History of the Great Pyrenees

Gentle, Giant, Guardian

The Great Pyrenees has a long and illustrious history, dating back to between 1800-1000 B.C. This Pyr, which is believed to be a descendant of a mastiff type dog, migrated to Europe from Asia Minor. Centuries later as a result of living in secluded environments, the Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Maremma, and Saint Bernard breeds continued to develop individual characteristics.


French writings dating back to 1407 describe the usefulness of these early Pyrs as guardians. In the 1600’s, Louis XIV adopted the Great Pyrenees as the royal dog of France.


In the British Isles, as well as other parts of the world, the dog is known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog. The first Pyrenean Mountain Dogs were registered with the Kennel Club in London in 1885. In the 1920’s, French breeders worked to restore the numbers so greatly depleted during the war. This led to the formation of the Reunion des Amateurs de Chiens Pyreneans (R.A.C.P.), which still exists today. The first standard for the breed was published in 1927.


Great Pyrenees were first introduced to America in 1824 when General Lafayette presented two males to his friend, J.S. Skinner. Considering the royal status of the breed in France at that time, this was a noteworthy gift, but neither dog was used for breeding. In 1931, Mr. and Mrs. Francis V. Crane imported the first breeding pair to the U.S. from DeFontenay Kennels. They founded Basquaerie Kennel in Neeham, Massachusetts. In 1933 the Great Pyrenees became officially recognized by the American Kennel Club. Through their established breeding program, the Cranes supplied Great Pyrenees fanciers throughout the U.S. with foundation stock and the name Crane became synonymous with Great Pyrenees. The Great Pyrenees Club of America was formed in 1934 and enjoys a growing membership from the U.S. and abroad.


Paintings and literature depict Great Pyrenees at least 2,000 years ago, however often under a different name. In 1675, the Great Pyrenees became a royal court dog due to their beauty, elegance, and majestic appearance by King Louis XIV. 

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Classification and Function

The Great Pyrenees is classified as a working dog and utilizes talents in such areas as predator control, carting, sledding, packing, guarding, obedience and search and rescue. Due to its inherent protective nature, Great Pyrenees are being used in increasing numbers throughout the U.S. to provide effective control of livestock predators such as coyotes, wolves, bears and feral dogs. Ranchers using the Great Pyrenees to patrol open range land have found livestock losses greatly diminished. Those interested in acquiring a Great Pyrenees for predator control should deal with a breeder experienced in this area and should exercise caution in their selection.

Many Great Pyrenees throughout the nation have obtained varying degrees in obedience, and some are being trained and used in search and rescue operations. As a guard dog, it has proven itself to be a worthy and devoted family member while maintaining a keen sense of awareness of its surroundings.

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Breed Standard

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 The official American Kennel Club standard of the Great Pyrenees was approved February 13, 1935. The standard characteristics of the breed describe a dog of immense size, great majesty, keen intelligence, and kindly expression. “Pyrs”, as they are commonly called, range in size from 25-32 inches at the shoulder and have a weight range of 90-125 pounds. Bitches are smaller than males. All are white or principally white with markings of badger, gray, or varying shades of tan. Puppies may possess very dark markings at birth which fade to lighter shades as they mature. One of the unusual characteristics of the Great Pyrenees is the presence of two dew claws on each back leg. The standard also requires that Pyrs have black pigmentation on the nose, lips, and eye rims. The tail of the Great Pyrenees is long and well plumed. When alert, a Pyr arches its tail back making a “wheel”. Although Pyrs are often referred to as “white Saint Bernards”, their heads are distinctly different. The head of a Great Pyrenees is more refined, the lips are tight and the eyelids do not droop. The ear is set level with the eyes. Although they are fairly heavily boned, they often look larger than they actually are because of their thick white coats. The coat can withstand severe weather, with woolly undercoat and long thick outer coat of coarser hair, straight or slightly undulating. The standard requires that a Great Pyrenees be the exemplification of gentleness and docility with those he knows, of faithfulness and devotion for his master even to the point of self-sacrifice, and of courage in the protection of the flock placed in his care and of the ones he loves. 

CLICK HERE to visit the American Kennel Club breed page for the Great Pyrenees (note: this link is not part of The Heart of Ohio Great Pyrenees Club website).