The Pyrenean Sheepdog is known in its native country as Le Berger des Pyrénées where in fact it is a very old indigenous breed which has always remained in its place of origin, the high mountainous region of the Haute Pyrénées in the Central Pyrenees . It is small in comparison with other sheepdog breeds, but this does not demean its ability to work tirelessly, sometimes from dawn to dusk herding large flocks of sheep. Its loyalty and willingness to obey its master drives it on to cover many miles in a working day. The breed has ancient origins and is well known in its area of origin but formal recognition of the breed outside of this really began at the turn of the last century when during the 1914-18 war it was used by the French Army as a messenger dog where it excelled due to its speed and intelligence, although the very high losses took their toll nearly wiping out the breed. After the war enthusiasts rallied their support and during 1922 the foundations for the Reunion Amateurs des Chien Pyrénées (RACP) were set. Shortly after in 1926 the
breed standard was recognised and accepted by the French Kennel Club the SCC.Much has been written about the Berger Des Pyrénées but the following extract from the book “Pyrenean Dogs” by Duconte & Sabouraud really gives a classic overview of the breed which is still accurate today.
“On 18th March, 1923, we wrote in the canine magazine L'Eleveur (The Breeder),
This dog, whose long existence in the Pyrenees has been proved to us by evidence going back more than a century and a half, seems to be the true indigenous type.In fact it presents itself as a sheepdog exhibiting a maximum of nervous energy within a minimum of height and weight. A dense fleece, straight or gently waving, mostly fawn or grey, and of a texture midway between goats' hair and sheep's wool, conceals an eminently lean skeleton. The neck, well set off from the shoulders, carries a rather fine head, characterised by a fairly short, wedge shaped muzzle; ears placed high on a skull which is almost flat and only fairly developed; with very expressive, chestnut coloured eyes, which are both mischievous and cautious. The mucous membranes are black, or well pigmented, whatever the colour of the coat. The body is rather long in relation to its height, but always compact. The chest, which is well developed in depth, descends to the level of the elbow, rarely lower. The foot is narrow, of a slightly accentuated oval shape; the hocks often rather close, especially in dogs born and bred in the mountains. This dog, just as it is, represents a type perfectly adapted to its surroundings: a low centre of gravity, the result of its reduced height, assures it of a maximum of stability on the steep slopes. Its narrow foot, with a thin sole, holds onto the rocks like the rope soles of our canvas shoes. Its hocks, which follow a gentle deviation from the line of its hindquarters, are necessary for climbing up the slopes. (Try walking in the mountains with your toes turned in)
The texture of its coat, woolly underneath and coarser on top, affords protection against violent downpours and the low temperatures. Its matchless nervous energy enables it to carry out its harsh job without faltering. Its small size allows its master to feed it parsimoniously. (How could it be otherwise with men who, for themselves, receive just the basic weekly food rations!)
Our mountain shepherds know quite well that for all these reasons they should choose a small dog. Besides, they can also see another advantage: the sheep, a good natured animal, has no need of a mastiff to drive it. If its size allows it to endure the fairly energetic pushing of a small dog, there is no need of a taller dog. If a large dog collides with a sheep, the result is
probably disastrous, and something always to be dreaded in the mountains, where the slightest consequence can be a dislocated shoulder or a broken foot.
Small size, lightness of frame, well developed muscles, the nature of its coat; the Pyrenean Sheepdog needs all these to carry out his job high up in the mountains. Even his temperament, basically distrustful, and therefore vigilant, is useful to him. To see him at work it is difficult to imagine a temperament more suited to its purpose, or a physique more apt for its functions.
As for temperament, we are in the presence of a dog of a fairly independent nature, whose distrustfulness is the basis of his character. Not pampered very much, brought up to be hardy, he is generally unapproachable by strangers. He shows a certain amount of caution towards familiar people at home. There is one thing, however, which will make him forget his reserve: when the shrill whistle of the shepherd tells him that it is time for action. Immediately he takes up his role. With a remarkable keenness for work, however young he is, he is captivated, literally possessed by his task! ... Attentive and silent, he darts effortlessly, with an easy and gentle movement around the long procession of animals. Alert to push a straggler with a nudge of his nose, to make one that has detached itself from the rest return to the ranks, to cross in front of the flock to make it go in the required direction, his whole wiry body is extended in rapid action. But the admirable intelligence which he has for his task, knows how to check his untirable activity at the required moment. If faced with a dangerous crossing, he knows how to put a brake on his irrepressible energy, and when required, uses his skill to lead the animals one by one to a place of safety. He excels himself in looking for a lost animal. What if a sheep is missing when they are counted? At the first command he will leave, going a long way ahead of the shepherd, searching every corner of the mountain, not leaving a corner unexplored, and using both the impulsion of a very dependable instinct and the resources of a rare intelligence.
It must be added that the Pyrenean Sheepdog is brave. I have rarely seen one of them refusing to fight something larger and taller than himself. Moreover, being generally fairly pugnacious, he is the challenger. A nimble athlete, he enters into few clinches, but proceeds by a succession of skilful dodges, and spirited and unforeseen attacks, during which a precise bite marks the adversary.
Many reasons serve as an argument in favour of those who direct their efforts towards the fixation and development of the breed.
- the anatomical reason, and we have explained how this dog was admirably suited to his environment,
- reasons of utilisation: we find him used particularly in the central region, the most mountainous area and most densely populated with flocks
- reason of heredity: his resemblance to his remote ancestors is very marked by his qualities as a sheepdog
aesthetic reasons: it is difficult to find an animal which is more appealing and more charming.
Is this not ample justification for the affection for the Pyrenean Sheepdog shown by those who know him, and even more by those who use him? ... Equally qualified to be a working dog and a pet, his prime and inherent purpose remains......”
(Extract from the book “Pyrenean Dogs” by CH Duconte & J A Sabouraud 1967, translated by Diane Powell and Alan Harwood 1982)