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About the Great Pyrenees Breed and the HOGPC
The Great Pyrenees, as it is called in the United States, is one of the oldest breeds of dog known to man. These large, heavy, fluffy white dogs take their name from Pyrenees Mountain range between Spain and France. For centuries they were used to protect flocks of sheep against the constant threat of bears, wolves and mountain lions. Although fierce protectors of livestock, Great Pyrenees possess the gentleness and devotion necessary to become excellent champions of children and other family members.
The official American Kennel Club standard of the Great Pyrenees was approved February 13, 1935. The standard characteristics of the breed describe a dog of immense size, great majesty, keen intelligence, and kindly expression. “Pyrs”, as they are commonly called, range in size from 25-32 inches at the shoulder and have a weight range of 90-125 pounds. Bitches are smaller than males. All are white or principally white with markings of badger, gray, or varying shades of tan. Puppies may possess very dark markings at birth which fade to lighter shades as they mature. One of the unusual characteristics of the Great Pyrenees is the presence of two dew claws on each back leg. The standard also requires that Pyrs have black pigmentation on the nose, lips, and eye rims. The tail of the Great Pyrenees is long and well plumed. When alert, a Pyr arches its tail back making a “wheel”. Although Pyrs are often referred to as “white Saint Bernards”, their heads are distinctly different. The head of a Great Pyrenees is more refined, the lips are tight and the eyelids do not droop. The ear is set level with the eyes. Although they are fairly heavily boned, they often look larger than they actually are because of their thick white coats. The coat can withstand severe weather, with wooly undercoat and long thick outer coat of coarser hair, straight or slightly undulating. The standard requires that a Great Pyrenees be the exemplification of gentleness and docility with those he knows, of faithfulness and devotion for his master even to the point of self-sacrifice, and of courage in the protection of the flock placed in his care and of the ones he loves.
The Great Pyrenees has a long and illustrious history, dating back to between 1800-1000 B.C. This Pyr, which is believed to be a descendant of a mastiff type dog, migrated to Europe from Asia Minor. Centuries later as a result of living in secluded environments, the Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Maremma, and Saint Bernard breeds continued to develop individual characteristics.
French writings dating back to 1407 describe the usefulness of these early Pyrs as guardians. In the 1600’s, Louis XIV adopted the Great Pyrenees as the royal dog of France.
In the British Isles, as well as other parts of the world, the dog is known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog. The first Pyrenean Mountain Dogs were registered with the Kennel Club in London in 1885. In the 1920’s, French breeders worked to restore the numbers so greatly depleted during the war. This led to the formation of the Reunion des Amateurs de Chiens Pyreneans (R.A.C.P.), which still exists today. The first standard for the breed was published in 1927.
The Great Pyrenees was first introduced to America in 1824 when General Lafayette presented two males to his friend, J.S. Skinner. Considering the royal status of the breed in France at that time, this was a noteworthy gift, but neither dog was used for breeding. In 1931, Mr. and Mrs. Francis V. Crane imported the first breeding pair to the U.S. from DeFontenay Kennels. They founded Basquaerie Kennel in Neeham, Massachusetts. In 1933 the Great Pyrenees became officially recognized by the American Kennel Club. Through their established breeding program, the Cranes supplied Great Pyrenees fanciers throughout the U.S. with foundation stock and the name Crane became synonymous with Great Pyrenees. The Great Pyrenees Club of America was formed in 1934 and enjoys a growing membership from the U.S. and abroad.
The Great Pyrenees is classified as a working dog and utilizes talents in such areas as predator control, carting, sledding, packing, guarding, obedience and search and rescue. Due to its inherent protective nature, Great Pyrenees are being used in increasing numbers throughout the U.S. to provide effective control of livestock predators such as coyotes, wolves, bears and feral dogs. Ranchers using the Great Pyrenees to patrol open range land have found livestock losses greatly diminished. Those interested in acquiring a Great Pyrenees for predator control should deal with a breeder experienced in this area and should exercise caution in their selection.
Many Great Pyrenees throughout the nation have obtained varying degrees in obedience, and some are being trained and used in search and rescue operations. As a guard dog, it has proven itself to be a worthy and devoted family member while maintaining a keen sense of awareness of its surroundings.
Like all dogs, Great Pyrenees require a nutritional diet, fresh water, exercise, and grooming. Although big eaters during their growth period, mature Great Pyrenees, due to their lower metabolism rate, require less food than their size would indicate. Owners should be careful not to overfeed. Pyrs have a repellent coat which eliminates the need for frequent bathing. However, a thorough brushing will help minimize excessive shedding. This grooming is especially important as Pyrs shed their undercoat in the spring with a new coat growing back in colder weather. Pyrs should not be shaved in thee summer, as they will sunburn without their protective coat. The grooming session is a good time to check eyes, ears, and teeth for potential problems. Pyrs are known to not exhibit discomfort, and may not readily tell you of irritations.
All Pyrs and their owners require good basic obedience training. Although gentle and responsive, Great Pyrenees, like all dogs, need to learn respect for their owners. It is not unusual for a young dog to attempt to assert authority, and these attempts should be dealt with firmly and immediately. Most Pyrs respond quickly to firm verbal correction. Because of their sensitive nature, much can be done as far as training through positive reinforcement and praise. Due to their protective nature, many Great Pyrenees have a tendency to do a substantial amount of barking. Early training can help keep this behavior under control.
Although there are no medical problems specific to Great Pyrenees, they are susceptible to some of the common maladies that affect all dogs. It is more common to find orthopedic problems in large breeds such as the Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, Great Dane, etc. Large breeds are also susceptible to bloat (a life-threatening swelling of the stomach due to gas), and bone cancers. White coated dogs have a great tendency towards skin allergies than dogs with darker coats. Because of the slow metabolism, Great Pyrenees require less anesthesia than their size would indicate, something all Pyr owners should be aware of. Regular visits to your veterinarian will help keep your Pyr in top condition.
All in all, Great Pyrenees make a versatile and dependable companion. Although bouncy and full of energy as youngsters, adult Great Pyrenees have a relaxed and easy-going nature. Pyrs are not really considered mature until they are at least 24 months old. Great Pyrenees are as serious in play as in work, adapting and molding themselves to the moods, desires and even the very life of human companions. Wherever their owners live, whether it is on a 5,000 acre farm or an apartment, the Great Pyrenees, with sufficient exercise and attention, adapts well.
Prospective Pyrenees owners must carefully consider if this is the breed for them. The Great Pyrenees is not the dog for everyone, and every person may not be suitable for ownership by the Great Pyrenees. That cute 15 pound puppy will outgrow its cuteness as it reaches 100 pounds, with his own special needs for attention, grooming, and care. Attention should also be given to their territorial nature, avoiding two dominate temperaments (even if one is a different breed) in one household. By working with a reputable breeder, interested individuals can best determine if the Great Pyrenees is the breed for them.
Due to increasing interest in Great Pyrenees in Ohio, the Heart of Ohio Great Pyrenees Club (HOGPC) was founded in 1973. The club is actively involved in public education, as well as conducting meetings in locations throughout Ohio. Educational programs are presented which meet the needs of the companion dog owner as well as breeders and show dog owners. The club also sponsors fun activities including the PyrNic. Great Pyrenees owners are invited to attend meetings and functions to learn what the club has to offer.
The HOGPC holds an Annual Regional Specialty. A specialty is a unique type of dog show emphasizing a particular breed. The HOGPC Specialty is the largest gathering of Great Pyrenees in Ohio, and is a wonderful opportunity to visit with other fanciers and share information, as well as to see a vast cross-section of our breed.
For more information regarding the HOGPC, the Great Pyrenees breed, or if you have questions, please contact the Membership Chairman or the Club Secretary.
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