At heights of up to 29 inches at the withers and weighing up to 100 pounds, the regal white Great Pyrenees dog has captivated his human companions for centuries. His independent yet affectionate nature has made him a family favorite, as well as a valuable shepherd and guardian. The Great Pyrenees' continued usefulness and influence ensure his popularity for years to come.
The Great Pyrenees, also known as the Pyrenean Mountain dog, evolved over a period of many centuries in the Pyrenees mountain range in southwestern Europe. According to the Great Pyrenees Club of America, the dogs descended from a group of large white guard dogs that originated in Asia Minor over 10,000 years ago. They arrived in the Pyrenees mountains with their human shepherd companions around the year 3000 B.C. Over the course of several centuries, the dogs developed their unique shepherding instincts and maintained their white coloring. Though historically, the Great Pyrenees was a peasant shepherd's invaluable companion, their usefulness and dispositions caught the eye of French royalty, and were named the "Royal Dog of France" in 1675. The dogs continued to prove their worth as the guardians of flocks and homes, and crossed the ocean to Newfoundland in 1662 with Basque fishermen. Though the breed suffered a decline in the late 19th century, it was rescued by the efforts of devoted French breeders and became an officially recognized breed by the American Kennel Club in February of 1933.
The roots of the Great Pyrenees breed reach to Asia Minor, and the white dogs that accompanied Phoenician traders and Aryans from Central Asia. The Great Pyrenees Club of America asserts that the Great Pyrenees is a lupomossoloid, descended from wolves without the influence of mastiff, or mossoloid, dogs. Though cross-breeding may have occurred over many centuries of development, the GPCA states that Great Pyrenees dogs owe their size and appearance to the European grey wolf.
Still other sources disagree on mastiff influences in the development of the Great Pyrenees. The Animal Planet website names the Tibetan mastiff as a possible ancestor of the Great Pyrenees. The history of this ancient breed is shrouded in mystery, and records of its ancestry are almost nonexistent. It is believed, however, that the Tibetan mastiff is the ancestor of most large breeds and mountain dogs in the working group. Very few specific details are available about these dogs, although there are extensive writings about them from the 17th century onward. Like the Great Pyrenees, the Tibetan mastiff is intelligent and independent, highly protective of his perceived domain. Tibetan mastiffs are reserved and may be aloof near strangers. Their coats may be blue-grey, black or brown with tan markings. White coat color is a disqualification for this breed.
Though the origins of the Great Pyrenees are not completely certain, the dogs have had an invaluable influence upon other breeds it has encountered in its distinguished history. When Basque fishermen brought their Pyrenees dogs to Newfoundland in 1662, they were bred with the native curly coated retrievers, creating the black and white Newfoundland dog known as "Landseer." The Great Pyrenees Club of America credits the Great Pyrenees with the rehabilitation of the Saint Bernard breed, which was devastated by distemper and death from avalanches in Switzerland in 1870.
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