Great Pyrenees: General Information

The Great Pyrenees—as it is called in the United States—is one of the oldest breeds of dog known to man. These large, heavy, fluffy white dogs take their name from Pyrenees Mountain range between Spain and France. For centuries they were used to protect flocks of sheep against the constant threat of bears, wolves and mountain lions. Although fierce protectors of livestock, Great Pyrenees possess the gentleness and devotion necessary to become excellent champions of children and other family members.  


Prospective Pyrenees owners must carefully consider if this is the breed for them.   


Pyrenees do come with needs and requirements: if you do not have the time to devote to this breed; do not understand that in spite of their adaptability to any sized living arrangement, they are still large dogs that take up physical space in small areas (especially if playing and running about); if you are not ready to be patient with training AND offer consistent early socialization with this training...this may not be the breed for you.


Our FAQ below might help you make an informed decision but you are encouraged to ask questions that may not have been addressed here using our contact form at the bottom of this information page. 

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FAQ

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Do Great Pyrenees eat a lot?

Short Answer: The Pyrenees adult has a relatively slow metabolism and because of this, eats far less than his size would indicate. 


Puppies can be good eaters during their growth period and be quite active. Puppy growth rate is swift and can almost be visibly measured day-to-day. However, a mature Pyrenees is a surprisingly light eater. Their metabolism slows as they age and they don't really burn through food they consume, and if overfed, might quickly become overweight. The slow metabolism brings into focus a few other issues that might occur, such as needing less medication than other dogs their size, or that what they eat today won't actually "come out" until tomorrow (or later). 

What about potty/house training?

Short Answer: Potty-training can be relatively quick and easy, providing the human understands the puppy's schedule and when it is time to go.


Though bred for working (and in such situations would live outdoors with livestock), the Pyr is somewhat fastidious and doesn't like to live in soiled quarters or to upset his humans by making them do the same. As soon as they are able to control their movements for longer periods of time, they will try to pick up what is expected of them (indoors). Most people who own (or are owned by, as is the better expression) these great dogs will attest that potty- or house-training does not take a long time. Of course, each dog has his own pace, so the suggestions here are general. It is important for the human to understand the puppy's body schedule. It will be quite a few months before they will actually know to "tell you" they need to go (in whichever way you expect: scratching at the door, pawing the handle, or plain sitting at the door with an expectant look on their faces). Even so, this might be a behavior you have to teach. Still, Pyrs do try to "hold it" early enough, in comparison to some other breeds. Ultimately, potty training is fully on the human's shoulders in learning to read the clues when the dog is young. Employing confident, firm and consistent but gentle/kind hands, will be the most effective training and it applies to all training including potty/house training. Pyrenees don't respond to shouting very well. 

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How long before they are fully grown?

Short Answer: At least 24 months (2 years) old.


It is all too easy to forget that these pachyderms are actually just puppies, and yet, to keep our Pyr emotionally-healthy, it is necessary thing to always remember that big does not equal grown-up. As in all else with the Pyrenees, a large dose of patience, a hefty heaping of a sense of humor and a confident stride from his human, will serve his training best. Great Pyrenees can be quite immature for some time, and the human should be careful to not think that a 90 lb dog "should" know not to "act like that" or "do that anymore by now". 


(Note: size and growth rate vary with individuals—this weight is generalized here)


In truth, a 90 lb dog can very well still be a 6 month old puppy. A puppy has very little world experience to go with the body he hasn't yet mastered grace over. His body is simply growing faster than his brain (meaning emotional maturity, not cleverness—Pyrs have a lot of that from day 1). 


Even at age 2, Pyrs can continue to be "behind" on the maturity scale for a while. 


They are slow to do anything, generally speaking—especially if what you are asking bores them. They get to doing what you ask but they do it because they decide they are ready to get to it. Prospective Pyr owners should be ready and willing to accept and understand this. 


A Pyr is a large, clever and sensitive dog: this combination requires a special approach.

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Do they need a lot of space?

Short Answer: No. All they really need to be happy is their humans, a couch to cuddle on, or a porch swing to share. BUT. They are big, and when puppies, they can kick up a fuss (read: jump and shake the house) when playfully excited. Also, if you work many hours (aren't home much) and reside in an apartment, your neighbors (and perhaps landlord) will not be happy with your lonely, loud, bored Pyrenees.


It is a common misconception that a Great Pyrenees—a dog bred specifically for livestock guardianship and/or farm life—can only exist in areas with lots of acreage, and that he is is only happy outdoors. Certainly, they love farm life and are natural at it because it is what they were bred to be, but there's another truth: the Pyr makes a wonderful indoor companion. 


This does not mean they don't take up space, especially when young and silly. If you plan to add a Pyr to your family, know that a puppy romp can shake a house and potentially knock things over (and really frighten smaller household members, like cats). Instead of scolding the pup, it is simply wiser to raise up all the things he might run into or knock over (and give your smaller creatures safe places to retire to until puppy is grown up, more sensible and less energetic). 


Ultimately, the Pyrenees learns to respect his indoor space and is as happy sharing your couch as he is living with livestock. His gentle and patient guardian instinct is there and he will happily shift it into an indoor setting if that becomes his place. They DO, however, require time, attention and care. Apartment living is not suited to the Pyrenees who is home alone because they will decide to take matters into their own hands to keep themselves entertained. Barking is one, among other things they will do to annoy neighbors in close proximity.


Though there are exceptions to every rule, the Pyrenees is a calm, patient and gentle dog who adjusts very well to a life inside alongside of his human(s). 


Note: Pyrs are usually good with smaller creatures, and in the same manner, tend to usually be good and gentle with children. SUPERVISION, of course, is highly recommended until they prove themselves mature and sensible. Puppies jump, paw, and do silly things that can hurt a smaller creature. Those heavy and pawsy feet can hurt (many Pyr owners can show you marks where those paws have—lovingly and affectionately—landed on skin leaving marks). When they are young and inexperienced, this is a behavior often more pronounced. 

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Should they be shaved in summer?

Short Answer: Pyrs shouldn't be shaved PERIOD*—A Great Pyrenees' coat properly brushed out, helps to keep him as cool in summer as it keeps him warm in winter. The brushed coat will protect him from damaging conditions he'd otherwise be exposed to. A weekly brushing will also help control the shedding during coat changes and throughout the year.


Surprisingly, their thick coat actually keeps them cooler in summer than they would be without it. If the coat were shaved, continual care would have to be taken of the skin until the coat regrows. This would be to avoid sunburn (or worse skin conditions) the coat usually protects the Pyr from acquiring. Weekly brush outs will help this coat do its proper job in keeping the dog cool in summer (and warm in winter). 


*Exceptions are obvious for certain cases, such as ones in which a dog has come from situations of neglect and the coat has badly matted. This would require a shaving to protect the animal. Should this be necessary, great care will have to be taken to protect the dog's skin until the coat regrows.

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Do they bark a lot?

Short Answer: Yes—they bark a lot. Indoor dogs tend less towards barking than their farm counterparts but this also depends on the amount of outside noises they are surrounded by (and how loud these noises are). They are guardians after all, and barking is part of what they are bred to do. 


NOTE: Training CAN help modify this behavior.


Taking into consideration that there are exceptions to every rule, and each dog differs from the other in temperament and attitude, it should be understood that Great Pyrenees were bred to be livestock guardians. As such, they have a protective nature. Anything that threatens their charge will be warned off soundly—their purpose of being is to be guardians and trying to stop this altogether is unreasonable (and most of the time, un-achievable). This aspect of the Pyr make-up can be one of the "game changers" for prospective owners—and that's fine. It is better to be prepared and knowledgeable now, than sorry later.


Therefore, yes, many Pyrs will have a tendency to do a substantial amount of barking. This might be less of a problem for a Pyr who lives indoors, of course—but to those living in a loud neighborhood; if there is construction nearby; if living in an apartment and the dog will spend much time alone; if banging and pounding noises are part of every day—then they are likely to bark a lot indoors as well. Because they are big dogs with big barks (even as puppies), it doesn't hurt to work with them to modify such issues as they arise. 


Early training is a must anyway. Training can help to modify excessive barking behavior. 

Do they have health issues?

Short Answer: Generally, the Great Pyrenees is a hardy and healthy breed, when bred from good stock. 


Regular visits to your veterinarian will help keep your Pyr in top condition.


Although there are no medical problems "specific" to the Great Pyrenees, they are susceptible to some of the maladies that affect all dogs and some that affect large breeds. Large breed health problems include orthopedic problems (common in Pyrenees, Saint Bernards, Great Danes, etc.), bloat (a life-threatening swelling of the stomach due to trapped gas), and bone cancers—to mention some. Also, though not Pyrenees-specific, white-coated dogs have a higher tendency towards skin allergies than dogs with darker (marked) coats do. 


Pyr owners should be aware that Great Pyrenees have a slow metabolism and thus require less anesthesia than their size would indicate. 


Work with reputable breeders who have taken the time to safeguard the health of the line from which you intend to purchase a puppy. There are several tests breeders can perform to try and improve the health of the puppies their stock will produce. See the GPCA website for more detailed information on how to choose a breeder (note: this link opens a website outside of HOGPC).

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Are they hard to groom/do they shed?

Short Answer: Though occasionally necessary, Pyrs do not need frequent bathing, because their coats are naturally dirt-repelling. Brushing however, is recommended as a weekly practice. They DO shed considerably, especially twice yearly when they change coats and brushing will help to speed this process along and remove some of the loosened coat. 


Great Pyrenees DO shed. If inside, it isn't uncommon to see white fluff fluttering about your floors and both this fluff and outer coat hairs coating your clothing (especially if you like polyester fabrics). Further, they change seasonal coats two times yearly. During their coat changes they shed even more noticeably. Their soft, woolly undercoats keep them warm in winter and in summer, they are just different levels of thickness, depending on the season.


NOTE: Even friends visiting your home might leave with "shed souvenirs" from your dogs (if they live indoors or if they go out to greet them). 


During these sheds, brushing more than once weekly will help speed up the process. It will take, on average, about an hour per week to do a proper brush out, assuming it is kept up with regularly and stays mat-free.


Great Pyrenees are not "difficult" to groom, because there is very little cutting, shaping or shaving involved in the care of their coats. The downy fur (such as that behind the ears) can occasionally mat even with regular upkeep. There are several types of brushes that will help with this process.


It is important—especially during the warm months—to check the dogs frequently for parasites such as ticks (fleas are usually obvious on white coats) because burrowing parasites will be hard to detect in their thick coats without these manual checks. 


NOTE: If a Pyrenees is taught from an early age that grooming is a fun and bonding time, grooming sessions are actually pleasant to the dog. If the coat isn't matted, a good brushing can feel like a good scratching/massage/doggie spa! 

Are they hard to train?

Short Answer: "Hard" isn't the correct term. More like, "might take some creativity" to train the Pyrenees, because...well, because 1) he's smarter than we think he is and 2) because he's smart, he will need to be entertained or he WILL find clever ways to avoid orders when these bore or make no sense to him! They ARE independent thinkers.


Pyrs are bred to be independent thinkers and can be stubborn (although the better term is "independent"), preferring to do things their way and in their own time. This does not mean, however, that they are "hard" to train. Their humans just have to be creative in inspiring them.


Once again: early training and socialization is much recommended. Using loving but firm consistency, generous portions of patience and creativity (find what makes them tick) and a lot of upbeat confidence will all reap rewards with the loyal Great Pyrenees—under it all, they do love to please us. 


Also, puppies go through "phases". Sometimes they are great, sometimes they are "teenagers" and test their people: they might completely fail something one day which a day earlier they performed perfectly. 


NOTE: If you take training failures personally, you should likely reconsider the Pyr as your go-to dog, because they are happy to give you lots of those. They aren't trying to be bad. It's just what they are. They simply TAKE. TIME.


Yet, a Pyrenees' human holds the onus on getting around the dog's tactics. A doggie school that offers classes for the dog with his human is a great tool. There is a trainer out there who can encourage you to hang in there and give you tips on what to do. This club is also a good place to get tips and information on training a Pyrenees.


In the end, it might not be quick, but Pyrs are not in a rush, nor should their humans be...and they love us. Love trumps hard heads, given time.

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How long does it take to train a Great Pyrenees?

Short Answer: Each dog has his own pace of learning. What's more important, is our willingness to be patient and committed to the training.


In truth, it takes a lifetime to train a dog of any breed: large or small, whether it's a Pyrenees...or a Poodle. 


In practice, however, Pyrs can learn "sit" "stay" "come" rapidly. It's the keeping them interested part that is a labor of love (and investment of time). The pace of training is also predicated on the dog's human's ability, understanding and willingness to see it through.


Training should never stop, and no dog is too old to learn new tricks. Training is one of the best way to bond with our dogs. All dogs (and Great Pyrenees more than some) need a job and training provides one. 


Even in our Pyrenees' retirement years, we can (and should) still be teaching and interacting (or at least continuing what they learned) with our dogs—it keeps them stimulated/happy and our relationship with them fresh.   


The Pyrenees can be stubborn and self-reliant. This isn't a fault, it is how he is made. The earlier the training begins, the more consistent and longer this training lasts, the better!


NOTE: again, above suggestions are "general to the breed", and does not describe every individual dog. There are Pyrenees who excel at obedience and even agility competition! Some dogs title early, well before adulthood as much as others take longer. 


Every dog is individual and has his own pace.

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Training RuleS: Firmly, Consistently, Calmly, Kindly

Pyrs and their owners should take at least basic obedience training. Classes, preferably with the owners doing the handling themselves, are a good way to start.  Then, the Pyr owner should come armed with cartloads of humor, cratefuls of patience, and bucketfuls of calm consistency. 


Pyrs are gentle and responsive, but they (like any other dogs) need to learn to respect their owners as soon as possible. They will grow very big and strong very fast (Pyrenees puppy pictured in photo to the right is only 4 and a half months old). It is not unusual for a young dog to attempt to assert authority. As these happen, they should be dealt with at once in the proper humor. 


Training schools can teach us how to do balance ourselves for better results. Most Pyrs respond quickly to firm verbal correction, but because of their sensitive nature, much can be done with positive reinforcement and praise as well. 


It is best, when training, to be creative and fun in our lessons...and to try and be smarter than the dog! 


NOTE: Classes in which there are more than one or two dogs that encourage the humans to do their own training, will help not only to socialize the puppy, but in time, how to work in spite of distractions.

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Summary

  1. The Great Pyrenees is NOT the dog for everyone, and every person may not be suitable for ownership BY the Great Pyrenees. One should be diligent in considering the requirement of this breed and one's ability to follow through for the average 10-12 year's lifetime of the dog.
  2. Overall, Great Pyrenees make versatile and dependable companions. 
  3. Pyrs are not really considered mature until they are at least 24 months old. 
  4. Great Pyrenees are as serious in play as in work, adapting and molding themselves to the moods, desires and even the very life of their human companions. 
  5. Wherever their owners live—whether on a 5,000 acre farm or an apartment—with sufficient exercise and attention, the Great Pyrenees, adapts well. NOTE: A Great Pyrenees is not recommended for apartment living if their humans have to work full-time hours and do not have the means to supply "puppy daycare" or daytime company/walkers.
  6. Pyrs have a territorial nature and it is wise to avoid two dominant temperaments (even if one is a different breed) in one household. 
  7. A Pyr, WILL love you back as its "one and only" (family or individual). To the sensitive Pyr, forever is real. We must always do our best to offer the same to them.
  8. By working with a reputable breeder, (link opens in new tab) interested individuals can best determine if the Great Pyrenees is the breed for them. 
  9. Pyrenees shed, bark and can be hard-headed. A prospective owner should be ready for this and will need a sense of humor; patience and be ready to offer the Pyrenees all the time it needs to achieve its purpose and sometimes, realize that what WE think its purpose should be, may not necessarily be what he was meant for.
  10. Finally, a Great Pyrenees is a great responsibility, not only for the reasons listed above. He is a large dog with a guardian nature. It will be wise, for the dog's entire lifetime, to be handled by a conscientious, attentive and careful human. 

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Care Details Summary

Like all dogs, Great Pyrenees require a nutritious diet, fresh water, exercise, and grooming. As the Great Pyrenees matures, their metabolism rate makes it so they require less food than their size indicates. As a result, overfeeding can quickly result in an overweight dog. 


See information above for bathing shedding, and the importance their coat plays in their lives. Pyrs should not be shaved in the summer—for they will sunburn without their protective coat. 


Because Pyrs are known to not exhibit discomfort, they may not show signs of irritations or painful conditions, so grooming sessions are the best time to check eyes, ears, and teeth for potential health problems/issues or parasites such as ticks/fleas. Their thick coats can hide many problems, so time devoted to this is a must, and any prospective Great Pyrenees owner should be willing to devote time to this for the dog's life.


Regular veterinary care should be provided to help keep the Pyrenees healthy and it should be kept up to date with all vaccinations. 


The Pyrenees has a slow metabolism. As such, many Pyrs do not need as much anesthesia during surgical procedures as other dogs of his size might.

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