Pyrenean Mountain Dog and Pyrenean Mastiff

Pyrenean Mountain DogPyrenean Mountain Dog

The Pyrenean Mountain Dog earned a special place in Australia's history as our first resident Livestock Guardian Dog. He filled his traditional role just 50 years after the first British settlement. Hence he played a significant role in Australia's fledgling sheep industry. His continuous presence here has been documented ever since.

History of the Pyrenean Mountain Dog

The original purpose of the Pyrenean Mountain Dog was that of transhumance, which was an ancient practice. In search of better pastures, sheep were moved sheep up mountains in summer and back into valleys in winter. But as the numbers of wolves and bears disappeared, the dogs' numbers declined. In the case of Pyrenean Mountain dogs, these dogs were then adopted as companions and watch dogs and named 'the Royal Dog of France'![1].

Pyrenean c 1470Pyrenean c 1470

In his 'Book of the Hunt' by Count Gaston Phoebus (1387 - 1389 AD) there are illustrations of a large white dog like a Pyrenean guarding at least 3 different Châteaux in France - Foix, Orthez and Carcasonne, located at 3 separate districts in France. Additionally, this wonderful French picture by Maître Francois produced around 1476 AD, clearly illustrates a large white Livestock Guardian Dog watching over a flock of sheep.

In 1675 these dogs' 'haughty looks' were described by the Court of Louis XIV in Versailles. Apparently, Madame de Maintenon was accompanied to the waters of Barèges by the young Duc du Maine (the illegitimate son of Louis XIV and Mme de Montespan) and returned to Versailles with an 8-month old Pyrenean puppy. Two years later, the Marquis de Louvois (minister for war) acquired a Pyrenean at Betpouey. This caused such a sensation that the Pyrenean became a favourite of aristocrats at Versaille and in the provinces[3].

Areas Where these Breeds DevelopedAreas Where these Breeds Developed

History of the Pyrenean Mastiff

The Pyrenean Mastiff moved flocks up the mountain range on the Spanish side of the Great Pyrenees in the summer, and brought them back to the shelter of the villages in the winter, north of the Ebro River. The Pryenean Mastiff could have been influenced by the third breed famous in the Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish Mastiff.

Pyrenean MastiffsPyrenean Mastiffs

In Spain, the numbers of wolves and bears also declined. Then came the Spanish Civil War and WWII. So the Pyrenean Mastiff came near to extinction. But due to the efforts of Señor Rafael Malo-Alcrudo, the breed was resurrected and the Pyrenean Mastiff was recognised as a pure breed by the FCI in 1982 and in Australia in 2002.

The Pyrenean Mountain Dog becomes a Pure Breed

Pyrenean Ch PorthosPyrenean Ch Porthos

Count Henry de Bylandt, wrote the first Pyrenean breed standard in 1897. Then, from 1902, Monsieur Théodore Dretzen became involved. He searched isolated parts of the Pyrenean Mountains and found sufficient numbers dogs of the original breed type to establish his Zaiella kennels at Bois-Colombes, near Paris. He exhibited his dogs successfully, his most famous dog Ch Porthos who is pictured here was exhibited from 1907 when two Pyrenean clubs were formed[4]. The first was the Pastour Club founded at Cauterets by Dr Moulonguet, Jean Camajou and Bernard Sénac-Lagrange and under the presidency of Baron de la Chevrelière. They published the first French standard. The second the Pyrenean Dog Club was founded by de Bylandt, Dretzen and Eugène Byasson.

Pyrenean Mountain Dog in traditional rolePyrenean Mountain Dog in traditional role

After World War One, the rivalry between these two clubs was put aside and, in 1923 la Réunion des Amateurs de Chiens Pyrénéens (RACP) was formed. Bernard Sénac-Lagrange became its president and successfully lead his group through the task of writing the breed standard. He then accomplished the task of getting the Pyrenean registered with the Société Centrale Canine (the French KC). Today, the Breed Standard is very close to the standard written in 1923 with only a few clarifying amendments[3].

History of Pyrenean Mountain Dogs in Australia

Pyrenean Mountain DogPyrenean Mountain Dog

In 1833,17-year-old Irishman, Samuel Pratt Winter travelled to the north of Van Dieman's Land (now called Tasmania) with a friend who owned property near Launceston. There the young man gained farming experience in Australia with the view of establishing a property of his own. He then crossed Bass Strait to investigate a part of Australia which had not previously been inhabited by the British. This area is now known as 'Victoria's Western District'.

In 1842, the young Samuel Pratt returned to England. He then travelled to the Bordeaux of France to the Pyrenean Mountains where Livestock Guardian Dogs had been used to guard sheep for thousands of years. With no fences on his proposed new property in Australia, he knew these dogs would be an asset when used in their traditional role. To this end, he landed the first Livestock Guardian dogs at Portland, Victoria on October 30th 1843.

By this time, Samuel Pratt had a sheep station situated around 80 kilometres north of Portland. Under the care of Pratt's servant, Paddy Hickey, the first arrivals were taken to Pratt's  property which consisted of unfenced wide open spaces. By the 1850's the sheep were put into two flocks which made it easier to look after them. During the daytime, the dogs would take the sheep out to graze in the wide, open spaces. At night, these grand dogs slept between the flocks and guarded them from human thieves and Australia's indigenous wild dog, the dingo. Just how many Pyrenean Mountain Dogs came to Australia as Livestock Guardians in those early days is unknown. But records show these marvellous dogs were certainly bred here and for 35 years, were employed in both Victoria and Tasmania. Unfortunately these original lines died out.

Eddy Van Eck with 'Kelso'Eddy Van Eck with 'Kelso'

In 1939 although imports came to Australia, only a few litters were produced. But the breed received an injection of new enthusiasm when the Pyrenean Mountain Dog Club of Victoria was founded in 1971. Pryeneans in Australia were then put on the map when Attrill's Wight Beau (imp UK) won Best in Show at the Perth Royal Show in 1973 and Eddie and Ranee Van Eck's Eng & Aust Ch Briarghyll Kelso (Imp UK) (pictured) won Best Exhibit in Show at the 1976 Adelaide Royal Show. Then Pyreneans with the Van Eck's Andorra prefix dominated the show ring here for many years[3].

The Pyrenean Mountain Dog Today

Pyrenean Mountain DogPyrenean Mountain Dog

The Pyrenean Mountain Dog still works as a natural guard dog protecting sheep and goats as well as a watch dog for its owners. He is a large, strong and powerful dog yet elegant and noble, standing at least 27.5 inches (70 cm) tall and weighing 110 pounds (50 kg) minimum, with bitches just a couple of inches less but still with proportionate weight.

Pyrenean Mountain DogPyrenean Mountain Dog

The head is strong without being coarse or looking heavy compared with the rest of the dog. The smoothly curved skull should be as broad as it is long. There should be no obvious stop formed by heavy eyebrows. Instead there is only a slight slope between the skull and the strong muzzle and its black nose. The eyes are almond shaped and dark with close-fitting black oblique eyelids showing no haw. The ears are fairly small and triangular with rounded tips set level with the eyes and lying close to the cheeks. The strong muzzle houses a normal scissors bite, with a level bite tolerated. Sometimes the two lower central incisor teeth are set deeper than the others. The roof of the mouth and lips should be black.

Pyrenean Mountain Dog with Badger MarkingsPyrenean Mountain Dog with Badger Markings

The neck is fairly short with little or no dewlap. He has a powerful body of good length, with medium angles forming both the lay of shoulder and turn of stifle. The forelegs are straight with strong but not excessive bone and short, compact feet with strong nails. The elbows are as close to the chest as his free striding trot with balanced reach and drive allows. The pasterns must allow for flexibility without weakness. The broad chest reaches just below the elbows, with the sides of the ribcage slightly rounded giving the curve of the lower body a definite waist which is more pronounced in the males than the females. The loin is broad and muscular sloping to the croup, giving the topline the impression of gracefully curving smoothly in to the tail.

Double Dewclaws on Hind LegsDouble Dewclaws on Hind Legs

The hindquarters are broad, strong and straight but the hind feet may turn out just a little. The hind legs must carry strongly made double dewclaws which are a breed characteristic and must be present.

The tail is sufficiently long to reach the hocks, and is carried low unless the dog is excited when it can curl above the level of the back with the tip turned to one side.  The tail is thickly coated like the rest of the dog and forms a plume.

The Pyrenean Mountain Dog usually has a white double coat, the outer coat lying flat or slightly wavy forming a mane around the neck and shoulders and pantaloons at the rear is more obvious in males. Alternatively on the head ears or at the base of the tail there may be patches of badger, wolf grey, or pale shades of lemon, orange or tan. But if there are patches of colour on the body, these must be sparse. Colouring is more obvious on puppies but this fades as the puppy matures.

Comparison between the Pyrenean Mountain Dog and the Pyrenean Mastiff

Lesser known than the Pyrenean Mountain Dog (PMD), the Pyrenean Mastiff is recognized as a separate pure breed, differing from the Pyrenean Mountain Dog in the following ways:

Pyrenean Mountain Dog Pyrenean Mastiff
Size Minimum height: Dogs 70 cms (27.5 ins)
Bitches: 65 cms (25.5 ins)
Most will considerably exceed this, great size is essential provided type and character are retained.

Minimum weight: Dogs 110 lbs (50 kgs)
Bitches: 88 lbs (40 kgs)

Minimum Height: Dogs: 81 cm (32 ins) Bitches: 75 cm (29.5 ins). There is no upper height limit. When quality is equal, the bigger dog is always preferred.

Lower limit :
Dogs : 77 cm (30 ins).
Bitches : 72 cm (28 ins).

Colour White with or without patches of badger, wolf grey, paler shades of lemon, orange or tan. The colour patches may be on the head, ears or base of tail and a few permissible on body. Other colours undesirable. Black patches going down to the roots highly undesirable. Pure white (snow-white) with patches of medium grey, intensive golden yellow, brown, black, grey silver, light beige, sandy or marbled. There should always be a well defined mask. It is an advantage if the outline of the patches is clear cut.

Pyrenean Mountain DogPyrenean Mountain Dog

Pyrenean MastiffPyrenean Mastiff

Head Smoothly curved and strong head without coarseness or being too heavy in relation to size of dog. Head as viewed from above forms a blunt "V" shape, and be well filled up below the eyes.

The large deep head is strong with the ratio of skull is 5 : 4.

Skull Skull curved when viewed from front and sides. Sides nearly flat and of good depth.

The skull is broad, slightly convex in profile with a pronounced occiput.

Stop No obvious stop or excessively protruding eyebrow ridges; only slight furrow, so that skull and muzzle are joined by gentle slope.

The stop is not deep, but still visible.

Muzzle Strong muzzle, medium length, slight taper near tip. Black nose and eye rims. Liver or pink pigmentation highly undesirable. The bridge of the nose is straight. The upper lip should cover the lower lip. Mucous membranes should be black.
Eyes Almond shaped, dark amber-brown. Close-fitting eyelids set somewhat obliquely, bordered with black. Drooping lower eyelids undesirable

Small, almond shaped, hazel colour. Dark eyes preferred. Eye lids black pigmented. In repose, a slight slackness of the lower lid, showing a little haw is typical of the breed.

Ears Fairly small, triangular, rounded tips. Set on level with the eyes. Normally lie flat against head, may be slightly raised when alert Medium size, triangular, hanging flat, set on above line of eyes. In repose, hanging close to cheeks. When dog is alert, one third of the upper and rear part should be slightly pricked.
Mouth Scissor bite but pincer bite tolerated. Complete dentition. Close-fitting black lips, upper lip just covering lower. Roof of mouth black.

Scissor bite with complete dentition. Gums black.

Pyrenean Mountain DogPyrenean Mountain Dog Pyrenean MastiffPyrenean Mastiff
Neck The strong, fairly short neck has little or no dewlap. The broad neck should be the shape of a blunt cone, with thick slightly loose skin forming a distinct double dewlap.
Forequarters Medium angulation between shoulder blade and upper arm. The forelegs are straight, strongly boned. The elbows are of adequate width to allow free-striding movement. The pasterns are flexible without weakness. The chest is broad reaching just below elbows. The shoulders have medium angulation between the shoulder blade and upper arm. The elbows fit close to the ribcage. The forelegs have very strong bone and the pasterns strong with a slight slope.The chest is broad and deep with a definite prosternum.
Body The topline is straight and level with a broad, muscular back and the sides are slightly rounded. Dogs usually have more pronounced waist than bitches, giving greater curve to lower body. The topline straight, the withers pronounced and the belly moderately tucked up. The body is rectangular, powerful and robust, giving the impression of great strength, yet supple and agile.
Hindquarters Fairly prominent haunches, slightly sloping croup. The stifle and hock of moderate angulation. Strongly made double dewclaws on each hind leg essential.The hind feet may turn out slightly but legs must be straight. The loins are strong and broad, sloping to the croup. Powerful, muscular with moderate angulation. The hock must be well defined with double dewclaws preferred. However, single or double or their removal is permitted.
Pyrenean Mountain DogPyrenean Mountain Dog Pyrenean MastiffPyrenean Mastiff
Feet Short and compact with slightly arched toes and strong nails. Cat feet with toes tight with strong and well arched toes. Nails and pads strong and robust.

Thick at root, thickly coated with fairly long hair forming an attractive plume. Carried low in repose reaching below the hocks with tip turned slightly to one side. In movement the tail curls high above the back or in a circle when fully alert.

Thick at root with long, soft coat forming a beautiful plume. In repose the tail hangs low and to reach at least to the hocks with the last third lightly curved. In movement the tail is carried in sabre form with definite hook at the tip.

Double coated with profuse undercoat of very fine hairs; outer coat longer; coarser textured, thick, lying flat and straight or slightly wavy. Forming mane round neck and shoulders and longer towards tail. Forelegs fringed. Long, very dense woolly hair on thighs giving 'Pantaloon' effect.

Dense, thick double coat of moderate length, ideally measured on middle section of topline, should be 6 to 9 cm.  The coat is longer on the shoulders, neck, under belly, at the back of legs as well as on the tail. On the plume, the texture is not as bristly as elsewhere on the body. The coat should bristly, not woolly in texture.
Movement Very free, driven by powerful hindquarters. Unhurried, yet able to produce bursts of speed. Tends to pace at slow speeds. Harmonious trot preferred but not pacing. Movement should be strong and elegant but no pacing allowed.

In summary, the Pyrenean Mastiff is:

  • Almost 3 inches taller than the PMD, the Pyrenean Mastiff is more strongly built and less elegant
  • There is a mask covering the head and ears the colour of which may be spread over the body in irregular patches whereby the PMD may be completely white.
  • His head is proportionately stronger with a more visible stop and pronounced occiput
  • There is a slackness of the lower lid showing a small amount of haw
  • The ears are higher set above the level of the eyes and can be carried with the top third above the level of the skull
  • The mouth can only be a normal scissors bite, with the canines larger than those of the PMD
  • The neck has a distinct double dewlap
  • There is more bone in the forelegs than the PMD
  • The body length is defined as rectangular
  • The hocks must be vertical whereas the back feet on the PMD may turn out just a little
  • Single or double dewclaws may be present whereby the PMD must have double dewclaws
  • Cat feet are required whereby the feet of the PMD are just described as round.
  • The last third of the tail is slightly curved whereby the the last third of the PMD's tail typically turns to one side
  • In movement a pace or amble is not allowed whereby the PMD may tend to pace at slower speeds
  • The top coat more bristly in texture

References and Further Reading

My sincere thanks to Helen and Richard Crago for their assistance in compiling this page.

[1] Réunion des Amateurs de Chiens Pyrénéens (RACP)

[2] Winter Cooke Papers MS 10840 and MS 10393, State Library, Melbourne.

[3] Richard Crago - 'The Pyrenean Mountain Dog' Published by the Pyrenean Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain,  1996, pp 280-283. This 400pp book was published in the UK to commemorate its diamond jubilee (1936-1996). It was printed by Bernard Kaymar Ltd. of Preston, Lancashire.UK

[4] Robert Leighton, "The Book of the Dog" published circa 1905 Subscriber's Edition, The Waverley Book Co. Ltd. Chapter L1X 'Larger Non-Sporting and Utility Breeds' Page 517

[5] 'The Wharncliffe Hours' (c.1474-1480) a small illuminated French prayer book painted in the 1470's. Published in London by Thames and Hudson c 1981