Great Pyrenees

PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: June 18, 2009

The Great Pyrenees combines elegance and beauty with size and majesty. Intelligent and kind, it is a sound, well-coordinated breed used originally for the strenuous work of guarding flocks on the mountain slopes of the Pyrenees.

Physical Characteristics

As the dog was bred to safeguard flocks in steep, mountainous regions, the Great Pyrenees has a great combination of strength and agility. The majestic, imposing, and elegant Great Pyrenees is a medium-built large dog and slightly long.

The thick coat makes one believe that the dog is heavy-boned. This double coat, comprising a woolly and dense undercoat and a white flat, coarse, and long outer, is weather resistant. With smooth movements, the breed has a good drive and reach. The dog has a contemplative and elegant expression.

Personality and Temperament

This imposing and efficient guardian breed shows extreme devotion to its family and is mistrustful of strangers, whether canine or human. It remains well-mannered, somber, and placid, when not incited in any way. The Great Pyrenees dog is also very gentle towards children and its family.

Having a stubborn and independent nature, the dog tends to bark and can try to dominate a less-experienced owner. It is not a good idea to let the dog off the leash as it can wander away.


The Great Pyrenees can survive outdoors in cold and temperate weather, but it also enjoys living indoors with its family. It is not suited for hot weather, and requires regular daily exercise to remain fit, but its needs are moderate. A walk is good enough.

The dog is fond of hiking, mainly in snow and cold weather. At times, it can drool and it is also a messy drinker. The coat requires occasional weekly brushing, but daily during the time of shedding.


The Great Pyrenees dog, which has an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, may suffer from minor health problems like entropion, osteosarcoma, Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD), skin problems, cataract, chondrodysplasia, and panosteitis; it is also prone to serious problems like canine hip dysplasia (CHD) and patellar luxation. Sometimes the breed can be susceptible to spinal muscular atrophy, gastric torsion, and otitis externa. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may recommend regular hip, knee, and eye exams for the dog.

History and Background

Dating back to nearly 10,000 B.C., the Great Pyrenees breed originated from the enormous white dogs or flock guardian dogs of Asia Minor. Around 3000 B.C., when nomadic shepherds took their sheep to the Pyrenees Mountains, they also brought the flock-guarding dogs, which were the ancestors of the Great Pyrenees. Such dogs proved their prowess as livestock guardians for centuries.

This breed became a brave fortress guard in medieval France, and gradually many big chateaux took pride in owning this imposing dog. The French nobility found the dog attractive in the late 17th century and for a short while, the Great Pyrenees’ demand grew in the Royal Court of Louis XIV. The king decreed the breed as "Royal Dog of France" in 1675. During the same period, the dog found a place in Newfoundland, probably leading to the growth of the Newfoundland dog breed.

The migration of breed continued to England and to other European nations. However, these dogs hardly resembled the royal and admirable Pyrenees. Although the English eventually lost interest in the Pyrenees, there were sufficient numbers of the breed in the native mountain regions, which were used later by dog lovers to retain the original stock. These native dogs were successfully bred to produce the modern Pyrenees.

The Great Pyrenees was imported to the United States in the 1930s, later being recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1933. Americans admired the breed for their devotion, fidelity, intelligence and sense of guardianship. The dog is still reputed as a dependable livestock guardian in the U.S. today, and is moderately popular as a pet.

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