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Judging Great Pyrenees

Great Pyrenees lying on the ground on a farm, with a horse in the background.

Judging  Great Pyrenees

I am going to present to the reader my thought process and points of greatest concern in judging Great Pyrenees. As with any judging, others may have differing opinions.

When Great Pyrenees walks into your ring, you should be looking for a rectangular dog only slightly longer than tall. This dog should have a noticeable level, strong back line. He will be white or principally white and can have head markings and/or body coloring up to ¹/³ of its body. You will be looking for a large, strong, lithe dog—not one that appears heavy and ponderous or wispy and shelly.

There are three areas of concern in judging the breed—head, front end assembly and temperament. I will go through my thought process about each of these important areas in judging  the breed.

The Great Pyrenees is a head breed that is hard to understand since the correct head with “The Look” is seldom seen. “The Look” as I call the correct melding of pigment, muzzle length, eye color and shape, ear size and placement and lack of an apparent stop does occur, but is rarely seen. You will have the best opportunity to see “The Look” at a national specialty, but even then it can be elusive.

Approach the Great Pyrenees either straight on or at a three-quarter angle. Cup the head under the jaws and observe the shape of the head. It is wedge-shaped from above and from the side. The bite is a close scissors bite with an even bite being acceptable. Two issues with teeth occur on occasion. In some mature dogs and bitches the central incisors may appear to recede; this is not an important judging issue. Now I put on my veterinary cap; on occasion in mature dogs mostly; rarely bitches, you may observe what appears to be lower incisors and even canine teeth that appear worn down so as only  “nubbins” appear above the gum-line. This condition is called gingival hyperplasia and actually is due to a proliferation of gum (gingival) tissue growth that covers most or all of normal incisor teeth. The upper and lower teeth are aligned normally, but if the condition causes you concern, you should penalize the situation to the point that you feel is warranted. The condition is only factored minimally into my judging of  the breed.

At this point you will become aware of the length of the Pyr’s muzzle. The acceptable length should approximate the length of the back skull and not less than 40% of the back skull. There are specimens shown with extremely short muzzles—they are cute, like teddy bears, but incorrect, as this is not enough muzzle length to aid in doing battle with a predator. The correct muzzle length helps to insure that the head will have tight, black pigmented lips. This should not be a drooling breed.

Breed pigmentation is black beginning with the nose, lips and eye rims. On occasion in all white Pyrs, the nose pigment may fade in the winter time- snow nose. The only penalty is whether the condition detracts from “The Look” that the dog portrays. To me, there is usually some detraction. Occasionally, Dudley noses are seen with distinct pink and black area present.

Dudley noses can also be associated with incomplete pigmented eye rims.

The eye color of Great Pyrenees is dark brown and the eye lid shape is almond. The eye color can range from almost yellow to almost black. The color that you accept in judging is the color that compliments “The Look”. In Pyrs that have short muzzles and/or too much stop, there is a tendency for round eyes and increased tear stain on the white hair at the inner corner of the eyes.

The Great Pyrenees ear is from small to medium in size and set on at the level of the outer corner of the eyelid. A line of hair can be followed from the outer corner of the eye to the root of the ear set. If the ear set is too high, the line does not meet the root of the ear. Ears set on too high or are too large detract from “The Look”. In rare instances low set, houndy ears may be found.

The most difficult concept pertaining to the Great Pyrenees head is the term “no apparent stop”. There are very few Pyrs being shown that can be described with “no apparent stop”, but it is the ultimate goal to strive for in the quest for “The Look”. There is a gradual, barely perceptible rise from the muzzle to the top skull that occurs at the level of the eyes. If you run your hand over the muzzle with your fingers pointed toward the top skull you can best determine the degree of stop present. On occasion, there may be well developed superciliary ridges of bone above each eye which can make the head appear to have more stop than it actually has.

Put all of the previously mentioned components together to determine which head most closely meets “The Look” criteria.

The next component for judging Great Pyrenees is the front assembly. The front assembly consists of the neck, chest-depth and spring of rib, and the front legs as they attach to the side of the ribs and the degree of layback of the scapula (shoulder blade). Over the past 20 years or so, Great Pyrenees fanciers have markedly improved the physical appearance of the Great Pyrenees rear assembly. The front assembly has not fared as well. We want Great Pyrenees to have legs that are straight columns to the ground and be of medium substance and width between the legs. The front leg assembly consists of the shoulder blade, the upper arm, and lower arm and toes. The shoulder blade should be laid back to a significant angle and the shoulder blade should be laid on to the side of the ribs behind the prosternum. That laid on position will insure that the front reach gaiting will be maximal.

The Great Pyrenees neck is of medium length so as to elegantly support the head that we have previously described. Two situations can shorten the appearance of the neck length. If the dog has a very short back, it usually translates to a short tail and a short, dumpy neck. This is due to the shortened size of all of the vertebrae in the body. A Pyr can also appear to have a short neck if the scapula (shoulder blade) is not laid back and is laid on upright. This arrangement also eliminates any presence of fore chest that would normally protrude slightly ahead of the junction of the shoulder blade and upper arm.

The shape and depth of the chest are important for working function. The chest is moderately well sprung and egg shaped. It is not barrel shaped which causes the dog to be out at the elbows or slab-sided which gives the appearance of both front legs emerging from the same socket. The chest level should reach the elbows.

The afore described set of anatomical relationships make a well constructed Great Pyrenees forward assembly. It exists in the breed, but is not  commonly found.

The third component of judging Great Pyrenees relates to the breed temperament. This is a large breed that is accustomed to protecting flocks of sheep from predators. They are accustomed to working without much human interaction. Therefore, they can and do think for themselves. They are exceedingly good judges of character and intent. The previous describes what is expected from a Great Pyrenees. Under no circumstances should a shy, excessively nervous or Pyr exhibiting human aggression be allowed to remain in the show ring. If you read the current Great Pyrenees standard for the breed, you will see the section on temperament bolded. When the Standard Committee considered temperament, we felt this was worth noting. Coupled with temperament are the breed’s attitude in the dog show ring. They are not animated and most do not respond to bait. If the Pyr is alert, he will carry his tail raised in a wheel; if he is relaxed he will carry his tail low, but not tucked between his legs.

Two brief judging helps. Get your hands into the coat. The coat should have texture and body and not be soft and cottony. A slight wave is acceptable, but not sought. Check rear angulation at the hock by feeling; groomers can provide optical illusions of adequate hock angulation. Check dewclaws. One is mentioned on each front leg. Rarely, there are two- no penalty. Two rear dewclaws are located higher up on the metatarsal than are on European bred Pyrs. U.S. Pyrs dewclaws are not as functional. Two rear dewclaws can emerge from one digit, be fused together or have one atrophied and one developed. As long as there are two, it’s good to go!

When I use the three major determining factors in judging the breed, this is how I weigh them. Unacceptable temperament keeps me from rewarding a perfect “The Look” and a correct front assembly. Since the Great Pyrenees can “make do” with most of a good front assembly while the true essence of the breed is manifested in the combination of characteristics that make up  “The Look”.

About the Author:

Qualifications necessary to discuss judging Great Pyrenees:  I have owned a Great Pyrenees since 1965. During the period through the early 1990s, I have owned or bred 55 Great Pyrenees champions. Being approved to judge Great Pyrenees in 1978, I am the senior Great Pyrenees judge in the Western Hemisphere and currently judge two AKC groups and Best In Show. I have judged four United States Great Pyrenees National Specialties, two Swedish National Specialties, and one Canadian National Specialty. In 1983 I judged the breed at the AKC Centennial Show in Philadelphia. I served as chairman of the standard revision committee that created the current breed standard in 1990 resulting in the only revision since the original standard of 193