The Great Pyrenees is known by many names, including Pyrenean Mountain dog and Patou, which means shepherd in French. However, those that love the breed affectionately refer to them as Pyrs. For centuries they worked to protect flocks of sheep, but today they are better known as family dogs. Their striking good looks have made them a popular addition to Japanese anime series; perhaps the most well-known Pyr is Duke, who served four consecutive terms as the ceremonial Mayor of Cormorant Township, Minnesota.
Pyrs are a large breed, with males growing up to 32 inches and generally weighing 100 pounds or more. They have floppy ears and a white coat, which can come with markings of gray, tan or brown. This coat forms a thick ruff of mane around the neck and shoulders, which was useful while guarding sheep as it stopped wolves being able to get a good grip on their necks. The ruff is more pronounced on males of the breed.
Pyrs are an ancient breed, and their remains have been found in fossil deposits from the Bronze Age. They worked with shepherds in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France, protecting livestock from attack. Their elegance and character meant they could not remain in the mountains and by 1675 they had been named the Royal Dog of France. This increased the demand for the dogs, and many members of the French nobility owned one. However, they mostly remained a working dog and can still be found guarding sheep today.
Pyrs were often left alone in mountain valleys with just their flock for company, so have developed a strong, independent streak. This has not made them aloof, though. They are generally known as calm, well-mannered, and devoted to their family. The Pyrenees have an affectionate nature and their time spent as guardians have made them gentle with children and small animals. They try to protect their family if the need arises, and many remain wary of strangers, especially if they sense their owners are uncomfortable.
Like many large dogs, Pyrs are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, although breeders have been proactive in testing for these conditions. Other conditions seen in the breed are heart problems and eye problems such as cataracts and retinal atrophy. Bloat, also known as gastric torsion, is seen in the dogs. This condition occurs when a dog's stomach expands and in some cases, the stomach twists. Refraining from exercise around food time can help prevent the condition, and owners of Pyrs should make sure they know the symptoms so they can react if needed.
Unlike some other working breeds, the Great Pyrenees is not full of energy. Because they were bred to guard sheep rather than herding them, they are used to sitting patiently and conserving their energy in case they needed to defend their flock. As such, they do not need a lot of exercise. Walks with their owner once or twice a day are generally enough to keep them happy and healthy. They may also enjoy participating in activities such as obedience trials and cart-pulling.
As great Pyrs are a relatively laid back breed, they eat a relatively small amount for their size. For puppies, look for a food that is specifically formulated for large breed puppies. This helps them grow at a slower pace and can help prevent bone problems later in life. Adult dogs can eat food formulated for large breeds, but be sure to measure out their food. They may overeat if left to feed freely.
The great Pyrenees' fluffy coat is actually easier to groom than it looks. They did not have access to grooming when on the mountains and the coat is both dirt and tangle resistant. A brush once or twice a week is generally enough to keep them looking good. However, their soft undercoat does shed, or blow, once a year. During this time, owners may want to brush daily to help keep shedding under control.
Like many independent dog breeds, the Great Pyrenees requires patience to train properly. They are likely to get bored with regular obedience training, but early socialization can help them curb their guarding instincts and be more comfortable around strangers and other dogs. As they were bred to roam, Pyrs should be kept on a lead when on walks to ensure they do not wander off.
Pyrs are not well-suited to apartment living. They like having a territory to call their own, though their yard must be well-fenced as they can climb well and like to try to expand that territory. They were bred to work on snowy mountaintops and may have difficulty adjusting in hot weather. However, owners who enjoy mountain hiking may find their Pyr is the perfect companion.
Pyrs generally enjoy an orderly routine and owners who have a placid life will find the dogs to be wonderful companions. However, owners should be aware that Pyrs are barkers, which is a side-effect of their guarding past. Building a nightly routine can help curb this behavior. Like most dogs, they enjoy spending time with family but tend to be more serious than playful.
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