Who Are These Little French Shepherds?

The smallest French herding breed, the Pyrenean Shepherd, or Berger des Pyrénées,  are a unique little breed that are still used by the shepherds in the rugged Pyrénées Mountains, working together with the Great Pyrenees.  They have a long and rich history there.

Pyr Sheps come in both rough-faced and smooth-faced varieties, and in a variety of colors including fawn, brindle, black, gray, and various shades of merle. There are also different coat types. The Rough-faced variety comes in 2 coat lengths: long and demi-long. Coats on the long haired rough-faced dogs will usually form cadenettes (cords), which form on the hindquarters and front legs and chest, if  not kept brushed out.  Traditionally their tails are docked and ears cropped, but they may also have natural ears and tails.  Most European countries no longer allow cropping and docking, and many North American breeders are also choosing not to dock and crop.  (If you have a preference ask the breeder what their policy is.)

WHO ARE THESE LITTLE FRENCH SHEPHERDS?
To those of us who love and own Pyrenean Shepherds, they are wonderful dogs, but you will need to consider – Are they the right breed of dog for you? The answer to this question will vary from person to person depending on what you are looking for in a dog. To consider the Pyr Shep we will look at his description from some phrases taken from the breed standard.

“A lean, lively dog of minimal height and weight, and a sinewy build;…”
Standing 15 – 21″ tall, Pyr Sheps have their own unique and complex personality, and are quite unlike any other dog.  Don’t be fooled by their cute faces. They are independent, and hard working little dogs, who are very intelliegent and are not for the faint of heart! 

“…with a great deal of energy …”
If you are looking for a sedate dog the Pyr Shep is not for you. Pyr Sheps are a very energetic breed of dog and do need lots of exercise.They come in a small package, but have an incredible amount of energy. Always on the move and active, they spend a lot of time looking for something fun to do to entertain both themselves and you.

“… and an intelligent, cunning, mischievous attitude and expression;…”
A Pyr Shep’s intelligence makes him a dog who thinks about every situation, and makes him the versatile dog that he is – capable of herding livestock, navigating agility courses, doing tracking, and many other tasks. On the other hand this intelligence can often cause Pyr Sheps to learn bad habits as quickly as good ones. In training a Pyr Shep, being domineering will not work – they will not be bossed around, but they do need lots of direction and input especially while growing up. Learning the way dogs think, and training your Pyr Shep is a must. 

“… always on alert, suspicious, ready for action.”
The mountains where these dogs worked was often a dangerous environment, with bears, wolves, and eagles.  Because of their small size being alert and having a strong sense of suspicion about anything out of the ordinary often kept them alive, and alerted the shepherd of danger.  As a result Pyr Sheps often have a very “black and white” view of life.  Suspicion should not be equated with fear however.  This breed should never be fearful, as it is not characteristic of the breed.  (A fearful dog is not useful to a shepherd and may endanger the life of the sheep.)  

“The Pyrenean Shepherd … is a versatile herder to his very soul and has the intelligent initiative to adapt to all manner of changing circumstances in order to fulfill the human shepherd’s every need with unequalable prowess.”
 A Pyr Shep’s herding instincts must also be considered. These dogs have been used for herding sheep in rugged terrain for thousands of years. The shepherds with their flocks up in the rugged Pyrénées Mountains in France needed a dog who could think on its own and make decisions, as well as to have the ability to take directions when needed. These dogs also needed to be able to work tirelessly when needed in difficult settings.  In our setting their herding instinct and personality also make them prone to “bossing around” other household pets much to the dismay of the other pets, and they can often be found taking on the role of “fun police”. These traits are all deeply ingrained in Pyr Sheps and though can be modified somewhat by training, are inherent to who the dog is, and must be considered.

“He has the tendency to become passionately attached to his owner to the complete exclusion of all others and is astonishingly sensitive to his owner’s moods. As a companion, he is very active and enthusiastic and insists upon being involved in the day’s activities whatever they may be. He is very affectionate with the members of his immediate family but is distrustful of strangers.”
Pyr Sheps are extremely connected with their owners and love to be involved with your everyday life.   The Pyr Shep’s natural inclination is often to feel no need to be involved with other people outside of its family. For the Pyr Shep there is not a lot of neutral ground… for most you are either part of a small exclusive group of “friends” or you are of no interest, or even a “foe”. This can also be true of other animals and situations as well. To prevent this from becoming a problem socialzation is crucial. They need to go places, and be exposed to different people, animals, and situations especially throughout their first year. Pyr Sheps are not the easiest breed to grow up, and do need much more socializing than the average dog does, but if you are willing to make this investment, you will end up with a wonderful companion. 

SO IS THE PYR SHEP FOR YOU…
This is a question you will now have to decide for you and your family. Talk with a responsible breeder about any further questions you might have about the breed. Find someone who cares about the breed and is not out to just sell a dog. A conscientious breeder will be honest enough to tell you if they think that perhaps the Pyr Shep is not the best choice for you.

Even if you are only looking for a pet, also find a responsible breeder you can trust who does something with their dogs rather than just breed them. It is also VERY IMPORTANT to look for breeders that have all recommended health clearances done on their dogs before breeding them. The Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America has determined that the following health screenings should be done on all dogs before being bred: screened for hip dysplasia (OFA, PennHip or OVC), eyes clear of inheritable eye defects (CERF), screened for patellar luxation (OFA).  Parents should have all of these tests done, and puppies should also be vet checked and have an eye clearance as well before going to their new homes.

If you have decided that a Pyr Shep is for you…  your life will never be quite the same.  You will join the rest of us, who have a passion for the breed, enjoying  “la joie de vivre” with our little shepherds!