The Great Pyrenees was once known as the royal dog of France, and he is considered to be one of the most beautiful breeds, with his stunning white coat and imposing presence. His heritage is that of a flock-guarding dog in the Pyrenees mountains of France and Spain. Rather than herding sheep or other livestock, it was his job to protect them from predators such as wolves, a job that called for a large, powerful, brave and wary dog. He worked independently, often on his own for days or weeks at a time, and is unaccustomed to taking orders from people.
These days, the Great Pyrenees is primarily a family companion, although some still find employment as livestock guardians. The Great Pyrenees has many good qualities, but he is not the easiest dog to live with. If you want the calm, protective dog that is the Great Pyrenees at his best, be prepared to do a lot of homework to find him and put in plenty of effort training and socializing him once you bring him home.
Is the Great Pyrenees the Right Dog for You?
The Great Pyrenees is a flock-guarding breed who is placid in the home and gentle with children. He has a watchful, protective nature and is more serious than many dogs. He is only moderately active. A couple of short to moderate leashed walks daily will satisfy his exercise needs. If you love the outdoors, the Pyr’s mountain heritage makes him a good hiking companion.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast! The Great Pyrenees requires a securely fenced yard that will prevent him from roaming and attempting to enlarge his territory. He is not a candidate for off-leash walks. While he thrives in cold weather, he is sensitive to heat. And he drools. Be ready to wipe his mouth after he drinks so he doesn’t drip.
This is a giant breed. That cute little white ball of fluff will grow up to weigh 85 to 115 pounds. Because they are guardian dogs, Great Pyrenees are suspicious as a rule. They will graciously admit anyone you invite into your home, but intruders or unexpected visitors will get a very different and intimidating reception. If none of that fazes you, a Great Pyrenees may well be your dog of choice.
Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Pyr from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Pyr puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Great Pyrenees by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.
Like any dog, Pyr puppies are inveterate chewers and because of their size can do more damage than puppies of other breeds. Don’t give them the run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity. And keep your Pyr puppy busy with training, play and socialization experiences. A bored Pyr is a destructive Pyr.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Pyr puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards, and be patient. The Great Pyrenees is independent and willful. Obedience—especially if he thinks what you’re asking is stupid—does not come easily to him, but he will respond to kind, firm, consistent training. Don’t make him repeat the same action over and over again. He’s smart and becomes bored easily, so keep training sessions short and interesting.
Pyrs will bark at anything that might possibly be a threat. Teach them to be discriminating in their warnings or you will likely have complaints from neighbors.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Great Pyrenees are guardian dogs, devoted to their people. They should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, the Pyr should be with them. Chaining a Great Pyrenees out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.
The Great Pyrenees has a beautiful double coat of white or white with markings of gray, badger, reddish brown or any shade of tan. The coat sheds dirt and resists forming mats or tangles, but there is a lot of it. Expect to spend approximately 30 minutes weekly brushing it to remove dead hair and keep it clean and healthy. Pyrs do shed, so regular brushing will help reduce the number of white hairs floating around your house. Clean the ears and trim the nails as needed, and bathe the Pyr when he’s dirty.
6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Great Pyrenees Puppy
- Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you’ll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
- Find a good breeder who will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. Start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Great Pyrenees Club of America, and choose one who follows the club's Code of Ethics.
- Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
- Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Great Pyrenees aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Great Pyrenees can live to be 10 to 12 years of age, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.
- Puppy or adult, take your Great Pyrenees to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, and in particular to watch out for the early signs of diabetes and skin problems, including ear infections.
- Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Health Issues Common to Great Pyrenees
All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Great Pyrenees have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, heart problems such as subaortic stenosis, cancers such as hemangiosarcoma (a cancer of the blood vessels) and osteosarcoma (bone cancer), eye problems such as persistent pupillary membranes, progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts, osteochondritis dissecans (an orthopedic problem) and patellar luxation (knee dislocation). Not every Great Pyrenees will get all or even any of these conditions, but knowing about them beforehand will help you in your search for a breeder.
At a minimum ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have hip and elbow scores of Excellent, Good or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy.
The Great Pyrenees Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Great Pyrenees to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA certification for hips and patellas. Additional certifications that are recommended but not required are OFA for patellas (knees) and elbows, cardiac, and thyroid; a BAER hearing clearance; and Canine Eye Registry Foundation certification for cataracts. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database.
The GPCA also recognizes breeders who achieve a certain level of screening. Recommended screenings are OFA hip, patella, elbow, OCD shoulder, cardiac and thyroid; eye clearance; hearing clearance; and genetic clearances for Glanzmanns Thrombasthenia and canine multifocal retinopathy. Gold awards go to owners whose dogs have undergone six of the recommended screenings; silver awards to those that have done three of the recommended screenings. Breeders and owners who have achieved gold or silver health award status for multiple dogs earn star awards.
|Condition ||Risk Profile ||Cost to Diagnose and Treat |
|Hip Dysplasia |
|Medium ||$1,500-$6,000 |
|Elbow Dysplasia ||High ||$1,500-$4,000 |
|Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder |
|Medium ||$2,000-$4,000 |
|Subaortic Stenosis |
|Medium ||$500-$1,500 |
|Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia |
|High ||$500-$2,000 |
|Panosteitis ||High ||$200-$800 |
|Patellar Luxation ||Medium ||$1,500-$3,000 |
|Entropion ||High ||$300-$1,500 |
|Estimates based on claims paid by Embrace Pet Insurance
Pet Insurance for Great Pyrenees
Pet insurance for Great Pyrenees costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Great Pyrenees are a great deal more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Great Pyrenees are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Great Pyrenees is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.