Meet the Breed: The Great Pyrenees
The Pyrenees is a large, sturdy dog with a long double coat. The outer coat is long, thick, coarse, and can be flat or wavy. The undercoat is dense, soft, and wooly. There is a concentration of fur forming a mane which is more readily apparent in males. This is thought to be an adaptation for fending off wolf attacks. The body is slightly longer than it is high. The coat may be solid white, or mostly white with facial patterns of tan, varying shades of gray, or rust. Color patches sometimes extend to the body. The ears are set close to the head. The nose and eye rims should be jet black. Another distinctive characteristic are the double rear dewclaws.
The Great Pyrenees possibly originated in Asia Minor thousands of years ago, migrating with shepherds and domestic sheep, settling in the Pyrenees Mountains about 3000 BC. The Basque people are closely associated with this breed as they have partnered in caring for sheep in the mountainous regions for thousands of years. They would guard livestock from wolves and other predators but were equally protective of the family home, often stationing themselves near the front door. Eventually, the Great Pyrenees became popular by the mid 17th Century with the French nobility. The Pyrenees also became important in reviving the Saint Bernard breed, when they were nearly decimated with canine distemper, by being cross bred into the line. The Pyrenees themselves became endangered through the world wars, though European and US breeders have worked diligently over the last century to ensure the breed's success. Despite this, the AKC registrations have had significant declines in the last decade, which may be due to the fact that the breed is being used more as a working dog, rather than a show dog.
The Great Pyrenees is a gentle giant that is excellent with children, cats, and any other helpless being it decides to adopt as one of its charges. This loyalty is also expressed through protection so they may be wary of strangers. They are reportedly excellent judges of character. As sheep guards, they would fight off wolves and other predators, so the protective instinct is quite strong. They require regular exercise to be quiet and well-behaved home dwellers. Bred to be independent thinkers in the field, these intelligent dogs may not be quick to obey, so owners must be patient, calm, and confident for best results. May be prone roam to try to establish a territory.
Breed Club Links: Great Pyrenees Club of America
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Photo courtesy of Mike Baird.