AKC Herding Group
In the remote and rugged Pyrenees Mountains, along the border between France and Spain, the agile and alert Pyrenean Shepherd (pronounced peer-EN-ee-en, with the stress on the second syllable) is still an indispensable farm dog and sheep herder today, as he has been for centuries. Farmers often pair the imposing Great Pyrenees, bred to guard the flocks, with the much smaller Pyrenean Shepherd, bred to herd them.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is an ancient breed—sheep and goat herding were so well established in the Pyrenees by 4000 BC that the region already showed the effects of overgrazing. Medieval tracts often mention the shepherds’ constant canine companions, and some artwork shows dogs of the same type as today’s Pyrenean Shepherd, even down to the ear crop.
In the nineteenth century, several Pyrenean Shepherds accompanied flocks of sheep imported to North America from the Pyrenees. Some of these were smooth-faced blue merles that might have served as foundation stock for the Australian Shepherd. In the 1970s and ’80s more breeding stock was imported into the United States, and in 1987, the Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America was established.
Though still relatively rare outside his native France, the vivacious Pyrenean Shepherd, also called the Pyr Shep, is gaining devotees in several other countries. The breed was officially recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 1992, and joined the AKC Herding Group in 2009.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is a small, high-energy, lean, and sinewy dog with a vivacious, intelligent, and slightly mischievous expression. This lightweight athlete ideally should be the minimum possible weight for his height. The Pyr Shep comes in two varieties: the rough-faced (museau normal) and the smooth-faced (face-rase), which can be born in the same litter. In the rough-faced variety, the long hair on the face should have a blown-back look, giving the impression that the dog is always facing into the wind. In longer-haired rough-faced Pyr Sheps, the coat can form natural cords. The smooth-faced variety does not have any long hair on the face, and though its coat is still fairly long, it’s generally shorter on the body than in the rough-faced variety, with feathering on the back of the legs. Both varieties generally have double dewclaws on the hind legs.
Traditionally, the Pyrenean Shepherd’s ears are cropped straight across, about a third of the way down the ear, and the tail is docked. This practice originated in the Pyrenees to protect the dog from injury and infection while out working in the rugged countryside; however, neither docking nor cropping is a requirement for showing in the United States. Natural ears are rose or semi-pricked (with approximately the top third to one half of the ear falling forward or to the side). If the tail is left undocked, it should either be a natural bobtail or of sufficient length to reach the hock, with a crook in the end. The tail should not be carried above the line of the back, even when the dog is excited.
The top of the skull is almost flat, about as wide as it is deep, with a central furrow. The muzzle is wedge-shaped and slightly shorter than the length of the skull. There is no apparent stop. The head is generally triangular, similar to that of a brown bear. The mucous membranes of the mouth are black or heavily marked with black, and the nose and eye rims are black. The almond-shaped eyes are dark brown, except in blue merles, brindle merles, fawn merles, and slate-gray dogs, in which the eyes can be all or part blue. A scissors bite is strongly preferred in the show ring, but a level bite is permitted.
The neck is long and muscular, blending nicely into the shoulders. The body is longer than the height at the withers for the rough-faced variety and squarer in the smooth-faced. The chest reaches only to the elbow. The points of the shoulder blades should extend above the back. The line of the back itself is level, except at the loin, which arches higher. In rough-faced dogs the arch can be accentuated by the thick coat.
The Pyrenean Shepherd gets its power from excellent angulation in the rear—the long second thigh leading to a short hock gives the dog excellent leverage. This results in an efficient stride with a great deal of reach and drive that is very pleasing to the eye. Yet in spite of all the power of his gait, the Pyr Shep’s feet should not rise far from the ground. In fact, the French say the Pyr Shep “shaves the meadow.” When the Pyrenean Shepherd has the correct distinctive gait, the French call it “allure Pyrénéenne” (Pyrenean allure).
- Height: 15-1/2 to 18-1/2 in. (male); 15 to 18 in. (female) (Rough-faced); 15-1/2 to 21 in. (male); 15-1/2 to 20-1/2 in. (female) (Smooth-faced)
- Size: Small
- Weight: 15 to 35 lbs. (male); 15 to 32 lbs. (female)
- Availability: Difficult to find
- Talents: Herding, retrieving (Frisbee®, balls), watchdog, search and rescue, agility, obedience, tracking, hearing assistant, and performing tricks
The Pyrenean Shepherd looks like it would be difficult to groom, but in fact, the coat requires less attention than it appears. If the dog’s coat forms cords, they need to be split a few times a year to prevent them from getting too thick. An experienced breeder can help novices learn how to do this. On non-corded dogs, a good combing or brushing once every week or two is generally sufficient, though the coat can vary quite a bit in the breed. Bathing should be kept to an absolute minimum, in order not to ruin the coat texture.
This breed needs extensive off-leash exercise. A good hour of off-leash walking through the countryside or a park where the dog can run off his seemingly boundless energy several times a week is strongly recommended.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is a very healthy breed; however, there have been occasional occurrences of hip dysplasia, epilepsy, sub-luxated patella, PDA, and PRA. All breeding stock should be tested for these conditions. The Pyrenean Shepherd tends to be quite long-lived; it’s not unusual for individuals to live into their late teens.
You may hear three different names when people talk about this breed: Pyrenean Shepherd, Pyr Shep, or Berger des Pyrénées (the French name).
Lively, alert, clever, mischievous, yet biddable, the Pyrenean Shepherd is very loyal and devoted to his master and family and wants to be involved in all family activities. A highly intelligent breed, the Pyrenean Shepherd can learn almost anything and tends to excel at performance events such as herding, obedience, agility, tracking, and even ring sport.
To perform at the highest levels, Pyr Sheps need a very close working relationship with their owner and a sense that the activity is a shared project. Pyrenean Shepherds have their own style of herding, which is very different from that of Border Collies. The breed can be somewhat sensitive to correction and does best with an experienced owner and consistent, positive training methods such as clicker training.
Naturally impish and playful, the Pyrenean Shepherd usually gets along well with children if socialized with them thoroughly from puppyhood. Pyr Sheps also tend to be good with other pets in the family, though training is generally needed to help them learn to control their herding impulses.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is a good watchdog, and will bark a warning whenever it seems necessary. However, to keep this useful trait from becoming a nuisance, owners should train their dogs at an early age not to bark excessively and to stop barking on command.
Because this breed has lived in relative isolation for centuries in areas where strangers were not necessarily welcome, the Pyrenean Shepherd is naturally distrustful and wary of people and dogs outside the family unit. They tend to be one-family dogs, so in order to fit well into modern society, Pyrenean Shepherds need extensive early and ongoing socialization with all manner of people, animals, and situations. Owners should be sure to give puppies extensive positive social stimulation with people from the start. Even when properly socialized, some Pyr Sheps might not be friendly outside the family group.
- Children: Good with children only when raised with them from puppyhood
- Friendliness: Very wary of strangers-highly protective
- Trainability: Very easy to train
- Independence: Needs people a lot
- Dominance: High
- Other Pets: Good with other pets if raised with them from puppyhood
- Combativeness: Can be a bit dog-aggressive
- Noise: Likes to bark
- Indoors: Moderately active indoors
- Owner: Not recommended for novice owners
- Grooming: Regular grooming needed
- Trimming and Stripping: No trimming or stripping needed
- Coat: Medium-long coat (Rough-faced); Feathered coat (Smooth=faced)
- Shedding: Average shedder
- Docking/Cropping: The ears are customarily cropped, and the tail is customarily docked
- Exercise: Needs lots of exercise
- Jogging: A good jogging companion
- Apartments: Will be OK in an apartment if sufficiently exercised
- Outdoor Space: A small yard is sufficient
- Climate: Does well in most climates
- Longevity: Long (15-plus years)