So… you are considering getting a Great Pyrenees? Some thoughts to Ponder.

by Suzanne Phillips, who has dearly loved and lived with Pyrs for over 15 years

Perhaps you have been enchanted by a Great Pyrenees pup (undoubtedly one of the most darling puppies imaginable). Maybe you have researched various dogs and like what you have learned about this special breed, or you might have seen one of these, incredibly beautiful, large white creatures (either pure white or white with a few gray, tan or reddish markings), walking in a regal and stately manner or running with tail curled high over the back. Possibly you are a compassionate, kind-hearted person who wants to help provide a Rescue dog with a new and loving home.    But, whatever motivated you to consider adding a Pyr to your family, there are some things you need to consider.

One highly informative online resource is Great Pyrenees Club of America.

Along with the information available on the above site, things I like discuss with people whom “oohh and aahh” over my dogs and muse about obtaining one are:  (NOTE:  These observations are based on my own personal experience and may not be in total accord with other Pyr owners.)

Personal:  Do you live with other people/family, and, if so, what are their feelings about acquiring a dog?  Have you ever had a dog before?  If so, was it a small breed, or an easygoing breed, such as a lab or golden retriever?  Do you have other pets?  Do you have a fenced in yard? This is NOT a breed that responds favorably to an Invisible Fence type device.  Pyrs will tolerate great pain to “do their job” of “checking things out”. Also, leaving a Pyr hooked up to a chain or cable for any length of time would be very distressing for the dog and can lead to increased aggression. Have you given thought to handling a large, strong dog with a definite mind of his own?  It is sometimes said, “A Pyr rarely starts a fight, but if provoked will likely be the one who will end it.” (This is a breed that will lovingly guard a baby lamb, but, if a predator poses a threat, a Pyr will generally dispatch the danger in a fierce and lightening-like manner) In other words, if bred, raised, and treated correctly, this is not a dog to fear, but one to treat with respect and understanding of traits that are naturally characteristic.

Background:  It is vital to learn as much background information as possible. Did a reputable breeder who is focused on producing healthy dogs with good temperaments breed this dog? If that information is not available, or if it is not known if a reputable breeder bred the dog, has the person or agency now placing the dog had an adequate chance to evaluate him.  “Can he be trusted with small children or other animals?” “Is he a dog that would do better as a “single pet?”. Would he be OK left alone while his owner is at work…or does he have “separation anxiety?”  “Is he a dog who would an OK pet for a soft-spoken, non-assertive person or does he need someone with a strong personality?” Pyrs are very strong, intelligent and can be lightening fast, so they are not a dog for someone who is looking for a docile, easily controlled pet. They do not respond well to “forceful/coercive” training. Positive reinforcement works best.   If this dog is a one who has had a previous home, are you prepared to give him the love, patience and time that may be necessary to earn his trust, loyalty and devotion?

Barking: These guys bark A LOT.  Because of their breed characteristics, they feel compelled to warn you about each and every thing they see and hear that is “unusual”…this can include your neighbor driving out his driveway, a siren so distant that you won’t hear it for a few minutes, someone that you cannot yet see walking up the street, an object (however innocent) placed in a location where there is usually nothing.  (I once had a Pyr who started barking while just the two of us were in the kitchen, and all appeared to be well.  Then I noticed she was staring at the roll of paper towels and realized that, instead of the solid white I usually used, this roll had a pattern, and, serious about “her job” as she was, she was “just doing her thing”.)

My experience has been that my Pyrs generally will not stop barking if I am in one location, they in another, and I just call to them to stop barking.  Usually they want me to come and see what they are “warning” me about. Once I do that, and tell them it is OK, they will usually immediately stop barking……or, get in that one last  “??word”.  I have a Pyr now who, when outside, will just emit a single bark every couple of minutes…for no apparent reason.  But this is an urge passed down to her from many, many generations of this guardian oriented breed.  By giving that single, frequent bark, she is creating an “awareness” of her presence to any predators that might be in the area.  And just the knowledge of this “presence” is enough to keep many predators at bay and away those she is determined to protect.  They become very “verbal and upset” if there is a fence between them and the person they are trying to “protect” you from.  It is natural for them to feel the need to get “up close and personal” with “whoever” to assess for themselves that this interloper poses no threat to you. They are apt to be distrustful of people wearing sunglasses, a hat, or carrying a package or briefcase.

Independence: These dogs give new meaning to the word Independence.  Because their job for centuries has been to spend long periods of time as the sole guardian of their flock (often they would not have human contact or direction for days or weeks), they tend to rely on “their opinion and judgment”. For example, if you have a Pyr who immediately comes when you call him, consider yourself lucky!!!!  Generally, they will want to “walk the fence, or what they consider the property, line” or mosey along, at their leisure, as they check to make sure “all is well”.  In other words, if you are looking for a dog that you can “mold” into your idea of “what a dog should be”, a Pyr would not be a good choice.

Shedding: Unless the flooring in your house is all white and that is the sole color you and your family always wear….be prepared to vacuum a lot and always sport a few white hairs on your clothing. Pry lovers just accept that the extra fuzz “comes with the territory”.

Is your heart still set on getting a Pyr???  My intent is not to discourage, but to help insure that whatever dog you choose turns out to be a “good fit” for all of you, because this is a relationship, that should last for several years and bring joy to you and your pet. Consequently, it is important to be aware of traits some people might consider negative.

Over the years I have encountered many people who purchased a Pyr because of his appearance, or on a whim after seeing one on TV or at a dog show, and unfortunately, some people obtain them from pet stores or non-reputable breeders whose sole motivation is profit.   Then somewhere down the line they become distressed because: ”WOW, I never knew he would get this big and strong.”    “No one ever told me he would shed so much.”  “His barking is driving me and the neighbors crazy.”  “He is aggressive, and I can’t handle him.”

Some of these dogs come in to Rescue, where we evaluate their potential for placement in a home that has been screened to ensure “this match will, hopefully, be successful for all”.  Sadly, some of these “cast-off Pyrs” never make it to Rescue and end up in environments where euthanasia is the likely outcome.  And, even some of the dogs who do come to us meet that same, untimely end, if improper breeding, or abuse, has caused their temperaments to be untrustworthy.

If none of the above has decreased your desire to add a Pyr to your family, I hope you will become as appreciative of and devoted to this exceptional breed as I am.