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» Breed Info

Introduction   | Characteristics  | Standard  | Grooming  | Feeding  | Training  | HealthFinding your Pyr

Early History

The Great Pyrenees is native to the Basque country in the Pyrenees mountains that border France and Spain. Known as Le Chien de Montagne des Pyrénées in its native France, the Great Pyrenees is known to be one of the oldest breeds of dog in the world. The first written reference to the Great Pyrenees is from 1407, where the historian of the Chateau of Lourdes wrote of the breed in use to guard the Chateau.

While similar in size and stature to the Mastiff family, the Great Pyrenees is actually descended from the ancient large, white livestock guardian dogs of the middle ages and therefore evolved parallel to most modern breeds of dogs as opposed to being descended from them. Because of this, the Great Pyrenees has more in common with a wolf, than that of a modern dog. Having no extant ancestor, the Great Pyrenees has remained virtually unchanged both physically and mentally for hundreds of years. This has allowed it to evolve naturally over centuries, which among other things, means that the breed has relatively few health problems, in comparison to modern dogs.

A Serious working dog

Without question, the Great Pyrenees is a hardy working animal, bred primarily as a livestock guardian for shepherds, their flocks and families. The dog's imposing size, strength, courage and resistance to the elements proved invaluable to shepherds, who learned to depend on the large white dogs for companionship as well as protection for their flock against predators of all kinds. Wild dogs, bears, wolves, coyotes, as well as many birds of prey and other predators have over the centuries learned to respect the big white dogs and give them a wide berth. Even humans, over the ages that threaten or endanger their flock have found themselves on the wrong side of a Great Pyrenees, which is not at all a desirable position to be in.

It's natural calm and placid temperament was a working requirement allowing them to roam freely among their flocks without alarming them. Upon sensing a threat to its flock or family however, the Pyrenees is 100% a fearless guardian dog, quite capable of convincing nearly any predator that dining on its flock was simply not an option. Its heavy, white double coat also proved to be a valuable asset, shielding the dog from rain, wind and snow as well as providing a formidable shield against the teeth of predators. The coats white color also allowed shepherds to distinguish between the guardians and predators at a distance.

Also known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog in much of Europe, it is a highly intelligent and independent breed. Completely capable of making independent decisions, it requires no human intervention while in the field, which was also a work requirement as the Great Pyrenees often protected hundreds, if not thousands of acres of open, rugged and often harsh and mountainous farmland, fending off any and all predators it encountered. The breed's effectiveness as a livestock guardian is completely instinctive, inherited from hundreds of years of selective breeding for this specific purpose. As such, as a livestock guardian, it generally requires little training beyond socializing the dog with its flock at an early age. The great Pyrenees working as a livestock guardian dog is completely independent, making it's own decisions and acting on them accordingly. The breed is also known for its natural ability to sense danger, with many a shepherd throughout time owing their lives to their big white companions.

Transition to show animal

The Great Pyrenees began to gain recognition in the 17th century, when Louis XIV made the breed the official French court dog, after becoming enchanted with their beauty. As well, both Queen Victoria as well as Queen Marie Antoinette fell in love with the breed and owned one. The first written reference to them in the Americas came in 1815, however it is widely believe that they were introduced to the new world in the mid 16th century.

In England, The Pyrenean Mountain Dog was first registered and shown in 1885, with a preservation club being formed in 1907 designed to help preserve and boost their dwindling numbers. Until this time, the Great Pyrenees had been known strictly as a working dog. It wasn't long however before its breath-taking beauty began captivating the show rings however. In 1911, the President of the French Republic awarded the French champion Porthos with the prize of being the most beautiful dog in all of France. Throughout the early 1900's, with the big white dog's numbers dwindling, several attempts were made to try and re-establish the breed. Several Great Pyrenees breed clubs were formed, including the Reunion des Amateurs de Chiens Pyreneens in 1920, a club which still exists to this day. In 1927, the club established the first breed standard for the Great Pyrenees, which has been used as the basis for all other standards to this day. The breed was re-introduced to America in 1931 by Mr. and Mrs. Francis Crane and were officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as a purebred race in 1932. Since that time, the breeds numbers have slowly increased, with more and more responsible breeders ensuring its survival.

And also loving companion

The increase in popularity in the latter end of the 20th century also saw a large increase in the amount of Great Pyrenees assuming the role of family companion, as opposed to their traditional livestock guardian roles. Of all the flock guarding breeds, the Great Pyrenees is by nature the best with people, offering a great tolerance and affection of people and children if properly socialized and trained. The exception to this, is the livestock protection animal that has not been socialized around people, but rather its flock which may take exception to unknown humans interfering with its flock.

The well socialized Great Pyrenees makes for a loving and loyal companion as well as a very effective watch dog. Naturally calm and well mannered, it is also usually quite tolerant of many other pets including cats and small dogs that it has been raised with and has a special love of children. Although very independent, it is also usually easily trained and they possess a very unique personality that Great Pyrenees owners worldwide have grown to love. Their calm nature also allows them to be trained for therapy work as well, such as hospitals and nursing homes. It should be stressed however, that a Pyr is not for everyone. There are many pros and cons and a number of challenges that are associated with its unique personality and characteristics. This web site is designed to offer you the information required to properly research the breed, which is critical to ensure that it is suited to your situation. For more information on Great Pyrenees ownership considerations, visit our Find your Pyr section

Next: Great Pyrenees Characteristics

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