The Breed History
Originally from Siberia or Central Asia, it is thought that this breed entered Europe at least 1000 years BC. The ancient Asiatic mastiff-type is believed to be the primary ancestor. Common lineage may trace to Kuvasz, Kuvac, or Turkish Karabash dogs. As an aside, it is reported that this breed, and/or the Pyrenean Mastiff, when crossed with black English Retrievers may have given rise to the Newfoundland breed. The first formal breed standard was drawn up in 1927. Great Pyrenees were first registered with AKC in 1933. The Pyrenean Mastiff is a much larger breed, though it likely arose from similar ancestors. At one point, the Great Pyrenean dog was close to extinction. They are named after the mountain range in which much of the breed development took place.
Breeding for Function
Originally used for shepherding, the dog also functioned as a guard dog for the nobility. As a shepherd's dog, it was fitted with a spiked collar, and its bravery and long haircoat helped to protect it when it fended off wolves and bears. For the shepherding families, this dog would also serve as a watchdog and a draft dog. During WWI, this breed was put to work as a pack dog. Today, the Great Pyrenees generally functions as a companion breed.
Height at Withers: female 25-29" (63.5-73.5 cm), male 27-32" (68.5-81.5 cm).
Weight: female 85 lb (38.5 kg), male 100 lb (45.5 kg).
Coat: They possess a very thick, full coat of white or almost white color though markings of gray, tan or badger are allowed (up to one third of body). The double coat consists of a fine wooly undercoat and a hard, long, flat and very dense outer coat that is slightly wavy. The ruff is more pronounced in males. Feathers are found on the back of the thighs and front legs. Has moderate grooming needs consisting of a thorough brush twice weekly (hair tends to resist tangling and shed dirt). High shedding occurs during the coat change spring and fall.
Longevity: 10-11 years
Points of Conformation: In general body type, it is said that they are built like a brown bear. They are large but still agile, and their gait is powerful, smooth and covers lots of ground. Their muscling and bone is medium in substance. The skull is wedge-shaped, and almond-shaped eyes are medium in size and pigmented dark brown. Palpebral margins are darkly pigmented. Ears are V-shaped with rounded tips, and small-to-medium sized, set at eye level and rest close to the head. They have a slightly tapering muzzle, no stop, and the nose and lips are pigmented black. The Great Pyrenees has a minimal dewlap, a strong medium length neck, topline is level, thorax is deep and broad, and ribs well sprung. Some abdominal tuck up is present. The bones of the tail reach the tarsus, the heavily plumed tapering tail is carried both over the back and low. Legs are straight boned; the single dewclaw (front) and double dewclaw behind are not removed. Round feet are large and pads are thick.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed traits include: Devoted, intelligent, guarding family and home as they would a sheep flock; quite territorial. Loyal and fearless, they are sometimes independent, even strong willed, but known to be gentle and patient with human family members. Need to begin socialization and obedience training early. Slow to mature. Needs open space, has moderate exercise needs but tends to be quiet around the home. Need to keep in a fenced enclosure if off leash. High barking tendency exists in some dogs.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Double hind limb dewclaws are always present. The breed is homozygous for this autosomal dominant condition.
In a UK study, 28.9% of Great Pyrenees litters were born via Cesarean section.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 9.2% affected.
Multifocal Retinopathy/Retinal Dysplasia: Autosomal recessive retinal pigment epithelial dysplasia causing localized multifocal retinal detachments. Age of onset from 11 to 13 weeks of age. Identified in 3.22% of Great Pyrenees CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Great Pyrenees with retinal dysplasia. A genetic test is available.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 1.5% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Dorn reports 2.99x odds ratio versus other breeds. Another study reports a 64.0x odds ratio versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 2.88% in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey. OFA reports 1.2% affected.
Glanzmann's Thrombasthenia (GT): This defect causes frequent epistaxis, and gingival bleeding during teething in young dogs. Caused by a defect in intrinsic platelet function involving glycoprotein complex IIb-IIIa. Affected dogs have normal platelet numbers, and normal coagulation panels. Simple autosomal recessive mode of inheritance. A genetic test is available.
Chondrodysplasia: Disproportionate dwarfism caused by a simple autosomal recessive gene. Causes short limbs and short trunk. Radiographically, there is metaphyseal flaring of all long bones and costochondral junctions of the ribs. Vertebral bodies are poorly ossified, with thin, concave end plates. Affected dogs can also be deaf. This condition occurs at a low frequency. There is ongoing research at UC-Davis to identify the defective gene.
Otitis Externa: 71.6% of Great Pyrenees have reported an ear infection in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey.
Panosteitis: Self-limiting disease of young, large breed dogs involving the diaphyseal and metaphyseal areas of the tubular long bones. Affected dogs show intermittent lameness. Treat with rest. Reported 5.3x odds ratio versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 39.7% in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 27.48% of Great Pyrenees CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Arthritis: 11.6% of Geat Pyrenees reported arthritis between 4-12.5 years of age in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey.
Allergic Dermatitis: Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Reported at a frequency of 8.7% in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 6.5% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%). Reported at a frequency of 6.0% in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey.
Cataracts: Anterior, posterior, and equatorial intermediate cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 5.69% of Great Pyrenees CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Great Pyrenees with a cataract.
Osteosarcoma: Malignant long bone cancer. Reported at a frequency of 4.1% in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey.
Osteochondrosis (OCD) of the Shoulder: Inherited cartilage defect of the shoulder joint. Causes lameness in young growing dogs. Male prevalence. Mild cases may heal on own with rest. Severe cases require surgery. Reported 42.7x odds ratio versus other breeds. Dorn reports an 8.95x odds ratio for OCD versus other breeds.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 1.98% of Great Pyrenees CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's Disease): Immune mediated destruction of the adrenal gland. Typical presentation of lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, weakness, and dehydration can occur from 4 months to several years of age. Treatment with DOCA injections or oral fludrocortisone. Reported at a frequency of 1.7% in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey.
Entropion: Entropion, a rolling in of the eyelids, can cause corneal irritation and ulceration. Identified in 1.49% of Great Pyrenees CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Corneal Dystrophy: The epithelial/stromal form occurs in the breed, causing a bilateral, white to gray, non-inflammatory corneal opacity. Identified in 1.24% of Great Pyrenees CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Gastric Dilation/Volvulus (Bloat): Life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate veterinary attention. Reported at a frequency of 1.0% in the 2004 GPCA Health Survey.
Deafness: Unilateral or bilateral congenital deafness is reported by Strain. Diagnosed by BAER testing. OFA reports a high frequency, but too few Great Pyrenees have been tested for statistical accuracy.
Laryngeal Paralysis-polyneuropathy Complex: Affected Great Pyrenees dogs present at less than 6 months of age with laryngeal paralysis and megaesophagus. Pathology reveals distal axonal degeneration. Prognosis is poor. An autosomal recessive mode of inheritance is suspected.
Isolated Case Studies
Hemophilia A: Reported in a male puppy who developed facial and shoulder hematomas and gingival bleeding. Coagulation studies revealed normal bleeding and prothrombin times, prolonged clotting and activated partial prothrombin times and decreased factor VIII activity. The dam and a female littermate also had decreased factor VIII activity and were probably carriers of the disease.
Factor XI Deficiency: Autosomal recessive bleeding disorder reported to occur in the breed.
Congenital Preputial and Penile Deformity: Report of surgical correction in a puppy, presenting with dysuria and prepuce edema. The dog had a stenotic preputial orifice, and an inability to extend the penis from the prepuce.
Left Ventricular Outflow Tract-Right Atrial Communication (Gerbode Type Defect): Identified in a 6 year old male with associated with bacterial endocarditis. Vegetative mural endocardial lesions were observed grossly, and gram-negative coccobacilli that were consistent with Bordetella avium-like organisms were observed histopathologically. LV-RA shunt (Gerbode defect) is a rare cardiac defect in humans that can be either congenital or, more rarely, secondary to septic endocarditis.
Craniomandibular Osteopathy: Reported two dogs with mandibular swelling, pain, fever and, in dog 1, lameness. Radiographs demonstrated extensive, active new bone formation on the ventral aspect of the mandibular bodies of both dogs.
Cor Triatriatum Dexter: A Young Great Pyrenees with poor growth and ascites was identified with a septum dividing the right atrium into two separate chambers. Surgical correction was successful.
Brachygnathism, Prognathism, Cervical Vertebral Instability, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia, and von Willebrand's Disease are reported.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for Glannzmann's thrombasthenia (GT) is available from the Auburn Univ-Boudreaux Lab.
Direct test for Multifocal Retinopathy is available from Optigen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Hip radiographs, patella evaluation, and one of the following: thyroid profile including autoantibodies, CERF eye examination, cardiac examination, radiographs for elbow dysplasia or shoulder osteochondrosis (OCD), and brainstem audio-evoked response (BAER) test for deafness. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
- Breed name synonyms: Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Le Chien des Pyrenees, Le Grande Chien des Montagnes, Pyr, historical names: Pyrenean bearhound, Pyrenean wolf dog.
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club).
- AKC rank (year 2008): 62 (1,444 registered)
- Internet resources: Great Pyrenees Club of America: clubs.akc.org/gpca/
The Pyrenean Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain: pmdc.org.uk
Great Pyrenees Club of Canada: pyrcanada.com
Great Pyrenees Club of America's Health Information Center: gpcahealth.org
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