We asked the following questions to our friends in the Great Pyrenees community. Here are their answers, taken from the November 2019 issue of ShowSight, The Dog Show Magazine. Click to subscribe. Above photo from the article “The Great Pyrenees, Not Just A Pretty Face” by Janet Ingram. ShowSight Magazine, November 2012 Edition.
- Where do you live? What do you do “outside” of dogs?
- In popularity, Great Pyrenees currently rank #66 out of 192. Does the average person in the street recognize him? Is this good or bad when it comes to placing puppies?
- Few of these dogs really “work” anymore. How has he adapted to civilian life? What qualities as an unmatched livestock guardian also come in handy around the house?
- A big strong Working dog requires a special household to be a perfect fit. What about the breed makes him an ideal companion? Any drawbacks?
- What special challenges do Great Pyrenees breeders face in our current economic and social climate?
- At what age do you start to see definite signs of show-worthiness (or lack thereof)?
- Carting a big, heavy dog (or dogs) to shows is not for the faint of heart. What is it that makes it all worthwhile?
- What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging?
- What is your ultimate goal for the breed?
- What is your favorite dog show memory?
- Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? Please elaborate.
My name is Terrie Strom of R Pyr Great Pyrenees. I live on 2.5 acres just north of Santa Barbara. I started showing in 1997 and breeding in 2001. This is the only breed I’ve owned. I have over 70 AKC Champions. I love this breed like no other. My passion is showing my dogs and I enjoy helping new comers show their dogs. It makes me happy when families get their puppies from me and I can help bring them the same joy I have gotten from this wonderful breed.
I live in Arroyo Grande, California. Outside of dogs, I manage my property.
Does the average person in the street recognize the breed? No, the average person does not know the breed. I am glad this is not a popular breed and it is not about placing puppies. It is about educating people before they get a Great Pyrenees puppy. When they don’t recognize the breed it is an opportunity to educate them and then stimulate interest in the breed.
How has the breed adapted to civilian life? I get a lot of calls from families that have small ranches so they are looking for a guardian. Some families that have smaller dogs and children are looking for a guardian because of the coyotes that are coming into the city areas. These dogs are the family pet and still do a job. More and more I get inquiries for therapy dogs. This is a perfect fit. They are calm and love to be petted.
What about the breed makes them an ideal companion? Because of their calm nature they make a good family pet. They are good with kids and other pets. They do well inside or outside but they still need exercise. A couple of good walks a day is good for both the dog and walker. Their size can be a drawback. They eat less than you would expect and have very good health overall. The biggest drawback is their barking especially if you have neighbors that are not dog friendly. They need to be brushed each week which is good bonding time.
What special challenges do Great Pyrenees breeders face in our current economic and social climate? I think in some ways our society is less tolerable of dogs. In one hand they want the companion but on the other they don’t have the time to care for them. If you do not spend time with your dog, you will have behavior issues. Breeders are becoming a thing of the past. There are so many rules and regulations for owning, keeping, and breeding dogs that now no one wants to be bothered. Then you have all the dogs in shelters and responsible breeders are getting a bad rap. The challenge of Great Pyrenees is their size. I am a small breeder with limited litters each year. Their size limits my numbers.
At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? At eight weeks you can see a lot. Then I see more when they go to their first show at six months.
What is it that makes showing dogs all worthwhile? Showing is my passion. Showing brings a bond to me and my dogs. The best way I can describe it is when you are showing your dog and everything clicks. It all comes together and you are a team. Like in golf when you hit the “sweet” spot and your ball just flies down the fairway. Who cares what your score is. You know you hit it just right and it felt good. You know when you and your dog are in sync. It feels good. You hope that you win but no matter what you walk away knowing you and your dog did great. That’s why I show. The wins are secondary.
What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging? That they can do the job in which they were bred to do. Not the most showy dog.
My ultimate goal for the breed? Keeping true to their function. We still use that today. This would include health and temperament.
My favorite dog show memory? Finishing my first bred-by dog out of the bred-by class going Best of Breed over top Specials 18 years ago and four of us gals and nine Pyrs traveling from California to Massachusetts for our National. Oh how we laughed!
“You can’t have just one” The work is great but the rewards are greater.
I have owned, trained, shown and bred Great Pyrenees for 35 years. I am currently the President of the Great Pyrenees Club of America and the Training Director for Princeton Dog Training Club.
I purchased my first dog as an Obedience dog. Since Pyrs are not often shown in Obedience, I was encouraged to try conformation shows. My first dog, Apollo, completed his Championship at the first Regional Specialty I attended and earned his CD before the age of two. He went on to train for his CDX and become an amazing therapy dog. The rest is history. With very limited breeding, I have finished 30 Champions, three CD’s, and three Rally Novice Titles. I breed once in awhile, when I want a new puppy and to continue my line of dogs.
For Thanksgiving I am expecting a litter of at least seven puppies from 23 year old frozen semen, a breeding I have been waiting a very long time for.
I live in New Jersey. Outside of dogs, most of my life revolves around dogs and my family. Between training and showing my dogs, being the current president of the Great Pyrenees Club of America and training director for Princeton Dog Training Club, there isn’t much time for anything else. When I get a chance, I enjoy going to concerts with my husband.
Does the average person in the street recognize the breed? No, most people think they are white Newfoundlands or Saint Bernards. I don’t think it really has an affect on placing puppies. Great Pyrenees are not for everyone. Those who want them have usually met one.
I have to disagree the statement that few of the dogs really “work” anymore. I believe that there may be more dogs working than ones living with families as pets. Great Pyrenees are extremely adaptable and make amazing livestock guardian dogs as well as amazing family pets.
How has the breed adapted to civilian life? Great Pyrenees are extremely intelligent dogs. They make wonderful family pets or LDG’s. Whichever life they are living, they require training.
What qualities as an unmatched livestock guardian also come in handy around the house? They are devoted companions who protect their families as if they were their flock. No one can sneak into your house without you knowing.
What about the breed makes them an ideal companion? They make wonderful companions and service/therapy dogs.
Pyrs are very intelligent and very capable of manipulating unsuspecting owners. Puppies like to dig up your yard, adults often bark too much and without a fence, all Pyrs will wonder. Pyrs also shed profusely when blowing their coats and some dogs drool more than others.
What special challenges do Great Pyrenees breeders face in our current economic and social climate? As with all purebred dogs, some people don’t seem to understand the importance of purebred dogs that are bred for a purpose. The importance of inherited instinctual traits can not be understated. Without livestock guardian dogs who can think for themselves, farmers would not be able to keep herds of livestock safe.
At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? I start watching every move puppies make from birth. By seven weeks old I try to make my decisions and can see signs of show-worthiness.
What is it that makes showing dogs all worthwhile? Showing my dogs is a fun activity that gives me the opportunity to spend more quality time having fun together. If I want to breed a dog, I feel I need to prove their worthiness to reproduce by becoming a champion.
What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging? Make sure to get you hands on the dogs to feel what is under that beautifully groomed coat. Many faults can be hidden by a carefully groomed coat and carefully used cosmetic products.
My ultimate goal for the breed? To see all breeders use health testing to help them breed beautiful, healthy dogs, and look at the whole dog including type, soundness and temperament.
My favorite dog show memory? Being able to owner-handle my home bred dog to multiple group placements and the hall of fame.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? Before buying a Great Pyrenees, people need to realize that they will be very large dogs. Formal training of a puppy is extremely important and must be started from the minute the puppy comes home and should minimally continue throughout the first year. If you are not going to fence your yard or keep your dog leashed, please do not get a Great Pyrenees.
Terry M. Denney-Combs
I have been breeding and showing Great Pyrenees since 1971. I’m working on my 100th champion at the moment. A Gold Breeder of Merit with the AKC. Under the kennel name Euzkalzale have bred generations of Top show dogs, Specialty winners, Therapy Dogs, Family dogs and Livestock guardians.
I live in Hesperia California. Outside dogs as a profession is not possible because I groom dogs for a living still and have done so since 1984. Dogs are in my blood and ever since my first Pyr, which I purchased on my 21st birthday, I’ve been trying very hard to go forward with our breed being careful to preserve the distinct breed characteristics that make them stand apart. While improving soundness and health along the way.
I find many people recognize the Great Pyrenees these days and most of my puppy clients are people who have owned and loved Pyrs before and want another in their lives.
There is only one Pyr and he should still be able to function as a life stock guardian; he will take the things that make him one into his home and guard the people and animals around him. He is a thinker and will soon know if something could be a danger and act accordingly. He really needs to have beings to guard and be responsible for to fulfill his needs. This breed was developed by Basque shepherds which were a family type of group and the dogs also guarded homes as well as flocks. They are excellent to live with and adapt well to home environments but also require good exercise to develop properly and remain strong and healthy. This is a mountain dog, capable of climbing and descending rugged terrain.
Pyrs have a slow metabolism and require little food compared to many of the larger working dogs. Because they were developed by a people that used natural selection and ability as a guide for breeding has helped our breed have vigor. The biggest drawbacks in residential areas and small farm areas is his tendency to bark at night to let the predators know he is on duty. This can be considered a nuisance in many communities. He also is an independent dog and is not easily bent to any person’s will with training; especially if he sees no need to continue doing repetitive commands. He definitely requires being on a leash when out and about. If any danger is near or his charges feel there is a danger he is right there in full gear to do what is necessary to stop any thing that is making them fearful. Many owners will have to bring the Pyrs in at night to keep within the scope of noise laws; but that is the place they want to be with their pack or human herd. They shed too.
A Pyr should be aware if someone is not up to par and make very caring and gentle therapy dogs. Many have been the last hug for humans passing over at UCLA medical center and other organizations. Many a doctor has dropped for a hug in those hall ways as well. They are especially tolerant of children and do well in library reading sessions and college exam week anxieties programs.
Most Pyr breeders are small concerns—very few big kennels—replaced by a family caring for the dogs that are part of their lives and go to shows with all the crates, tables, etc to make the dog safe and comfortable for the day. Usually they travel very well and love to go. It is a lifestyle that all show people adapt to regardless of their breed. I believe this family raising is essential to the continued development of the breed’s overall soundness of body and mind; the most important thing to breed for to be able to put our trust in their decisions.
As pups I believe eight to nine weeks is a good age to determine overall conformation—my line is slow maturing and I have changed my mind on an individual after nine weeks and will usually keep two from a litter until eight months old to make a final determination. Since I am a small breeder I have kept the new generations and found retirement homes for the adults (usually by four years old) so they have a change for their own special home and I can continue through generations to develop a line of dogs without having too many dogs to care for.
One of my favorite memories is my first special’s eve of retirement and his handler and co-owner, Karen Bruneau put a tiny little red Santa hat on his head for the first go around in the group. It was the last show of the year at Long Beach Kennel Club. He proudly strutted around the ring—it was removed to her pocket quick enough for the first lineup though as the judge gave her “the eye”. Bah humbug.
I’m advancing in years and will be unable to continue my life showing Pyrs before too long and I’m sure there are many devoted fans and breeders who will carry on preserving this great dog—this Great Pyrenees. I’ve had a great run and have no regrets. One will always be by my side until I pass over as well.
I live in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Outside of dogs, I shop until I drop—hunting for the special item for our regionals and National.
Does the average person in the street recognize the breed? Our clients at our veterinary hospital all know them but outside of our zone they are Newfs or etc.
How has the breed adapted to civilian life? Many Pyrs are working on farms but not AKC registered. Our Pyrs protect us and our home!
What about the breed makes the breed an ideal companion? They love life and their people they will also take off if not leashed or fenced in the city and suburbs.
What special challenges do Great Pyrenees breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Finding sound dogs to introduce into our breeding program.
At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? Anywhere between eight weeks and three years.
What is it that makes showing dogs all worthwhile? The joy of accomplishment and time well spent with our four-legged friends.
What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging? They are a guardian breed. Approach as a friend and say hello first. Read the Standard.
What is my ultimate goal for the breed? Eliminate hereditary defects, promote good health and breed to the standard.
I live in Georgia. I moved here five years ago from Arizona. I work online from home, specifically so that I am here for my dogs.
Does the average person in the street recognize the breed? In Arizona they were not often recognized, here in Georgia everyone knows what breed they are, and knows someone who has one. They are very popular as livestock dogs and pets here. Pyr rescue in Georgia has handled well over 1,000 dogs in the past seven years—popularity is not a good thing for our breed. It will make placing puppies in good homes harder than it was in Arizona I believe. Thankfully I rarely breed, only when I have to, and have great owners willing to wait for a puppy.
How has the breed adapted to civilian life? Actually I believe many more of them work than show. In terms of the overall population very few of them are found in show homes with show bloodlines. They are the most common livestock guardian breed in our country, and most of them are bred from this background. The show lines place a few into livestock homes, but there are really two groups—show people breeding tested stock and livestock breeders breeding either for the livestock or the pet market. A few of the livestock breeders health test, most do not. Rescue has a big job cleaning up the livestock bred Pyrs and Pyr mixes that are not placed well by their breeders.
What about the breed makes them an ideal companion? He is ideal in his temperament, guarding ability and beauty. Your house will likely not be robbed, your children will have a trustworthy companion and your neighbors will know you have a big, white dog. They are usually good house dogs and not big chewers. There are many drawbacks. The first thing I tell someone interested in a Pyr is that they bark more than any dog you will ever own, they shed, they drool a bit, they dig and they like to try and escape—all this makes placement difficult. They are much like a 100 pound cat. You must be a calm confident leader, you must have excellent fencing, you must have a plan for barking and shedding, otherwise the placement is likely to fail.
What special challenges do Great Pyrenees breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Any large breed dog has larger needs and costs—veterinary costs, food costs, etc. With all the more restrictive dog laws being passed everywhere we are more limited than ever with where we can live with a kennel of Pyrs, so many Pyr kennels have died out. In terms of them in companion homes, as backyards shrink and neighbors get closer, it’s harder than ever to own a Pyr successfully in that type of home. These homes often have neighbors complaining about barking for instance.
It will be interesting to see how our breed fares over the next 20 years. There are far fewer true kennels of show Pyr breeders left in this country. When I started back in 1990 I bet there were more than 50.
At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? I start looking at day one and make up my mind between eight to ten weeks of age.
What is it that makes showing dogs all worthwhile? Well winning of course! I think we all like those faces of people who have come to a dog show and have never seen a Pyr before—the look of wonder on their faces! I love introducing people to my breed with a beautifully groomed, well-socialized Pyr. When I compete in obedience with a Pyr, its also fun when the judges are impressed with their performance in the ring. Dragging > around all the equipment necessary for showing gets more difficult with each year.
What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging?
I’m assuming you mean a novice, or provisional, judge. The most important thing is remembering what this breed is bred to do—they must be strong and sound. I always advise that anyone who wishes to really learn and understand our breed to refer to the photos of the original dogs and try not to fall for fashionable extremes. Pyrs should have substance, size and soundness, and the temperament to do the job. That doesn’t often transfer well to the show ring. They are NOT white Golden Retrievers and they likely will never “ask” for a win like other breeds. They are commonly aloof and while some love to show, some tolerate it because their owners ask them to. Coats should be hard and straight and not soft. The undercoat is soft, but the hard outer coat keeps them clean and free of mats in the field. The coat’s hardness can be felt by twirling a few strands between your thumb and finger and feeling it crackle.
My ultimate goal for the breed? To preserve it in its original form and not have its appearance or temperament changed to suit some extreme style in any way. I’d love to see our national club grow and do more with LGD’s and their owners and breeders, and think about where we want to be in the next ten years.
My favorite dog show memory? There are so many it would be hard to say! Recently a young dog I bred from my last litter has won two OH BIS’s—that was thrilling! I love the camaraderie in the OH groups. It has been a great way to meet new people.
I am a very passionate breeder of Great Pyrenees dogs and have been involved with this breed for more than 30 years. I strive to produce the best quality and the healthiest animals possible. Arnault Great Pyrenees have dogs from Euzkalzale and Karolaska bloodlines. The dogs are very competitive in AKC conformation dog shows but are also active Therapy and Service dogs. My dogs are multiple AKC Champions and have been ranked Top 5 in the Nation.
I live in Ventura, California. I work as a nurse and am very busy spending time with my family. I also enjoy target shooting and riding my Harley Davidson Motorcycle.
Does the average person in the street recognize the breed? The average person does not recognize the Great Pyrenees breed but ask if he is a Newfoundland. People are drawn to the great big, white polar bear of a dog with a gentle disposition while out in public. You cannot walk ten steps without being stopped for a friendly hug and many questions. When people are looking for puppies, the public usually have done some research or has owned a Pyr before. Once a Pyr owner, usually always a Pyr owner.
How has the breed adapted to civilian life? You would be surprised how many Great Pyrenees are still used for Livestock Guardian Dogs in the United States. Great Pyrenees are very well suited to being a family member and many enjoy laying on the couches or beds in your home. The biggest drawback to living in the suburbs is the Great Pyrenees very, loud and protective bark. This is a challenge that Great Pyrenees owners encounter. The Great Pyrenees are very protective of your property, home, family members and other animals at his residence. They will even go as far as getting between strangers and children when necessary. I have recently lost my husband but I do feel very safe having my Great Pyrenees protecting me.
What about the breed makes them an ideal companion? A home for a Great Pyrenees needs to be tolerant of some shedding, drooling and loud barking. They tend to be very stubborn as well because they are independent thinkers having been bred to guard the flocks of sheep while the shepherd slept at night. When I sell my puppies, I have it in my contract that all owners need to take their dogs to obedience classes. It is important that your Great Pyrenees knows who is in charge in the home (a human and not the dog). The dogs are very gentle and loving. Great Pyrenees do not have quite as much energy as a sporting or herding breed. They are very content to lay at your feet while you work or relax at home.
What special challenges do Great Pyrenees breeders face in our current economic and social climate? In our current economic and social climate many people are having to downsize their homes, move to more populated areas for work or have lost their homes. This is a huge problem for our Great Pyrenees Rescues due to the number of large dogs being given up or abandoned. It is quite the challenge for the people rescuing these Great Pyrenees dogs and all of their hard work is so appreciated. The Great Pyrenees Dog is not the right breed for everybody and it is the responsibility of the Breeders to interview the potential new owners to make sure that this is the breed for them and to be there for the life of the puppy as a resource.
At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness)? At eight to nine weeks you can first evaluate the puppies to see their potential but usually between one to two years is when you might see more maturity in the show ring. The Great Pyrenees reach their full maturity between three to five years and you could tell if they would be a competitive Special in the Confirmation Ring.
What is it that makes showing dogs all worthwhile? Going to shows with my dogs is very hard work due to the size of the animals and the size of the equipment but spending time with the dogs is always a pleasure and you always go home with the Best Dog. Having fun in the ring with my dogs is what makes it all worth it and winning is also very rewarding. My dogs always enjoy going to shows with me and they get upset if I leave them home.
The ultimate goal for this breed is to keep producing our dogs to be able to do the job that they were created for and to breed for healthy and correct conformation (Breed Standard). Each time you produce puppies, the breeder is working on producing better puppies than their parents were.
My favorite dog show memory is when one of my Great Pyrenees Dogs was invited to go to Westminster Kennel Club Show. Going to New York City as an Owner/Handler was so much fun.
All of my Great Pyrenees Dogs have been certified to be Therapy Dogs and have visited with children, hospital patients and the elderly in Nursing Homes as well as Retirement Homes. One of my dogs is my Diabetes Service Animal and has been a very important part of my life as a diabetic for over 45 years. Great Pyrenees are very versatile and once you have one in your family it is very difficult to be without one.