Dogs that were bred to protect livestock can seem odd. On the one hand, virtually every flock-guarding breed is extremely sweet, affectionate, and patient with small children. They’re true sweethearts that seemingly wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Then you learn that they were bred to fight bears and wolves!
26 – 33 inches
120 – 160 pounds
10 – 12 years
White, gray, tan, red, badger
Active families, those looking for a gentle yet intimidating guard dog
Calm, intelligent, vigilant, affectionate, trustworthy, hardworking, independent
So it goes with the Great Pyrenees, a giant French breed known for being a wonderful family dog. They’re big, lovable floofs, but they’re also menacing guard dogs when the situation calls for it.
If you’re considering bringing one of these massive pups home, you need to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. This guide will fill you in on everything!
Great Pyrenees Characteristics
Great Pyrenees Puppies
Great Pyrenees puppies are truly a sight to see. They are enormous balls of fluff, and even a young Pyrenees puppy is larger than many other full-grown dogs.
Even as puppies, though, Great Pyrenees often display the same stoic temperament that they’re known for once completely mature. They’ll happily wrestle and chase each other around, to be sure, but they’re not as playful as many other breeds.
This can be good news if you don’t want to have to deal with a little ball of energy, but if you want the “typical” puppy experience, this may not be the breed for you.
Remember, that tiny fuzzball is going to grow up into a giant fuzzball someday, and it’s going to take a ton of puppy chow to get them there. Factor that in when deciding whether to adopt one of these dogs.
Temperament & Intelligence of the Great Pyrenees
Centuries of specialization have made the Great Pyrenees a unique dog. Since they had to work while their masters slept, they didn’t have much oversight, meaning they developed strong independent streaks.
That independence can make them somewhat difficult to train, as they’re used to calling their own shots. However, it usually doesn’t manifest in misbehavior; these dogs are generally laidback and calm, even when poorly trained.
The flip side to this is that since they were often left to their own devices, they had to be quite intelligent to get the job done. These dogs can make decisions on their own and often prefer to operate that way.
This also means that if you win their respect, you can teach them to do just about anything. Training will always be a bit of a battle of wills, but with enough time and dedication, you can get a Great Pyrenees to follow your every command.
Also, these dogs aren’t your typical attention-seeking pooches. They’re quite happy being left to their own devices, and while they’ll gladly accept love and affection from you, they won’t necessarily seek it out either.
Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪
Great Pyrenees can make fantastic family pets, provided that you understand what you’re getting yourself into.
While they’ll happily play with and accept love from your kids, make no mistake: They view those kids as theirs, and any villain that tries to do them harm will see the flash of white fangs before meeting their maker.
Also, keep in mind that these dogs enjoy their alone time, so while they’re more than willing to play around with your children, there will come a point when the dog has had enough. It’s a good idea to teach your children how to recognize this moment and how to interact with dogs in general.
These are good dogs to have around small children, but older kids will love them as well. They’re relatively low-maintenance, making them great pups for those who want a dog to pet and snuggle with but who don’t necessarily want their pet becoming a full-time job.
These dogs will do best in a house with a big backyard or on farms where they can be given a job that approximates what they were bred to do. That said, they can do well in apartments, but you’ll need to give them a long walk every day.
Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets?
Given their reserved and laidback nature, Great Pyrenees generally do well with other animals, including dogs. Ideally, though, they’d be matched with another dog with a reserved personality, as smaller, high-energy dogs can get on their nerves. Still, they’d only turn to violence as a last resort.
However, there’s one key exception to this rule: It’s recommended that you not keep two sexually mature Great Pyrenees of the same sex together, as that can lead to aggressive competition. Having two of the same sex is fine as long as they’re both fixed, but otherwise, mix things up a bit.
These pooches often do well with other animals, such as cats. They have no desire to chase or otherwise harass other pets, and as long as the companion animal leaves the Great Pyrenees alone, there shouldn’t be any trouble.
However, keep in mind that these dogs were bred to look after flocks, so they may have a tendency to herd your cat. This shouldn’t be dangerous for the kitty, but it can be annoying, so you might want to try to minimize that behavior as much as possible.
Things to Know When Owning a Great Pyrenees
The Great Pyrenees is a wonderful breed to own, but they’re not without their challenges. Many of the things that are true about other breeds don’t hold with this one, and it may take trial and error for you to figure out the best way to relate to your new pup.
Here, we cover the unique issues that Great Pyrenees owners might face. Don’t be intimidated, though; While these dogs aren’t your typical pooch, they’re just as fun and rewarding as any other breed (and easier to own, in many cases).
Food & Diet Requirements 🦴
This is one area in which owning a Great Pyrenees can be a bit of a drag. These are big dogs and they eat a large amount. Expect your food costs to be much higher than they would be with most other breeds.
However, just because you’ll spend plenty on dog food doesn’t mean that you should try to cut corners in this department. Feeding your dog a high-quality food is a great way to keep them healthy, and that means both extending their lifespan and reducing the risk that they’ll suffer from debilitating health issues in their golden years.
Look for a kibble that’s high in protein and fat, with a good amount of fiber thrown in. Take the time to actually read the ingredients label: Does it have natural, healthy ingredients, or is it loaded with cheap fillers and additives like corn, wheat, soy, and artificial colors?
While these dogs need more food than your average pooch, that doesn’t mean you should give them unlimited kibble. Obesity is a massive problem with this breed, and it’s terrible for their health. Be strict about portion control, and don’t hesitate to dial the serving size back a bit if you notice them starting to put on a few extra pounds.
Don’t go overboard with the snacks and table scraps either. These dogs are experts at extorting treats, and you may be tempted to bribe them into good behavior, especially while training. A few bites here and there are fine, but don’t give them a steady diet of junk.
Most working dogs are absolutely tireless, and as a result, they need seemingly endless amounts of exercise. While the Great Pyrenees is most certainly a working breed, they don’t require constant physical stimulation to be happy.
These dogs were bred to sit and watch for trouble, while making the occasional lap around the flock just to be sure. However, when a threat like a bear or wolf would appear, they would have to spring into action immediately. As a result, they can go from 0 to 60 in a heartbeat.
While they might be happy to just lay around all day, that’s not necessarily ideal for them. They still need to get up and move, if for no other reason than to keep the weight off.
Daily walks are a good idea, and they’ll always enjoy running around the backyard or the local park. Keep in mind, though, that these dogs were originally developed in cold weather climates, so you don’t want to push them too hard if it’s hot outside.
Mental stimulation is important as well, so investing in puzzle toys or just spending time working on obedience training is ideal.
Training a Great Pyrenees can be a difficult proposition. These dogs are quite stubborn and independent, and while they’re not willfully disobedient per se, that might not make much of a difference in the middle of a training session.
It’s not that they don’t want to follow your instructions; it’s just that they’ve had centuries of breeding that taught them to think for themselves. You’ll have to convince them that your way is better before they start to follow you.
This means plenty of patient work and positive reinforcement. Don’t try being stern or using harsh discipline with them, as that will only push them further away from you. The idea is to earn their trust and respect, not bully them into submission.
Their natural intelligence also means that you can’t just subject them to the same-old, same-old training techniques every time, or else they’ll get bored and start to tune you out. Try to mix in variety to keep things interesting.
If you’re struggling to get results from training your Great Pyrenees, don’t hesitate to consult a professional. While these dogs aren’t prone to bouts of misbehavior, it’s still smart to train them as thoroughly as you can.
The Great Pyrenees was bred to work at high altitudes, on the sides of snow-covered mountains. That’s a fancy way of saying that they have a large amount of fur for you to deal with.
You’ll need to spend about 30 minutes a week brushing them to keep their shedding under control. The good news is that their coats are self-cleaning and mat-resistant, so even if you miss a few weeks, your dog’s appearance shouldn’t suffer too much.
Like most cold-weather breeds, they have a double coat. The exterior layer is coarse and thick, but underneath, you’ll find an incredibly soft undercoat. Both coats are capable of covering your entire house with fur, however.
They shouldn’t need to be bathed that often; saving it for when they become visibly dirty is fine. However, if they do get wet, you need to take care to dry out the insides of their ears to prevent infection.
Beyond that, it’s mostly a matter of trimming their nails as necessary and brushing their teeth regularly.
Health and Conditions 🏥
As a general rule, larger dogs don’t live as long and they suffer more health issues than smaller dogs. That seems to be true for the Great Pyrenees too, as these dogs are prone to a variety of health issues.
There are certain things that you can do to mitigate these problems. Feeding them a healthy diet and keeping their weight under control is massively important, as is taking them in for regular checkups.
Don’t neglect their dental health either. Periodontal disease may seem like a trivial thing, but infections that start in the mouth can quickly spread to the rest of the body, where they may spiral out of control.
This list isn’t comprehensive, and there are no guarantees that your Great Pyrenees will suffer from any of the afflictions listed here. There are also other issues that aren’t listed that can easily affect Great Pyrenees, which is why it’s essential to have your vet inspect your dog on a semiannual basis.
You should also be aware that these dogs are notorious for having an extremely high tolerance for pain. As a result, they may not be as demonstrative when they’re hurting as other breeds are; this is another reason not to skip regular checkups, as well as to inspect your dog thoroughly while grooming them.
Male vs. Female
Males tend to be a bit larger than females, but they’re still massive dogs, so don’t expect the difference to be too drastic.
Females tend to mature more quickly than males, both physically and emotionally, and they tend to be much stronger-willed and more independent. Males can be clingier, although that’s a relative term with the Great Pyrenees.
Many of these issues can be dampened by having your dog spayed or neutered while they’re still young.
3 Little-Known Facts About the Great Pyrenees
1. This Is One of the Oldest Breeds in Existence
Great Pyrenees have been guarding flocks on behalf of humans for quite some time. Fossil records indicate that the breed has been around since at least 1,800 B.C.E., but it’s believed that they’ve existed even longer than that, possibly since at least 3,000 B.C.E.
That number represents the breed as we know it, however. Their forebears were most likely white mountain dogs that were similar in build and appearance, and those dogs possibly existed as long as 11,000 years ago.
2. They’re True Night Owls
This breed is actually nocturnal by nature because they were bred to protect flocks at night, while their human masters slept. Many of the animals that preyed on their flocks were more active at night too, so the dogs had to learn to stay up late.
This can be good and bad for modern-day owners. If you’re worried about evildoers breaking in under the cover of darkness, then your Great Pyrenees will most likely be awake to meet them head-on.
Of course, if there aren’t any bad guys around, having a dog that’s frequently sounding the alarm at midnight can get old fast.
3. They Went From the Poorhouse to the Palace
For most of their existence, the Great Pyrenees was considered a peasant’s dog because they were primarily kept by poor mountain shepherds and herdsmen. For these people, their flocks were their livelihood, so the Great Pyrenees was essential to their survival.
As these dogs developed a reputation for being extremely brave and useful, though, more affluent pet owners began to take notice. In 1675, King Louis XIV made them the Royal Dog of France, and in the 19th century, Queen Victoria kept at least one of these big pups as a pet.
Great Pyrenees are wonderful dogs. They’re an ancient breed, and centuries of loyal service have made them reliable yet independent, affectionate but not overbearing, and welcoming when the time calls for it and intimidating when it doesn’t.
Owning one of these dogs may not give you the “typical” dog-owning experience, but that’s generally a good thing. They’re low maintenance and laidback, so you don’t have to deal with a huge pooch destroying your house on the regular. Nevertheless, they welcome a good cuddle as much as any other dog.
If you’re looking for a guard dog that you can trust around your kids, the Great Pyrenees can’t be beat. Just don’t expect them to blindly follow your every command.
- Related article: Pyrenean Mastiff
Featured Image Credit: Paolo Seimandi, Shutterstock