The Great Pyrenees is a large, thickly coated, and immensely powerful working dog bred to deter sheep-stealing wolves and other predators on snowy mountaintops. Pyrs today are mellow companions and vigilant guardians of home and family.
- AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 67 of 192
- Height: 27-32 inches (male), 25-29 inches (female)
- Weight: 100 pounds & up (male), 85 pounds & up (female)
- Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
- Group: Working Group
About the Great Pyrenees
Frequently described as “majestic,” Pyrs are big, immensely strong mountain dogs standing as high as 32 inches at the shoulder and often tipping the scales at more than 100 pounds. These steadfast guardians usually exhibit a Zen-like calm, but they can quickly spring into action and move with grace and speed to meet a threat. The lush weatherproof coat is all white, or white with markings of beautiful shades of gray, tan, reddish-brown, or badger.
Pyrs were bred centuries ago to work with shepherds and herding dogs in the Pyrenees Mountains, the natural border between France and Spain.
The Pyr’s job was to watch the flock and deter predators, whether wolves, bears, or livestock rustlers. Their innate patience came in handy when sitting atop a freezing-cold mountain for days on end with nothing to do but look at sheep. Their courage when defending the flock is legendary.
Some owners note that Great Pyrenees seem to eat a relatively small amount for a dog of their size. “Of course, if another dog wants what’s in their bowl, they will snarf down the food like they hadn’t eaten in months,” says one breed devotee. A high-quality dry dog food that is low-protein and specially formulated for large breeds is a good idea. The breed is susceptible to bloat, or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), where the stomach distends and twists. The causes of bloat aren’t fully understood, but experts agree that multiple, small meals per day and preventing vigorous exercise around mealtimes may help reduce the chances of it happening.
For all their abundant fur, Pyrs don’t require a lot of grooming, as their coat is dirt- and tangle-resistant. They have a double coat, with a long outer coat and a soft undercoat. They will shed this undercoat with great enthusiasm—“leading to a snowstorm,” one owner says. She laughs, “They shed in the spring, after whelping, in honor of certain Druid festivals, and after you enter them in a show!” A thorough brushing with a pin brush or slicker brush at least once a week will help to reduce the shed hair that ends up all over the house. The Pyr’s nails should be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can cause the dog discomfort. The teeth should be brushed often, using a toothpaste designed for dogs.
Pyrs are not a highly active breed. The breed was developed to be a livestock guardian and has been used since ancient times to protect flocks from wolves, bears, and human foes. When working, they will patrol their territory but tend to conserve their energy for fending off whatever may threaten their flock. Moderate exercise such as walks with their owner will help keep them healthy and happy. The breed also exercises mind and body by participating in canine activities such as obedience trials and cart-pulling.
Pyrs were bred to be independent thinkers, to work without guidance watching and protecting their flock. Although they are intelligent, standard obedience training will be met with great indifference. They don’t see the point of all that sitting, heeling, and staying. They will let their boredom show by performing any task you deem important with extremely slow responses. Nonetheless, early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended to help give the Pyr a good start in becoming a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.
Ethical Pyr breeders have excelled in their commitment to health issues. The Great Pyrenees Club of America has stressed having all dogs tested for a variety of conditions that can affect the breed, including elbow and hip dysplasia, eye disorders, luxating patellas, and neurological and immune-mediated disorders. Some cancers occur in the breed, as well as bloat, a life-threatening condition where the stomach suddenly distends and sometimes twists. All Pyr owners should educate themselves to know the signs of bloat, and what to do should it happen.