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Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
This beautiful white dog has a heritage as a flock guardian, but these days he’s primarily a loving family companion. He’s big, smart, and strong-willed, so it takes a special person to be able to train him effectively.
Because of his striking looks, the Great Pyrenees is a popular canine actor in French films.
The Great Pyrenees was once known as the royal dog of France and, with his stunning white coat and imposing presence, is considered to be one of the most beautiful breeds. His heritage is that of a flock-guarding dog in the Pyrenees mountains of France and Spain. Rather than herding sheep or other livestock, it was his job to protect them from predators such as wolves. The job called for a large, powerful, brave, and wary dog. He worked independently, often on his own for days or weeks at a time, and is unaccustomed to taking a lot of orders.
These days, the Great Pyrenees is primarily a family companion, although some still find employment as livestock guardians. The Great Pyrenees has many good qualities, but he is not the easiest dog to live with. If you want a calm, protective Great Pyrenees at his best, be prepared to do a lot of homework to find him and to put in plenty of effort training and socializing once you bring him home.
The Great Pyrenees is a flock-guarding breed who is placid in the home and gentle with children. He has a watchful, protective nature and is more serious than many dogs. He is only moderately active. A couple of short or moderate leashed walks daily will satisfy his exercise needs. If you love the outdoors, the Pyr’s mountain heritage makes him a good hiking companion.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast! The Great Pyrenees requires a securely fenced yard that will prevent him from roaming and attempting to enlarge his territory. He is not a candidate for off-leash walks. While he thrives in cold weather, he is sensitive to heat. And he drools. Be ready to wipe his mouth after he drinks so he doesn’t drip.
This is a giant breed. That cute little white ball of fluff will grow up to weigh 85 to 115 pounds. Because they are guardian dogs, Great Pyrenees are suspicious as a rule. They will graciously admit anyone you invite into your home, but intruders or unexpected visitors will get a very different, much more intimidating reception. If none of that fazes you, a Great Pyrenees may be your dog of choice.
The Great Pyrenees originated as a flock-guarding dog in the Pyrenees Mountains of France. Working in partnership with the shepherd and the smaller Pyrenean Shepherd, he watched over flocks and protected them from predators such as wolves and bears.
Dogs such as the Great Pyrenees descend from ancient mastiff-type dogs. Their white coats allow them to blend in with the sheep they protect, the better to catch a predator by surprise. They wore heavy iron collars with spikes for protection.
Famed for their bravery, the dogs were drafted as guardians for chateaus. One of the earliest mentions of them was in 1407 by a historian named Bourdet, who wrote that they guarded the chateau at Lourdes, located in the Pyrenean region of southwest France. Later, King Louix XIV became a great admirer of the dogs and made them part of his household guard.
The first Great Pyrenees came to the United States in company with the young country’s great friend the Marquis de Lafayette, who was also a noted dog fancier. It wasn’t until more than a century later, though, that the dogs were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1933. Today the Great Pyrenees ranks 71st among the breeds registered by the AKC.
At his best, the attentive and fearless Great Pyrenees is confident, gentle, and affectionate toward his family. With children he is especially patient and tolerant.
His heritage as a flock guardian makes him territorial and protective. He is reserved with strangers and somewhat suspicious. Those aren’t characteristics that he gives up just because he is living as a family companion.
For those reasons, early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Pyr from becoming overly mistrustful or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Pyr puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Great Pyrenees by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, on visits to friends and neighbors, and for outings to local shops and businesses.
Like any dog, Pyr puppies are inveterate chewers, and because of their size can do more damage than puppies of other breeds. Don’t give them the run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity. Keep your Pyr puppy busy with training, play and socialization experiences. A bored Pyr is a destructive Pyr.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Pyr puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards, and be patient. When it comes to training, the Great Pyrenees likes to have his own way. His instinct is to think for himself. It takes patience and firmness to work with a dog who is strong-willed and independent. Obedience — especially if he thinks what you’re asking is stupid — does not come easily, but he will respond to kind, firm, consistent training. Don’t make him repeat the same action over and over. He’s smart and becomes bored easily, so keep training sessions short and interesting. When you have established a good working relationship with him, he is eminently loyal.
Pyrs will bark at anything that might be a threat. Teach them to be discriminating in their warnings or you will get complaints from the neighbors.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Great Pyrenees are guardian dogs, devoted to their people. Chaining a Great Pyrenees out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior. A Pyr should also have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, the Pyr should be with them.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Great Pyrenees, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who keeps puppies isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
In the Great Pyrenees, health problems can include hip dysplasia; heart problems such as tricuspid valve dysplasia; cancers such as osteosarcoma (bone cancer); eye problems such as persistent pupillary membranes, progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts; osteochondritis dissecans (an orthopedic problem), patellar luxation (kneecap dislocation) and bloat.
Not every Great Pyrenees will get all or even any of these conditions, but knowing about them beforehand will help you in your search for a breeder. At a minimum ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have hip and elbow scores of Excellent, Good, or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy. The Great Pyrenees Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Great Pyrenees to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA certification for hips and patellas. Additional certifications that are recommended but not required are OFA for elbows, shoulders, heart and thyroid; a BAER hearing clearance; and Canine Eye Registry Foundation certification for cataracts.
Breeders must agree to have all test results -- positive or negative -- published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease. But all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
The GPCA also recognizes breeders who achieve a certain level of screening. Recommended screenings are OFA hip, patella, elbow, OCD shoulder, cardiac, and thyroid; eye clearance; hearing clearance; and genetic clearances for Glanzmann's thrombasthenia and canine multifocal retinopathy. Gold awards go to owners whose dogs have undergone six of the recommended screenings, silver awards to those that have done three of the recommended screenings. Breeders and owners who have achieved gold or silver health award status for multiple dogs earn star awards.
Don't fall for a bad breeder's lies. If the breeder tells you tests aren't necessary because they've never had problems in her lines, the dogs have been "vet checked," or offers any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy can develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Great Pyrenees at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Great Pyrenees has a beautiful double coat of white or white with markings of gray, badger, reddish brown or any shade of tan. The coat sheds dirt and resists forming mats or tangles, but there is a lot of it. Expect to spend approximately 30 minutes weekly brushing it to remove dead hair and keep it clean and healthy. Pyrs do shed, so regular brushing will help reduce the number of white hairs floating around your house.
The rest is basic care. Clean the ears and trim the nails as needed, and bathe the Pyr when he’s dirty. Brush the teeth for overall good health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a quality breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many problems as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids.”
Reputable breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps were taken to avoid them. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Great Pyrenees and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Great Pyrenees Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the GPCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain hip clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will clear. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Great Pyrenees puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show), and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Great Pyrenees might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Great Pyrenees in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Pyrs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Great Pyrenees. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Pyrs love all Pyrs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Great Pyrenees Club of America’s Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Great Pyrenees rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Great Pyrenees home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Great Pyrenees, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Great Pyrenees to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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