Everything You Need to Know about The Great Pyrenees

Great Pyrenees

The Great Pyrenees is a livestock guardian. Given its name, it should come as no surprise to learn that it came into existence in the Pyrenees Mountains, which are situated on the border between France and Spain. However, it is important to note that the Great Pyrenees isn’t associated with both the French side and the Spanish side of the mountain range. Instead, it is very specifically the livestock guardian that came into existence on the French side, meaning that it is distinct from both the Pyrenean Mastiff and the Pyrenean Shepherd. The first would be the livestock guardian that came into existence on the Spanish side. In contrast, the second would be the sheepdog that was sometimes used in combination with the Great Pyrenees rather than the Great Pyrenees itself. Besides this, it is worth mentioning that the Great Pyrenees can be called by a number of similar names. For example, it is sometimes called the Pyrenean Mountain Dog or the Chien de Montagne des Pyrenees, which mean more-or-less the same thing in English and French respectively. Similarly, it is sometimes called the Patou, which is a French nickname that came from the French word for shepherd.

What Does the Great Pyrenees Look Like?

Livestock guardians being livestock guardians, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Great Pyrenees is a big, powerful dog. Numbers-wise, males can be expected to reach a height of 70 to 82 cm while females can be expected to reach a height of 65 to 77 cm. As such, an adult dog in good condition can be expected to reach 55 to 75 kg, which is more than enough to let these animals be counted among big dogs. Appearance-wise, the Great Pyrenees’s status as a livestock guardian can also be seen in its double-layered coat. Unsurprisingly, its double-layered coat is both long and thick, thus enabling it to do well even when it has to spend long periods of time outdoors in less than optimal weather. Something that is extremely important for livestock guardians because of the nature of their duties. Besides this, there are a number of other things of note about the Great Pyrenees’s coat. To name an example, it is even longer on certain parts of the dog’s body such as the neck, the tail, and the backs of the legs.

To name another example, the Great Pyrenees is supposed to be white-furred for the most part but can show patches of other colors as well. Even black is a possible color for those patches, though it should be mentioned that this is considered to be a fault that will result in the animal being unable to participate in conformation shows. Moving on, it is worth mentioning some things about the rest of the Great Pyrenees’s appearance as well. For starters, it has a long, somewhat pointed muzzle combined with a pair of triangular ears. Moreover, it is both short-necked and broad-chested, which combine to further strength the impression that it is a powerful, well-built animal. As for the Great Pyrenees’s long tail, it is interesting in that it hangs low whenever the dog is at rest but can curl up over the back whenever the dog has been roused for some reason. Curiously, this dog breed is supposed to have not one but two dewclaws on its hind legs, which can be considered the canine equivalent to a human’s thumbs and big toes. In fact, this characteristic is considered to be so important that a Great Pyrenees wouldn’t be allowed to participate in a conformation show without it. Something that interested individuals might want to keep in mind.

How Has the Great Pyrenees Fared Over Time?

The exact origins of the Great Pyrenees are unclear. After all, it is one of those dog breeds that were used for centuries and centuries before they started showing up in the historical records in a major way, which means that there isn’t much information that can be used to support strong conclusions. Still, there is speculation that the Great Pyrenees is descended from livestock guardians brought by the Romans. Something that sounds plausible enough. Historically speaking, the Romans came into contact with the Gauls at an early point in their history. This can be seen in how they are known to have been beaten by a Gallic tribe called the Senones in 387 BC, which is said to have resulted in a sack of the city. It wasn’t too long before the Romans started winning fights with the Senones and other Gauls, but even so, the Romans retained a fear of them for a long time to come. Something that remained true even when they started incorporating Gaul-inhabited regions into their empire. The first Gaul-inhabited region to come under Roman rule was Cisalpine Gaul, which meant something along the lines of “Gaul On This Side of the Alps.” Despite the name, it wasn’t found in France. Instead, Cisalphine Gaul was what is now considered to be Northern Italy.

Later, the Romans carved out the province of Transalpine Gaul, which meant something along the lines of “Gaul On the Other Side of the Far Side of the Alps.” Said region stretched from the Alps to the Pyrenees Mountains because it enabled Roman control of both the land route between Italy and the Iberian Peninsula and the land route between Massalia and its Gallic trading partners. However, it should be mentioned that Transalpine Gaul didn’t include all of the Pyrenees Mountains. The last portion of the mountain range wouldn’t be brought under Roman control until Julius Caesar claimed Gallia Belgica, Gallia Celtica, and Gallia Aquitania, with the latter being a rough triangle bounded by the sea, the Garonne, and the rest of the Pyrenees Mountains. This final conquest happened in the 50s BC. After which, the Roman Empire held the relevant portion of what would become the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains more-or-less consistently until the twilight of the Western Roman Empire. As such, the region was influenced to an enormous extent by the Romans, which extended to just about every sphere of existence. The speculation that the Great Pyrenees is descended from livestock guardians brought over by the Romans is further strengthened by genetic studies indicating that it is related to a number of dog breeds from Italy, Malta, and the rest of the Mediterranean world. In any case, the Great Pyrenees was used for a couple of things in historical times. Primarily, they were known for being livestock guardians, meaning that they were responsible for protecting livestock from potential predators such as bears and wolves on a constant basis.

As such, the Great Pyrenees was often paired with the Pyrenean Shepherd, with it providing protection while its counterpart was responsible for the herding part of the business. Besides this, it is amusing to note that the Great Pyrenees was apparently used for smuggling as well. Essentially, they were big enough and strong enough to carry a fair amount of goods in packs. However, the Great Pyrenees was also able to make their way from France to Spain via routes that were inaccessible to humans, thus enabling them to dodge local authorities. Later, the court of Louis XIV was introduced to the Great Pyrenees was a couple of notable individuals. One was Louis, the monarch’s eldest son who would never succeed to the French throne because of his premature death via smallpox. The other was Madame de Maintenon, who was one of Louis XIV’s most notable mistresses, not least because she was secretly married to him in late life even if she was never considered to be one of the queens of France. In any case, the Great Pyrenees became a hit, with the result that the dog breed saw a fair amount of spread. In France itself, these animals saw additional use as guard dogs for the French nobility. However, it is interesting to note that French settlers are also said to have brought the Great Pyrenees to what is now Canada, with the result that it became one of the ancestors of the Newfoundland.

As modernity approached, the Great Pyrenees saw a serious decline for much the same reason as a lot of other working dogs in a lot of other countries. Simply put, wolves were exterminated in the Pyrenees Mountains, with the result that the local inhabitants no longer had much reason to keep them around. Thanks to this, the Great Pyrenees had come very close to extinction by the early 20th century. However, they survived thanks to a number of occurrences. One, a French aristocrat toured the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains in search of the best surviving dogs, thus creating a breeding base capable of ensuring these dogs’ long-term survival. Moreover, he both founded the breed club and secured official recognition for the breed, thus providing it with a future. Meanwhile, the Great Pyrenees made its way to the English-speaking world thanks to a mix of tourists and other interested individuals. Thanks to their cleverness, they eventually impressed people enough for the latter to start breeding them in said countries.

In modern times, the Great Pyrenees has made something of a comeback in its traditional role. This is because both bears and wolves have been reintroduced to the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains, with the result that the French government is now funding the use of the Great Pyrenees for the purpose of protecting French livestock. Similarly, these dogs are also seeing a fair amount of use as livestock guardians in the United States. They aren’t the only dog breed that sees use in this role, but they are definitely one of the most popular. Curiously, there has also been something of a divergence in the breeding of the Great Pyrenees in France versus in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the latter case, there has been an emphasis on breeding for physically impressive dogs that are nonetheless less well-suited for their traditional role. Something that has been seeing some pushback in recent times because of the increasing awareness of the issue.

What Should You Expect From the Personality of the Great Pyrenees?

Personality-wise, the Great Pyrenees is pretty much what one would expect from a livestock guardian. For starters, they are intelligent but independent animals, which makes sense because the nature of their duties means that they need to be capable of making good decisions on their own. Furthermore, the Great Pyrenees is also famous for its protectiveness, which isn’t limited to a single individual but instead extends to encompass the whole of its household. They won’t hesitate to put themselves in harm’s way for their charges because they are both loyal and courageous. Having said that, the Great Pyrenees does have some traits that can be considered problematic for interested individuals. To name an example, these dogs can be quite loud because they will bark as a way of warning off potential intruders. Something that can be particularly problematic at night when their senses remain as keen as ever. Meanwhile, the Great Pyrenees is a poor choice of dog for walking off-leash, not least because their sense of independence means that they are prone to wandering off on their own if they are given that chance. However, the single most important point is that interested individuals need to be sure that they can establish themselves as the leader over their Great Pyrenees because the dog breed’s sheer size can make them extremely problematic if they become uncontrollable. Even worse, while these dogs aren’t particularly aggressive by nature by default, they become so towards strangers if they aren’t properly socialized from a young age. As such, if people are either unable or unwilling to train these dogs, they should definitely avoid them. Other than this, the Great Pyrenees aren’t particularly demanding. They are capable of living in apartments because they aren’t extremely energetic. However, they tend to do better in homes with big yards capable of accommodating them. This is particularly true because these dogs need 20 to 30 minutes of exercise on a daily basis. Similarly, they also need to spend time with their families. If they don’t get that for whatever reason, they can start lashing out in their boredom.

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