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Great Pyrenees: History and Appearance

History

Dating back centuries, the Great Pyrenees is a breed that has quite a long and interesting history. It is believed that the breed’s ancestors came from Central Asia or Siberia, and ended up in Europe after following the Aryan migration.

In Europe, fossil remains of the breed have been found. These fossils go all the way back to the Bronze Age, dating between 1800 and 1000 B.C. It is also believed that a mastiff type dog, whose remains have been found near the Baltic and the North Sea, is one of the breed’s ancestors. The breed also appears in Babylonian art, dating all the way back to the 3rd millennium, B.C.

Once in Europe, the Great Pyrenees began to adapt to the climate and environment. It remained in the mountains and was fairly isolated for a long period of time. The breed re-emerged during Medieval times, where it was featured bearing France’s coat of arms in bas reliefs at Carcasonne. Later, in 1407, historians describe the Great Pyrenees dogs that stood in the sentry boxes alongside the armed guards and accompanied the jailers on their rounds at the Chateau of Lourdes.

In the 17th century, the great Pyrenees became the celebrated pet of the nobility. In 1675, the young Dauphin fell in love with the breed while visiting Barreges. He insisted on taking it back to the Louvre with him, where the Marquis De Louvois also became interested in the breed. It was after that the Great Pyrenees became the favored pet at court.

It was no surprise that the Great Pyrenees became a great favorite at court. The dog was devoted, loyal, and had a fine sense of guardianship and understanding of mankind. These inherent traits were developed during the time the breed spent isolated in the mountains. The Great Pyrenees was the official guardian over the flocks of sheep that roamed, and it was the breed’s job to protect them from wild animals. The dog became the shepherd’s companion, and was considered to be twice the worth of a man. The Great Pyrenees was built for the mountains. It was covered in a long, heavy coat that protected its body.  Outfitted with a spiked collar, it proved a formidable foe against roaming predators.

The Great Pyrenees was not limited to only the mountains and the courts. It was also considered to be the protector of the fishermen of the early settlements at Newfoundland Island. By 1662, the Great Pyrenees had become the companion of the people. It was bred with the black English Retriever, and that is where the Newfoundland breed comes from.

During the decline of wild mountain animals in the Pyrenees, and the passing of the breed as the fashionable court pet, it seemed for a time that the Great Pyrenees would go extinct. It was also sought after by breeders in Europe, and a great many of the population were exported. Fortunately, because the dogs were considered useful to the common people, and because some gentleman sportsmen took an interest in the breed, the numbers that were bred began to increase.

In modern times, the Great Pyrenees has been restored to its natural habitat. In France, it is referred to as a “mat dog” because it is often seen lying on the mats outside of cottages when it is not busy pulling carts or otherwise working.

The Great Pyrenees didn’t earn a great deal of recognition in the United States until 1933, when it became a part of the American Kennel Club. The breed, however, had been in the States for generations. The first pair was brought to America by General Lafayette himself in 1824, as a gift for his good friend J.S. Skinner.

The Great Pyrenees continues to be a working breed. The dog loves to pull carts. The breed’s talent for searching out soft spots in the snow has made him an asset to skiers, and an excellent guide dog. The dog was employed during World War I as a pack dog, and he was also used to run black market goods over the French/Spanish border.

Appearance

The Great Pyrenees reaches an impressive 27 to 32 inches at the withers in a male, and 25 to 29 inches in a female. The average weight depends on height, but can be anywhere from 85 lbs. to well over 100 lbs.

The Great Pyrenees is a massive dog without being bulky. The weight is in proportion to the dog’s structure. The body is balanced, well-muscled, and adequately boned to support the structure. The tail is well plumed and carried over the back or low. The eyes are medium, almond-shaped, and dark brown in color. The ears are small, V-shaped, and carried close to the head. There is a bit of a furrow between the eyes, and the muzzle features a strong jaw. The nose is black and the teeth meet in a scissors bite.

The Great Pyrenees possesses a coat that is unique to its breed, as its thickness and texture was believed to be natural protection against the weather and wild animals. The double coat consists of a long, flat, thick outer coat of coarse hair that is straight. It lies over a dense, wooly undercoat. The coat is thicker around the neck and shoulders where it forms a ruff. Longer hair on the tail forms a plume. There is feather along the backs of the legs, and the hair on the face is shorter.

The coat color is usually white or white with gray, badger, reddish-brown, or tan markings. Markings appear on the ears, head, tail, and as body spots. The undercoat may be white and shaded.

Showing a Great Pyrenees

Careful attention is paid to the appearance of the Great Pyrenees, especially the coat. The gait of the dog should be smooth and elegant, and exhibit power and agility. The Great Pyrenees my appear reserved, but should not seem shy or fearful while in the ring.