All about Great Pyrenees (and their mixes)
So let us talk about the original Big Fluffy – the Great Pyrenees. Owning a Great Pyrenees (and many times, their mixes) comes with some novel challenges that people need to think about. This article is for those who think they might be in love with a big white fluffy dog.
1. These are not white retrievers, even if Oprah owns 2 (and she does). They do not fetch and they won’t reward your bad behavior by bringing back a perfectly good object you threw away.
2. Pyrs are deaf. They heard what you want and they know what you said, but just like every significant other ever, they are struck deaf by commands. Alternately, they only respond to commands spoken in Swahili on Tuesdays. Do not expect a good obedience dog. This isn’t to say that they can’t obey. To the contrary, these are smart dogs whose job it is to think for themselves. They weren’t bred to look to humans for guidance as to what to do because if they did, the flocks they were guarding would have been eaten by the time the humans showed up. Obedience training is a must, but it must be with the expectation that every command will be met with a delay while they think about it.
3. Pyrs roam. I can count on one hand the number of Pyrs I have seen that are safe off leash. Out of thousands. They were bred to guard and they will roam to see what’s over the next hill because there could be wayward sheep over there. Next thing you know, you get a call from an Animal Control officer 2 states away. Fences, and secure ones, are required. Underground electric fences are a no go. Pyrs with a strong desire to roam will stand there, take the pain until the battery is drained, even to the point of being burned, and then bolt.
4. Pyrs are guardians. They guard things and we’ve bred them to do it for 3000 years. They do this by barking and by maintaining control. Barking is always step 1 because they want the intruder to go away if possible and being imposing helps that. Step 2 is actual menacing where they posture up. Only as a last resort will a pyr fight. This behavior sometimes creates resource guarding issues. Pyrs can be food protective because for 3000 years, they had to guard their food from the flock they protected or go hungry. Pyrs, like hobbits, enjoy their food. Expect some growling. This is normal. They can try to guard areas and this should be addressed. You should get to say who rules, and occasionally, a Pyr will try to challenge you for supremacy. This is not abnormal, but it shouldn’t be tolerated. You are lord of the realm, even if your Pyr knows best. You always have to be in control.
5. Which brings me to this: Being in control does NOT mean being dominant or asserting your Authori-tie Eric Cartman style. Anyone who tells you to do “dominance downs” should be shot. If you want to throw a Pyr down on the ground to make it submit, you deserve to be bitten. Pyrs, like all dogs, respond to positive training methods. This does not mean you acquiesce to your Pyr. If your pyr growls to keep you out of the kitchen, then your pyr needs to know the kitchen is yours. You do this through holding your ground and knowing when to give and when to hold your own. Don’t EVER push a dog past its boundaries. There are tools to deal with this kind of behavior. Shock collars are also evil and don’t work with Pyrs at all. Don’t do it.
6. Pyrs are stoic. You can ruin their whole day by calling them a B-A-D D-O-G. They sulk when you tell them they are bad. Your Pyr is like a husband – you reward them with positive praise and they will do your bidding much more handily than if you yell at them. Treat your Pyr with respect and you will get it back in spades.
7. Pyrs are not gentle giants and I hate it when people say that. They are dogs. They don’t like being mauled by small kids any more than you do and they are not ponies. Don’t let kids intrude on their feeding and relaxation time – they don’t like it. Feed your Pyr apart from kids and other dogs and don’t give the dog a high value treat around kids (or other dogs) unless you are 100% sure this is OK with the dog. See point 4 above about their hobbit-like love of treats. Pyrs are big, smart dogs who were bred to do a job but the strength of the desire to do work varies greatly from dog to dog. A truly strong flock guardian is not a dog for someone who doesn’t have the ability to manage it. Most of them are marshmallows, but once in a while, they’ll remind you that they are Pyrs and you have to respect that.
8. Not all Pyrs are born guardians. Out of every litter (average 8-10 puppies) 2 will want to rule the world, one or two will be chickens who say yes sir to everyone and the rest are in between. Throwing a Pyr into the field at 8 weeks and saying “guard the goats” is stupid. They need to be trained to do their job, and they need protection in numbers, too. Predators will tear apart even an experienced working dog that doesn’t have backup and a young, inexperienced dog is fresh meat. They also need to be socialized to people. You want to be able to handle a working dog. We get tons every year that have never been handled and suck at doing their jobs because their owners were morons.
9. Pyr mixes will have traits of both the Pyr and the other ancestor(s) it has. Trying to guess as a puppy which dog will have which traits is like reading the tea leaves. Adult mixes are much easier because by the time the dog is an adult, you know what you have. Novice owners may want a starter pyr with a mixed breed because it tends to temper some of the more difficult pyr traits.However, one of the strongest guardian dogs I ever owned was a Newfoundland Pyr mix, so go figure. The Pyr was strong in that one.
With all this said, these are lovely, wonderful dogs who are loyal to the bone. They are devoted companions and they are quirky sweet souls who adore their people.