Before You Get a Great Pyrenees (or any dog)

He just settled back down to sleep.  7:20, the school bus comes.  He jumps up, the futon shaking, and barks loudly at the small, hooded figures with backpacks, their parents shadily waiting in their cars, probably planning on breaking into our house.  They all disburse, the bus drives away, and Gandalf sleepily settles back down on his bright pink futon and begins to snore.

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We did our research on the Great Pyrenees.  I like to thoroughly read everything possible.  They can be pretty vicious.  Like, you may want to put signs up warning people.  If they aren’t socialized, they can be impossible to have around people and animals.  We laughed as we watched a video before getting Gandalf about how this gentle giant breed will guard you against predators, strangers, lawn chairs, birds, the wind….yea, we didn’t really get it.  They bark.  “Good!” I said, I want a guard dog.  They shed.  “Ha!  I have had nine cats at one point, he can’t shed more than them!”  Ha ha…yea, he can.  We will train him!  You don’t train this breed.  They do what they want.  Dogs are how you raise them, right?  But there are definite breed traits that one must know before committing to the lifetime of a dog.  You cannot train hundreds of thousands of years out of any particular breed.

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There are growing populations of Great Pyrenees in shelters.  These adorable fluff balls of polar bear proportions are just about too much cuteness not to fall in love with.  They grow quickly.  Comparing Gandalf to dogs at the dog park, he is probably over 180 pounds.  He’s still growing.  We have socialized him.  I have a lot of clients, students, and friends over and he has been fawned over and given treats for over a year now.  But he is very sensitive and even a benign person with too much energy makes him very wary and, let’s be honest, scary.  I keep him in the back yard if people are coming over.  At the dog park, he is fine.  Off duty, he plays and has a great time, turning into a puppy again.  At home, he is on guard.

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When people say they bark, it is not like a heeler or lab.  His bark is deep and bellowing and can be heard blocks away.  Intended to keep predators from flocks of sheep, the bark of a Great Pyrenees is meant to frighten away any dangers before confrontation.  In the city that means that anyone walking a quarter a mile away gets barked at.  He barks nearly all the time.  Loudly.  All.  The.  Time.  Now, that may sound great if you are concerned about security, but your neighbors may not think that is a great way to wake up Sunday morning.  His bark doesn’t change much.  Could be a burglar, could be a neighborhood cat.

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He sheds.  No, no…he sheds!  The interior of my car was black when I bought it.  I will bring dog hair with me on my clothes, find it in my coffee at the coffee shop, the couch is plastered in it, the floors have tumbleweeds of dog fur flying about every time the furnace kicks in.

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He did snap at a child that he didn’t know who took food from him.  That is any dog.  With Maryjane, he is the gentlest, sweetest, most attentive companion and I do not worry about her playing outside by herself with him by her side.  Even at the dog park, children will hang off of him.  He does live up to his Gentle Giant status.

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When we take walks, he pulls Doug.  If we are walking with someone who has their dog off leash, he pulls.  I was nervous the other day to take him by myself around the lake.  He has a different mindset with just me.  If Doug is not there, he feels his entire job is to watch after me.  The leash stayed slack, he kept looking up to me.  My beautiful, great leader.  He has a beautiful spirit.  He is playful, and adorable, and a great companion.  I love my loud, shedding polar bear.

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He loves the ladies at the bank!

He matches his breed.  There are so many huskies, heelers, and other beautiful dogs in shelters because they are amazingly cute puppies but someone didn’t take the time to understand their innate breed traits.  Gandalf is a lot to handle, but I don’t regret adopting him.  He is part of our family.  He spends most of his day outdoors by choice, but right now he is happily snoring on the couch.

The Great, Great Pyrenees (traits and fun facts)

Message_1514674093077I love the individual traits of dogs.  I am fascinated that certain characteristics could be bred into a dog over thousands of years.  I enjoy watching those traits emerge.  The little souls and personalities may be different but there are definitely set patterns.  We decided to get a Great Pyrenees.

We have long looked at that breed when we had our “real” farms but never ended up adopting one.  I wondered about getting one that would live in the city, would he be happy?

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The Great Pyrenees was a mountain dog in the Pyrenees mountains between Portugal and France.  They were bred to cross mountains and guard sheep.  Their double dew claws on their back feet are attached with bone and make them able to stretch out their feet and easily climb rocks.  We have not a huge expanse for them to wander, nor sheep.  We do live in an area, lovingly described to us by a fellow who was out mountain biking while we were hiking, as Colorado’s unknown playground.  It is gloriously spring-like all the time here and we have thousands of trails.  I happen to be extremely energetic and really needed a pup to walk me!  Gandalf and I walk three to four miles a day, usually just around the lake at the end of the block but we also head to the Riverwalk and hopefully this weekend we can take him the short drive to the mountains and ramble around the trails there.  Great Pyrenees do not have as much energy as a husky or a heeler or me.  A few miles walking or a few minutes throwing the ball are perfect for these gentle giants.

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Great Pyrenees are bred to protect.  That is what they do.  My favorite quote is, “The Great Pyrenees dog breed‘s goal in life is to protect sheep, goats, livestock, people, children, grass, flowers, the moon, the lawn furniture, bird feeders, and any real or imaginary predators that may intrude on your personal space.” Their size alone could do that, but their deep, bellowing bark will make you jump out of your skin.  They are quite intelligent.  Gandalf enjoys being around other dogs and he loves, loves, loves kids.  If he is in the yard, anyone that walks by is suspect and he will bark whether it is an old lady, seven year old child, or shady looking character.  While we are out, he carefully sizes everyone up that walks near us.  As is the case of the world, the vast majority of people are good folk and he is happy to greet them.  Only a few times did he bark and refuse to walk until they were out of sight.  He will be great protection for me.

Great Pyrenees have a double coat.  They are fabulously cuddly and snuggly and polar bear-like.  I love a great big fluffy dog.  We were warned that Great Pyrenees shed.  We laughed.  We go nowhere without cat hair on us as it is!  There is a great talk about how, because of these mega coats, that the Great Pyrenees prefer to be outdoors in the cold, even in freezing temperatures.  I am sure that they were bred for that and can withstand that but my Great Pyrenees has no problem being in the house, even with the wood stove burning.  He will lay by the door where it is a little cooler.  He sleeps next to my side of the bed.  He doesn’t mind being an indoor dog.

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He saw his first rainfall and had a great time running around the yard trying to catch the invading water.  He also learned to turn on the spigot after watching me fill buckets to water trees.  He had a great time until I wondered where the sound of water was coming from!  A simple shake and all of the moisture was off of his fur.  He pounds through the thin ice near the lake and streams by our house and plays adorably splashing in the water.

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The Great Pyrenees are distantly related to the other breeds, Bernese Mountain dogs, St. Bernards, and Newfoundlands.  Their adorable faces confuse a lot of people.  The city people here have rarely seen a Great Pyr, so they search their memories for what he could be.  St. Bernard is the first guess.  Since mine is French, I joke that he should have a barrel attached to his neck with a spigot for wine.

The bones of Great Pyrenees dogs have been found fossilized from 1000 BCE.  That is an old breed!  They were also used to guard French castles in the 1700’s.  They have been beloved for so long that I am surprised more people do not know about them.  The Great Pyrenees dogs will range from 85 pounds (female) to upwards of 160 pounds.  Gandalf seems to be heading in that spectrum.  At 4 1/2 months old he is already 78 pounds.  He is goofy and lovey, and a really, really good puppy.

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So if you have been thinking of getting a Great Pyrenees, I hope this helps you decide for yourself whether a polar bear would be a good fit.  I sure love this pup.  He is perfect for our little urban farmstead.  He is good with the chickens and the cats and I can see where they earned the nickname, “Gentle Giant.”