As you all know, we are avid fans of the Great Pyrenees breed. Over time, we’ve rescued and placed many, and as each one passes through our door we realize over and over again why we adore them. Sure, everyone has their favorite breed, but for me, as much as I love all dogs, Pyrenees just hold a special place in my heart.
My love for the breed came after browsing through a “Life Magazine” special edition that covered the animals who’d graced their pages. As I flipped through it, ooohing and ahhhing at the utter cuteness, I came across a mountain of white fluff, better known as a Great Pyrenees. I decided I wanted one.
This is not uncommon, for people who see these dogs are immediately taken and mesmerized by their beauty, size and charm. Sadly, while these and other characteristics are wonderful and enchanting, they are also a downfall. Unfortunately, people purchase them and do not do the much needed research. As it goes with any breed, they are not for everyone.
Great Pyrenees are known for their ability to protect the flocks and are often used as Livestock Guardian Dogs. This work goes back thousands of years but is still used today. *Note, Great Pyrenees are not a “herding” breed and they do not herd the animals. That is reserved for breeds such as Australian Cattle Dogs, Border Collies, etc. Pyrenees, instead, provide protection from predators. You can often see a Pyrenees among the sheep or goats as you drive past farms, lying at their post or mingling with their flock.
There are also many that are strictly household pets, using their guardian skills and knowledge to take care of their families (aka: their flock). The wonderful thing about these dogs is that they are capable of being both a fearless guardian and a devoted pet who is gentle and kind. They have so much intelligence that they easily decipher when each “mode” is appropriate. This is a trait that makes them captivating and unlike many other breeds.
My first Pyrenees, Sheiba, taught me some hard lessons, such as not all dogs come when called; not all dogs love every other dog; not all dogs want to stay in your yard; not all dogs are happy to respond to your wishes; dogs can do some serious barking; some dogs never stop shedding, despite how much you brush; dogs can and will be bullheaded. Fortunately, I was as stubborn as Sheiba, so it worked out well. So well that I got a second Great Pyrenees…and then a third. It snowballed from there and leaked over into rescue.
When placing a Great Pyrenees, I always make a point to stress to Pyrenees “newbies” the many traits that are imperative to know prior to adopting one. I, undoubtedly, seem like a paranoid mother who goes overboard, exaggerates and is perhaps a little crazy. However, they are traits that are imperative to know about the breed.
The main characteristics of a Great Pyrenees that families need to be aware of are these:
Pyrenees ROAM, and it CANNOT be trained out of them, nor will they come when you call them while roaming. If the dog takes off, you can say “Come! Come’ere!” until you’re blue in the face without success, formal training or not. The entire family needs to be aware of this, anal about preventing it, and stress to everyone involved with them or meeting the dog at their home that they must be careful around doors, holding leashes, etc. This cannot be stressed enough. So, an owner needs to feel good about always having the dog on a leash or in a securely fenced yard, and never, ever, regardless of the circumstance, let the dog out free to walk the yard. *This is not a kiss of death!* There are thousands of Great Pyrenees parents who have no trouble at all. You just get into a habit and all goes well. Mind you, this is not an uncommon trait…Greyhounds, other hounds in general, many terriers, etc. all have this same desire. However, it’s workable and one not to be afraid of or intimidated by…you simply have to be diligent.
Pyrenees are huge barkers, mainly after nightfall. This goes back to the predators coming out at night and the need for the dog to announce that it was in protection mode (“I’m here, and if you come over here I’ll make you regret it!”). This is what the breed was meant to do, but it can cause problems if neighbors are close by or if you get annoyed easily by a dog barking. On the same note, that bark is a huge comfort when there is a question of safety, and you will find yourself saying “Yes! Keep up the barking! I love your bark! Good dog! Good dog!”
Great Pyrenees are bullheaded. They are independent and intelligent. This is imperative in their work as guardians because they must make important decisions in urgent situations. Because of this, naturally it’s a breed standard. As a result, they need an owner who is the same way…not in a dominating, harsh or hateful sense, but one that is willing to train, socialize, and work with them without being passive, without being weak minded, and without being unkind. A Pyrenees needs devotion, love and someone who will not deter (even when the Pyrenees thinks you should because it likes being your bedspread).
Gender aggression is not uncommon in the breed, so it’s important to have the opposite gender when you have a large dog with a Pyrenees. Smaller dogs are not a problem and a Pyr can do fine with either gender, for they are protective of the little critters. However, any large dog must be the opposite sex to avoid battles. Again, this is not an uncommon trait and found in many breeds.
They shed all year around, like there’s no tomorrow. Be prepared to do a lot of brushing and have grooming bills.
If a Great Pyrenees is not provided the attention and bonding they desire, they will develop behaviors such as excess barking, going over or under (even through) fences, and more.
They dig holes. Giant holes that hold their giant bodies.
If they feel you are in danger, they will protect you.
“Geesh!” you say…”Then why are you so in love with these dogs??”
The characteristics mentioned above are miniscule compared to what the breed has to offer in other aspects. These guys have a devotion and adoration for their families that touches you deeply. Great Pyrenees are full of heart, and family (aka: the flock) is important to them. The love they obtain is deep, genuine, and everlasting.
The gentle mannerisms of a Great Pyrenees are astounding. From taking a treat from your hand to allowing the affections of a child, to caring for a calf or responding to someone in a wheelchair, their mannerisms are soft, calm, agile and kind.
The wisdom of a Pyrenees is beyond comprehension. They have the ability to decipher, understand, act upon, and manage situations when you can’t even do so yourself. As discussed, they know when they need to be in charge and protective, and they understand when they need to be kind. They also know, more often than we do, when to be leery and when to trust. If your Great Pyrenees doesn’t like someone, pay attention.
One of the neatest things about this breed is that they are assertive but not aggressive. They take charge, protect if necessary, but they are not a dog that is going to attack unnecessarily.
Despite being a guardian breed, they are social. The want and need companionship and enjoy interacting with people…even working livestock guardians, despite the myth that they must hate everyone but their owner. It’s not uncommon for a show dog to also be a working dog.
They are FUNNY!!!
They have perfected the “stupid human” look (“Seriously? He thinks I’ll fall for that?” “Really? He thinks he’s funny? He’s annoying.”)
They are the emergency responders when you are down and out, making sure you know you’re safe, loved, and in good hands.
They have great smiles.
Sheiba, my previously mentioned Pyr, checked on baby napping every thirty minutes. She did this every time he slept during his stay with us.
My mother fell and two of my Great Pyrenees helped lift her up.
When I walked into my kitchen and found that my dog had passed, just as we prepared to visit the veterinarian for his exam, I cried out in pain. Four Pyrenees surrounded me and would not leave my side until I regained composure.
When one of our adopter’s was ill, her Pyrenees checked on her repeatedly.
Finn (our alumni, previously known as Sawyer Brown) protected an infant and others from an oncoming dog by standing over her buggy, stretching his body across the front of his people, and staring down the dog – no physical interaction was needed.
When someone knocked on my door at 2am my Pyrenees charged the door, deliberately hit it with strategy and precision, and scared off the individual.
Many livestock guardian Pyrenees will lie by sick animals to help nurse and protect them.
These are just a few examples, but undoubtedly Great Pyrenees parents have experienced other fantastic behaviors from their dogs. To sum it up, this royal breed has a distinction, a kindness and a strength that is difficult to match. Never will I be without a Great Pyrenees…and I can pretty much bet that others who love their Pyrenees will commit to the same statement.
So if you’re considering a Great Pyrenees make sure to research and consider all of these facts. If you find that you are drawn to the breed, please adopt one of the thousands in shelters or rescue. You will be glad you did!