Pyrenean Shepherds

The Pyrenean Shepherd is the smallest of the French herding breeds, and as his name indicates he is native to the rugged French Pyrenees Mountains. He comes in two looks: rough coat and smooth face. This is a small dog of 15 to 30 pounds with an outsize personality and energy level. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring a Pyrenean Shepherd.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Pyrenean Shepherd is incredibly appealing for his small size, appearance and fierce devotion to his family, but he is by no means an appropriate choice for an inexperienced, uncommitted or slothful dog owner. He is highly energetic, intelligent and desirous of attention, a combination that is ripe for behavioral disasters if he isn't given the activity, training and interest that he demands.

Without an outlet for his energy --at least an hour of exercise daily or participation in an active or mentally challenging activity such as agility, flyball, herding, obedience, rally or tracking --this lively, mischievous dog will create his own diversions in the form of nuisance barking, digging and general destruction. If you can provide him with the exercise and attention he needs, he can adapt to life in any home, including an apartment or condominium.

Naturally reserved, he needs a great deal of socialization. Unlike many breeds who benefit from a longer stay with their breeder, littermates and mother, the Pyr Shep should be acquired as early as 7 weeks and socialized, socialized, socialized and then socialized some more. Even with that background, he is unlikely to be overly friendly to other people and dogs and will be downright suspicious of strangers.

The Pyr Shep doesn't reach full maturity until he's approximately 3 years old. He quickly becomes attached to his family and can be difficult to rehome because it's hard for him to make new attachments. Do not get a Pyr Shep unless you're ready to make a commitment of 15 years or more.

Thanks to his herding background, he is an alarmist by nature and makes an excellent watchdog. On the flip side, it's essential to teach him when it's okay to bark and when to stop. Be firm, fair and consistent, and use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards. The Pyr Shep learns quickly and is easy to train, but you must establish yourself as the one in charge if you want to have any hope of staying a step ahead of this quick-thinking dog. He will run your life if given half a chance.

When the Pyr Shep is raised with children, he can be a super playmate for them, matching their activity level every step of the way. When he's not used to them, however, their quick, fast movements can make him nervous. And while he will love his family's children unreservedly, he will have little interest in interacting with neighbor children. Don't forget that he is a herding breed and may have the tendency to chase or nip at children. This should never be permitted.

The Pyr Shep gets along with cats and other dogs if they are members of his family. He is naturally bossy and will likely take the top dog spot.

Ease of grooming depends on coat type. The smooth-faced and demi-long coat varieties need a good brushing once a month. Longhaired Pyr Sheps should be brushed twice a month to prevent or remove mats. Some Pyr Sheps have coats that cord naturally. Your dog's breeder can advise you on how to care for a corded coat. Trim the nails as needed and don't forget the double dewclaws on the hind legs. Keep the ears clean and dry to prevent infections. Good dental hygiene is also important.

The Pyrenean Shepherd should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard where he can play, but he should live indoors with his family.

Health Issues Common to Pyrenean Shepherds

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.

Pyrenean Shepherds have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip dysplasia, epilepsy, luxating patellas, a heart condition called patent ductus arteriosus and an eye disease called progressive retinal atrophy. These conditions are not common, however, and the Pyr Shep is a generally healthy dog.

The Pyrenean Shepherd 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 Pyrenean Shepherd to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA or PennHIP certification for hips, an OFA clearance for knees, an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation and have a DNA sample banked with the OFA/CHIC DNA repository. An OFA cardiac evaluation is optional. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC's website to see if a breeder's dogs have these certifications.

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.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Patent Ductus Arteriosus High $2,500-$5,000
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Patellar Luxation Low $1,500-$3,000

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Pyrenean Shepherd Puppy

A list of breeders can be found on the website of the Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to be bound by the club's Code of Ethics, which prohibits its members from selling puppies to pet stores and outlines the responsibilities of its member breeders to the dogs they produce and the people who buy them. The Pyrenean Shepherd is not a common breed. A puppy may not be available for six months or more, so be patient in your search.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Pyrenean Shepherd aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an adult dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Pyrenean Shepherd can live to be 15 or more years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time. Be aware, though, that it can take time for a Pyr Shep to adjust to a new home.

Puppy or adult, take your Pyrenean Shepherd 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.

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.

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.

Pet Insurance for Pyrenean Shepherds

Pet insurance for Pyrenean Shepherds costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Pyrenean Shepherds are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Pyrenean Shepherds are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Pyrenean Shepherd 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.