Originally hailing from the mountains separating France from Spain, the Great Pyrenees became the royal dog of France—and it’s easy to see why. With their thick white coats and big, powerful bodies, Pyrs look nothing short of majestic. Smart, patient and calm, these gentle giants were bred to guard sheep—and they’ll watch over you and your home just as protectively.
Great Pyrenees Facts
One important thing to know about Great Pyrenees dogs: They’re part of the working breed group and need a job to do! Left without a task to complete or stimulation, they’ll get bored.
- Breed Group: Working group
- Height: Males, 27-32 inches; females, 25-29 inches
- Weight: Males, 100+ pounds; females, 85+ pounds
- Life Span: 10-12 years
- Coat: A double coat that consists of a long, thick outer coat and a dense, wooly undercoat
- Color: White, with or without badger, gray, reddish-brown or tan markings
Great Pyrenees Characteristics
Great Pyrenees History
The Great Pyrenees dog breed dates back thousands of years, first arriving in the French Pyrenees mountain range from what is now Turkey. What were Great Pyrenees bred for? As guard dogs, they were specifically bred to watch over sheep high in the mountains. That’s one reason why these dogs are typically so calm and independent. Watching over sheep night and day requires Zen-like patience, punctuated with a keen sense of danger and the ability to chase after wolves and other predators when they threaten the flock.
Because of their beauty and size, the court of Louis XIV made Prys the royal dog of France. General Marquis de Lafayette (of Revolutionary War fame) brought a pair over to America, but the Great Pyrenees dog really didn’t take off in the U.S. until the 1930s. Now they rank 66th in the American Kennel Club’s list of popular breeds, so while not top dogs, the breed is in demand among families who want a loyal, lovable guard dog or farmers who need smart pups to watch over livestock. They also make great therapy dogs, thanks to their mellow temperament.
If you’re in the market for one of these pups, check out reputable Great Pyrenees breeders on the American Kennel Club (AKC) Marketplace, and expect to pay a Great Pyrenees price of $500-$1,000 (though some go for as high as $1,500). You can also consider adopting from a Great Pyrenees rescue, which you can find by going to the Great Pyrenees Club of America.
What Does a Great Pyrenees Look Like?
The Great Pyrenees is a large and elegant dog breed. While the Great Pyrenees size can be imposing (males can weigh over 100 pounds!), the first thing you’ll probably notice, though, is all that fur, which kept these dogs warm in the cold mountain air. Pyrs have double coats—a long, thick outer coat that’s straight or slightly wavy and an inner coat that’s shorter and denser (almost like wool). Surprisingly, their topcoat doesn’t get tangled or dirty easily. Even more astonishing, they don’t require frequent bathing or daily grooming. But they do shed that undercoat, so get ready for a house full of white hairs. A weekly or twice-weekly brushing will keep Great Pyrenees shedding at bay.)
Along with the double coat, these dogs have a ruff, or mane, around their shoulders, feathering around all four legs and a plume-like tail. Great Pyrenees dogs are mainly white, though some have markings around their face (including a full face mask), eyes, head, tail and body. These markings can be badger (grayish-black), gray, reddish brown or tan.
As for other distinguishing features, Pyrs have slightly rounded heads. Their ears are V-shaped with rounded tips and their dark brown eyes are almond-shaped.
Great Pyrenees Temperament
The Great Pyrenees was bred to guard herds of animals and keep them safe, even when no humans were around. Therefore, these dogs are independent problem solvers who aren’t particularly inclined to come to you for help or instructions. That can make Great Pyrenees training a bit more challenging. The Great Pyrenees personality also tends to be watchful and protective, which is great if you want your dog to warn intruders off, but not so great if you have new people in and out of your home all the time.
In other ways, the Great Pyrenees temperament is gentle and calm. A well-bred Pyr usually will be great with children and any non-human animal they are raised with from puppyhood—but socializing your Great Pyrenees properly from a young age is essential to prevent over-protectiveness.
With their size and strength, Great Pyrenees dogs can be very difficult to handle if they are bred poorly, so be sure to find a breeder who focuses on temperament. Even with the best-bred Great Pyrenees, be prepared for a dog who may be difficult around guests, gardeners and workmen unless properly introduced.
Keeping Great Pyrenees Dogs Healthy: 3 Issues to Watch Out For
How long do Great Pyrenees live? According to the Great Pyrenees Club of America, pet parents “should anticipate a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years.” To maintain this longevity, be on the lookout for these common Great Pyrenees health issues.
Great Pyrenees are at relatively high risk for many types of orthopedic problems including hip and elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation and osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), all of which can lead to potentially debilitating arthritis over time.
An inherited neurological disease called neuronal degeneration (NDG) can occur in Great Pyrenees dogs. NDG can cause an abnormal gait and loss of coordination, and eventually, the dog may not be able to walk on their own.
Great Pyrenees eye problems are quite common and include:
- Persistent pupillary membranes: the abnormal presence of membranous strands within the eye
- Canine multifocal retinopathy: a usually self-correcting disorder of the retina
- Cataracts: an abnormal cloudiness to the eye's lens that makes it hard to see
The above is not a complete list of Great Pyrenees health problems. Hypothyroidism, heart problems, gastric dilatation-volvulus (bloat), a blood platelet disorder, cancer, deafness and other conditions also occur with some frequency in the breed.
Preventing Great Pyrenees Health Issues
Dogs used for breeding must be evaluated for hip dysplasia through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHipp, as well as for patellar luxation through OFA. NDG testing is recommended as well, and at least one of the following tests should also be performed:
- Elbow dysplasia, through OFA
- Thyroid panel, through OFA
- Glanzmann's thrombasthenia (GT), through DNA testing
- Cardiac evaluation, through OFA
- Eye examination with a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist
- Shoulder osteochondritis dissecans evaluation, through OFA
- BAER (hearing) testing, through OFA
Before purchasing or adoption a Great Pyrenees, ask for the results of these tests. If a breeder is hesitant to provide them, find someone new to work with.
Caring for Your Great Pyrenees Dog
Like all dogs, a Great Pyrenees requires general care, but special attention needs to be paid to a few of their distinctive characteristics.
The Great Pyrenees’s thick and long double coat often leads to some common questions about Great Pyrenees grooming. As mentioned above, Great Pyrenees shedding can be an annoyance to pet parents. When it comes to removing shed hair, the best brush for a Great Pyrenees is a pin brush or a slicker brush, like the Andis Premium Large Pin Pet Brush or Miracle Care Slicker Dog Brush.
Can you shave a Great Pyrenees to cut down on shedding? Shaving a Great Pyrenees is definitely not recommended by the AKC since their hair is designed to both keep them warm in winter and cool in warmer weather through insulation. This hair also helps protect Pyrs against sunburn.
Another thing to note about the Great Pyrenees coat is that Pyrs are not hypoallergenic. In fact, no dog breed is truly hypoallergenic. (You can learn more about the myth of hypoallergenic breeds here.)
Great Pyrenees dogs need their nails trimmed as-needed, a chore that is made easier with a nail trimmer like the Andis Premium Dog Nail Clipper. Pet parents should also brush their pup’s teeth daily using something like the Virbac C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Dog Kit.
Great Pyrenees dogs generally do well on high-quality, life stage appropriate dog foods. A large-breed puppy food, like Wellness Large Breed Complete Health Puppy Dry Dog Food or Hill's Science Diet Puppy Large Breed Dry Dog Food, may help reduce the chances that your dog will develop orthopedic problems later in life. Generally, these foods are formulated to slow a dog’s growth (rapid growth can put stress on joints), but pups do eventually reach their full height.
Once they reach adulthood (usually around 16-18 months of age), Pyrs can be switched to an adult formulation. Products that are formulated to promote healthy joints, like Royal Canin Large Joint Care Dry Dog Food, are a good choice, but picking the best dog food for a Great Pyrenees is an individual decision that should be made in consultation with your dog’s veterinarian.
Because this breed is at risk for gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) or bloat, a potentially fatal distension and twisting of the stomach, how you feed a Great Pyrenees is as important as what you feed them. While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of GDV, following a few tips can help:
- Feed several smaller meals each day rather than one large one
- Prevent rapid eating by using a bowl that slows their eating, like the Frisco Non-Skid Slow Feeder Dog Bowl
- Reduce stress, especially around mealtimes
How much exercise do Great Pyrenees need? Despite their size, the Great Pyrenees does not require a lot of exercise. The breed is not overly active and does not have excess energy to burn. Leash walks once or twice daily are sufficient, though some extra play or snuggle time is appreciated.
Training Your Great Pyrenees
The Great Pyrenees is an independent thinker who was bred to solve problems on their own. Unlike many other dog breeds, your Pyr won’t often look to you for instructions. If you want a dog who automatically does what you want, you may want to consider a different breed.
Due to their independence, it is very important to start proper training with your Great Pyrenees on Day 1.
For Great Pyrenees training, focus on using positive reinforcement to make it worth their while to pay attention and do what you ask. Choose extra-tasty treats, such as True Acre Foods Farmhouse Grillers or Zuke’s Mini Naturals, to reinforce the behavior you want. Find a positive reinforcement trainer or group class to help. (You can start your search here.) And remember to be patient!
Great Pyrenees puppies use so much of their energy growing that they tend to tire out and lose focus quickly. Train in short sessions of about five minutes at a time. Also, be sure to keep your Great Pyrenees on leash or fenced in—Great Pyrenees like to roam and may disappear if left loose.
Having a Pyr in your home means you’ll have a patient, laid-back companion who’ll be more than happy to protect you and your loved ones. While this breed has an independent streak (so don’t expect your dog to automatically follow your every command), with proper training, you’ll be rewarded by your new pet’s love and devotion.