Everything you’re always asked about a Pyr and never want to answer
by Catherine de la Cruz
HOW BIG, REALLY, IS A GREAT PYRENEES?
Your dining room table is 27″ from the floor, kitchen counters 36″. The average female Pyr can walk under your dining room table only if she ducks her head; the average male need to either scrunch himself smaller or lift your table a few inches higher. In either case, the front of the counter is not the place to store meat thawing for dinner. The top of the refrigerator is out of the reach of most Pyrs.
HOW MUCH DO THEY WEIGH?
On the scale at the feed store, 80 to 120 pounds. While trying to give one a pill or cut its nails: as much as a Moray eel. On the first day of obedience class: as much as a young elephant. The day you teach the “down” exercise in obedience class: as much as a Sumo wrestler. When walking through a litter of pups, kittens, chicks or lambs: about as much as two feathers.
HOW MUCH DO THEY EAT?
As much as they want – never mind what the back of the dog-food bag says. The average Great Pyrenees can survive quite nicely and maintain weight and normal activity on as much dog food as will fit into a two-pound coffee can. Most, however, have convinced their owners that plain dog food is completely unpalatable and will starve unless supplemented with ground round, chicken breast, sirloin tips or cheese omelets. If he discovers you have a weakness for cookies you may find your leg battered black and blue by Pyr-paw-pats, repeated until you share the cookies – Oreos are much preferred to Milk Bones.
DO THEY SHED MUCH?
At the annual ritual known as “coat blowing” you can comb enough fur out of your dog to have spun into enough yarn to make yourself a cap, a scarf and a pair of mittens. Why you would want to is beyond me, since everything else you own is already lavishly decorated with Pyr Hair. Since shedding, in some degree, takes place 365 days a year, you will have ample decoration on your rug, couch, bed, etc. Since Pyr hair has a particular affinity for dark clothing, the Pyr-owning business person wears a lot of light grey and tan. Firefighters, police officers and military personnel owned by Pyrs learn to leave their uniforms in sealed lockers at work and change there.
WHAT ABOUT BARKING?
What about it? If begun early, you can train yourself to come every time your Pyr barks and give it some attention. Give him enough attention for barking, and your neighbors will also begin to give you some attention. Mutual reinforcement always works. What do Pyrs bark at? Only things they can see and hear – that includes low flying satellites and butterflies. Most Pyrenees eavesdrop on a family argument four houses away, yet become selectively deaf upon hearing words like “stop that”, “come here” and “be quiet”. Pyr owners exchange information on stopping barking the way our grandmothers exchanges recipes for pickles – no two were ever alike.
I’VE HEARD THEY LIKE TO DIG
How do you think the Pyrenees mountains were really constructed? One Pyr, out of consideration for her owner’s failing eyesight, enlarged the cup of his putting green to bunker-sized. Landscape companies report their greatest repeat business comes from Pyr owners. Some Pyr owners, however, simply resign themselves to living with a yard that looks like a gunnery range.
HOW DO PYRS AND CHILDREN GET ALONG?
If you train your children early enough not to tease the dog – not to pull his tail, wake him by jumping on top of him, pinch his ears or steal his food – your Pyr will be safe from the kids. Children are not as easy to train as a Pyr because it is not legal to put a choke-chain and leash on a child.
WHAT DO YOU CALL A PYR OFF LEASH?
One of the most unpleasant surprises a new owner of a Great Pyrenees encounters comes the first time he takes his adolescent or adult Pyr for an off-leash walk. The puppy who had clung to his owner’s side suddenly moves out of reach, becomes deaf to all commands and entreaties, and decides to wander away, far faster than an ordinary human can move. For some, the surprise comes when the front door is left open – the result is the same. One “gone” dog.
The explanations for this behavior vary – the dog isn’t obedience trained, it is examining its territory, it needs more exercise – and the “solutions” range from yelling and running after the dog, to long sessions in obedience class, to never taking the dog out of the yard. The truth is, the only real explanation is “it’s a Pyr’s nature” and the only real solution is NEVER let the dog off leash outside its own yard.
A top obedience competitor, who trained her Pyr to its Utility Degree and Draft Dog title, said that her dog would take advantage of her smallest degree of inattention to wander off and no amount of obedience training would make him “come” when he “went walkabout”.
Pyrs used as Livestock Guardian Dogs on large farms or open range are reported to stay near the sheep – or not, as their understanding of the job takes them; some can be found sleeping with the sheep, some on a hill overlooking them, some making the rounds of their perceived “territory”, marking it against predators. Dogs used on small fenced pastures are more often reported to be found somewhere they shouldn’t be, often trying to expand their defensible perimeter. One long-time Pyr owner reported, “The Pyr that has five acres wants fifty; the one that has fifty wants five hundred.” One LGD Pyr who cared for her sheep on five hundred acres also periodically could be found on the neighboring 300 acres, checking out their sheep.
Perhaps this tendency to wander could be bred out; but might not doing so also remove the independence, the ability to think for itself, the ability to handle new situations, that makes this breed what it is? Perhaps those who want a dog to go with them off lead should get a breed that doesn’t wonder what’s behind the next bush, beyond the next hill, that doesn’t want to clear its new-found territory of all other canines. But for those who can’t imagine living without a Great Pyrenees – get a leash and use it.