The Pyrenean Shepherd is a dog of many names. A native of the Pyrenees Mountains of France, this breed is also known by its French name, Berger des Pyrénées. Lovers of the breed, meanwhile, shorten its name to Pyr Shep.
Don't confuse this dog with the Great Pyrenees, a much larger breed.
The American Kennel Club recognizes two variations of the Pyrenean Shepherd: the rough-faced and the smooth-faced. The two types can look quite different, and Great Britain regards them as two different breeds.
To make matters more confusing, Pyrenean Shepherds can come in a wide variety of coat colors, and coats can vary in length. Of course, none of this affects the quality of these loving companions!
Pyrenean Shepherd Characteristics
Pyrenean Shepherds are small herding dogs. The official standard of the American Kennel Club (AKC) describes them as small and sinewy. Rough-faced males should be 15½ to 18½ inches at the withers. Smooth-faced males can be slightly larger, going up to 21 inches. In both types, females can be slightly smaller. Weight is 15 to 30 pounds. The AKC standard states that the breed is light-boned and should be lean enough that you can feel their ribs.
Rough-faced and smooth-faced individuals can be born to the same litter, and siblings can look very different. The coats of rough-faced dogs are long or demi-long (half-long or somewhat long). The long hair on the face has a wind-swept look. Sometimes, the coat may cord, or form rope-like strands, especially on the hindquarters. Smooth-faced types have no long hair on the face, and their body coat is shorter.
Acceptable coat colors for Pyrenean Shepherds include:
- Shades of gray from charcoal to silver or pearly gray
- Shades of fawn from tan to copper
- Merle (a marbled effect of dark patches on lighter patches of the same color)
- Brindle (having dark streaks on a lighter background)
- Solid black
- Black with white markings covering no more than 30 percent of the body
Pyrenean Shepherd dogs have an intelligent, alert gaze. They typically have brown eyes, unless the dog in question has the patchy merle coat, in which case their eyes are often blue. Their muzzles are narrow and triangular. Their ears are semi-erect, with the tips of the ears folding forward.
Traditionally, breeders of Pyrenean Shepherds cropped their dogs’ ears. They surgically altered the size and shape of the ear. Some dog owners say that cropping makes the ears less likely to be injured or infected, but these statements have not been proven.
Today the trend is away from cropping. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) opposes the practice. In some countries, ear cropping is illegal. The AKC official standard for Pyrenean Shepherds states that cropped and natural ears are equally acceptable. Also, tails can be docked or natural.
A Pyrenean Shepherd's appearance is most attractive in motion. Their gait is flowing, with the feet appearing to skim over the ground. They are lively and hard-working, with cheerful temperaments.
Pyrenean Shepherds are very long-lived, with a typical life span from 17 to 19 years.
Caring for Pyrenean Shepherds
If you have little time to devote to a dog, a Pyrenean Shepherd is not for you. The breed requires lots of exercise and mental stimulation. Grooming will demand more of your time.
If you are willing to spend the time, however, you'll gain a loyal companion. Consider these points when caring for them.
Coat care. The outer coat sheds quite a lot, and the undercoat can form mats. Weekly brushing should be enough to remove loose hairs and prevent matting. Some rough-faced dogs have very abundant coats that form cords on the hindquarters. They form on their own, but some owners help the process by pulling the hair apart to form smaller cords.
Similar to dreadlocks, corded coats should need little care, but they may pick up debris or urine stains. You can bathe a dog with cords just like any other dog. It may take half a day for the coat to dry.
Feeding. Pyrenean Shepherds do well on any high-quality dog food appropriate for their life stage. Remember, though, that the breed should be lean. Dogs should always have access to fresh water. Ask your veterinarian if you have questions about your dog's nutritional needs.
Exercise. This breed is best suited for life in the country with plenty of room to run. They can adapt to life in a city or town, but they will still need at least an hour of running every day.
Canine sports can be a good option for active breeds, providing both exercise and mental stimulation. Pyr Sheps are good candidates for agility, rally, obedience, and dock diving, to name a few.
Companionship. Don't get a Pyrenean Shepherd if you'll need to leave your dog alone a lot. Without companionship, a Pyrenean Shepherd's behavior can become destructive.
Vaccines. All dogs should get core vaccines, including those protecting against rabies, distemper, parvovirus, parainfluenza, and canine adenovirus-2. Ask your vet whether your dog should also receive any non-core vaccines.
Other care tasks include:
- Tooth brushing. Clean your dog's teeth daily with toothpaste made for dogs.
- Ear cleaning. Check ears for dirt, debris, and signs of infection.
- Flea and tick prevention. Ask your vet for a product to keep fleas and ticks away from your dog.
- Protection against parasites. Dogs need heartworm protection year-round. Ask your vet whether you need to be concerned about intestinal parasites.
- Nail care. Dogs should have their toenails clipped regularly, usually once a month.
- Vet visits. Dogs should see a vet at least once a year for a wellness exam. Puppies and older dogs should go more often.
Health Problems to Watch for With Pyrenean Shepherds
The AKC states that the Pyrenean Shepherd is a healthy, long-lived breed. Serious health issues are rare. Responsible breeders check their dogs for common conditions and conduct genetic testing as well. They have reported cases of the following conditions:
- Eye disease. Like many breeds of dogs, Pyrenean Shepherds can develop eye problems, some of which can lead to blindness.
- Hip dysplasia. This looseness in the hip joint can lead to joint disease, which can cause lameness.
- Epilepsy. This brain disorder causes seizures, which may appear as twitching, shaking, or convulsions.
- Luxating patella. This condition occurs when a dog's kneecap moves out of its correct position, causing gait problems.
- Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). This birth defect affects blood flow in the heart and may require surgery.
Special Considerations for Pyrenean Shepherds
Owners of Pyrenean Shepherds are enthusiastic about their pets but say that they can be demanding. They may not be the best choice for first-time dog owners. Drawbacks of owning a Pyr Shep include:
- They are not a hypoallergenic breed.
- They shed and drool quite a lot.
- They require a lot of mental stimulation.
- They don't like being left alone.
- They need daily exercise.
- They have a watchdog's instincts and may bark a lot.
- They can be distrustful of strangers.
These, on the other hand, are the things that most owners love about their Pyr Sheps:
- They are affectionate family members.
- They are fairly good with children.
- They usually get along with other dogs.
- They are easy to train.
- They are playful.
- They make good watchdogs.
- They adapt well to different situations.
History of Pyrenean Shepherds
The Pyrenean Shepherd's origin is unknown, but similar dogs have been in southern France for a long time, possibly thousands of years. Archaeological records show that the people of the Pyrenees Mountains have been herding sheep and goats since at least 4000 B.C. It's possible that they have been working with dogs similar to Pyr Sheps for all of that time. That could make the breed around 6000 years old!
Dogs were essential to help the herders move their animals from one pasture to another. A larger dog, the majestic Great Pyrenees, guarded the livestock. The main job of the much smaller Pyrenean Shepherds was herding. Two Pyr Sheps could handle up to a thousand sheep.
These little Shepherds were well-suited to their job. Their small size and nimbleness let them scale the steep mountain slopes. Their coats kept them warm in cold, wet weather. They excelled at searching for lost sheep. They weren't guard dogs, but they were fearless and would face down predators larger than themselves. Another asset was that they didn't eat much, so they were cheap to keep.
If you go to the Pyrenees today, you will find dogs that look like Pyr Sheps among the flocks. They may not have papers, but they have all the marks of the breed.
During World War I, the French army used Pyrenean Shepherds as messengers and in search-and-rescue operations. Their speed and intelligence impressed everyone. Hundreds of the little dogs died, but after the war, soldiers who had witnessed their bravery sang their praises, and supporters founded the first breed club.
Pyrenean Shepherds were slow to get established in the United States. However, several Great Pyrenees breeders imported the smaller Shepherds, and interest in the dogs grew in the 1970s and 1980s. A breed club was established in 1987.
The AKC recognized the breed in 2009. The Pyrenean Shepherd is still rare in the U.S., though, ranking #192 of 197 breeds on the AKC's 2021 list of most popular dogs.