Great Pyrenees (Pyr): Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Great Pyrenees dog

Kathryn Schauer / Getty Images  

The Great Pyrenees is a large, majestic dog with a hard-working spirit and a sweet disposition. The lineage of this ancient, intelligent breed likely dates as far back as the 18th century B.C. The Great Pyrenees is an adorable gentle giant, very loyal to its family, and typically gets along very well with children. However, potential owners must understand their propensity to bark and the need for socialization.

Breed Overview

Group: Working

Height: 25 to 32 inches at the shoulder

Weight: 100 to 150 pounds (males); 85 to 110 pounds (females)

Coat and Color: Thick double coat in white (may have markings of gray, tan, badger, or reddish-brown)

Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Characteristics of the Great Pyrenees

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding High

History of the Great Pyrenees

The Great Pyrenees likely evolved from mountain sheepdogs in Central Asia that date back many thousands of years. As evidenced by fossil remains, the Great Pyrenees (or a close ancestor) was brought to the Pyrenees mountain range of southern France sometime between 1800 to 1000 BC. The breed was developed as a guardian of sheep and the home by the Basque people of that region. During the 17th century, it was adopted by French royalty and nobles.

The Great Pyrenees was brought to the U.S. by General Lafayette in 1824. However, the breed was not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until over 100 years later in 1933. It is known as the Pyrenean mountain dog in Europe and is still a keen worker to this day.

Specialty show sanctioned by the Great Pyrenees Club of America in 1940.
Specialty show sanctioned by the Great Pyrenees Club of America in 1940. Morgan Collection / Getty Images

Great Pyrenees Care

The Pyr has a long, thick outer coat that is primarily white and somewhat coarse, with a soft, woolly undercoat of white. This breed has a moderate to high shedding rate and requires routine grooming, especially a thorough brushing once or twice per week. Their coats don't tend to mat, but brushing will help keep shed hairs out of your house. However, given the size of the dog, you will still be seeing white Pyr hair on all of your clothes and furniture. Their coats naturally shed dirt so you will only need to bathe your dog once every couple of months.

Special care should be taken to prevent exposure to very hot temperatures, as the breed can easily overheat. But it isn't recommended that you trim or shave the dog's coat during hot weather as it protects the dog from the sun. They do very well in cold weather.

Pyrs have extra dewclaws on their rear limbs, which they use for climbing. You should trim your dog's nails to keep them from splitting. Also, since this breed likes to gently paw you to get your attention, trimming reduces the risk of scratches.

Dental care can help prevent gum disease; brush your dog's teeth at least a couple of times per week to keep its mouth healthy.

Pyrs have a strong drive to work and protect. Although not working dogs, they need a fair amount of exercise on a daily basis. This breed can be walked on a leash but may tend to wander off independently when off leash. They do best if they have access to a large, well-fenced yard in which to do some roaming and patrolling. Pyrs will benefit from some type of job, such as guarding the home or obedience competition. In general, these are usually very calm, loyal, and loving companions.

They need to spend plenty of time with the family or they can become bored and destructive. The National Pyr Rescue recommends never leaving the dog outside in the yard when the family is not home as they may try to escape to pursue suspected predators. A physical fence is needed as their thick fur and a high tolerance for pain can lead them to ignore an electronic fence.

Pyrs were bred to be intelligent but independent watchdogs for flocks and training can be difficult. They need consistency and are best with owners who are experienced in dog training.

Socialization from a young age is important for this breed as they are naturally suspicious of any newcomer. They are world-class barkers with a keen sense of hearing. In the event of an intruder, they will alert you and the entire neighborhood, and this is especially true at night since they were bred to be nocturnal guards. This may make them less suitable for certain households.

This breed is devoted to its family's children and makes a loving family dog. One precaution is that this dog will be too large for young children to walk on a leash. They can also be overly protective of children when rough-housing with others who are not part of the family.

The breed's history as flock guardians makes them good with cats and other pets, especially when raised with them. They get along with other dogs when properly socialized, but National Pyr Rescue notes it is rare that they get along with dogs of the same sex as adults.

Great Pyrenees puppies
Philippe Lebeaux / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

  • Hip dysplasia, an abnormal formation of the hip socket
  • Osteochondrosis (OCD), a common joint condition that causes abnormal cartilage growth instead of bone
  • Entropion, a genetic condition where the eyelid is inverted or folded inward
  • Addison's disease (hypoadrenocorticism), a hormonal condition that causes a deficiency in hormone production like cortisol
great pyrenees as pets illustration
​Illustration: The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

This breed should be fed two meals per day of up to three cups of dry dog food per meal. The amount your dog will need will depend on size, activity level, age, and other factors. Discuss your dog's individual nutritional needs with your veterinarian. Monitor your dog's weight to prevent overfeeding and obesity.

  • Calm and affectionate

  • Loyal and protective

  • Gets along well with children and most other pets

  • High shedding rate and needs frequent grooming

  • Training can be challenging

  • High affinity for warning barking, especially at night

Where to Adopt or Buy a Great Pyrenees

The Great Pyrenees Club of America's breeder referral list is a great place to start your search for a puppy. However, if you are looking for a rescue you will find many local organizations devoted to saving and re-homing Pyrs by searching online. Among the national groups are National Pyr Rescue and Great Pyrenees Rescue Society.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide on a dog, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other Great Pyrenees owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

There are many dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.