Most people probably wouldn’t recognize a Pyrenean Shepherd as the ancient breed it is. Instead, the dog just looks like the world’s most nimble mutt. But this little fellow just may be taking the agility world by storm!
The Pyrenean Shepherd (or Pyr Shep to his friends) is one of the very oldest herding breeds. Sheep and goat herding were well established in the Pyrenees Mountains of Southern France by 6000 B.C., and by medieval times shepherds and their dogs are mentioned in accounts of Pyrenean life.
The shepherds used small, agile dogs to control the flocks, while the larger dogs, today’s Great Pyrenees, guarded them.
It takes only two Pyrenean Shepherds to control a flock of 1,000 sheep; they can cover 25 miles a day.
The breed is sometimes called “the dog who saw God” because a Pyrenean Shepherd was with the shepherdess Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in 1858 when the Virgin Mary appeared to her.
During World War I, hundreds of Pyrenean Shepherds served as couriers and as search and rescue dogs. The officer in charge of war dogs proclaimed them “the most intelligent, the most cunning, the most able, and the fastest” of all the breeds they used.
A few Pyr Sheps came to America in the 1800s with immigrating shepherds. But only in the 1970s did a concerted effort to develop the breed in America begin.
The AKC recognized them in 2009 as a member of the Herding group.
The breed comes in two coat types, rough-faced and smooth-faced, which have different body conformations as well. The rough-faced dog is clearly longer than tall; the smooth-face appears more square and has a longer muzzle. The two coat types are born in the same litters.
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.