Working Great Pyrenees
by Joseph B. Gentzel
The Great Pyrenees is
the ecologically correct and preferred form of predator control available to us
Other Livestock Guardian breeds are equal in many respects. Arguably, many people believe the Pyr to be the preferred breed of the group generally known as Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD).
What is the very most important point for us at Aneto when considering the attributes of a working Great Pyrenees is that they come from the most stable and reliable genetic line of Great Pyrenees in the history of the breed. We have continued that tradition from Cote de Neige and Quibbletown with steadfast determination and vigilance. We have healthy Great Pyrenees that work according to their age old instincts. We have proven this with over 30 years of success with our working dogs all over North America. We also have Great Pyrenees who are true to the standard i.e. they look and act like Great Pyrenees are supposed to look. Our OFA hip certified bloodlines go back for many generations and our breeding stock is also cleared for eyes, and knees in addition to the hips. We check hearts occasionally to be sure there is not some unknown problem cropping up, but know of no problem ever in our lines.
You want AKC Champions? Almost all our breeding Pyrs are champions or achieve their championship and over 90 % of their ancestors have achieved same. We know our bloodlines from many generations of breeding. We have studied them genetically via our pedigree analysis system using the most advanced pedigree analysis computer software available. Every dog we have we can take back to France in our Pedigree search. Our Great Pyrenees are equal to any in the country in the Dog Show ring. They also can and do work naturally in the field. Some of our dogs do both with equal success.
When you purchase a working Pyr make sure your breeder has cleared all their breeding stock for hips, knees, and eyes. Your livestock's welfare is dependent on your dogs being able to work. Problems in any of these areas can cause failure and great expense to you. Expense not only in Vet bills but potential loss of livestock due to your Pyrs inability to work or work effectively. While no breeding line is perfect, some are much less and more reliable than others. Is not this what you want from your Guardians?
Here at Aneto this is our life, not just some sideline or add on to our other activities. We stand behind all our dogs for the life of the dog. We are here always to talk to and help you any way possible. We love to hear the stories of all the great things our dogs do for you and your livestock. We also want to help with any problems so your Pyr from Aneto will become happy and successful. If there is ever any question or problem with health or genetics, we want to be involved with you in its satisfactory outcome.
For information and an interesting account of one of our dogs working go to:
Patou's Journal has been translated into several languages and reprinted in club publications around the world. Actually Patou's story is rather typical, but heart warming all the same.
Pyrs work naturally and continually. Are there some that have problems or an occasional one that will not work? The answer is yes to the first part and maybe to the second. Occasionally a Pyr will have some difficulty or get confused or receive poor training and need some guidance and help, but mostly they sort it out. Since 1972, do I personally know of a Pyr that did not work successfully? I define success when you no longer loose livestock or whatever to predators. The answer is, no! I do hear of those who do not work, but have no first hand knowledge of same. My experience involves over 70 Pyrs working over 30 years now primarily in the Southeastern USA. Presently I have bred Pyrs that are working all over the southeastern USA. I have had Pyrs working for the USDA on St. Croix and at Berea College in Kentucky. We have had Pyrs guarding an aviary near Baton Rouge, a holistic farm near Atlanta, a petting zoo in North Georgia, and many others.
In my book, The Great Pyrenees, From France With Love, I go into this in a lot more detail, but let me review why I think that Great Pyrenees work so well and so naturally. For information about my book, click the link above. My book describes many of the related Livestock Guardian Dogs, but more importantly analyzes the breed using the French Standard for the breed for its various components and why it is like that from a functional working dog perspective. Incidentally the French and AKC Standard for the breed are almost identical in their points about the breed, as they should be. In other words, why does this part of the dog look like that and what is its use or significance from a working perspective. There is a emerging difference between the mountain dogs that came to us from the Pyrenees Mountains historically and many we see here now in North America. The changes being brought about by some ignorant breeders are actually compromising the breeds ability to work effectively against predators the size and nature of the European Grey Wolf and European Brown Bear, plus the large cats that the breed had to defend the flocks against for centuries in the Pyrenees Mountains. Here in North America the breed faces man, dogs (feral and otherwise), coyotes, bears, large cats in the west, and maybe the wolf again in very small areas of the west.
The Great Pyrenees come from a group of basically large white mountain guard dogs used since the beginning of livestock, maintained by man to safeguard the livestock from predators that included man himself. What early man (indeed contemporary man as well) needed was a dog about the size of the European gray (grey) wolf that had no or almost no prey drive. They had to guard the livestock, homes, and families of its owners which are traditionally shepherds. The Pyr comes from a group of dogs that where basically white. White because they can be distinguished from the livestock in poor light conditions better so as to not have the shepherd mistake the dog for the predator and maybe its livestock. This white coat also handles the heat and cold as well and better than darker colors. All this began about 12 thousand years ago with mans attempt to have domestic livestock. The nomad shepherds took these first large livestock guardian dogs from Asia minor in an area we now know as northern Iran and Iraq in roughly the area some classify as Kurdistan regionally and historically. From this cradle of man and livestock the nomads moved in all directions. Twelve thousand years is a long time in the scheme of things as far a dogs are concerned so a lot happened along the way and there are many aberrations, etc to this scenario. But what we see is a "trail" of basically large white mountain dogs left in all the major valleys and mountain ranges from Asia Minor to the Pyrenees Mountain in Southwestern Europe that now separates Spain from France. What eventually became the Great Pyrenees, most likely arrived in the Pyrenees Mountains with nomadic man and his domestic sheep about five thousand years ago. There the breed developed its unique character and traits influenced by its geography and those people who traded and invaded the region and left their dogs behind possibly to add to the mix. Fortunately for us all, the Pyrenees Mountains was not the most hospitable place and most of this 5 thousand years was spent in relative isolation. The best dogs and bitches were used naturally over maybe as many as 500 plus generations of breeding. Recognize that only the best would have been used as the ancient shepherds did not have time for pets or much mistake. They could only afford to feed and maintain the best dogs and that limited them naturally to mostly those dogs who were best at keeping them and their livestock alive. The basic guardian traits became so basic and ingrained in the breed that, so far, our ignorant contemporary breeder has yet to be successful in its removal. Most of those large white mostly mountain dogs have these traits in common. Some of the other breeds we know of today are the Kuvasz, Akbash dog, and many others.
Of this group of excellent Livestock Guardian Dogs, the Pyr, arguably, seems most ideally suited for its job. This is especially true when you would want the dog to also be a pet and companion. The Pyr is remarkable in its ability to one minute be the tenderest most nurturing animal and the next to be one of the most ferocious guardian dogs imaginable. They also have an extraordinary ability to recognize friend and foe. They have an affinity for the weak, injured, young, and small animals. They are the "underdogs" best friend and ever vigilant and loyal to all those it guards.
Here at Aneto we have not only researched and studied the breed extensively, but we have traveled to France, England, and other parts of Europe over 20 times since 1986 to study the breed and get to know this magnificent ancient dog better. We have also compiled a pedigree data base of over 14 thousand Pyrs with genetic data and the ability to analyze family lines. We know exactly the best importations since the early 1930's that came from in France to North America and we can trace every imported line to its contemporary genestock here in North America. We know the top kennels who bred these dogs here in North America. Our breeding lines are the contemporary genestock of these best imports and the top breeding kennels here in North America since the 1930's. We have imported dogs directly from the Pyrenees Mountains in France and have used this new "blood" in our breeding program.
Are there Pyrs more suited to Livestock Guardian duties? I think not really if the standard for success is the generic livestock guardian dog. Are there Pyrs that are better Great Pyrenees Guardian dogs? I think clearly there are. If you fall into the camp that believes, as we do, that Great Pyrenees are equal to the other livestock Guardian dogs, but likely more human and family friendly, then it should be important to you to have a correct Pyr with reliable genetic health. Some of the breed has been modified from its functionally shaped physical characteristics (phenotype) by ignorant or non caring breeders all over the world. Don't be misled by those claims that try to tell you that their working Pyrs are somehow superior to others. Most of these people, many who have just been around the breed for less than 10 years, know little except that their Pyrs work. To surmise that others do not work is simply not correct. It is a wonderful working breed and I firmly believe that almost all present day Pyrs work, unless they are fouled up by ignorant breeders and owners.
We, at Aneto, have not had a failure in working Pyrs to date. We hear that others are having some failures. One could only speculate why some dogs seem to not work. Some feel that many show breeders have little or no interest in working Pyrs and do not breed to maintain the best of these characteristics. I do not subscribe to this view as good show stock will work, in my opinion and experience. In contrast most of the farm or working breeders have no knowledge or reverence for the history of the breed, its historical phenotype, or its genetic health. Many (most?) working or farm breeders buy the cheapest dogs they can find as breeding stock and breed these to other inferior cheap breed stock. This group includes the backyard breeder as well. What tomorrow brings as these inferior breed specimens are bred over and over may not be pretty. In these working and backyard breeders hands, there is little or mostly no interest in screening for genetic problems, Almost none of these breeders really clear hips for hip dysplasia in their breeding stock and some of those very few who do so occasionally, tout this as some tremendous step they are taking. The truth of the matter is these basic genetic screening steps for breeding stock is so basic, it should be expected (demanded) by the buyers. Sort of like breeding 101. It is maybe even more important to know the genetic state of the litter as a whole than just one sibling out of the litter. For example, one OFA passed dog out of a litter that has multiple siblings with hip dysplasia may be just as much a carrier of the genetic problem than the affected siblings. Breeders should know such things in their breeding stock, but few (very few) working stock breeders and none of the backyard breeders know such important information.
Most "successful" livestock breeders will tell you not to breed your "scrub" livestock, but that is what is happening almost universally here in North America with our working farm Pyr breeders. The cheapest and worst is being used to produce the next generation of working dogs and because even the worst of the breed can still mostly work effectively these working farm breeders tout that they come from working stock. In France of bygone eras, families bred the dogs from the best mountain stock available for many generations (hundreds of years). Remember they could/would only feed and thus breed the best Pyrs. There was family pride over sometimes hundreds of years in their family breeding lines. That is not what our modern day farm breeders are doing except for a few very notable exceptions. Some of our show breeders have no interest in the historic working traits of the breed. At least they are honest about what they are doing in most cases. Since they mostly have good examples of the breed they still possess these basic strong guardian instincts and good temperaments plus sound genetics. All favorable qualities in working dogs you would want. The problem with some show breeders is they do not want to be bothered with your working dog needs and questions. If they will even talk with you about your working dog needs, they will likely quickly refer you to someone like myself. At least that is what I hope they will do, as they will be little help to you in buying and being a resource to you in your working Pyr needs going forward. But be clear, the ethical show breeders are a much better source for working stock than the farm working breeders, again except for a notable very few, that should not get painted with the same brush as all the rest. These few working stock breeders who are interested in the breed historically as well as phenotypically and genetically are the stars of the working dog breeding world and should stand out as such. There are just a few breeders like Maryann and I who function equally well in the show dog world and working dog world.
Ethics are important in this area, but the working and backyard breeders mostly do not subscribe to any ethics standards for breeding and fair dealing. It is literally the wild west out there. All the outrageous claims such as all white being superior (actually the opposite is more likely to be true) or black toe nails or missing dew claws being rare and preferred is rampant. People wanting working stock to protect their valuable working livestock should make sure they are dealing with someone with ethics and integrity. A breeder subscribing to a code of ethics is one step in that direction. Look for it and ask for it. You will have less choices for a Pyr, but you should increase your chances of getting a good dog that will be healthy its whole life. All good dogs should be guaranteed for its whole life for good genetic health. Genetically affected Pyrs that are not able to work normally should be replaced without reservation and fairly quickly if not immediately. If you plan on breeding you should make an investment in quality stock that is clear for generations on hips, and knees. They should be clear on hearts and eyes in breeding members. Elbows, shoulders, and hocks are healthy in good breeding stock. I am not sure what the farm breeders and backyard breeders are experiencing here, but I hear of almost no problems in this area. That initial expenditure will pay you long term both financially and emotionally.
All working stock, unless buyer specifically purchases breeding/show stock, is only sold with spay/neuter provisions and with limited AKC registrations. We reserve the right to refuse sale to anyone at our sole discretion and without explanation required. No agreements, except those written in contract form is binding.
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