Breed Profile: Great Pyrenees

These dogs are centuries old and known for protecting livestock. They love to work and do best with an active person.

great-pyrenees
Great Pyrenees dogs are active and protective. By: wablair

Breed

Great Pyrenees

Group

Working

Physical Description

Also known as the Pyrenean mountain dog, the Great Pyrenees is a large dog weighing between 85 and 100 pounds or more with a height average of 25 to 32 inches tall.

The breed has a long, thick, weather-resistant coat in solid white or white with patches of tan, gray, reddish-brown or pale yellow. The almond-shaped eyes are dark brown, the lips and nose are black, the ears are V-shaped and the tail is feathered.

The average life expectancy of a Great Pyrenees is 12 years or longer.

Origin

Fossil deposits in Europe from the Bronze Age (1800–1000 BC) contain remains of the Great Pyrenees dogs.

The dogs were often seen as companions to French royals and noble men, and they worked on the slopes of the Pyrenees mountains guarding flocks. Serving as a protector against wild animals reinforced the breed’s devotion, intelligence and loyalty. The Great Pyrenees is also known for having a strong sense of smell and incredible sight.

Despite the evidence in Europe of the breed’s origin, many believe the breed came to the area from either Central Asia or Siberia. The first pair of Great Pyrenees dogs came to the United States in 1824 as a gift from General Lafayette to J.S. Skinner. The American Kennel Club added the breed in 1933.

Purpose

Originally livestock guards, Great Pyrenees dogs may still be used for guarding. They are also companion pets who might participate in avalanche rescue, sledding, conformation events, and protecting family and property.

Temperament

Great Pyrenees dogs are intelligent, fiercely loyal and courageous to the point of giving their own lives to protect family or property.

They are wary of strangers and other dogs and can be difficult to train because of their independent nature. They are used to being on the job and making decisions, and their behavior can be seen as stubbornness.

They are affectionate with family members and do well with children and non-canine pets with proper socialization, which is recommended to start during the puppy years (the first one to two years). Nonworking Great Pyrenees need a lot of socialization and exercise to curb destructive behavior. They are used to having work to do and will not do well with long periods of being alone or idle.

Apartment life is not recommended because this breed is relatively inactive indoors. They will need a yard or a serious daily commitment to exercise.

Caution must be used when outdoors; the breed will instinctively desire to know the boundaries of the territory to determine the area that needs protection. This can lead the dog to wander off in search of learning the perimeter of the area. Use a leash or exercise your pet in an enclosed area.

Great Pyrenees are also known to bark at night. Some may drool or slobber. Cool climates are preferred.

Often these dogs work in teams when protecting livestock. When a threat is perceived, one dog usually stays behind to protect the flock while the others investigate. You may notice this behavior in your Great Pyrenees, and especially if you have more than one. The breed will stand firm between the flock and the perceived threat until it leaves.

Though Great Pyrenees are not easily agreeable to other dogs, they work well with herding dogs to which they have been socialized.

The video below shows this in action:

Often called gentle giants, Great Pyrenees are similar to Newfoundlands in that they are happy to allow other animals, such as cats and goats, to climb over them, lie on them and share space with them without reaction (with the exception commonly being other dogs).

Any perceived threat to what the dogs consider their herd will be challenged, and a livestock guard dog cannot be chased away. They will stand at their perimeter as long as it takes for the threat to go away. They respond more aggressively to other animals more than humans, as seen in this video.

Exercise Needs

Great Pyrenees without tasks or a job to do will need daily walks and play to expel energy. Without proper exercise, the breed can become destructive.

Exercise should be on a leash or in a fenced or contained area. This breed is not recommended for apartment life unless the owner can commit to a consistent and frequent exercise routine.

Grooming Requirements

In addition to maintaining the dog’s teeth, ears and the toenails, you should brush this regular shedder a few times per week. The entire coat will blow (excessively shed) once per year, and more frequent brushing will be needed during this time. The coat does not mat unless caused by trapped debris, which is more frequent in working dogs.

Sunburn is common during the summer months if the coat is shaved. Bathing should be done as needed — but not too often as it can cause skin irritation.

Common Health Problems

The Great Pyrenees breed is healthy with only a few notable common health problems, although this may vary because no two dogs are exactly alike:

Is the Great Pyrenees the Right Dog for You?

There are several things to consider before choosing a Great Pyrenees as your next dog.

You will be adopting a working breed with a need for mental stimulation and exercise, so this isn’t a dog to nap all day and keep quiet. Although the breed is generally inactive indoors, these dogs need exercise regularly and are known to bark at night. Apartment living isn’t recommended unless you can commit to a daily, regular exercise regimen.

Other dogs are not recommended because this breed can be wary of them, but of course each dog is different. They do well with cats and children when properly socialized. Outdoor access will require a leash or enclosed area since this working dog is prone to wandering off to determine a perimeter.

Grooming should be a regular part of your routine to keep your dog healthy. Health problems are minimal but should be taken into consideration for prevention reasons. If you have the time to commit to the needs of a Great Pyrenees, it could be a great option for your next dog.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

Yes, even Great Pyrenees dogs can end up in shelters and rescues. Check our adoptable dog search and rescues to see if there is already one looking for a home.

If you have children and other pets, a younger dog is recommended so it can be raised in an environment with the other pets and children. If you contact a breeder, please be aware of the puppy mill red flags. Be prepared to ask questions and demand health records for the parents of the dog you are considering adopting. Also, be wary of cash transactions, registration claims and efforts to prevent you from viewing the puppy’s environment.

Additional Resources

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