Rescue Thoughts

by Janet Ingram, GPCA Rescue Chair

(Editors' Note: The following is a slightly edited posting from the Internet Pyr-L mailing list which is reprinted with the permission of the author.)

These are my thoughts/beliefs based on my personal experiences with Rescue. David Kintsfather said, "These dogs, with their guarding and independent natures, are especially prone to end up in shelters, Rescue or worse, when owners confront behavior they can't live with and lack the support to deal with." AMEN, David. Seldom does a week go by that I don't have at least one call from an upset owner wanting to place their young male because of aggression, dominance, or fear biting.

Sometimes, these calls come early enough and there's hope to correct the problems, IF the owner is willing to do a lot of work--very often with a trained professional. Sometimes the calls come too late, after the dog has already bitten, sometimes repeatedly. Most all of these owners/Pyrs have several things in common:

1. They really didn't research the breed thoroughly and have no real understanding of what Pyrenees are and have been bred to be for thousands of years. Just because some of us have taken "the Pyr out of the fields" does not mean that the Pyr's guarding instinct is any less. Now, he just guards his family and what he perceives as his. Sometimes things go awry and there are some Pyrs born with too much guard instinct, or may be rather "borderline" and if "mishandled" may go over the line. This type of dog can be extremely dangerous. I'm not comparing dog to dog aggression with dog to people aggression (two totally different issues) but if you've ever seen two Pyrs fight you know how serious, how ferocious and how single-minded these dogs can be and the damage they can inflict.

To quote James Giffin, MD, from an article titled "Thoughts on Pyrenean Behavior" printed in the October 1973 International Great Pyrenees Review,"Apart from the problems of inherited aggression, and little can done to rectify this situation, behavior disorders in the Pyrenean are not infrequently due to a misunderstanding on the part of the owner, whose presumptions of what is natural for a dog to do are based upon familiarity with breeds of a less sensitive and more submissive nature. A Pyrenean is never demeaning, nor does he seek favor through fawning or servility in the face of a physical threat. Nor does he succumb to the will of another in weakness or helplessness. A Pyrenean defers to the pressures of dispute or entreaty only voluntarily, and then because of respect and admiration for those whom he knows to be his rightful sovereigns."

2. Most of the Pyrs have been very dominant or overly aggressive from a fairly young age. The signs were there. Either the owner did not know how to read the signs or did not realize that left unchecked, dominance and aggressiveness WILL escalate. A Pyr is not born with the knowledge between right and wrong. He must be taught the differences between what is socially acceptable and what is not with firm and consistent training and discipline.

I'm a firm believer in obedience training. For me personally and my life with my Pyrs, whether they will sit perfectly is not why I take them to class--what is important to me is the bond that is created, as well as the mutual trust and respect that develops. In "my people life" I'm not an Alpha type of person, however, in my "Pyr life" there is no question about who is in charge and I live with two LARGE, very male, males (obviously they are not kept together--another topic for another time) and several bitches who think they are males! The fact that my dogs are a pleasure to spend time with did not happen magically. It's a combination of many factors:

The fact that I bought from reputable breeders, who had a great love for this breed and a wealth of knowledge that they were more than willing to share. Who are always there for me no matter what comes up. (I should wear a little sign--BREEDER BEWARE--if you sell me a puppy, I'm yours for life!) The fact that I'm always seeking more information about the breed that is so close to my heart and I learn new things all the time from so many, dedicated and knowledgeable Pyr people. And the fact that I was willing to take the time and make the commitment to "ensure" that my dogs are an asset, not a liability.

3. Most of the people bought their Pyrs from a pet shop or a "backyard" breeder. Generally, neither of these sources give any "real" Pyr information to their puppy buyers. The buyers are not told to "call" if you have problems. They are not told to return the dog if they could no longer live with it, for whatever reason. They can offer no real help because they don't know enough about the breed in general or the background of their dogs, specifically (and many don't care).

Example: True Story. On Monday, a lady called me from SC. She owns a 1 1/2 year-old unneutered male. He's a farm dog--sometimes with the livestock, sometimes with the family. Two weeks ago, this lady was walking with a girlfriend along the road that borders the pasture where this dog happened to be. The dog WENT THRU hog fencing and bit her friend very badly on the breast. NO WARNING...NO PROVOCATION. Would I take this dog in for placement? No way. Do I think this dog will live a long and natural life? I don't think so. This dog will be euthanized. The question is will it be now or after he has bitten someone else? (I believe that statistical information gathered from the GPCA Health Surveys indicated that the largest single cause of death in male Pyrs under 3 years of age was euthanasia because of temperament.)

She bought this dog from someone who had a male and female Pyr who just decided it would be fun to breed them. This lady was probably a nice person but I'll bet big bucks that she knew very little about the breed so she was unable to give her puppy buyer advice. And she probably does not know the background of her breeding pair. She doesn't know if their grandsire--or one of their littermates--met an early demise because of aggression problems (or if they had hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, entropion, OCD, etc.). This scenario probably would not have happened had this person bought from a reputable breeder (and Rescue would not have been called) because:

** a reputable breeder would have been careful and not sold one of the most dominant male puppies to a novice with no large dog experience.

** a reputable breeder would have required that the male be neutered.

** a reputable breeder would have known that problems were developing because they would have made periodic calls to see how the puppy/dog was doing and would have been able to offer help and advice as problems arose.

** Worst Case. If the problems were so great that the owner could no longer live with the dog, a reputable breeder would have insisted (and this would have been in their written contract) that the dog be returned to them and the breeder would have euthanized the dog.

So, folks, if you think some of us go a little overboard about backyard breeders--so be it. As long as we are cleaning up the messes left by these people, we will continue to get on their cases. Personally it's one of my ways of "venting" and getting rid of some of the frustration and sadness that I feel because of the things I deal with every day in Rescue.

And if some of us ask more questions about health issues, temperament, breeders, etc. than you might feel is appropriate, please remember our motivation for asking is our love for this breed and our fears for its future. Information is extremely important and helpful. I *NEED* to know that 3 dogs and 1 bitch who were put down for aggression here in VA were all from the same backyard breeder. It's *HELPFUL* for me to know that a backyarder in NC has produced a number of dogs with OCD and hip dysplasia. All the information I can get allows me to make more informed decisions and better judgments in dealing with the Pyrs that come into Rescue. I may glean a tiny bit of information that appears to be pretty insignificant in itself but when I look back over my notes, it might be the missing piece of an important puzzle.

I'll close by saying that while we may believe the Great Pyrenees approaches being the "perfect" dog, they are not for everyone. The ownership of any dog involves certain responsibilities and this is particularly true of the giant, livestock guardian breeds. A Pyr owner has an obligation of caring for and controlling a dog who will likely outweigh them and is certainly going to be stronger than they are. Unless we take the responsibility seriously and are willing to put the time, energy and thought needed into raising our dogs properly, a Pyr will be a burden instead of a joy. While it's apparent that this breed "makes my toes tap" and while my big boy Winston's favorite position may be on his back begging for tummy tickles, never for a moment do I ever forget what he was bred to be nor do I underestimate what he could do if a threatening situation arose.

Well, that's all folks. Sorry if I bent your ear, but I appreciate all who were kind enough to "listen."

East Penn Pyr Rescue, Inc.
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