A Great Pyrenees (a.k.a Pyrenees Mountain Dog) would not be my choice for an easy dog to own. I know my style. I like the easy-going, tractable gentle giants that need regular exercise in the form of long walks but spend most of their time impersonating lumpy rugs. Size, without aggression as a deterrent is what I appreciate. There are thousands of dogs looking for homes because their humans didn’t know what they really could handle in a dog companion and chose based on looks, only to find out later that the work involved or the energy level of the dog did not suit.
I ended up with Murphy inadvertently, a bit like how I bought a rug once at an auction: I didn’t mean to be the last bidder but suddenly I was the lucky owner. I was surfing Petfinder.com just to see, another something I don’t recommend for the soft-hearted. It’s too sad to see all the dogs who just want somewhere to belong and someone to have as their person. Saddest are the older dogs. It’s just wrong to give a home to a dog for eight years and then abandon the dog when it’s older and needs it’s secure home the most.
I was torturing myself, three months after having to put down my thirteen year old Saint Bernard-cross buddy, Jasper. I saw the posting for Murphy that said he was a Great Pyrenees/Lab cross and I thought the independent stubborn Pyr might be tempered by the tractable, obedient, companion Lab so I fired off an inquiry. My experience in BC was that the process to adopt was a slow one. Some agencies were nearly unreasonable with their criteria. I really didn’t think much would come of my query, but the wonderful people at Almost Home whipped into action, checking my references and did a home inspection to see what it was like here.
I thought the lack of fenced yard would be a deal breaker but turned out to be not a problem and we were told that Murphy liked cats and got along with the cat and dog where he was staying. I had great references from my vet in BC who had helped me with Jasper through his last very difficult year so I got approved and went to pick him up.
Almost immediately I though I’d made a big mistake. Murphy was ten months old and had very little training. He jumped up on things and people and used his paws aggressively to get more attention and was generally unruly. I didn’t let on but I wasn’t sure I could do much with him. I can say now with authority that with consistent training any dog can become a good one within their genetic trait parameters.
At first he was on a short leash in the house because he wanted to chase the cats. That lasted for a couple of months until Mozart finally decided to take back his place as top dude and stopped running. Now they are best buds and sleep together and guard in tandem as well. I worked to get him to stop the pawing for attention, jumping up on people coming through the door, going through any door first or without permission and worked on making him wait for his food.
I’ve come to realize that while Murphy may not be a purebred Great Pyrenees, he has all of the traits and characteristics of one. There is nothing Lab-like about him except for his ears. He doesn’t retrieve or even play with toys and he doesn’t like to swim. He doesn’t even like to get wet. No, Murphy is a guard dog, a guardian. Three thousand years as a breed, Pyrs are ALWAYS guarding what belongs to them. Great Pyrenees will never be at the top of a dog intelligence list but they should be. Those lists are made by humans who value tractability and instant obedience to commands. Pyrs are incredibly smart but genetically predisposed to work without direction so they always think they know better and follow their own instinct first in any situation and only listen to their person after being hammered with a command many times.
Pyrs can guard a large area, much larger than the twenty acres that we live on that luckily blend into other woods. Murphy needed to be tied at first because any activity on the road below would have him charging down to repel possible intruders. After a year I started allowing him off the line when someone was in the yard. Our closest neighbour can be seen down the hill and across a field with a line of trees marking the property line. They were helpful enough to call whenever he went there so I could collect him and bring him back to be tied. Eventually he learned to stay in the yard.
The magic year is two. Starting then Murphy began to show signs that he could (sort of) accommodate the lifestyle we had here. Lucky for him we don’t live in Suburbia with the fenced-in postage stamps, nor do we live close to farmers with those lovely chickens that make such a lovely squawking noise (at first). As a guard dog he has a high predator instinct and any animal that doesn’t belong here is the enemy and fair game. Too late I learned that because of their nature, Great Pyrenees should be heavily socialized at a young age with other dogs. His arrival coincided with my mother’s hospitalization and death so he didn’t get that needed contact with other dogs at the right age. He’s ok with other dogs but I never know. Some he loves and some he wants to kill and all dogs he leans on, asserting his dominance. If they growl he takes that as an invitation to fight. I have a feeling that Pyrs are naturally alphas, mostly, which requires a strong hand. He’s better off the leash than on but is not reliable with the voice since he knows better. It takes all of my strength to hold him when he is stubbornly determined. I only outweigh him by twenty pounds.
We have a daily routine and that, I think, is what helps him to be good. First, in the morning we patrol the road on leash. This can be a really slow walk because Murphy’s idea of a walk is to stand and smell and look. There’s a lot of standing on our morning walks so I sometimes bring something to read. Then I get breakfast and he begins the daily guarding. Lucky for Murphy we live on a hill so he can get a good vantage point. At some point in the afternoon is the time of the big walk off leash. Sometimes we drive a couple of miles to Northern Pond but lately, beginning in hunting season and because of reduced daylight in the winter, we go up the hill and looping through the woods. He could take himself whenever he wants but waits for me to go with, even though I rarely see him while on the trail. Ann does a walk most days as well and we generally go separately so that Murphy can have two walks. He starts to bug her first because he knows she usually walks before I do. After the afternoon walk, if there is still daylight he can hang out, untied but I remain vigilant because if he gets on a barking jag close to night he could be barking all night.
Then it’s food time. He can eat/snack whenever he wants on meat cereal as I like to call it; there’s always some in his bowl. Mostly he likes to eat a bit when I do. He lets me know it’s time to eat in the late afternoon and I feed him his ‘meat in a catfood dish’ that is a mix of ground chicken bone and bits from Mainly Poultry mixed with organic beef liver, grated apple, green bean, and carrot and some raw eggs all with wild salmon oil on it. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sometimes he turns up his nose at it and other times he asks for seconds. I let him eat what he wants because he’s not a chow-hound. I sometimes have to remind him to clean his bowl.
Where Murphy excels is as a guard dog. If you needed a guard dog that you didn’t want to have to order around, and you have lots of room, a Great Pyrenees could be your dog. He stations himself in various places around the property, always with an eye to the likely place from whence danger will come. When one of us is outside working he moves to within twenty feet and turns his back and again watches. He is constantly vigilant and serious about it.
As a breed Pyrs are barkers, but not gratuitous ones. There is the regular utility bark that can go on for hours whose purpose is to alert all predators that the area is under the protection of a badass big dog, aka BFD. Murphy does a bit of this in the morning but mostly he likes to do that utility bark after dinner and at night when the denizens of the woods are out and about. After dinner I tie him and let him bark for a while until I figure the neighbours have had enough. In the summer he prefers to stay out all night and he’s smart enough to realize that can only happen if he’s quiet.
Murphy has several alert barks. I can tell the difference between the bark that lets our neighbour Caren know he’s keeping an eye on her down the hill, the ‘someone I’ve never seen before is driving up’ bark ( he continues that one until one of us comes out to take charge), the ‘friend is driving up’ (UPS guy with treats)bark, the ‘hey! I’m tangled up in the woods’ bark, the ‘critter I want to kill up that tree’ bark, and the ‘I’m here if you’re wondering’ bark. If he’s not tied and I hear the ‘someone is on the road who doesn’t belong’ bark I come running out because it sounds like he’s ready to attack, but most times that bark is emanating from Murphy, comfortably lying down with his paws crossed.
For all his serious attitude about his job, Murphy is a loving, cuddly bear of a dog with a sense of humour. He’s grown on me and I’ve adapted my routine to accommodate his basic nature, enough that I would almost entertain having another Pyr as a dog companion. I do feel like a princess in my realm with the captain of the palace guard ever vigilant on my behalf. Alas, I’ll never be able to take him to a dog park and he can never be permitted to freely wrestle/play with another dog because, like a grizzly bear, he can escalate to fight/kill mode in an instant. Still, it’s a gift of some magnitude to be able to communicate with such an intelligent, steadfast and loyal being. Now if only I could get him to associate the pain of porcupine quills with that enticingly slow animal that frequents our demesne.