When we think of white, fluffy dogs, the Great Pyrenees might not be the first that comes to mind. The breed does have a long and storied history, however, from its origin in Central Asia to its status as the official dog of France's Royal Court. Originally bred as a herding dog that could easily handle the cold temperatures, the Great Pyrenees was once prized as a guard dog and is now treasured as a loyal and protective family dog.
Also known as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, the Great Pyrenees is a heavily built dog that can reach up to three feet in height. While most of these dogs are white, there are other markings that are accepted in the American Kennel Club's breed standard including tan, red and grey. Like lions, the distinctive mane of the Great Pyrenees is more apparent in the males than in the females. The breed appearance is one that has shown incredible longevity, remaining largely unchanged -- and easily recognizable from fossil records -- from as far back as 1,000 B.C.
Originally bred for herding cattle and other livestock through the tough, cold terrain of Central Asia, their stocky, powerful build was found to be well-suited for another job -- pulling carts. While they are very intelligent, they have also been created as a dog that is an independent thinker and worker. This can be a brilliant trait to have when out in the fields, but might make living with one a bit difficult for the first months of training.
They need plenty of exercise, but are a generally fearless and loyal breed to choose for a companion. Their general air is one of quiet, dignified strength -- they may seem quiet and laid-back, but will be incredibly protective of their family.
While working as herding dogs, Great Pyrenees have been known to take on bears and other predators to defend their charges. Their tolerance for cold, strength and loyalty have made them versatile when it comes to filling roles throughout history. During World War II, they were used to haul artillery through the battlefields. They have also been used as rescue dogs throughout the mountains of Europe, sled dogs through some of the toughest environments, and war dogs.
If there are other animals in the family, the Great Pyrenees can be an excellent choice for a canine companion. They tend to form close bonds with the other animals they share their home with, and extend their protective nature to their furry family as well. These large dogs -- the males can weigh up to 100 pounds -- are usually particularly fond of cats.
All in all, if owners can get past the long fur and the year-around shedding, the tendency to bark and, in some individuals, the tendency to drool, they will find that once properly trained out of their initial independent streak they have a dog that will be a loyal companion that is excellent with all family members, even the most demanding of children.