Pyrenean Sheepdog

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS, University of Bristol)
 
Photo of adult Pyrenean Sheepdog

The Pyrenean Sheepdog, as the name suggests, is a herding dog from the Pyrenean mountains that form the border between France and Spain. They are attractive dogs with a medium to long coat. Their mischievous eyes peep out from underneath a fringe of hair that sweeps back at the sides giving them a rustic, windswept appearance. Their intelligence and loyalty led to many being used as messenger or search and rescue dogs in the First World War. Since then, they have returned to their herding work in the Pyrenees.

A Pyrenean Sheepdog would make an excellent companion for all kinds of outdoor pursuits. They love nothing more than exploring the great outdoors with their owners. Although they are not large dogs, they might not be able to adapt to city living as they need enough space and mental stimulation to prevent them becoming bored and frustrated. Although they may be wary of strangers, to their owners, Pyrenean Sheepdogs are loving dogs who will accompany you everywhere, even if you’re just moving around the house.

About & History

The Pyrenean Sheepdog, also known as the Berger des Pyrénées or Pyrenean Shepherd, has the distinction of being one of the oldest French breeds with a standard for the breed established in 1897. Although the origins of the Pyrenean Sheepdog have been lost, the evidence suggests that they have been working dogs in the Pyrenees since time immemorial. Dogs were present in the Pyrenees as early as 6000 BC, evidenced by the presence of dog bones in Neolithic fossil deposits. Herding has been the mainstay of the Pyrenean economy for centuries and it’s likely that the ancestors of the Pyrenean Sheepdog accompanied these herders in their daily work. While the Pyrenean Mountain Dog protected flocks of sheep from wolves and other predators, the Pyrenean Sheepdog was used to manipulate the sheep, driving them to where the shepherd required. They were so valued as sheepdogs that many of the European shepherds who exported sheep to the USA went accompanied by a Pyrenean Sheepdog

Aside from their work in the USA, the Pyrenean Sheepdog quietly remained in the Pyrenees happily tending their flocks. However, in 1916, in the midst of the First World War, the breed was discovered by the French army. Their intelligence and ability to run quickly made them suitable for use as communications dogs. They were so capable that the officer in charge of war dogs remarked that the Pyrenean Sheepdog was “the most intelligent, the most cunning, the most able and the fastest” of the breeds that served the French Army. Many Pyrenean Sheepdogs were used on the Western Front, not only to carry messages but also to find and rescue wounded soldiers. Sadly, many were killed leading one Frenchman to note that “No other French breed has paid such a high ransom of blood as he”.

After the war and with their population diminished, the Pyrenean shepherds began to rebuild their breed. In the 1920s, there was a flurry of clubs founded, culminating in the formation of the Reunion des Amateurs de Chiens Pyreneens, which has represented and maintained the breed to this day.

Appearance

Pyrenean Sheepdog Large Photo

The Pyrenean Sheepdog is a medium-sized dog, with males standing at 40 to 50 cm tall at the withers and weighing somewhere between 20 to 25kg. Females are slightly smaller and lighter at 38 to 48 cm and between 14 and 20 kg, respectively.

Pyrenean Sheepdogs are athletic dogs and although they’re slightly longer than they are tall, they are well-proportioned. Their triangular heads are slightly domed. They have black noses and brown eyes, although merle coat individuals may have eyes with blue flecks. Their ears are triangular shaped and lay back while the dog is resting, pricking up with the top half folding forwards when the dog is alert. They have muscular bodies and limbs. While all dogs have single dewclaws on the forelimbs, there is greater variation on the hind-limbs. Double, single and no dewclaws are all possible.

The Pyrenean Sheepdog has two coat types:

  1. Rough-Faced: Their coat is long and ranges from flat to wavy. Some individuals have puffs of hair on their rumps, known as culottes. The hair itself is rough, sometimes described as an intermediate between the harsh hair of a goat and the woolliness of a sheep. The hair becomes shorter on the muzzle and chin, with the longer hair of the cheeks sweptback to expose the face.
  2. Smooth-Faced: The hair of a smooth-faced Pyrenean Sheepdog is not longer than 3 inches. The hair is fine and soft. As with the rough-faced, the hair on the muzzle is shorter, with the longer hair on the sides of the face swept back to form a ruff. The hair on their elbows and thighs is longer, forming feathers.

As well as variety in coat type, Pyrenean Sheepdogs come in a variety of colours, including:

  • Fawn
  • Copper
  • Light to Dark Grey
  • Brindle
  • Black
  • Black with white markings
  • Merle

Character & Temperament

Like other herding sheepdogs, the Pyrenean Sheepdog is an intelligent breed that needs to be kept busy. They love to accompany their owners on outdoor adventures so wouldn’t make a great dog for someone with a more relaxed lifestyle. Their love of exercise and mental stimulation make them suitable for activities, such as flyball and agility training. They are loyal dogs who form a strong bond with the person who they spend the most time with, so they will always develop a favourite member of the household.

They are a social breed that will accompany their owner everywhere, even if that means just following them around the house. They don’t like to spend extended periods of time on their own, so would not suitable for someone who isn’t going to spend enough time with them.

They are wary of strangers and prefer to keep their distance until they become accustomed to a new person. As a result, socialisation is even more important in this breed to avoid fear associated aggression. They may be protective of children that they have grown-up with.

Trainability

Photo of Pyrenean Sheepdog puppy

As an intelligent breed, the Pyrenean Sheepdog is eminently trainable. However, their intelligence means they’re just as good at picking up bad habits! An early start to training is a must be the Pyrenean Sheepdog. It’s important to be consistent and fair with training so the dog can understand what’s expected. Training a Pyrenean Sheepdog is an excellent way to kick-start the lifelong owner-dog bond as they are never happier than when learning new skills. Pyrenean Sheepdogs do not respond well to punishment or heavy handed training, so a gentle manner with plenty of rewards for the correct behaviour is the best approach. Remember to keep training sessions short and frequent, as intelligent breeds tend to get bored quickly.

Socialisation is an essential part of any training regime, but even more important for the wary Pyrenean Sheepdog. They need to be introduced to as many new situations, people, dogs and other animals as possible. This will ensure that they react appropriately as adults when confronted by unexpected events.

Health

Pyrenean Sheepdogs are a healthy breed with a life expectancy of between 15 and 17 years. However, they are known to suffer from some hereditary conditions.

  • Hip Dysplasia – Hip dysplasia refers to a condition where the components of the hip joint are misaligned. This causes excessive wear and tear of the cartilage in the joint leading to arthritis and other degenerative joint conditions. The degree of hip dysplasia may be mild and only present in later life, however, severely affected dogs may have severe symptoms at only a few years old. While options to alleviate and treat hip dysplasia are available, prevention is always better than the cure. There are several screening programs which aim to reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia. It’s recommended that puppies should only be sourced from breeders with a screening program.
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) – The ductus arteriosus (DA) is a fetal structure that helps blood to bypass the lungs while the fetus is in the womb. Usually the DA closes within a week after birth, however, sometimes it remains open (patent) causing symptoms, such as difficulty exercising, coughing and heart failure. There is a surgical treatment that aims to close the PDA. Puppies should be screen by a veterinary cardiologist to identify PDAs as soon as possible.
  • Epilepsy – Seizures in dogs can have a variety of causes. When no underlying cause can be identified the epilepsy is defined as idiopathic (of an unknown cause). This is the most common type that affects Pyrenean Sheepdogs. The main symptom is generalised seizures, which start between 6 months and 6 years old. Although the frequency and severity of seizures can be reduced using daily medication, eventually the frequency will increase until the dog’s quality of life becomes affected and euthanasia is recommended. However, epileptic dogs can live happily for years with some care and dedication from their owners.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Pyrenean Sheepdogs are energetic and intelligent dogs who need to be kept occupied. An adult dog should be exercised for at least an hour a day, with growing puppies exercised for less time. The quality of the exercise is also important. An hour of walking around the same block on a lead is much less beneficial than an hour of off-lead running around. If you’re not giving your Pyrenean Sheepdog enough exercise, they may partake in destructive behaviour to let you know how frustrated they are!

A fenced garden for them to roam around in would be ideal, however, you’ll have to make sure that the fence is secure. A Pyrenean Sheepdog will quickly find a weakness in the fence and exploit it to roam around the neighbourhood.

Grooming

Pyrenean Sheepdogs don’t have any special grooming needs. They have a minimal undercoat so don’t shed very much. Their coat needs brushing once a week, although rough-faced dogs will need checking more regularly for burrs and matts.

Famous Pyrenean Sheepdogs

Despite their loyal service as shepherds and war-dogs, there are no famous individual Pyrenean Sheepdogs. Instagram, however, features plenty of adorable Pyrenean Sheepdogs, famous in their own right.

Cross-Breeds

At this time, there are no recognised Pyrenean Sheepdog cross-breeds.

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