Know the Breed

It’s wonderful that you are thinking about rescuing a Pyr to be a companion animal, but before you adopt, you should understand that this breed is different from most others.

A Little History …

The Great Pyrenees is one of the oldest livestock guardian dog breeds. For thousands of years they have been bred and raised to think independently. Their basic personality differs from other breeds, since most breeds were developed to take commands from humans. Pyrs, however, were encouraged to work (and think) on their own. Their heritage as livestock guardians remains strong even as companion animals. This comes through in their personalities in distinctive ways.

What Pyrs Are and Aren’t

  • Great Pyrenees are intuitive, independent thinkers and formidable protectors and companions who may seem almost human at times; they aren’t big, white golden retrievers looking to please. They are NOT herding dogs; they GUARD. This behavior extends to their human family and their defined property. Pyrs can be particularly protective of “their” children and don’t understand “play fighting” and other games where they may perceive their child (or owner) is being attacked. It is up to the owner to protect visitors and the dog from situations that could result in any harm. While they are loving, “gentle giants” with their family, remember, they take their work seriously.
  • They are independent thinkers, and are not easily obedience-trained. Owners need to understand and have patience to train a dog who feels he knows better than you do but will respond positively to the loving bond they develop with a strong and confident pack leader, aka the “alpha.” If there is a void in pack leadership, rest assured that the Pyr will be stepping in to take over. That’s where understanding “Nothing in Life is Free” training techniques and how to be an alpha pack leader create a well-behaved dog. With a Pyr, every day is training day.
  • Pyrs are roamers and require secure, above-ground fencing, preferably at least 5 feet high. Invisible fencing will not keep a Pyr on its property, or keep out strange dogs or other animals. Pyrs consider strange canines (and humans) to be predators and will act accordingly.
  • Like most livestock guardian and dominant breeds, Great Pyrenees usually don’t get along with dogs of the same sex as adults. It’s the rule rather than the exception, and we have seen many returns as a result. It may not happen immediately, but when the issue occurs, there’s no “pause button” when two pyrs of the same sex are fighting. If it happens, be prepared by reading this page:
  • A Pyr off-leash, outside of a fenced area, is called “dis-a-Pyr” and will rarely turn around and come home after visiting around your neighborhood.
  • Pyrs drool, some more than others, males usually more than females. If you can’t tolerate drool, don’t get a Pyr.
  • Pyrs dig deep craters in your yard to keep cool, even in expensive landscaping.
  • Pyrs bark as part of their guarding routine, and many have been surrendered to rescue as a result of noise complaints that have prompted legal action. Females can be a bit more vocal, but all Pyrs bark as part of their natural behavior. Barking is their first line of defense against predators.
  • Pyrs are nocturnal and will still be on guard (and barking) at night, just as they would be as flock guards.
  • Pyrs have thick fur and shed (or “blow”) their undercoats twice a year. Owners need to keep up with brushing to avoid matting and skin problems.

All in all, Pyrs are calm, gentle dogs who make wonderful pets when owners understand their unique nature.

If you decide that this giant breed is for you, please consider the cost of this lifetime commitment. One study concludes that an average owner of a healthy mid-to-large-size dog spends an average of $10,400 in food, vaccinations and pet-related expenses over the dog’s lifetime. A report by Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D., Sr. Vice President, Animal Sciences, ASPCA, estimates the first-year cost of dog ownership to be near $1,500, of which only $400 is comprised of one-time costs.

Monthly heartworm treatments are a must for your dog, as well as flea and tick prevention. Grooming for large dogs is expensive as well. Expenditures can increase significantly if the animal develops diabetes or other chronic health problems. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are common in hind legs. The cost of diagnosis, x-rays, and an operation can be $1,500 and up, and the recovery period is 6-9 months. Cancer treatments can also be in the thousands of dollars.  Everything costs more in the xtra-large size and giant breed dogs can be very expensive to own and care for, especially as they age.

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