What to Know About Great Pyrenees

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on June 09, 2024
7 min read

Great Pyrenees are large, heavy-coated dogs. They're a working breed developed to keep wolves and other predators away from the flocks of sheep they protected. Today, these dogs are chill companions who are faithful to their duty to protect their family and home. Great Pyrenees have a calm demeanor, but they can quickly act if threatened. 

Great Pyrenees exude elegance, grace, and majesty. They're large dogs and the average image of a dog with a snow-white coat. However, some individuals have badger, gray, or various shades of tan in their white coat. Great Pyrenees’ temperament is intelligent, kind, and protective.

Great Pyrenees are large dogs. Males can grow to between 27 and 32 inches tall, and females are between 25 and 29 inches tall. A full-grown male can weigh 100 pounds and up, and females weigh slightly smaller at 85 pounds and up.

Great Pyrenees are calm dogs who guard the family by roaming around carefully. They have intelligent, wise, and independent personalities. Great Pyrenees' traits are easy-going with strong instincts. 

The best climate for this breed has cooler temperatures. Great Pyrenees are adaptable to different environments, but their heavy coat can make them overheat on hot days. If your dog is outside on a hot day, you might find they have dug a hole to lie in to get closer to the cooler earth. 

Great Pyrenees are highly perceptive dogs and can sense subtle mood changes in humans and animals. This is how they determined if there was a threat to their flock. For these reasons, your Pyrenees will need early, patient training. They also need a good deal of socialization

Great Pyrenees are known to save their energy during the day and be more active at night. This can lead to barking and late-night activity, especially if they live outside. 

The Pyrenees coat is dirt and tangle-resistant. So there's not a lot of required grooming. 

Their primarily white double coat is soft underneath and thicker on the outside to protect them from wind, rain, snow, and sun. Their undercoat sheds once a year, typically in spring. Weekly combing or raking of the coat keeps their fur and shedding in check. They also need their ears checked frequently, and teeth brushed daily. 

Great Pyrenees are born with double dewclaws. These are two extra toes on the inside of their back legs. These claws don't touch the ground, so they can become ingrown if not maintained by trimming. The extra toes are typically connected by bone and shouldn't be removed unless a medical condition requires it. 

Great Pyrenees will conserve their energy, which was once used to fight predators that threatened their flock. All they need now is moderate exercise like a good walk to keep them happy and healthy. They also need mind exercises, so obedience trials and training sessions help them feel fulfilled.

Some individuals don't seem to eat much food in relation to their size. High-quality dog food formulated for larger breeds is good for them. To avoid the digestive system difficulties to which they are prone, try feeding your dog multiple small meals each day. Make sure they're not running around or doing strenuous activity around mealtime. 

Monthly heartworm prevention and flea and tick control are essential for your dog. Caring for larger dogs can get expensive. Prepare to pay more for grooming, preventative treatment, and any developed chronic conditions. To help keep your dog in good health, make sure your dog gets their routine annual vaccinations and exams at the veterinarian. 

The American Kennel Club has called out a few conditions that breeders should test for. These include: 

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Eye disorders
  • Luxating patellas (shifting kneecaps)
  • Neurological disorders

Bloat. Like most deep-chested dogs, Pyrenees can experience bloat, where their stomach fills with gas. Should the stomach further twist onto itself into a volvulus, called gastric dilatation and volvulus, the condition becomes life-threatening and needs to be addressed immediately. The signs of GDV include:

  • An extended abdomen
  • Salivation
  • Restlessness
  • Whining if you press on their stomach
  • Retching

There is a surgery called gastropexy that can be done to minimize the risk of GDV occurring. 

Some cancers also occur in Pyrenees. Your vet can monitor and screen any growths during your annual checkups. However, if you notice new masses you should talk to your vet earlier. If you notice your dog acting differently, you should call your vet to see if you need to bring them in. 

Canine hypoadrenocorticism, also known as Addison's disease, affects this breed. This endocrine disorder happens where the adrenal glands do not secrete enough steroid hormones. Some signs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss

Great Pyrenees with Addison's disease are treated by hormone replacement. This treatment is lifelong and costs can add up for this large breed.

Your Pyrenees can develop common eye conditions like cataracts and entropion. Cataracts are often seen in older dogs. Entropion is a genetic condition that causes the eyelid to grow inward and eyelashes to rub against their cornea. 

Other health problems like skin problems, spinal muscular atrophy, and otitis externa can occur.

Getting regular hip, knee, and eye exams at the vet can help identify any early signs of issues. 

Pyrenees were bred to be independent and work without guidance. This level of intelligence is great for them to pick up on things quickly, but it also works against you when you're trying to train them. If they don't feel like sitting, heeling, or staying, they won't. If they're bored with you, they'll let you know by slowly responding. 

Despite some stubbornness, your Pyrenees needs early puppy training and socialization to help them be well-adjusted and well-mannered.

Great Pyrenees are natural guardians. They instinctively nurture and care for their flock or family. They are gentle giants that are primarily kind and patient with vulnerable animals. They were bred to protect their flock at night, making the breed nocturnal. They often bark at night as opposed to during the day. This can be great for keeping unwanted strangers away from the house while you sleep.  

Great Pyrenees are guard dogs and very protective of the children in their families. They don't understand roughhousing or play fighting, and if they think their child or owner is being attacked, they'll respond to the situation. This could result in harm to visitors or your children's friends. 

A fenced-in yard is essential when considering adding a Pyrenees to your family. They like to roam and can stray off property if not in a secure location. An above-ground fence at least five feet tall should suffice. 

Barking is a Great Pyrenees' first line of defense. Many Pyrenees have been surrendered due to incessant barking outside. Noise complaints from neighbors can prompt legal action, so you'll need to consider your living situation before bringing a Pyrenees home.

Great Pyrenees learn a lot about their role in a household with other dogs. They look to the older dogs to teach them the proper behavior for work and as pets. Great Pyrenees are not people-pleasers. They learn more from interacting with other dogs. That's why socialization is so important. 

Great Pyrenees are an old breed. They were bred centuries ago to help shepherds and work alongside herding dogs in the Pyrenees Mountains. Their job was to watch the flock and protect it from wolves, bears, livestock rustlers, and other predators. 

By the 17th century, they became the royal dog of France in King Louis XIV's court. This happened after they proved themselves as guardians of the estate.

In the early 19th century, these dogs became household names in mountain towns. They were bred in the mountains to endure the steep mountainous range and then taken to other parts of France.

The breed can be dated back to 3,000 B.C. because their fossils have been found in the Pyrenean Mountains. They likely came with the shepherds to the area, and fossils in the area were dated between 1800 B.C. and 1000 B.C. Experts believe they evolved from white mountain dogs that originated in Asia Minor more than 11,000 years ago. 

The Pyrenees breed was so coveted that Queen Victoria of England owned one in the mid-19th century. Queen Victoria owned many different breeds of dogs throughout her life.

It was a French military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War who first brought the breed to the United States. The Marquis de Lafayette, a close friend of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, brought the first Pyrenees to the U.S. in 1824.  

By 1870, Pyrenean blood was used with other large dog breeds to help revive St. Bernard numbers. The St. Bernard breed had been pretty depleted by avalanches and distemper in Switzerland. 

Great Pyrenees also answered the call of duty during World War II by bringing artillery supplies over the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. 

This breed has a long history, and they've shown time and time again how great they are as nurturers and defenders. They would make great additions to your household and fit into their role as protectors.