Early spring is “Lambing” season in Northern California. All over the state spring lambs are being born, many with hopes of being shown at county fairs across the state come summer. On our little farm, in the Central Valley, three of our four ewes have given birth within the last two weeks. Almost overnight we have gone from four sheep to ten!
With my wife and I having very busy schedules, not to mention needing to sleep occasionally, who is going to keep an eye on our little flock? Keep them safe from harm? Enter Roscoe and Freya our two great, white shepherds! Both of these beautiful dogs are pure-bred Great Pyrenees. Both are rescues from local shelters, and both are important members of our family!
Great Pyrenees are a “working dog” breed which has been bred, specifically, to work as over-watch for livestock. These dogs are a large breed, averaging 100 – 130 pounds as adults. They have extremely acute hearing, and a terrifyingly loud bark. Pyrenees’ greatest weapon is intimidation. They are very quick to make it known to any person or animal within their perceived boundary that they are there, they are on duty, and they will act accordingly to ensure the safety of their charges. Ninety-nine percent of the time this intimidation is enough to scare away would-be predators. Rarely is a Great Pyrenees called upon to get physical. On the rare occasion when these dogs are forced into confrontation, they do so decisively. A hunting coyote is absolutely no match for these dogs. In direct contrast to their ferocity when guarding livestock is their personality with the family. Pyrenees see every animal, be it sheep, chickens, cats, and even people as an extension of their family pack and, therefore, something it is their duty to protect. In my experience, these dogs are some of the most gentle and social animals I have ever had the privilege to share time with. It is common to find our female, Freya, cleaning the muzzles of the sheep after they have fed, or following the lambs around, after they have gained some independence from mother, to ensure they don’t get into too much trouble. During lambing, Freya sits quietly through the birth, eager for her first opportunity to meet the newborns. The sheep, wary animals by nature, are completely comfortable around the dogs and do not seem to mind the attention, in the least.
I have watched our big male, Roscoe, relaxing in the barnyard with a nonchalance that seems to say he could care less about the world, as a whole. A lamb walked up to him and promptly lowered its head and charged, headbutting him in the side. Roscoe’s reaction was a casual yawn. Only after the lamb repeated its attack several times did Roscoe decide enough was enough and gently wrapped his mouth around the lamb’s tiny head as if to say, “Listen bub, fun’s over and I need to get back to my nap”! The lamb dejectedly trotted off, none the worse for wear, but with a new respect for his large, snowy playmate! I have found that the intelligence of the Pyrenees breed is unmatched by any other breed. They follow verbal commands extremely well, but it is their instincts that impress the most. Many times the dog will jump into action before any command is given. They seem to read each situation and just “know” where they are needed and what action is required. Pyrenees form strong bonds, not only with each other, but with their owners and the livestock they protect. They can often be found wrestling with each other or playing hide and seek with a cat, a couple of lambs, or even laying quietly while a chicken sits on top of them picking through their fur with its beak. Every time I walk into the barnyard both dogs always trot right up to greet me and get some attention.
I have had dogs as companions for most of my life. The breeds have differed over the years and run the gamut from Chihuahua mixes and Rat Terriers to Golden Retrievers and Great Pyrenees. If I’m being honest, I have to say that the Great Pyrenees is easily one of my all time favorite breeds. They contain all of the best qualities one appreciates in a good dog with very few, if any, faults. I don’t know that I would recommend Pyrenees as an inside dog due to their size, nocturnal nature, and need for open space to run, but if you are looking for a great companion to guard your family, property, and livestock; a companion who is fiercely loyal and extremely affectionate, then the Great Pyrenees should be at the top of your list! – The Rambler