergies from environmental and food allergens have also been recorded in this breed.
For their size, Pyrs eat surprisingly small amounts of food. They are low-energy dogs with a low metabolism and require similar amounts of food as a setter or collie. I feed my dogs high quality large-breed kibble. Free feeding is safe to do with most Pyrs, as they do not have a tendency to overeat and will regulate their weight well. This also reduces the danger of bloat.
Please remember that every dog is an individual. While I tried to emphasize the characteristics Pyrs have in common, you must realize that every Pyr is his/her very own person. My husband and I have fostered and worked with over 100 of these wonderful dogs and have never met two that were completely alike.
Great Pyrenees Rescue of Montana