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Elegance in the Great Pyrenees Head

Great Pyrenees Head: Original Graphite on Bristol Board by Carrie Stuart Parks


Some breeds such as Bull Terriers are called “head breeds.” Having owned Bullies for over thirty years, I can assure you that it’s not due to their deep-thinking ability.

What is meant by the above statement is that the head structure is of paramount importance above all other characteristics. I have heard some people say the same of the Great Pyrenees, but the breed’s standard mentions “elegance” twice in the opening paragraph; while the head is mentioned in reference to expression. Pyrenees are large, but elegant, dogs. The correct Great Pyrenees’ head structure is noted as “essential.” The dictionary defines essential as “basic” and a “necessary” element, so while the overall structure and impression of the breed should be that of elegance, the head is an indispensable part of that equation. I’d like to take a look at what makes the head and expression of the Pyrenees unique.

The correct Great Pyrenees’ head is not heavy and is described as wedge-shaped with a slightly rounded crown. The Pyrenees Illustrated Standard shows the wedge from above, looking down. To achieve the correct wedge, there needs to be sufficient “fill” under the eyes, so if you place your hands on either side of the head there isn’t a gap between backskull and muzzle. This should not be achieved due to a narrow head. The width of the skull is approximately the same as the length, a proportion that is not attainable with a narrow head. The end of the muzzle isn’t blunted like the Newfoundland or Saint Bernard, but gently tapers into a tight-fitting lip and strong lower jaw. The “clean” mouth is important. I have a Pyr with loose lips—big ole pendulous flews. Take it from an expert, a little-known fact is that loose lips are a danger to laptop computers. Sitting next to you on the sofa, their saliva can end up squarely on the computer keys. But I digress…

The skull structure is mesaticephalic, that is, with a sloping stop. The standard calls for no “apparent” stop. That’s not to say the skull slides from crown to nose on an even plane—a dolichocephalic skull type. (That term, of course, just popped into my head—not!) It does mean that if you run your hand along the top of the head, there won’t be a place where you can say, “Here is the stop.” In profile, the upward slope will begin at a point slightly below the bottom of the eyes and will continue upward to a point by the bony eyebrow ridges.

The expression is defined as “elegant.” There’s that word again. What makes an elegant expression? Part of the elegance are the eyes, which are deep brown in color, tight-fitting, and medium in size. Light eyes can make the dog look wolf-like. Sagging eyes appear mournful, and bulging eyes can look like the dog is about to take a chunk out of your hand. None of these can be considered elegant. The eye rims are black—as if Maybelline had a “killer sale” on black eyeliner.

Great Pyrenees Head
Original Graphite on Bristol Board by Carrie Stuart Parks

The expression is also a reflection of the Pyrenean temperament. Most Pyrs feel that dog shows are to be tolerated and are useful only for the extra attention that’s received. The judge is an ear-scratching, rump-rubbing possibility, so the breed’s expression is one of contemplation; mild but polite curiosity. Don’t, however, let this fool you into thinking the Pyr is a pushover as a watch dog. They can be a fearless and powerful foe when guarding their flocks.

Returning to the shape of the eye, we find it similar to an almond, with the lower lid relatively straight, and the upper lid having a gentle curve. Some Pyrs have white eyelashes, which can slightly distort the eye shape. The black pigment at the corner of the eye dips downward slightly on most dogs, giving the eye an oblique look. The end of this pigment is where the meeting of the hair from the upper and lower face (referred to as the “line”) angles downward toward the base of the ear. With the ears in repose, the line would appear to be about halfway down the ear flap.

The ears are described as small to medium in size, v-shaped with a rounded tip. The markings may outline the ear with dark brown to almost black, making them stand out if next to a white ruff. Otherwise, when a Pyr is in full coat and relaxed, the ears should blend into the body. Large ears don’t blend. The top of the ear “lines up” with the corner of the eye.

I’ve found that whenever I encounter the correct, elegant, expressive head of the Great Pyrenees, my hand itches for a pencil or brush to capture their beauty, and I fall in love all over again with a breed I’ve loved for over sixty years.