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Great Pyrenees

Breed of the Week: The Great Pyrenees (Video)


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Here I go with my passion for big dogs again! Although I do try to be fair, so you might also want to check out Breed of the Week: The Chihuahua. What’s not to love about the Great Pyrenees, though? If you’ve ever seen one of these gorgeous, huge, white dogs, and ever experienced his wonderful temperament, you’ll understand. The Great Pyrenees is a wonderful companion, intelligent and steady, and just a great all-round family dog. Keep reading to learn more.


The Great Pyrenees originated, as you might expect, in the Pyrenees Mountains on the border between Spain and France. This is a very old breed, believed to have originated in Asia Minor about 11,000 years ago. His main purpose was to assist shepherds, so in the early years, he was mainly owned by peasants. In 1675, though, the son of King Louis XIV of France became so enraptured by the breed that he declared the Great Pyrenees to be France’s royal dog. Of course nobility always wanted to “suck up” to the royal family, so many nobles acquired Great Pyrenees dogs to protect their estates.

North America first was introduced to the Great Pyrenees when several animals were imported to Newfoundland, which later became a province of Canada. In England, the breed was first introduced in the 1800s. Unscrupulous breeding practices led to the breed’s decline, and the World Wars didn’t help matters much. Fortunately, though, after World War II, breeders began working to restore the breed. Today, Great Pyrenees dogs are not exactly common, but they’re not in any danger of disappearing.


The Great Pyrenees is indisputably a sizable dog. Males are typically 27-32 inches at the shoulder, and weigh between 100 and 160 pounds. Females are usually 25-29 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 85 and 115 pounds.


The Great Pyrenees is typically docile, gentle and calm. He is also brave, and very devoted to his humans. If you are considering purchasing a Great Pyrenees puppy, avoid those that appear nervous, aggressive or shy – these are not normal characteristics for the breed.

A Great Pyrenees can be stubborn. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though – it means that he’s able to think independently, and it also makes him a good guard dog.

As is the case with any breed, it’s important to socialize your Great Pyrenees when he’s young. Expose him to all sorts of different smells, sights, sounds, and people.


A Great Pyrenees can be prone to several health issues, many of which are common to practically any large dog. His bones could be of a particular concern – they grow very fast, and can cause discomfort during the growth phase. A Great Pyrenees will not be considered to be mature until he is 18 months old, and even then he could take another two and half years to “bulk out.”

Other issues that could affect your Great Pyrenees are as follows:

Gastric Torsion

This is also known as bloat, and it can affect dogs that are big and have deep chests. This condition happens when the dog’s stomach fills with air or gas, and then twists. The dog can’t throw up or burp to get rid of the air, and when that happens, he doesn’t get enough blood to his heart.

If your dog seems to be salivating more than normal, is depressed or lethargic, or has a distended abdomen, you should suspect gastric torsion and get him to the vet immediately. If the condition is left untreated, your dog could die.

Hip Dysplasia

This condition is quite common in large dogs. It occurs when the thigh bone and the hip joint don’t fit properly. Symptoms can vary quite a bit – some dogs display no symptoms at all. Others might limp, or appear to be lame in one or more of the hind legs. The condition can progress as the dog ages.

If you are buying a Great Pyrenees puppy, ask the breeder to show you proof that the parents do not have hip dysplasia. It can’t usually be properly diagnosed in young dogs, so this type of clearance is the best indication that your dog will not develop the disorder. If your dog does have hip dysplasia, he should not be bred.

Often, people think that hip dysplasia means that the dog should be put to sleep – please don’t make this mistake. Some dogs live full, happy lives with this condition, needing nothing more than the occasional pain remedy. In other cases, surgery can correct the problem.

Elbow Dysplasia

This condition is something like hip dysplasia, except that the cause isn’t really fully known. It could be due to abnormal growth leading to weakened, malformed joints. Like hip dysplasia, it can vary in severity. The dog might experience some discomfort, or he could end up being lame. Treatments can include anti-inflammatory drugs, weight management or surgery.

Patellar Luxation

This is actually more common in small dogs than it is in large dogs, but large dogs are not immune. Patellar luxation occurs when the dog’s knee joint shifts, in place and out of place. It’s sometimes crippling, but dogs often live fairly normal lives with pain medication.

Addison’s Disease

You may have heard of this disease in humans, and it’s no different in dogs – it occurs when the adrenal gland is underactive. Signs can include poor appetite, vomiting and lethargy, and in serious cases, heart arrhythmia. Treatment can include adding sodium to your dog’s food or administering corticosteroids. In severe cases intravenous medication may be needed.


Again, the condition in dogs mirrors that in humans. It’s an opacity in the eye, leading to poor vision. This is not usually a problem with young dogs, and even in older dogs, it can sometimes be corrected surgically.


This is another eye disorder, but it differs from cataracts in that it is usually apparent at a young age. With entropion, the eyelid moves inward toward the eyeball and causes irritation. Usually, it becomes apparent at the age of about 6 months, and it can be corrected surgically.

Sensitivity to Anesthesia

This isn’t exactly a condition or an illness, but sometimes dogs that have low metabolism react badly to anesthesia that is administered before surgery. Great Pyrenees dogs do typically have low metabolism, so if your dog requires surgery (even routine operations like spaying and neutering) your vet will want to do tests determining suitability for anesthesia, and will take measures to ensure that your dog is closely monitored during the procedure.

Care and Exercise

If you’re going to invite a Great Pyrenees into your home, it’s essential that you have a well-fenced yard. Four feet is the bare minimum, and six is best. Many large breeds lack a tendency to roam, but the Great Pyrenees was bred to herd sheep over mountain ranges. If not corralled, your dog will roam. Forget about “invisible” fencing – it won’t work.

You should also work on training your Great Pyrenees practically the minute you bring him home. With some breeds, it’s okay to let them have a bit of time to “be puppies,” but because Great Pyrenees dogs are so highly intelligent, they’ll be quick to “take the advantage” if not trained early. Of course you should always use gentle training methods with any dog, but it’s even more important with a Great Pyrenees. Negative training will make him fearful and shy, and that’s not a good thing in such a big dog.

As is the case with most dogs, Great Pyrenees dogs respond favorably to crate training (get a big crate!). It helps with house training, and is also desirable in case he ever has to be crated for transport, or at the vet. Don’t leave him in the crate for long periods, though. A Great Pyrenees is very much a “people dog,” and wants to be with his family.

As to exercise, a Great Pyrenees should get anywhere from 20 minutes to a half hour of exercise per day – that’s actually less than it is for most other large breeds.

It’s also very important to make sure that your Great Pyrenees understands the rules from the beginning. If you don’t want a giant dog on your furniture, train him when he’s a puppy – it’s much easier then. Leash training is also vital – because it’s in the breed’s nature to roam, you’re never really going to have a dog that will invariably respond to your commands. If he wants to head off into the great unknown, you’ll never be able to call him back. Start the leash training early, too – once your Great Pyrenees is fully grown, he’ll easily be able to yank you off your feet.


I free feed my Boxers, and I fly in the face of much advice to the contrary in doing so. However, because of the danger of gastric torsion, I do not recommend free feeding a Great Pyrenees. Ideally, you should give your Great Pyrenees 4-6 cups of quality dog food each day, spread over two meals.

Of course these feeding requirements aren’t etched in stone. How much your Great Pyrenees will eat will depend in large part on how old he is, how active he is, and how big he is.

If you’re wondering if your Great Pyrenees is overweight or underweight, then do this – stand behind your dog, and look downward. Do you see an identifiable waist? Now, put your hands on your dog’s back, with your thumbs against his spine, and your fingers pointing down. Do you see ribs? If you do, he’s probably underweight, so you should give him more food. Now, try to feel his ribs. If you have to press hard to locate them, scale the food back a bit – he’s too fat.

Coat and Grooming

I hope you don’t have dark, upholstered furniture! Your Great Pyrenees is going to deposit white hair all over everything. He’s also going to shed all the time.

Of course there’s always a silver lining, and in this case it’s that, unlike many other moderate to heavy shedders, Great Pyrenees dogs are pretty easy to groom. Usually, you can take care of grooming in about half an hour each week. Although the Great Pyrenees has long hair, it’s fine and silky, so it dries out quickly and is easy to comb.

I know that you want your dog to be comfortable, but please resist the temptation to clip your Great Pyrenees during the hot weather. Because his coat is so fine, it actually works to keep him cool. If you clip him, you’re going to expose him to harmful UV rays.

Oher than brushing, you can bathe your dog if you like, but the Great Pyrenees is almost “self-cleaning,” so you won’t have to do it often.

One thing you should do, though, is check your dog’s ears every so often to make sure that they’re not dirty or infected. You can clean your dog’s ears with a vet-approved cleaner to prevent infections and rashes. You should do this once a week with your Great Pyrenees, since his floppy ears can stop air from circulating and provide a perfect environment for moisture and bacteria to build up.

It’s also a good idea to brush your dog’s teeth regularly. If you can do it every day, that would be ideal, but I know that it’s not always possible. Strive for at least a couple of times a week.

You should also clip your dog’s nails about once a month – more often if you hear “clicking” when he’s walking on tile, concrete, or other hard surfaces. Some dogs don’t react well to having their feet handled, so it’s best if you start while he’s a puppy. If you’re not sure how to clip his nails properly, you can always have the first trim done by a vet or groomer while you watch and learn how it’s done.

Kids and Other Pets

The Great Pyrenees is one of the very best dogs for households with children and other animals. This breed has a natural affinity for anything that is smaller or weaker – the type of dog who might bring you orphaned kittens or squirrels. He will protect children with an incredible intensity. The only concern you might have when you have a Great Pyrenees in a family with small children is leash work – don’t let the little ones walk the dog. They’ll never be able to manage him, no matter how much he loves them!

Of course, as I’m always telling you, don’t leave any dog unattended with a young child. No matter how gentle the dog, things can go wrong if kids start pulling ears or tails. And with a dog the size of a Great Pyrenees, there’s always the danger of a kid being knocked over and hurt, purely by accident.

A Great Pyrenees will also be good with other animals, especially if he has been raised with them from puppyhood.

The Final Word

Big, strong, and incredibly loving, the Great Pyrenees is an ideal addition to any household. They’ll love you to distraction, look after your kids, and usually get along very well with other animals. They’re big dogs with big hearts, and to know them is to love them.

About the Author Ash

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