A Working Pair


Great Pyrenees, as they are known in the U.S., originated as the Pyrenean Mountain dog in southern France and northern Spain where they guarded sheep on steep mountains. Males usually grow to 110-120 pounds with females in the 80-90 pound range. These are large dogs. Many people think they are only all-white, but they are often marked with varying shades or gray, red, and tan, called badger markings. I love the markings of color. Chloe is particularly well-marked. (Coco has fewer and lighter markings.)

Chloe’s markings on her ears–


–and rear/tail.

These dogs are strong, protective, independent-minded, yet usually gentle with people, especially children. The independent-minded thing leads to the Great Pyr joke: What do you call a Great Pyr off the leash? GONE. Ha. A Great Pyr has a narrowly-defined deafness to instructions they don’t want to follow.

Livestock guardian dogs have a specific series of behaviors known as mark, warn, chase, attack. An LGD “marks” its territory, staking its claim.

Most of its guardian duties are carried out in the barking. (Barking, barking, barking. And more barking.)

A Great Pyr will sit for long periods of time, staring out beyond its perimeters, barking. Predators are warned that a powerful guardian is in the field, and that they are prepared for all comers. If they have to, they will chase, and attack, but they spend most of their time making sure they don’t have to.

They are, in fact, peaceable creatures. They walk softly, but they carry a big stick.

Frequently, I’m asked why I don’t use my miniature donkeys as guardians. It’s a popular belief that they are (or can be) livestock guardians. Perhaps in some cases they can be, but I have not found any such behavior now in years of keeping miniature donkeys with my sheep. A pair of donkeys, in particular, will bond to each other, but even a single donkey is not recommended as a credible livestock guardian by the National Miniature Donkey Association. “Dogs can be more effective against bear and mountain lion predation because llamas and donkeys are afraid! (Who says they are not smart!)” Scroll down on the NMDA page here to read more of the “Miniature Donkeys Do Not Make Suitable Livestock Guardians” article from which I took that quote. There may be specific, individual donkeys that work well as livestock guardians (you may have one!), but I do not find that to be so with mine.

Give me a livestock guardian dog any day. What has surprised me since I got Chloe is how well a pair works! The impetus for adding Chloe to the field was for companionship to Coco, to keep her more content in the field. That has been realized. They are happily playing and hanging out, and they are a joy to watch.

I could watch them for hours (if I had time!). They are so much fun together.

But, more, as Chloe is gradually maturing and beginning to exhibit her working characteristics, I see a pair working together, how they take cues from each other. A working dog alone can be fascinating to observe in their intensity as they patrol their perimeter or just sit and stare and bark.

But a pair is even more fascinating.

I’ve pondered my sheep situation, and have decided rather than acquiring additional working dogs, I’ll keep the sheep and goats together. I don’t want to add another livestock guardian pair OR separate Coco and Chloe. There are some small issues to be resolved in keeping the sheep and goats together, but they can be resolved adequately. Since I keep such a small herd of goats and small flock of sheep, it makes more sense to keep them together under the watch of my existing pair.

I am considering getting a guard dog for the house, however. I truly enjoyed it when Coco was in the house with us. It made me feel safer in the house at night. Unfortunately, that wasn’t something Coco could accept–she’s meant for the field and she wants to be there. And I need her in the field. Chloe, too. Now that I’ve seen a working pair together, I wouldn’t have it any other way. While most Pyrs have that strong field working instinct, not all do, so I’m interested, but in no hurry, to find a Great Pyr with a temperament suitable for home and family guardianship. I’ve even talked to a rescue about one Pyr that may be suited. If that one doesn’t work out, I’ll take my time waiting for the right one. I considered a lot of other breeds, researching and studying on it, but nothing appeals to me like a Great Pyr. They are the most amazing, fascinating dogs I’ve ever been around.

P.S. Check out this hilarious Pyr FAQ: Pyr Q&A. (Quote: Question–Do Great Pyrs dig? Answer–“How do you think the Pyrenees mountains were really constructed?”)

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on September 4, 2012  

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24 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 9-4

    :heart: I LOVE the laughter in Chloe’s face when Coco has her pinned! And the way they both smile and seem to be laughing with one another. It’s actually made me laugh out loud this morning – thanks for these great pics. :snoopy: :woof:

  2. 9-4

    That’s COCO pinned in the pictures, not Chloe! (Which shows how far they’ve come since the days when Coco had to repeatedly assert herself to Chloe, pinning her down aggressively to show her who was boss. Now Coco is comfortable enough with Chloe that she will let Chloe pin HER and they’re PLAYING!)

  3. 9-4

    They are not only a beautiful pair of dogs but an important working part of your farm. When I was a kid,in the larger town that we went to for groceries, there was a family that raised Great Pyrenees. If I was lucky we would go down that street and it would be time to walk the kids, I mean dogs. I think the kids were suppose to be walking the dogs but really the 2 kids on each leash were just there to slow the dogs down and to get them back home. I never ever saw them just walk. Kids and dogs always seemed to be having a great time though. Sometimes they would even have puppies in a wagon coming along behind the big dog group. I’m not sure what their neighborhood thought of the show but I loved it.


  4. 9-4

    Love the post………….I also have a Great Pyrenees name Sadie…….she’s a service dog for my PTSD.
    Thanks love your sire.

  5. 9-4

    Lovely to see them working well together. Another thing they call a Pyrenees off-leash is a disa-pyrenees.

  6. 9-4

    I am with you 100%. We have two great Pyr’s (Max & Holly)and will likely never own another breed. They are caretakers of the farm (cows and chickens so far) and also of the household. We absolutely love them!!

  7. 9-4

    :woof: Could Casper serve as a house dog, or is he too friendly with everyone?

  8. 9-4

    Casper is loveable but not guard dog material. I know, I own his brothers!

    Silly puppies, all 3 of them! :woof:

  9. 9-4

    I too have both goats and sheep, and would love to know how you resolve the different mineral needs issue. We’re looking at a pair of Great Pyrenees tonight. Hope to have similar success to yours.

  10. 9-4

    milesawayfarm, that is my main concern, the mineral issue. Goats love to climb/jump on stuff, and sheep aren’t as agile (and are bigger). I have an idea for a play gym for the goats, constructed so as to be inaccessible to the sheep, where I’ll place their mineral block. A salt block will be available in the field for everyone.

  11. 9-4

    Wow! I can really see how Chloe has kept her markings now. :) And I’m so happy she and Coco are working well together. Love the pics! :)

  12. 9-4

    I sleep with one foot outside the covers–my family calls it my thermostat. When I go visit my daughter, her wonderful house Pyr, Abby, has these behaviors we call checking the perimeter throughout the night. Invariably, when Abby checks the perimeter, she pokes her cold nose on my foot pressing to get it back under the cover. Once it’s back in, she resumes her patrol!

    Also, one night in the middle of the night Abby started barking furiously and we could see a man silhoutted against the moonlight, right outside the window. The police did not catch him, but Abby was On The Job.

    I could write a book, but I’ll stop…

  13. 9-4

    Love them both!!! Has Coco completely recovered from her injury?? She looks great!

  14. 9-4


    We just got our first Great Pyr on Saturday – a 2 1/2 year old female. Apparently, her previous neighbors didn’t appreciate her efforts to keep them safe from all things moving and not.

    We are in the “settling-in” phase, where the black lab mix, miniature schnauzer and English cocker spaniel are trying to figure out if there’s any way to convince this new 120-pound cotton ball with feet that they are still in charge.

    I was amazed yesterday to watch our miniature pony, who was being sold to a wonderful family, totally not react as this dog, who was not all that much smaller than her, walked right up behind her and checked her out. It was as if the pony knew that Sophie was no threat.

    Now if we can just convince her that the ducks apparently don’t need sleep, and its okay that they walk around the yard all night quacking…..

    Sleep is over-rated, right? 8)

  15. 9-4

    You know, I grew up w/ small little rat dog’s as I lovingly call them::: lol, then when I got my own home: the cats came: 3 in and 2 outside:: (right now)::till someone drops another bunch off, anyways:: Then the child came: a boy::then the boy needed a boy pet:: so a dog it was:: it was the same size of a cat::should work out well:::so I thought! ??? Don’t know what drugs or adult beverage was being consumed at the time????? So when it came home, that is it was about 4 ½ lb’s,,,it was the runt:::::now it’s an 88-90 lb small farm animal! Runt no more:: he stands close to 5 1/2 feet (when he stands that is) & has a bark that will make people stand off my porch and not get out of their cars::: which I love!!! lol:::and I love him! he’s my soul mate:::my best friend:: he’s happy to see me no matter how his day has been, I would have no other dog since it’s pretty much all I’ve known, for an inside dog that is: he’s 1/2 Chocolate Lab & 1/2 German Short Hair’d Pointer. What I like is the fact so far (knock on wood) we have had no major health issues, which Lab’s have::: Good luck! happy doggy hunting! May all your doggy dreams come true 

  16. 9-4

    I’ve heard that mini donkeys weren’t protectors but never looked it up. My full size donkey is a great protector. He is a single donkey :)

    For my house, I keep a Bullmastiff for protection. They don’t chase livestock and are very gentle with the family. I also like the ease of a short hair coat. Living in Oklahoma, I would worry about a Pyr’s hair coat being too hot or it hiding ticks. Our neighbors Pyr is matted which I dislike. It has to be uncomfortable for the dog.

    Your girls are gorgeous. Is it hard to keep them brushed out? They seem just perfect for your livestock.

  17. 9-4

    If I were running just a few goats with sheep I would probably copper bolus my goats several times a year and/or make sure they had access to a goat-specific loose mineral where the sheep can’t reach.

  18. 9-4

    I am not a dog person, but Pyrs break that rule for me. I love our Pyr, he’s a teddy bear and the kindest all-around dog I’ve ever known. He’s a family pet, so no livestock to guardian. I guess us humans are his livestock? LOL.

    I love to see your two Pyr girls working so well and playing together. How awesome is that!

  19. 9-4

    I love those beautiful dogs! My daughter lives on a 65 acre farm and they have had 5 dogs dumped at their farm in the past couple of years and two cats. They have kept all but two (the labradoodle and St. Bernard) have recently been adopted by families in NY and NJ! The half Pyranees “Cowboy” looks just like a Pyranees, even the weird toes, but he is golden red–Looks like Clifford! Cowboy was different from the other dogs from the start–he came as a puppy, and slept in front of the rabbit hutch. Was friendly and sweet, but a bit aloof. He now guards the chicken and turkey coops–sleeps by them at night. A couple of weeks ago Cowboy came up to my daughter carrying something in his mouth. At first she thought it was something dead, but he brought her a tiny 5 or 6 week old puppy which was very much alive. Two or three days later my daughter returned home from the store to see what she thought was that puppy (although it was living in the bathroom), dead in the road. When she went into the house, the puppy was fine in the bathroom. She realized that the guy who dumped the puppy had also brought it’s sibling which was hit by a car! They discovered it’s reg.papers by their mailbox where they learned the puppies are yorki-poos. It’s a long story–it appears that Cowboy, the labradoodle, St. Bernard and yorki poos were all dumped by the same crazy guy! Anyway, Cowboy exhibits all the wonderful qualities of the Pyranees and still picks up the yorki poo and washes it. Amazing! I’ll be posting about it in the near future on Stick Horse Cowgirls with pics!

  20. 9-5

    I’ve enjoyed learning about Great Pyrenees dogs through your posts telling us about Coco & Chloe. You’ve inspired me to do some reading about the breed on the internet. I’m pleased to see that Coco appears to have recovered well from her accident injuries & that she & Chloe are friends. I wish I could see them interact in person. Loved the photos. Please do keep us posted on your decision about a guard dog for the house. I think a house guard dog is an excellent idea.

  21. 9-5

    Great pics of the dogs. So glad things are working out for you in the field. My question is about tick control. What do you use for flea and tick control as they are out in the field all day? I’m hearing a lot of talk about not using the common products on the market as they are not good for the dog. However, after having had a dog with two tick diseases, I hesitate to stop using this protection. What are your thoughts?

  22. 9-5

    They are beautiful dogs. I am amazed that they don’t go after your chickens. Do they have to have training to learn not to do that? Were yours already trained when you got them? Our dogs were death to any bird they came across(they were not LGD’s). I just find it unbelieveable you can trust them with your small animals like that.

  23. 9-5

    You should nominate them for barnyard presidents! see attached link

  24. 9-6

    Such wonderful pictures. I love seeing Coco & Chloe together and seeing Coco healthy and really happy, well it made my night. Thanks Suzanne. :happyflower:

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