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Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography
Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography
The Pyr Shep, as he’s known for short, is a medium-size dog who comes in two coat types. He has an outsize personality and energy level that may make him an excellent companion for a highly active person or family. His alert nature makes him a great watchdog, but it can also make him a nuisance barker if he isn’t properly trained.
During World War I, Pyr Sheps were taken from their mountains to aid in the war effort. They delivered messages, sought out wounded soldiers, and performed guard duty.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is the smallest of the French herding breeds, and as his name indicates he is native to the rugged French Pyrenees mountains. He comes in two looks: rough coat and smooth face. This is a small dog of 15 to 30 pounds with an outsize personality and energy level. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring a Pyrenean Shepherd.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is incredibly appealing for his small size, appearance and fierce devotion to his family, but he is by no means an appropriate choice for an inexperienced, uncommitted, or slothful dog owner. He is highly energetic, intelligent, and desirous of attention, a combination that is ripe for behavioral disasters if he isn’t given the activity, training, and interest that he demands.
You should always check with your vet before starting any strenuous exercise program with your dog. That said, without an outlet for his energy — at least an hour of exercise daily or participation in an active or mentally challenging activity such as agility, flyball, herding, obedience, rally, or tracking — the lively, mischievous Pyr Shep will create his own diversions in the form of nuisance barking, digging, and general destruction. If you can provide him with the exercise and attention he needs, he can potentially adapt to life in any home, including an apartment or condominium.
Naturally reserved, he needs a great deal of socialization. Unlike many breeds who benefit from a longer stay with their breeder, littermates and mother, the Pyr Shep can be acquired as early as 7 weeks and socialized, socialized, socialized, and then socialized some more. Even with that background, he is unlikely to be overly friendly to other people and dogs and will be downright suspicious of strangers, not unlike the French villagers who created him.
The Pyr Shep doesn’t reach full maturity until he’s approximately 3 years old. He quickly becomes attached to his family and can be difficult to rehome because it’s hard for him to make new attachments. Do not get a Pyr Shep unless you’re ready to make a commitment of 15 years or more.
Thanks to his herding background he is an alarmist by nature and makes an excellent watchdog. On the flip side, it’s essential to teach him when it’s okay to bark and when to stop. Be firm, fair and consistent, and use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards. The Pyr Shep tends to learn quickly and should be easy to train, but you must establish yourself as the one in charge if you want to have any hope of staying a step ahead of this quick-thinking dog. He will run your life if given half a chance.
When the Pyr Shep is raised with children, he can be a super playmate for them, matching their activity level every step of the way. When he’s not used to them, however, their quick, fast movements can make him nervous. And while he may love his family’s children, he will have little interest in interacting with neighbor children. Don’t forget that he is a herding breed and may have the tendency to chase or nip at children. This should never be permitted.
The Pyr Shep only gets a score of 3 (out of 5) for being cat-friendly, and an even lower score of 2 for dog-friendliness so exercise caution if you have a multi-pet household. However, he is more likely to get along with cats and other dogs if they are members of his family. He is naturally bossy and will likely try to take the top dog spot.
The Pyrenean Shepherd should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard where he can play, but he should live indoors with his family.
The rugged Pyrenees Mountains of France are the birthplace of this tough but cheerful little dog. He herded flocks there (and still does today), aided by his big brother the Great Pyrenees, who stood guard against predators. You might hear that he was the original dog of the Cro-Magnon people, but this is highly unlikely, or at least something that can never be known.
In the 19th century, a few Pyr Sheps traveled to America in the company of shepherds who found work herding flocks in the American West. They may well have played a role in the development of the Australian Shepherd.
During World War I, Pyr Sheps were taken from their mountains and meadows to aid in the war effort. They delivered messages, sought out wounded soldiers, and performed guard duty.
American dog lovers became interested in the breed in the 1970s and 1980s and imported dogs from France to begin their own breeding programs. The Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America was formed in 1987, and the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2009. The Pyr Shep ranks 162nd among the breeds registered by the AKC.
This is a highly active, highly intelligent dog. Those are attractive qualities, but they also mean that the Pyr Shep is a lot of work to live with. He needs loads of exercise to burn off all his energy, and he needs training and activities that will challenge his brain.
Because of his background as a herding dog in the mountains, the Pyr Shep has excellent endurance. If he's in good overall health, it’s unlikely that you will wear him out, so be prepared for long walks and strenuous hikes. Once you get the go-ahead for strenuous exercise from your vet, try pulling out your bicycle and attaching a device to it that will allow your dog to run alongside while you pedal. Take him to the dog park and allow plenty of time for off-leash running while you throw a flying disc or ball for him to chase (don't forget that he may not be friendly toward other dogs, so be watchful at the dog park). Train him for agility, flyball, rally, and tracking. And, of course, let him try his paw at herding.
It’s important to remember that the Pyr Shep is a herding breed. That means he’s always on guard, always suspicious of strangers or anything different. If you like a dog who is friendly toward everyone he meets and takes change in stride, the Pyr Shep is probably not for you. He tends to be a one-person or one-family dog. If he has been very well socialized, he can learn to greet other people with a semblance of friendliness, but he’s never going to be buddy-buddy with them. And he will always notice something new in his environment and bark to tell you of his disapproval.
Behind the Pyr Shep’s back, other pets call him BossyPants. He will accept the presence of other animals, but he definitely likes to be in charge. Don’t expect him to pal around with other dogs in the neighborhood or at the dog park.
With children, well, it depends. If the Pyr Shep is raised with them, he can love them because they are part of his family. Other people’s children, or children who come along after he’s grown, not so much. Early, frequent socialization with children is a must if you want this dog to get along with them, and even then he will be best with older children who understand how to behave around dogs.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 7 or 8 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six 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.
Invite people to your home to meet him, too. If you want him to be good around kids, borrow them from your friends and neighbors — more than once. A Pyr Shep will need a lot of exposure to them.
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 something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Pyr Shep, 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 a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are 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 her lines.
Some health problems have been seen in Pyrenean Shepherds. They include hip dysplasia, epilepsy, luxating patellas, a heart condition called patent ductus arteriosus, and an eye disease called progressive retinal atrophy.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for genetic defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
To protect the breed’s good health, the Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Pyr Sheps can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip and patella (knee) evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). PennHip and Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) certification of hips is also acceptable. A DNA sample must be banked with the OFA/CHIC DNA repository. Optional CHIC test results that can be submitted are OFA certification of heart health.
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. If a breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the other excuses irresponsible breeders have 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 and a puppy develops 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 Pyr Shep 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 Basics of Pyrenean Shepherd Grooming
The Pyr Shep sports two different looks: rough-faced and smooth-faced. The rough, as you can guess, has a furrier face and can have a long or semi-long coat that either lies flat or is slightly wavy. The smooth-face has a semi-long coat. The coat is harsh to the touch with little undercoat. It does not mat easily or shed much. The long coat may cord naturally, sort of a controlled matting process.
Ease of grooming depends on coat type. The smooth-faced and semi-long coat varieties need a good brushing a couple of times a month. Longhaired Pyr Sheps should be brushed at least weekly to prevent or remove mats from the coat. Some Pyr Sheps have coats that cord naturally. Your dog’s breeder can advise you on how to care for a corded coat.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed and don’t forget the double dewclaws on the hind legs. Keep the ears clean and dry. Good dental hygiene is also important, so brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall 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 good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes, as opposed to making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and 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 can provide for him. 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 she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Pyr Shep and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the PSCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to take back a dog at any time in his life if the buyer can’t keep him.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the PSCA and the American Kennel Club. 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 puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your 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 Pyr Shep 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, herding or sport 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 Pyr Shep might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. 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.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is a rare breed with a close-knit network of breeders and owners. It may be unlikely that you will find one in a typical shelter or through a rescue group, but not out of the question. Here are a few ideas on how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com can have you searching for a Pyr Shep 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 Pyr Sheps 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 Pyr Shep. 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 Pyr Sheps love all Pyr Sheps. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America can help you find a rescue dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Pyr Shep 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 Pyr Shep 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 pup. 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 Pyr Shep, 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, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Pyr Shep 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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