We are often asked why there are so many Pyrs in shelters and rescues. Great Pyrenees are classified as “livestock guardian dogs” or LGDs. Traditional agricultural societies teamed shepherds with their dogs and flocks. The dogs lived in close proximity with their owners and the animals they cared for. Unfortunately over time, this breed has been overbred and unsocialized, underfed and neglected on large ranches and farms or with backyard breeders. They often come into rescue in terrible shape, unable to do the work expected of them. Even livestock guardians need some obedience training and benefit from socialization, spaying or neutering and medical care. Rehabilitated Great Pyrenees make wonderful family members. The vast majority of our rescues are adopted as companion animals who are happiest living with their human families and other household pets.
Pyrs are classified by the AKC as working dogs. They ranked number 63 in AKC breed registrations in 2021, a huge drop from their position at number 45 in breed registrations in 2000. As a point of comparison among the larger dogs, St. Bernards currently rank as number 53 and Newfoundlands as number 45. One reason for the drop in Pyr AKC registrations may be due to the use of Pyrs as livestock guardian dogs. This makes a large number of unregistered dogs available through sources other than AKC breeders.
Whether you subscribe to the theory that pyrs are descended from the Tibetan Mastiff or an ancient Sumerian breed since their appearance in Europe between 1800 and 1000 BC, the fact is that this is one of the oldest livestock guardian dog breeds. For hundreds of years they have been bred to think independently, whether guarding livestock for ancient Roman soldier encampments or estates in 17th Century France.
Pyrs were used to guard sheep and goats, particularly at night when they stood guard alone, in the Basque region of the Pyrenees Mountains along the border of France and Spain, where they got their name. Their noble bearing made them a favorite at the French court of Louis XIV in Versailles.
General Lafayette brought the first pair to America in 1824 as a gift for a friend. They are sometimes described as having a “bear-like” head since the profile of the large head has a gradual slope to the muzzle (like that of a bear), rather than an angular “stop.” Mary Crane re-introduced the breed to America in 1931 and her kennel Basquaerie was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1933.
To understand more about the use of Pyrs as livestock guardian dogs and see a brief history of the breed, view our “History of Great Pyrenees” presentation in PDF format.
A New Owner’s Guide to Great Pyrenees, by Kim Lasley (TFH Publications, 2001).
Great Pyrenees (Kennel Club Dog Breed Series), by Juliette Cunliffe (Kennel Club Books, 2004).
Great Pyrenees (Complete Pet Owner’s Manuals), by Joan Hustace Walker (Barron’s Educational Series, 1999).
Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care, and Training, by Orysia Dawydiak & David E. Sims (Alpine Blue Ribbon Books; 2nd edition, 2004).