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Pyrenean Shepherd

 

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Its origins lost in the mists, 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 mountain cave at Lascaux 25,000 years ago.

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ObrazekWhat 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.

 

 

ObrazekBeginning in the Early Modern period, depictions can be found in engravings, lithographs, and paintings. Especially noteworthy are Buffon's Histoire Naturelle ("chien de berger de petite race"), Dartiguenave's Costumes des Pyrénées, 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 in the grotto at Lourdes in 1858, Bernadette 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, and tails that are either bobbed short or left long and carried in the correct low position.

 

ObrazekAn 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, lynxes and foxes, 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, soundness and type. 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 alimentation, allowing the shepherd to keep more individual dogs, and thus a larger population of sheep --some for subsistence and some for market. 

ObrazekThus, 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.Obrazek

 

Members of the breed first distinguished themselves outside the Pyrenees Mountains by dint of their 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.

 

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Source: website of Patricii Princehouse