The Pyrenean Shepherd is a very old breed, and unfortunately its origins have been lost in the mists of time. These dogs have lived in the mountains of Southern France since time immemorial. Mythical tales suggest that the breed descends from native Pyrenean bears and foxes, and that this is the original dog of the Cro-Magnon people who painted the cave at Lascaux. Factually, we know that bones of small dogs abound in ancient Neolithic graveyards, and that sheep and goat herding were so well developed in the Pyrenees Mountains that by 6000 BC, the ecology of the region had been largely transformed by overgrazing. Throughout the centuries, breeding and raising livestock has been the mainstay of the economy of the mountains separating Southern France from Spain. This ancient lifestyle persists even now, in the twenty-first century. Many Pyrenean Shepherds of excellent type (but with no registered ancestors) still herd sheep every day in the Pyrenees Mountains.
This breed essentially is a smaller version of the French Catalan Sheepdog. Bred to control and manage the movement of sheep flocks during the warm months, these dogs typically worked in tandem with larger Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, more commonly called Great Pyrenees, whose primary role was to act as watchdogs and guardians of the flock against thieves and predators. The precise ancestry of the Pyrenean Shepherd is not well-established. Some authorities suggest that it descends from the Briard. However, current breed experts disagree and believe that the Pyrenean Shepherd is a true French breed in its own right. What is unequivocally clear, however, is that this breed was developed and prized for its instinctive working abilities: agility, innate herding talent, watchfulness, protectiveness, alertness, quickness, intelligence and a thick outer hair coat that provided protection against weather extremes and vicious predators.
Sheep brought from Europe to North America in the 1800s were often accompanied by Pyrenean Shepherds. France recognized the Pyrenean Shepherd as a distinct breed in 1926. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Pyr Sheps assisted French troops and lost their lives during World War I, serving as couriers, search and rescue dogs, watch dogs and guard dogs. The London Kennel Club accepted the breed for full registration in 1988. The Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America also was formed in the late 1980s, and the breed was officially accepted into the American Kennel Club’s Herding Group in 2009. Today, the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognizes the Rough-Faced and Smooth-Faced Pyrenean Shepherds as separate breeds, while many other purebred dog registries, including the AKC, consider them to be varieties of a single breed. Outside of his French homeland, this breed remains rare. However, in France, his popularity as a wonderfully devoted family companion has grown considerably over the years.
The average life span of the Pyrenean Shepherd is 10 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation and epilepsy. All in all, this is a healthy, hardy breed.