The Pyrenean Mastiff is a giant dog breed, native to Spain. They were originally shepherding dogs, trusted to guard flocks against predators.
The Pyrenean Mastiff has many qualities to recommend them as pets. However, they need spacious living quarters and their upkeep is expensive.
A moderately active breed, the Pyrenean Mastiff needs an owner to take them out regularly and invest time in regular training sessions.
The rewards, however, are an outsized dog with an outstanding temperament and an impressive stature as a companion.
Where Does the Pyrenean Mastiff Come From?
The Pyrenean Mastiff’s ancestors date back three millennia. Their forebears were likely giant dogs, known as the Molossers. These dogs were heavy and huge and bred to fill a number of roles from fighting (alongside Roman soldiers), to guarding and herding.
Closer ancestors include the Pyrenean Mastiff and the Spanish Mastiff. The latter protected livestock in the Castilla region of Spain, whilst the former was a native of Aragon, a mountainous region running across north east Spain.
These working dogs guarded sheep but were trusted to roam freely, including around the homestead. Their good nature but natural protectiveness made them ideal to watch over both livestock and children.
In the 20th century, as farming methods changed, the Pyrenean Mastiff became less popular. Their large size made them expensive to feed and numbers fell even further. They became endangered and survived the hardships associated with the Spanish Civil War because of a few far-sighted breed enthusiasts.
Fun Facts About the Pyrenean Mastiff
Traditionally, these dogs wore a large heavy collar studded with iron spikes to protect the dog’s neck from the snapping jaws of an angry wolf.
Pyrenean Mastiff Appearance
The Pyrenean Mastiff is remarkable for its size and shaggy coat. They are a giant breed, with no upper size limit set by the Kennel Club. Typically, males stand at least 30 inches (75cm) to the shoulder, and females 32 inches (81 cm). This is reflected by their weight, which ranges from 154 lb (70kg) for a small female to up to 220 lb (100kg) for a larger male.
Look quickly at a Pyrenean Mastiff and it’s easy to mistake them for the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, which is similar in looks but smaller.
Tall with heavy bones but a well-proportioned frame, they are a sturdy breed with enormous paws.
They have a heavy skull, with a good length of muzzle set on a strong neck. The breed has medium-sized drop ears and a long feathered tail which is carried low.
Coat Type and Color
Their double coat is designed to protect them from the rigors of a windswept mountain range. It is exceptionally thick, with a softer downy underlayer and an outer covering of medium-lengthened hair.
Typically, the background coat color is white. They were possibly bred this way to blend in with the sheep they guarded. However, they do have a darker mask over their eyes, and flecks of color in their ears. Secondary coat colors are usually located in patches on the flank or along the back.
Those irregular patches of color may be gold, brown-black, sandy, medium gray, or marbled.
Pyrenean Mastiff Temperament
The Pyrenean Mastiff is as a shepherd with calmness sufficient to mingle with a herd of sheep without alarming them. This placid nature dominates, up to the point where their naturally protective nature is aroused.
A working Pyrenean Mastiff thought nothing of facing down an attacking wolf. Luckily, this side of their nature is rarely revealed. But it will surface if the dog feels one of their ‘flock’ or family is threatened.
Overall, the Pyrenean Mastiff is slow to anger and highly tolerant of other dogs. Their default demeanor is to lie down and snooze until any irritants go away.
Training Your Pyrenean Mastiff
Gentle as the Pyrenean Mastiff is, if they don’t want to do something they won’t budge. Thus, good obedience training is essential. To do this, reward-based training methods are both fun and effective.
Be aware that your giant teddy bear of a puppy won’t stay that size for long. So start training from a young age. From 10-12 weeks start getting the pup’s attention with a toy or treat and reward spontaneous actions such as sitting or coming to you.
Short, frequent training sessions work best and follow the golden rules of keeping things fun and ending on a positive note. No one wants to be towed down the sidewalk by a tank of a dog. Which is highly likely if the dog doesn’t learn to listen to their owner.
Pyrenean Mastiff Health
As a giant breed, their weakness is their joints and legs. If a puppy grows too fast, their bones outstrip the blood supply, causing weak joints. To avoid this, feed a good quality puppy food designed for large breed growth.
Feeding the correct amount of food is important throughout all stages of life. Slim or lean dogs not only have fewer health problems but have a longer life expectancy.
The average lifespan of a Pyrenean Mastiff is 10 – 12 years. Preventative health care is important, such as regular deworming and the use of anti-parasite products. Vaccination and neutering also have a place when it comes to reducing the risk factors for early death.
As a purebred dog, the Pyrenean Mastiff is prone to certain health problems. These include:
The hip joint is designed to move in a smooth, frictionless way. Dogs with hip dysplasia have poorly shaped hips that grate and clunk. This leads to inflammation and pain. Over time, early arthritis develops, which can be disabling.
Given the large size of the Pyrenean Mastiff, a lack of mobility is extremely worrying. Mild cases may respond to pain relief, but not those severely affected. These dogs need total hip replacement surgery if they are to live anything approaching a reasonable life.
Bloat (Gastric dilation and volvulus, or GDV):
In common with many deep chested dogs, the Pyrenean Mastiff is prone to GDV. This is when the stomach flips over on itself, sealing off the entrance and exit. This means gas builds up inside the stomach, causing massive distension.
GDV is extremely serious and requires emergency surgery to correct the stomach’s position. Even then, there’s a high risk of shock, organ failure, and death.
Panosteitis is also known as ‘growing pains’. It affects dogs that are actively growing, causing their long bones (such as the shin or thigh bones) to become very painful. This is most likely in dogs that are growing too quickly, such as those on a rich diet.
Happily, panosteitis responds well to pain relief and a change of diet. Once the pup has finished growing, symptoms resolve completely.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):
This condition causes recurrent diarrhea and digestive problems. It’s thought that there’s a link between dietary intolerance and IBD, with some dogs responding to a hypoallergenic diet. But for others, the condition is more resistant to treatment and anti-inflammatory medications are needed.
Entropion and Ectropion:
This refers to a malformation of the eyelids such that the lids either turn in too much or are too loose and baggy. Either problem has the potential to causes discomfort, either from lashes rubbing on the cornea or the surface of the eye drying out.
If the entropion or ectropion is severe, then corrective surgery is advisable to reduce discomfort.
Do Pyrenean Mastiffs Make Good Family Dogs?
The Pyrenean Mastiff is the original ‘gentle giant’. This big dog carries a whole load of positive plaudits on his shoulders, such as loyal, placid, gentle, and reliable. They are highly tolerant of children and considered slow to anger.
Indeed, a Pyrenean Mastiff is likely to give children added self-confidence. Walking beside one of these big guys is bound to boost the ego. However, as with all dogs, young children should be supervised at all times and not left alone with a dog. No matter how sweet-tempered.
The great disposition of the Pyrenean Mastiff does make them good family pets when the household can accommodate their size. The sheer bulk of the Pyrenean Mastiff means they need plenty of space if they aren’t to demolish the home with a simple wag of the tail.
Rescuing a Pyrenean Mastiff
Purebred dogs are occasionally relinquished to shelters and rescues. So don’t discount these when searching out a Pyrenean Mastiff. However, a more likely source is a specific purebred rescue organization. An internet search should provide the contact details of those welfare groups most local to you.
Finding a Pyrenean Mastiff Puppy
When sourcing a Pyrenean Mastiff, be sure to use a responsible breeder. They screen the parent dogs for conditions such as hip dysplasia and have their eyes checked by a veterinary specialist.
Never buy a puppy from a pet store or puppy mill. These perpetuate a trade in misery since the welfare of the parent dogs is often completely ignored. Not only does buying from such places encourage immoral trade, but the puppies are likely to be poorly socialized and overly anxious, making them poor pets.
Check out our puppy search guide for help finding a puppy.
Raising A Pyrenean Mastiff Puppy
It is essential to raise a Pyrenean Mastiff puppy right so they grow into a gentle, well-adjusted adult. This requires giving them plenty of positive experiences in their formative early weeks and months. This is known as socialization.
Good socialization helps the pup understand and accept the sights, sounds, and smells they are likely to encounter in everyday life. When the pup knows them to be normal, this avoids them growing up anxious or nervous.
Training is also hugely important because these big guys are physically stronger than their owner. Start young, by rewarding the pup for simple actions such as running towards you or sitting for a treat. The dog then grows up keen to co-operate and earn their owner’s praise.
Avoid over-tiring your Pyrenean Mastiff puppy. If they over-exert those young, developing joints, this has the potential to cause damage. Down this path lies the possibility of pain, lameness, and early arthritis.
With joint health in mind, take care feeding a Pyrenean Mastiff pup. Look for a food designed to suit the growth needs of a large or giant breed. To do otherwise risks the bones growing too quickly, which again can lead to joint damage.
Pros and Cons of Getting A Pyrenean Mastiff
- Outstanding temperament: Gentle, placid, reliable, slow to anger
- Gets along well with other dogs
- A good family dog
- Intimidating to burglars, whilst being loving to family
- Require spacious living quarters
- Heavy shedder
- Costly to feed
- Prone to a number of potentially disabling health conditions
If you’ve fallen for the Pyrenean Mastiff, then other similar breeds to consider are:
- Pyrenean Mountain Dog
- St Bernard
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Estrela Mountain Dog
- Tibetan Mastiff
- Spanish Mastiff
Pyrenean Mastiff Rescues
US: Find information about breed rescues on the Pyrenean Mastiffs USA Club website.
Canada: Canadian Mastiff rescue organization Facebook page.
If you know of other Pyrenean Rescue organizations please share the information in the comments below.
Is A Pyrenean Mastiff Right For Me?
Do you have room in your heart (and home) for a shaggy gentle giant? These majestic dogs have a superb temperament but are demanding of your finances. If you long for a giant dog that is tolerant and laidback, then a Pyrenean Mastiff might be for you.
References and Resources
- The Origin of the Pyrenean Mastiff
- Hip Dysplasia. Fitzpatrick Referrals
- Gastric Dilation and Volvulus. Merck Veterinary Manual
- Panosteitis in Dogs. VCA Hospitals
- Entropion in Dogs. Veterinary Information Network