HISTORY OF THE GREAT PYRENEES
LIVESTOCK GUARDIAN DOGS

EARLY HISTORY

The Great Pyrenees is a very old, ancient breed.  Fossil remains have been dated from the Bronze Age, roughly 3500 BC to 1600 BC or later, depending on the location of human settlement.  It appears that the dog was a companion, guard dog, and hunting companion for early man.  Later they became a livestock guardian to help the early shepherds with their goats and sheep.  All dogs in general, as our present day companions, were domesticated between 12000 BC to 11000 BC.  Goats were domesticated at about 10000 BC, sheep about 8000 BC, and cattle around 5000 BC. 

The Great Pyrenees are native of the Pyrenees Mountains.  The Pyrenees Mountains are in the Basque country, which lie between Spain and France.  The Basque are the indigenous people of the area, and are descendants of Cro-Magnon Man.  The breeds exact origins are unknown, but it is thought that the Basques and their dogs are of middle eastern origin.  It is theorized that the Basques and their dogs came to the west Mediterranean coast with the Phoenician traders.  For centuries the Pyrenees has been the working associate of peasant shepherds high on the Pyrenean mountain slopes.  In the United Kingdom and Europe, they are known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog. In their native France, they are Le Chien de Montagne des Pyrenees or the Le Chien des Pyrenees.  The physical and mental characteristics bred into the Great Pyrenees have remained virtually unchanged through the centuries. 

In 1407, French writings tell of the usefulness of these "Great Dogs of the Mountains" as guardians of the Chateau of Lourdes.  In the late 1600's the Pyrenees also became popular with the French court.  And in 1675, King Louis XIV made the breed the official court dog.  The dogs subsequently became much sought after by the nobility.  Queen Marie Antoinette and Queen Victoria also favored and owned them.  Each dog was counted equal to two men, be it as guard of the chateaux or as invaluable companion of shepherds in guarding their flocks. 

 

IN AMERICA

In 1662 the dogs were carried to Newfoundland by Basque fishermen, to be as companions and guardians of the new settlement.  The first reference to them in the United States came in 1815 and 1824.  General Lafayette introduced the first pair to America by sending two males to his friend, J.S. Skinner, author of "The Dog and the Sportsman."

In 1885 the first Pyrenean Mountain Dogs were registered and shown in England.  In 1907 France organized a club for the purpose of perpetuating the breed and preserving them.  And in 1931, Mr. and Mrs. Francis V. Crane of the Basquaerie Kennels, imported several specimens to seriously launch the breed in North America.  The Crane's imported important breeding stock out of Europe just before the Continent was closed by World War II.   

In 1933 the American Kennel Club acknowledged the Great Pyrenees official recognition, and the breed was established in America.  This was to become nearly the breeds salvation from extinction.  The devastating effects of World War II in Europe and England destroyed many of the leading kennels of the breed.  Mr. and Mrs. Crane's importations into America, along with Mme. Jeanne Harper Trois Fontaines of England literally saved the breed from extinction during the difficult years of the war.  Those devoted to the Pyrenees breed look upon the efforts of the Crane's importations with deep gratitude.  For without them, many of the great bloodlines of the breed would be lost today.  

 

THE GREAT PYRENEES TODAY

It may be difficult for the average Pyrenees owner in observing the family companion to envision that his distant cousin residing in the Pyrenees Mountains wears a heavily spiked metal collar.  This spiked collar helps afford some protection of the dogs from the bears and wolves they battle while protecting their masters flocks.  The magnificent coat of the Pyrenees protects it from the elements, and its rolling loose skin from the teeth and claws of predators.  Placed in the proper environment, the Great Pyrenees needs no special training to function as flock guardian and the other qualities for which they have been valued for centuries.  The Pyrenees knows no limits where his family or flock is concerned.  He is an adept fighter and possesses great stamina with the single minded purpose as guardian.  Their eyes reveal the window to their soul, and it is he who accepts pain and hardship along with the same quiet dignity in which he accepts luxury.  They are a dog of immense size, great majesty, keen inteligence.  They possess a kindly expression of unsurpassed beauty, and a certain elegance.  The Pyrenees is known as one of the gentlest of the "gentle giants".


The Great Pyrenees is native from climate which is temperate, being neither hot nor cold.  As a result, the Pyrenees easily adapts to temperatures of either heat or cold.  The Great Pyrenees lives happliy in any climate, and is found in nearly every country of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, Asia and Australia.  The metabloism and body temperature of the Great Pyrenees is lower than most other breeds.  The breed has also been developed for centuries to thrive on smaller portions of food than other dog breeds of the same size. 

Pyrenees are working dogs as livestock guardians, as well as a family and companion dogs.  They make extraordinary ambassadors for the breed in many settings such as hospitals, old age homes, with children, etc.  They are very nurturing of small, young, and sick or wounded animals.  The Pyrenees have an special ability to distinguish predators and unwelcome intruders...  No predator either on land, or found soaring in the sky above escapes its attention while guarding its flocks.   

 

CATEGORIES OF DOGS

The American Kennel Club recognizes 150 different dog breeds. There are seven different groups in which the dog can belong. They are assigned to one of the groups based on what the breed of dog was originally developed for. There is also a miscellaneous group if the dog doesn’t fit into one of the seven.  The Great Pyrenees belongs to the Working class group.  Breeds within this group were deveoped and are used as livestock guardians.  The seven different dog groups are as follows.  

Sporting group - dogs developed to work with people who hunted birds.
Hound - developed to hunt using their sight and scent.
Working - developed for rescue work and guarding.
Terrier group - first developed to hunt vermin.
Toy group - developed to be companions.
Non-sporting group - breeds which overall do not perform the tasks that they were originally developed for.
Herding group - developed to aid in herding livestock.  

 

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