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I have been the parent of a Great Pyrenees for almost all of the last 18 years. My first Great Pyrenees was a puppy I got by using all the money I got for Christmas when I was 16 years old. I named him Bear. Shortly after getting Bear, I got goats, and he guarded them against the coyotes and other predators that can be found in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
I fell in love with this breed for a lot of reasons that I will get into shortly. First, I want to introduce you to the history and main characteristics of this sweet breed of gentle giants.
Origin: Pyrenees Mountains on the border between France and Spain. This region is known as Basque country and we can thank these sheep raising mountain people for the breed.
The breed standard is 85 lbs-100 lbs for females and 100 lbs and up for males. Greater than a 120 lbs for a male is considered quite large. Far too many breeders breed for size and that has caused a lot of extremely large Great Pyrs out there. While they look majestic and impressive, breeding them up to such large sizes is cause for concern. As a dog that is listed as a giant breed, being too big can lead to a greater risk of bone and joint issues and exacerbate any genetic tendency they may have for hip dysplasia. Keep in mind that Great Pyr owners tend to very proud of their dogs and that can lead to some overestimating the weight of their beloved dog!
Height: The Pyrenees is a tall dog, coming in at 24 inches and up at the hip for females and 26 inches and up at the hip for males. This can vary some with larger dogs being 30 inches at the shoulder.
Color: A Pyr can be solid white or have patches of grey Badger markings, Tan, or Wolf Gray. While a solid black nose is the breed standard, some Pyrs have a browner nose or one with some slight pink to it.
One of the more unique characteristics is that they have double dew claws on the back. These should never be removed. Do not listen to anyone that tries to tell you that they will get them hung up on stuff. Removal can cause great pain and it is an unnecessary surgery.
Over the years I have learned that you need a really good fence for Pyrs. These are not a dog that is just going to stay laying around in the yard. An invisible fence is really not that effective. People can be very afraid of a large dog, so if your Pyr gets loose it can be a lot of trouble. Also, there is always a tendency to blame a large dog for trouble even if they are just defending themselves.
There is no question that Pyrs love to bark. If you are going to be a Pyr parent then you need to get used to some big woofs! This can be a big concern if you have neighbors close by. Pyrs can be taught to reduce their woofing some but do remember that this is a guard dog and they want to help protect their family and other pets and animals. You need to consider how much of an issue some extra barking is going to be in your area. Neighbors that live very close to Pyrs are not always the most understanding about the high level of barking, especially at night.
Cats and Small Animals
Pyrs love cats and small animals. It is amazing how much our dogs and cats love each other. If we get a kitten, the Pyrs look after it. When we got a kitten really young, our Ruby Pearl let him sleep in her bed and even let him nurse on her (not that she had anything to give). She actually had to wean that kitten but it was amazing how much tolerance and love she had for Felix.
When a little sheep is born these dogs cannot help smiling the biggest and goofiest grins. They just get so excited and happy! Our Ruby Pearl guarded the first baby sheep last year and kept everything away except the mother and her people!
The Pyr is loyal and affectionate. Their first duty is guarding family and home. One reason I choose them for our vineyard and home is that they know when they need to be on guard and when to be loving and affectionate. They can go from chasing off a coyote to loving on their people in no time. Some guard breeds are not like this.
When not guarding, they love nothing more than to flop out and nap or romp around. Our girls like to chase squirrels because our other Pyrs, Lan and Feist, taught them to do it.
Intelligence and Training
Some people like to say that the Great Pyrenees is not very smart but this is far from the truth. The thing about a Pyr is that they have very strong instincts and this tells them that they need to look out for you. If they don’t think a situation is ok they might not go along with it.
I have found that a lot of Pyrenees parents have trouble establishing dominance. No one wants to feel like they are being mean and overbearing with their dog but it is also important to let them know that you are in charge when they are younger if possible. If you have a dog this large you need to make sure that you take the time to train them properly or you can have a real handful.
It’s important to understand that Great Pyrenees over the years have not always had the food security that comes with a modern dog lifestyle. The Pyr often had to eat and sleep around other dogs and sheep. This meant defending their food as they ate. If your Pyr growls over food you need to find a way to take it away and firmly say “No!” when they growl. Make sure to give the food back soon. They need to learn that you are not out to get their food but that growling is not going to be tolerated. Puppies that have to be fed often should be fed so that your other dogs and pets are not trying to steal their food.
If you like having bigger dogs then you may already know that they do not have the life expectancy of small to mid-sized breeds. One reason I chose the Great Pyrenees is that they have the longest lifespan of the commonly recognized giant breeds (average weight over 90 lb). A cared for Great Pyrenees can be expected to live for 10-12 years. I personally have seen a female that lived to be 16!
Pyrs are usually very good mothers and they give birth to large litters. A healthy gang of 10 Pyrenees puppies is not at all uncommon. Breeders try to breed a solid white Pyr to one that has some markings. You can breed a solid white to a solid white but after a few generations, you may see a reduction in desirable pigmentation on the nose and belly. Pyrs have spots on their skin naturally and ideally, their noses should be solid black. Plenty of breeders are creating crosses between Great Pyrenees and other dogs. The Pyredoodle, for example, is a Great Pyrenees and Standard Poodle cross.
Rescue or a Puppy?
There are plenty of Great Pyrenees at rescue groups. Unfortunately, this is a breed that a lot of people get without thinking it through. Rescue dogs can be quite sweet but if you can get them for a trial period that may be best if you are not quite sure. Sometimes older dogs can come with habits that are not ok for some living environments. If a Pyr has never been an inside dog, for example, it may be harder to housebreak them. The reaction a Pyr has to some animals is another factor.
Puppies also come with a list of things to consider. It can take time to find one, they can cost more than a rescue or older dog, and you have to give them a lot of attention and care when they are very young. Training can take time and although rescues and older dogs can come with habits, there are plenty that is well-trained and ready to be a loving member of the family. Here are some rescue groups that are dedicated to rehoming dogs. These groups save a lot of great dogs and are definitely worth supporting if you love Great Pyrenees:
Carolina Great Pyrenees Rescue
Here is a list of Great Pyrenes rescue organizations by state
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