Home   »   Breeds   »   Pyrenean Shepherd   »   History

Pyrenean Shepherd
Looking for a Pyrenean Shepherd?

Its origins lost in the mists of time, the Pyrenean Shepherd has resided in the Pyrenees Mountains of Southern France since time immemorial. Myths abound - that the breed is descended from native Pyrenean bears and foxes; and that this was the original dog of the Cro-Magnon people who painted the cave at Lascaux. What we can know is that bones of small dogs abound in Neolithic sub-fossil deposits, and that sheep and goat herding were so well developed in the Pyrenees that by 6000 BC, the ecology of the region had been transformed by overgrazing. Throughout the centuries, transhumance herding has been the mainstay of the economy of the High Pyrenees, and this ancient lifestyle persists even into the twenty-first century. Many Pyr Sheps of excellent type (but with no registered ancestors) still herd sheep every day in the Pyrenees Mountains.

Medieval accounts of life in the Pyrenees mention the dogs as constant companions; wherever the shepherd went, his little dog went too (see e.g. Montaillou). Beginning in the early modern period, depictions can be found in engravings, lithographs, and paintings. Noteworthy are Buffon's Histoire Naturelle ("chien de berger de petite race"), Dartiguenave's Costumes des Pyrenees, and Descamps' Le retour du berger. It is well-known among residents of the High Pyrenees that when the Virgin Mary appeared to the young shepherdess Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in 1858, Brigitte had her little Pyrenean Shepherd by her side. Representations of the breed dating to the eighteenth century display the same ear crop that is still used today.

An important factor in developing and maintaining breed type across the centuries was that the pastoral industry relied on two breeds, the Great Pyrenees guarded the flocks against predation by bears, wolves and lynxes, whereas the Pyrenean Shepherd was used solely for herding and not for protection. This allowed selection to concentrate on maintaining a high degree of herding instinct and soundness. As the dogs did not need to defend themselves, small size was valued. Smaller dogs are quicker and more sure-footed on the windy crags. They also need less food, allowing the shepherd to keep more individual dogs, and thus a larger population of sheep - some for subsistence and some for market. Thus, the population of Pyrenean Shepherds has been consistently high across the centuries, augmenting the power of selective breeding to decrease genetic defects and maintain breed type and working ability. This also led to the stabilization of two varieties which assort independently when interbred. The Rough-Faced variety has a long or demi-long coat and some long hairs on the face (though not so profuse as to hide the eyes). The Smooth-Faced variety is less abundantly furnished and has short hair on the face.

The breed first distinguished itself outside the Pyrenees Mountains by dint of its service during WWI. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Pyrenean Shepherds gave their lives for the cause. They were used as couriers, as search and rescue dogs finding injured soldiers after battles, and to accompany guards on their rounds. J. Dhers, officer in charge of war dogs remarked the day after final victory that it was his "duty to proclaim" that, the Pyrenean Shepherd was "the most intelligent, the most cunning, the most able, and the fastest" among all the breeds used.

After the war, the Reunion des Amateurs des Chiens Pyreneens (RACP) was founded to preserve both the Great Pyrenees and the Pyrenean Shepherd, and this remains the French parent club today. The Pyrenean Shepherd breed (both varieties) was granted full recognition in France in 1926. This led to increased participation in both shows and herding trials. The effort was led by Bernard Senac-Lagrange, vice-president of the French Kennel Club (SCC) and a native of the High Pyrenees. RACP has had only 4 presidents, Senac-Lagrange, Charles Duconte, Guy Mansencal, and Alain Pecoult. Leadership of the club has been conservative in a thus-far highly successful effort to preserve type.

Some Pyr Sheps came to North America in the 19th century accompanying flocks of sheep imported from the Pyrenees Mountains. These dogs, especially the Smooth-Faced, may have been involved in founding the Australian Shepherd breed. Mary Crane of Basquaerie kennels, founder of the Great Pyrenees in America, imported several Pyr Sheps in the 1930's, but did not breed them. Other Great Pyrenees fanciers imported breeding stock in the 1970's and 80's, establishing the foundation for the breed in America today. Working closely with the French parent club, fanciers founded the Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America in 1987 with the goal of protecting individual Pyrenean Shepherds, and preserving the original breed type. The Pyr Shep entered AKC's Foundation Stock Service in 2001, began showing in the Miscellaneous Class in 2006, and will join the Herding Group on January 1, 2009.

  • The Pyrenean Shepherd has been assigned the Herding Group designation.
  • The Pyrenean Shepherd will be eligible for AKC registration and for competition in the Herding Group, effective January 1, 2009. There will be an open registry for the breed until January 1, 2012.
  • From the November 2006 Board Meeting - It was voted (unanimously) to approve the Pyrenean Shepherd to participate fully in AKC Herding events, and to compete for Prefix and Suffix titles, effective January 1, 2007.
  • From the April 2006 Board Meeting - It was voted (unanimously) to add the Pyrenean Shepherd to the Miscellaneous Class effective for shows held on and after January 1, 2007.
  • At the February 2004 Board Meeting the Pyrenean Shepherd became eligible to participate in Herding Tests, and to participate in Herding Trials on an exhibition-only basis.
  • In December 2003 the AKC Board approved the eligibility of some Foundation Stock breeds, which meet certain criteria, for competition in AKC Companion Events (Obedience, Tracking, and Agility), effective January 1, 2004. The breeds must have a minimum of 150 dogs with three generation pedigrees recorded in the FSSĀ®, a national breed club with members in at least 20 states, and an AKC approved breed standard. The Pyrenean Shepherd was one of 20 breeds who met the requirements. Requests by breed clubs to have their breeds compete in the various Performance Events would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • The Pyrenean Shepherd has been recorded in the Foundation Stock Service since 2001.

More Info