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Get to Know the Great Pyrenees: The Gallant Guardian

Part snowman and part teddy bear, this dog's size is surpassed only by his courage and loyalty.

Caroline Coile  |  Sep 8th 2015


One of the most imposing and majestic of all breeds, the Great Pyrenees is a teddy bear to his loved ones but more like an abominable snowman to any who would threaten them! He comes by his protective nature from centuries of guarding livestock, people, and homes.

Great Pyrenees by Shutterstock.

Great Pyrenees by Shutterstock.

More interesting things about the Great Pyrenees

  • Known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog throughout most of the world, these dogs have guarded sheep in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France and northern Spain since ancient times. They had to be tough enough to ward off predators yet agile enough to get around on steep slopes.
  • One of the oldest accounts of the breed dates from 1407. They dogs were said to guard castles.
  • Louis, Grand Dauphin of France and heir apparent to the throne, favored the breed. In 1675, he saw his first and thereafter was enamored with them. Soon afterward, the Marquis de Louvois brought a Great Pyrenees back from the mountains. More aristocrats acquired the breed as a status symbol and guardian. For more than a century, they remained great favorites. At one time they were decreed the Royal Dog of France.
  • Great Pyrenees still worked as flock protectors in the mountains, guarding against wolves, bears, and sometimes even people.
Great Pyrenees by Shutterstock.

Great Pyrenees by Shutterstock.

  • The dogs were very popular and often sold at large marketplace affairs. Some of these dogs were taken to other countries by their buyers.
  • General Lafayette brought the first Pyrenees to America in 1824.
  • The Great Pyrenees may be confused with the Kuvasz, but the Great Pyrenees is heavier, with a wider head and longer (medium-length) coat. He may also be confused with the Saint Bernard or the Newfoundland, but the Great Pyrenees does not come in red and white or in black.
  • The breed is often used today as a working livestock guardian in the United States. The dogs are raised with the flock so they consider them their family and guard them as such.
  • The Great Pyrenees is the 73rd most popular AKC breed, down from 69th five years ago.
  • Only one Great Pyrenees has ever won the Working group at the Westminster dog show. That was in 2005. None has won Best in Show there.
A Great Pyrenees adorns the Sea Dog Beer label.

A Great Pyrenees adorns a Sea Dog Brewing Company label.

  • The earliest known appearance of Great Pyrenees in a feature film was in the 1932 Marx Brothers Horse Feathers. One is seen in the dog catcher’s wagon!
  • Great Pyrenees appeared in the films Finding Neverland (where he plays the role written for a Newfoundland in the original book) and Santa Buddies and in the cartoon series Belle and Sebastian. They also make minor appearances in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying MachinesDumb and Dumber, and King of Queens.
  • A Great Pyrenees named Sang Geum was such a popular dog actor in Korea he was named their national dog. He appeared in 1 Night, 2 Days.
  • A Great Pyrenees is the logo of Sea Dog Brewing Company.
  • A Great Pyrenees known as Duke the Dog became mayor of the Cormorant, Minnesota, in 2014.
  • Owners include Louis IV, Lafayette, Deborah Kerr, Barry Gibb, and Betty White.

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

Read recent stories by Caroline Coile

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier