Is A Pyr For Me?

Interested in adopting a Great Pyrenees? Then you have already heard how marvelous they are....but they do have their shortcomings. Great Pyrenees have earned a reputation of being "willful and stubborn" animals. Many people say that this is not a good breed for first-time dog owners. However, if you are aware of, and accept, the negative breed traits, we promise that the positive traits will make Pyrenean ownership more than worthwhile. Are you up for the challenge? Please continue along as we investigate just how Great Pyrenees earned this reputation...

The Great Pyrenees As a Breed

The Great Pyrenees dog conveys the distinct impression of elegance and unsurpassed beauty combined with great overall size and majesty; possessing a keen intelligence and a kindly, while regal, expression. Exhibiting a unique elegance of bearing and movement, the Great Pyrenees soundness and coordination show unmistakably the purpose for which they were bred, the strenuous work of guarding the flocks in all kinds of weather on the steep mountain slopes of the Pyrenees.

In addition to their original age-old position in the scheme of pastoral life as protector of the shepherd and his flock, the Great Pyrenees has been used for centuries as a guard and watchdog. These animals appear so regal and calm that their very strong protective responses may come as a surprise. Pyrs are not “attack” dogs, but can be very intimidating to the surprised visitor… Firmly entrenched territorial instincts are the source of their protective behavior. It is an owner’s obligation to maintain a Great Pyrenees so that his guarding instincts can be exercised in a responsible way. The Great Pyrenees is a loyal guard dog that demonstrates a possessive attitude towards family, property, and livestock. The Great Pyrenees requires an owner who can be a strong, positive leader who consistently requires civilized behavior. Thus, it is necessary to SOCIALIZE the Great Pyrenees dog. Only a well-socialized and loved dog can become a good, useful watchdog.

Pyrs are very independent, self-confident, “what, me worry?” types. They would rather see what’s on the other side of that hill than worry about getting lost. If you don’t keep a Great Pyrenees on a leash or in a properly fenced yard or kennel, sooner or later they will exercise their powerful instinct to establish and patrol a large territory and will run off, we promise you that. So you have 200 acres? The size of your acreage is not a natural barrier or deterrent. And they certainly do not look both ways when crossing streets either! No matter how expert your dog-training skills, you will not be able to “teach” a Pyr not to patrol a large territory, any more than a Retriever can be trained not to retrieve, or a Border Collie not to herd. Great Pyrenees are a guard dog by instinct, not by training! The world is a Pyr's to guard; thus, they should be kept on lead or in a securely fenced area at all times, not only for their safety and protection, but so that the dog does not become a liability.


'George' playing in the snow
 

Great Pyrenees are very intelligent. This is often interpreted as severe stubbornness. Pyrs are accustom to working on their own, as they were bred to be left alone with the sheep up in the mountain valleys. Thus, unlike many other breeds, they do not always strive to please their owners. Things you consider important may not be the same things your Pyrenees considers important! Obedience training is a must, as is extreme patience. And don’t let some instructor tell you they can’t be trained; Great Pyrenees can do it, but they need to be convinced that it is in their own best interests to do what you ask.  “Because I said so” doesn’t cut it. If you want a dog that will follow your every command, or if you want a “competition” obedience dog, or if you want a great off-lead companion, the Pyrenees is probably not for you.

Great Pyrenees like to see just how much they can get away with, and then try to take it a few steps further. Often an adult dog is a better choice for some people, since puppies of any breed can push you to your limits, and a Great Pyrenees puppy will take it even further!

Because of their natural instinct toward protection, Great Pyrenees can develop an excessive barking problem. Your neighbors might find this behavior distasteful. The continuous bark quite a few Pyrenean love to do is what can make them nearly impossible to keep as pets in urban or semi Rural areas. 

Great Pyrenees shed non-stop year-round, making a weekly brushing a ritual. You will probably never again wear black. There are white hairs in Pyr homes and on Pyr people. And you will need a new high-powered vacuum cleaner...dog hair everywhere!

This is a pile of hair brushed out of Gus, a malnourished and neglected rescue dog. Your average well-cared-for Pyr would not shed to this degree.

Caring for a Great Pyrenees is a labor of love.  Great Pyrenees REQUIRE affection, kindness and human companionship. A lonesome Pyr is a bored dog, and a bored dog can become destructive. Left outside unsupervised for long periods of time, a lonely Pyr will dig under the fence, unravel the fence, jump or climb over the fence, undo any childproof locks, open the gate, and surely bark endlessly.

Great Pyrenees are extreme introverts and suffer inwardly from any unkind words or act, and yet no dog can be more sensitive or sympathetic to human moods. Pyrs comfort their owners in times of sadness, with gentle understanding, and are always on hand when support is needed. One might ask no more reliable or sympathetic companion than the Great Pyrenees, and surely no more beautiful dog may be found. 

When a Pyrenees focuses on the affairs of their family, their powers of deduction are uncanny. Let something out of the ordinary happen, such as packing a suitcase, and a Pyr becomes all eyes and ears. A Pyrenees reads your dress and mannerisms as you read the evening paper — and for much the same reason: to find out what’s going to happen next. The difference is, the Pyrenees is usually right, and you aren’t!

Great Pyrenees generally get along well with other dogs and household pets. A Pyrenees would much prefer to ignore the harassment of a smaller dog and will usually fight only as a last resort. However, two mature Pyrenees of the same sex often do not get along well together as housepets. 

Certainly no other breed is more ideally suited for the role of child's companion and protector than is the Great Pyrenees. They regard their family's children as their own (or their "flock") and exhibit a truly built-in sense of responsibility in watching over them. Although Great Pyrenees are protective of their families, the breed does not recognize children as their "masters." In the company of well-behaved children, the Pyrenees seems sublimely happy, whether enjoying a romp, a tussle, a game of tag, pulling some kind of conveyance, or merely doing nothing but listening to their chatter. A loving home, especially one with small children, is "Pyrenees heaven!" As always, the relationship between children and dogs must be carefully supervised and monitored by adults. (If you have children, please read: Kids and Dogs — Safety First.)

The Great Pyrenees dog requires standard care for coat, eyes, ears, pads and nails. Pyrs should receive a good brushing at least once a week. Nails, including those on the double dewclaws, should be routinely trimmed. A professional grooming is recommended once every three to four months. A Great Pyrenees should not be shaved, unless a medical reason exists for doing so. The skin underneath their coat is pink and susceptible to sun-burn and lesions (when the protective coat is missing). Great Pyrenees tend to have little "doggy" odor. As a general rule, Pyrs will only drool when they are eating, begging, panting excessively, and/or drinking water. Although uncommon in the breed, Pyrs with a poor bite structure can drool more.

Pyrenees do not require a bed or blanket, since they carry their own with them. Pyrs will nap where they can keep track of the entire household — a spot in the home where they can monitor all exits and, while feigning sleep, know exactly what is transpiring in all corners. Great Pyrenees have a universal habit of lying against doors which open inward against them, but never lie against doors which open outward away from them. Nobody surprises a Pyr!

The food requirements of the Great Pyrenees are a constant source of wonder to the novice in the breed. Due to a calm nature and a low metabolism, the breed requires, when mature, about the same amount of food as a Setter or a Collie, and far less than many smaller more active breeds. 

As a breed, Pyrs are remarkably healthy and long-lived. All dogs should be kept fit and trim to elimin- ate unnecessary health problems. Great Pyrenees have few major genetic problems and usually live to be 10-12 years old in a normal, safe environment. By natural-born instinct, Great Pyrenees guard their home and family with devotion and wisdom, and it is in this environment they will thrive, safe and secure in the feeling they are a beloved family member.

Obedience Training with Your Pyr

Selecting the correct obedience class is important, especially for the beginner. Does the trainer seem helpful and interested in your dog? Has the instructor worked with a wide variety of breeds in the past, including giants? Be aware that there is a wide range of approaches to obedience; some like to use only praise and reinforcement, while others advocate very strong physical correction in the training process. Punishment and fear are not teaching tools. Schutzhund training is not encouraged nor recommended for this breed.

The best instructors emphasize positive reinforcement and recognize each dog is an individual. A trainer that insists that your Pyr will respond exactly like a Golden Retriever is setting you up for frustration. To ensure an instructor's training methods are consistent with your own expectations, we strongly encourage you to audit a few instructional lessons given by said instructor before employing them for obedience instruction. Look for happy students, friendly staff, positive methods, and articulate instruction. Be sure to ask personnel for their educational backgrounds that would allow them to teach people and train dogs professionally, including national recognition for work in the field. We urge you to select your training instructor/school carefully so you and your dog do not become victims of inept or overly harsh instruction. Training should not be something you do to your dog. Training should be something you do with your dog.

Great Pyrenees are lethargic dogs and they execute commands very slowly. You must be patient but firm. They may growl in defiance of your commands. You must never allow a Great Pyrenees to bully you.

These are very strong and stubborn dogs. They require a firm hand when training. Come When Called and Down are the two hardest commands for the Great Pyrenees to learn because of their stubbornness. More often than not, you will be required to physically retrieve your Pyrenees from the yard and lead them indoors. This breed needs to be motivated in training. Use a lot of praise, and have plenty of hot dog morsels on hand! Motivate and reward sensibly.

Heel will be a problem, due to the breed's size and strength. Sit is a difficult command for any giant breed and will be performed slowly and with some difficulty. This must not be mistaken for stubbornness. This breed works slowly, so work at a more leisurely pace and be firm.

Pyr owners need to keep in mind the traditional role that Pyrenees were bred to fulfill — that of flock guardian. Pyrenees roamed the mountains with their flocks, and had to be alert to danger. Intelligence, independence, and physical toughness were prized. Flock guardians also needed to be still most of the time (so as not to spook the sheep), while being able to explode into quick action in defense of their charges. While each dog is an individual, these common breed traits have implications for trainers:

Intelligence — Pyrs are quick learners, but they bore easily. Once the basics of an exercise are learned, the average Pyr will become turned off by repetition. Vary your lessons and avoid "drilling" or pattern training. Throw in new lessons to pique your dog's interest. Keep lessons short — a few minutes once or twice a day. If one training method is not working, do something different! If you are not having fun, your dog is not having fun! Make a promise to yourself and your dog that you will not lose YOUR attitude! Take the extreme emotion out of training. Work on controlling any negative body language or harshness in your voice, and be fair.

Stillness — Stand-stay, sit-stay, and down-stay (providing you can get a 'down' out of your Pyr!) are generally easy to teach because Great Pyrenees are calm by nature. However, keep in mind sheep guardians tend to move at a leisurely pace. (The Shepherds and Goldens in your obedience class may well drop to a 'sit' in 2 seconds, while your Pyr is still positioning its body to do so...) They can be very quick and agile when they want to be, but they often don't see the point. This can translate into lagging when heeling, and very slow recalls. Inject as much fun as possible into your training.

Independence and alertness — Pyrs are often very sensitive to new environments. They may choose to ignore you as they focus on an unusual sight or sound. Expose your Pyr to lots of different situations in practice (known as proofing).

Physical toughness — No one technique or method is right for every dog. You may need to experiment with collars and leads to get your Great Pyrenees to respond accordingly. Try a range of training methods and equipment, including more positive and upbeat approaches, until you find the mix that's right for you and your dog. Show your dog what to do, teach your dog a name for that action, and reward your dog when s/he performs it properly. The rewards you use should be something important to your particular dog: a special food treat, toy, happy tone of voice, ear rub, or a scratch on the chest. Do not correct your dog until your dog understands what it is that is expected. Gently help him/her into position with your hands, or with a treat/toy. Tailor any correction to your particular dog. A correction should be enough to get your dog’s attention, and no more. Less is better. If you and the dog do not enjoy training 99% of the time, you are doing it wrong. Don't get caught up in trying to permanently "fix" a problem in one day. Every performance is not a reflection of you as a trainer, or of your dog's ability. Everybody — dogs and people — have off days, but they should be the exception, not the norm.

Great Pyrenees tend to have very little "chase" or "retrieve" instinct. Pups rarely engage in retrieving games. If you have a pup that shows any interest in fetch games, foster it! And even if you don't, patience and praise can help you cross even this gigantic hurdle.

HAVE FUN! Don't always take yourself or your Pyr too seriously.

All responsible dog people, no matter what breed they "fancy," will tell you that basic obedience training is crucial for developing a happy relationship with your pet. It is even more important when you own a large guardian breed. Owning a dog should be a complete pleasure, and it can be, if the dog and handler are obedience trained!

More Pyr Fun and Obedience Information

Trainer Search - Assoc. of Pet Dog Trainers


Therapy Dogs
"A Different Kind of White Coat"
as published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, September 16, 2001

In addition to their original age-old position in the scheme of pastoral life as protector of the shepherd and his flock, the Great Pyrenees has been used for centuries as a guard and watchdog, and for this they have proven ideal. They are as serious in play as they are in work, adopting and molding themselves to the moods, desires, and even the very life of their human companions, through fair weather and foul, through leisure hours and hours fraught with danger, responsibility and extreme exertion; they are  the exemplification of gentleness and docility with those they know, of faithfulness and devotion for their master even to the point of self-sacrifice; and of courage in the protection of the flock placed in their care and of the ones they love.
"To once own a Great Pyrenees is to want one always." — Mary W. Crane


Resources:
  • Strang, Paul D. and James M. Giffin. The Complete GREAT PYRENEES. New York: Howell Book House, Inc., 1977.
  • Smith, Edith K. How to Raise and Train a Great Pyrenees. New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1964.
  • The Great Pyrenees Club of America. http://clubs.akc.org/gpca/index.html

Please visit our Pyr Rescue Store and shop 'til you drop!

Our continuing efforts depend on monetary donations,
temporary care homes, and volunteers.

Please consider helping us.
TOGETHER WE CAN SAVE MORE LIVES!

Dogs Available | Owner Referral | FAQs | Is a Pyr For Me? | Links | Application Form
Donations | Success Stories | Rescue Events | Pyr Rescue Store | Contact Us | Main RESCUE Page

Copyright © 1999–2007 Great Pyrenees Rescue of Greater Chicago — All rights reserved
Web programming and design by Stratford Web Design Studios