The Great Pyrenees has a long tradition as a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).
They are a giant breed dog that is fiercely loyal to their family or herd. Their height is generally between 25-32 inches at the shoulder, weigh 85-115 pounds and have a lifespan of 10-12 years. They are known as the Big White Dog and have a presence about themselves of intelligence and thought.
From the AKC standard:
“The Great Pyrenees dog conveys the distinct impression of elegance and unsurpassed beauty combined with great overall size and majesty. He has a white or principally white coat that may contain markings of badger, gray, or varying shades of tan. He possesses a keen intelligence and a kindly, while regal, expression. Exhibiting a unique elegance of bearing and movement, his soundness and coordination show unmistakably the purpose for which he has been bred, the strenuous work of guarding the flocks in all kinds of weather on the steep mountain slopes of the Pyrenees.
Temperament: Character and temperament are of utmost importance. In nature, the Great Pyrenees is confident, gentle, and affectionate. While territorial and protective of his flock or family when necessary, his general demeanor is one of quiet composure, both patient and tolerant. He is strong willed, independent and somewhat reserved, yet attentive, fearless and loyal to his charges both human and animal.”"
A distinct characteristic of the breed is their beautiful white coat and double dewclaws (having 6 toes on their rear feet).
Coat: The Great Pyrenees is a solid white (can have badger markings), weather-resistant double-coated dog. The outer coat is long, coarse, and either straight or slightly wavy; the undercoat is dense, fine, soft and thick. There is a mane around the shoulders and neck (which is more apparent in male dogs), feathering on the tail and along the back of the legs. The coat sheds dirt and resists forming mats or tangles. The impression of very large size is in part an optical illusion due to their coat and massive amounts of hair.
All dogs should have regular annual vaccinations, annual or bi-yearly parasite checks (fecals), monthly Heartworm, Flea and Tick preventative. We love Heartgard Plus and Nexgard which are both Merial products that are available at your veterinarian!
A high quality food is also important. Many people say that they should eat a lot, but for their size and slow metabolism they are relatively low costs. In general, my Great Pyrenees eat about 4 cups a day-compared to my Great Dane that eats 12 cups a day.
They do require attention to their coats. In general, they do not mat too much. Usually around their rear ends and their feathers. I brush mine once a week unless they are heavily shedding. I pay close attention to their nails, especially their dewclaws.
DO NOT SHAVE YOUR GREAT PYRENEES! There is an insulating undercoat of fluff, with harsh guard hairs on the outside. In warm weather the undercoat is shed, leaving the protective outer coat. Their coat is there to protect them and gives them substance. I made this mistake my first year...
There are many different thoughts on training a successful LGD. With a little guidance your dog’s natural instinct is strong and they can be very successful. My advice:
- Treat them as a member of the herd and not a member of the family. Do not bring them inside, take them with you places (except the vet) or in general have them leave the herd. This will make a LGD failure.
- Socialize your animals to what they will be around. Some say to have minimum human contact. I strongly disagree. Mine are handled and given attention every day, especially as puppies. They are brushed, nails done and are very loving dogs, while being very bonded to my herd. They do come running when we come out, but so do my goats!
- Have them live with a few animals from the beginning. When bringing your dog home DO NOT have your puppy live in the house and then throw them out in the field. I find it takes about 10 months to a year for a puppy to be a helpful guardian. The puppy stage is very important and can be the ultimate success or failure of your LGD. This puppy stage can be tough when you do not have an older LGD to help them with the process, but it can be very successful. Be careful as the puppy grows because they can chase, bite or accidently harm your livestock.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the difference between a Livestock Guardian Dog vs. Herding Dogs?
A livestock guardian dog (LGD) is a type of pastoral dog bred for the purpose of protecting livestock from predators. Livestock guardian dogs stay with the group of animals they protect as a full-time member of the herd. Their ability to guard their herd is mainly instinctive, as the dog is bonded to the herd from an early age. Unlike the often smaller herding dogs that control the movement of the livestock, LGDs blend in with them, watching for intruders within the flock.
In the United States there are several different breeds of Livestock Guarding Dogs. These breeds include The Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, Akbash, Karakachan and Maremma. Each breed has a different personality and temperament, please do your research before purchasing!
Do they bark?
Yes! That is their job to bark! Great Pyrenees have a deep, impressive bark, which they tend to use freely, especially at night when they are most vigilant. Usually, they have a "sound an alarm" type of barking every so often. The kind of bark that just let’s all the potential predators know that they are out there, and on the job. Then there is the other bark…
If there is a threat (even if you do not see it) they continue to bark non-stop. This can be annoying and can be a problem (if you do not understand), in this case, I know there is an immediate threat in the area. There have been many nights that I have covered my head with my pillow because of the noise level. On those nights I know they are on guard and have heard coyotes close by…so I smile, cover my head and know they are doing their job!
Do I need a boy or a girl? How many do I need?
I have not found there to be a difference in the LGD between boys and girls. They both have the natural instinct and ability to do their job exceptionally well. I do like working my dogs in male/female pairs. They work as a team, play together and enjoy the company.
Great Pyrenees usually don't get along with dogs of the same sex as adults. It's the rule rather than the exception, it may not happen immediately, but we have found this to be the case. We have bought our Great Pyrenees in pairs, the first being male siblings, the second female siblings. Our plan was to have the two females together and the two males together. They get along well until about 10 months old…then the fighting begins. Serious fights that can cause damage between the dogs. Sibling rivalry does occur and you should seriously consider this when purchasing your dogs.
What about spaying and neutering?
I believe in spaying and neutering your animals, unless you plan on breeding. If you are breeding then it takes away time from them working while breeding or raising puppies. Giant breed dogs should be spayed or neutered after about a year old. Studies have proven that there is a relation to future health problems if spayed/neutered too early.
Do they make good family pets? Are they good with children?
In general my site is geared towards the Great Pyrenees as a livestock guardian dog (LDG), but Great Pyrenees can make exceptional family pets. The warning on this is that they are not a big Golden Retriever and do not do well left by themselves. So if you just want an outside dog that lives by itself or a big dog that will love everyone, you will have problems! They are wary by nature and will accept strangers if their owners are comfortable. They also bark and shed! By nature they are independent and intelligent. Often times, people mistake this intelligence with being stubborn or hard to train.
Be careful with puppies and young children, they sometimes forget they are big! As puppies, mine have a tendency to jump on the kids when the kids start running around and screaming.
Now onto the amazing parts of the breed!
They are affection and loving companions and find their family to be their “herd”. They protect their herd and will defend them at all costs. They regard their family's children as their own and exhibit a truly built-in sense of responsibility in watching over them. Pyrenees are patient and gentle with kids in their own family, but often don't take kindly to outside children engaging in rough play with “their” children.
Frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Great Pyrenees from becoming overly mistrustful or fearful of anything new or different. Proper socialization and attention is key to having an amazing family pet!
- Their intelligence and sense
- An excellent companion, family, or working dog
- Good with children
- Even temper and gentle disposition
- Confident, steady, and fearless
- An excellent guard dog, courageous and dependable
- Intelligent and reliable
- May have a tendency to bark excessively
- Sensitive by nature, a bit slow to mature
- Can be sensitive to heat
- Shed and possibly drool
- Can be strong-willed
- Suspicious of strangers
How do I find the right Breeder?
An ethical, reputable breeder is important!
- Visit the breeder's farm and ask to see at least one of the puppy's parents. Get an idea of what the future holds for your dog in terms of temperament and appearance.
- Are the dogs actually working dogs?
- Can I meet the parent’s? Can they show you proof of the dogs' physical health from a licensed veterinarian?
- Observe the premises. Dogs and puppies should be clean, well fed, lively and socialized. Look for signs of malnutrition such as protruding rib cages or illness such as runny nose/eyes, coughing, lethargy,diarrhea, fleas and skin sores.
- Pay attention to how the dogs and puppies interact with their breeder. Does the breeder appear to genuinely care for the puppies and their adult dogs?
- Breeders should be willing to answer any questions you have and should ask many of you as well. Breeders will want to make sure their puppies are going to good homes, with people who know what to expect and have made all the necessary preparations.