Pyrenean Mastiff: Dog Breed Information and Owner’s Guide

What is a Pyrenean Mastiff?

Pyrenean Mastiff

The Pyrenean Mastiff is one of many breeds in the Mastiff family of dogs that descend from what experts believe were the first domesticated dogs, hailing from Molosser dogs originating in Phoenicia 3000 to 5000 years ago. Initially brought to Spain via Assyria, the Mastiffs evolved into different livestock guarding breeds during centuries of geographical isolation.

The Erbo River, which transverses northeast Spain diagonally, created a natural border of the area where Pyrenean Mastiffs lived and reproduced. This dog should not be confused with the Spanish Mastiff or the Great Pyrenees, also known as the Pyrenean Mountain dog. Those breeds originated and lived for centuries in different areas of Spain and France, never interbreeding with the Pyrenean Mastiff.

The Pyrenean Mastiff is one of the rarer Mastiff breeds, raised in the mountain pastures of the Kingdom of Aragon. During the summer this dog worked to herd sheep to high fields in the Pyrenees Mountains, and in the winter brought the sheep back to lower ground. Groups of Pyrenean Mastiffs traditionally moved herds of up to 1000 head of sheep to and from the grazing areas established by King Eurico of the Visigoths in 504 A.D.

The dogs wore thick leather collars with iron spikes to protect them from being attacked and killed by wolves or bears. The “wolf collar” – “carlanca” in Spanish – was worn by all flock-protecting dogs during that time of history.

When the numbers of bears and wolves in the Pyrenees Mountains dwindled to nearly none in the 1930s and 1940s, and farmers began to rely on trains to transport their herds, the Pyrenean Mastiff nearly became extinct. Being an extremely large dog that was expensive to feed, farmers had trouble caring for them when food was scarce during the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

In the 1970s, the Aragon region was once again plagued by wolves, and Pyrenean Mastiff breeding was renewed. Working with a group of just 30 dogs, the breeders were able to reverse the process of extinction and refine the Pyrenean Mastiff as we know it today.

While it is still relatively rare, Pyrenean Mastiff dogs now live throughout Australia, Japan, Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, the United States, and Mexico. It is estimated that today there are between 4,000 and 6,000 Pyrenean Mastiffs in the world.

Appearance

Pyrenean Mastiffs are enormous dogs. They are strong and muscular with bulky frames, and yet they are surprisingly light-footed. Its movements are smooth and brisk, as opposed to plodding or lumbering when it walks. The Pyrenean Mastiff has a large head, and a broad muzzle with large, powerful teeth.

The Pyrenean Mastiff has a broad neck and a rectangular body. The loose but tough extra skin on its neck gives it leeway to maneuver and escape if bitten by a predator. Its tail is decorated with a flowing plume of hair and hangs down when the dog is relaxed.

Its paws are large, giving it traction when herding sheep in rocky, mountainous areas. If you see a Pyrenean Mastiff’s footprints and don’t know they belong to a dog, you might be inclined to think that a lion or tiger had passed your way!

Pyrenean Mastiff Weight and Size

Pyrenean Mastiff male dogs grow to be 30 to 31 inches tall, and the females are 25 to 30 inches tall. They can weigh anywhere between 120 and 240 pounds. If you think in terms of this breed weighing as much as a fully grown human man, you can get an idea of how big the dog actually gets.

The larger the dog is, the more desirable it is to professional breeders. Bred to be robust and generally healthy dogs, Pyrenean Mastiffs live for anywhere between 10 and 13 years.

Common Colors

Pyrenean Mastiffs can be pure white or have two dominant colors. The base color is always white, with a dark mask across the eyes and muzzle. The ears will have spots of the secondary color, and random patches will appear in other places on the body. The different colors that appear on the Pyrenean Mastiff’s coat include:  

  • Black
  • Brown
  • Beige 
  • Sandy
  • Light Beige
  • Medium grey
  • Silver

No matter what color combination a Pyrenean Mastiff’s fur is, his nose will always be black.

Coat

Pyrenean Mastiffs have thick, heavy coats that evolved to protect them in all weather conditions. Bred to spend days and weeks herding flocks for long distances, this dog will not suffer if he is kept outside for most of the day.

The hairs on the Pyrenean Mastiff’s neck, shoulders, abdomen, tail, and the backs of his legs are longer than on his head, back, and fronts of his legs. The shorter hairs are rough and bristly, while the longer hairs feel softer to the touch.

Personality and Temperament

Pyrenean Mastiff

The Pyrenean Mastiff is a self-reliant dog who won’t mind being left alone when you go to work. This breed thrives on your companionship, but is by nature independent doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety.

Compared to most other large dog breeds, the Pyrenean Mastiff is particularly calm and friendly. While he is intelligent enough to differentiate between real threats and strange animals and people that pose no danger, he will be ferociously protective of you if he thinks your safety is at risk.

It takes a lot to provoke a Pyrenean Mastiff, and he will tolerate both children and smaller household pets climbing and leaning on him. These dogs know their own size and strength and are both fearless and intimidating.

Modern owners of Pyrenean Mastiffs don’t usually have any sheep to be herded, but if a burglar dares to approach your home, you can be sure your Pyrenean will aggressively scare him off before you even notice what has happened.

Behavior around other dogs

While Pyrenean Mastiffs don’t need to meet and play with dog friends on a daily basis, they are friendly towards other canines due to their calm, confident dispositions. Your Pyrenean will rarely bark, and therefore encounters with other dogs won’t spiral out of control due to nervous barking by both parties.

Pyrenean Mastiffs are protective by nature, both humans and other animals, and have no desire to chase dogs or cats in “hunting” type games.

Is a Pyrenean Mastiff a good Family Dog

If you have enough space for such a big pet in your home and yard, a Pyrenean Mastiff is a perfect family dog. This dog breed loves children and will welcome friends and relatives who come to visit.

Pyrenean Mastiffs love to cuddle – despite their massive size – and will rest their head on your legs when you are sitting down. The downside is that when Pyrenean Mastiffs get excited they start to drool. Be prepared for years of putting up with a slimy, wet lap, or face. 

Children will love this huge teddy bear of a dog. Pyrenean Mastiffs are soft and warm to hug and cuddle with, and well behaved inside the house.

Pyrenean Mastiffs are good with other family pets. While they are aware of their size and strength and will behave with aggression towards intruders, Pyrenean Mastiffs are as gentle as can be with their smaller family members – both human and mammal.

How to Train a Pyrenean Mastiff

Pyrenean Mastiff

Pyrenean Mastiffs are highly intelligent dogs that are only happy if they are mentally and physically stimulated. They can concentrate, make decisions, and follow multiple commands.

This breed is relatively easy to train if you begin when the puppy is young and you are consistent. Early socialization to animals and people is very important, to keep protective and aggressive behavior to a minimum.

It is important to teach your Pyrenean Mastiff that you are the boss. The last thing you need is a huge animal that does whatever it wants and doesn’t obey your commands. This isn’t a little poodle that you can pick up and move if it refuses to listen to.

From an early age get your Pyrenean Mastiff accustomed to sitting when he is in your presence. If you don’t train him early not to jump up when he is excited, he will unintentionally knock you over as he gets bigger. That is a behavior you must curtail immediately, especially if small children live in your home.

Teach your dog the following basic commands “sit”, “stay”, “come”, and “drop”. The best way to teach your Pyrenean Mastiff new commands it to use treats and verbal positive reinforcement. Getting angry at your dog when he makes mistakes will be counterproductive. Pyrenean Mastiffs are noble dogs that require your respect along with discipline.

How To Care For a Pyrenean Mastiff

Exercise Requirements

Even though the Pyrenean Mastiff was bred to walk long distances herding and protecting sheep, your pet dog doesn’t need more than one or two half-hour walks per day.

In terms of space, Pyrenean Mastiffs won’t be happy living in small apartments. You should only get this breed if you have a large yard to accommodate its need to roam and enjoy the outdoors during the hours you can’t spend time with him.

Your Pyrenean Mastiff will be overjoyed if he has a high platform in the yard he can climb onto during the day. He will love lying motionless at the high vantage point, scouring his surroundings for potential threats. Hopefully, no bears or wolves will ever come anywhere near your home, but if he thinks he is protecting you from those predators your Pyrenean Mastiff will have his instinctual drive to protect fulfilled.

Grooming and Shedding

When a big dog sheds, it sheds a LOT of hair. Pyrenean Mastiffs should be brushed twice a week to prevent matting and tangling. Twice a year, when the weather changes in Spring and Fall, your Pyrenean Mastiff will lose large clumps of hair. That is the time to take him to a groomer for professional blowouts. This is a process where the thick undercoat is literally blown off the dog’s body. Imagine using a leaf blower to get dead leaves off your sidewalk, and then apply that image to your dog and his fur!

Keep in mind that if you regularly brush your Pyrenean Mastiff year-round, the amount of hair he sheds during the two molting seasons will be greatly decreased. But be prepared to spend so time on the brushing. This dog has a lot more hair to brush than smaller dogs with similar types of fur.

What to Feed A Pyrenean Mastiff

To prevent serious health problems in your adult Pyrenean Mastiff, it is crucial to feed him properly when he is a puppy. It is very important to buy food that is age and size appropriate. Pyrenean Mastiff females need to keep eating puppy food until the age of eighteen months, and the males should continue on puppy food until they are a full two years old.  Large dogs that are fed adult dog food too early can suffer from bone and joint disorders later in life.

Throughout his lifetime, break up your Pyrenean Mastiff’s daily allowance of food into two or three meals. That will prevent a serious condition called Gastric Dilation Volvulus – commonly referred to as bloating.

A Pyrenean Mastiff eats an average of 10 to 14 cups of dry food per day, approximately 40 to 80 pounds a month. To prevent obesity, run your hands periodically all over your dog’s body. Your Pyrenean Mastiff should stay thin enough for you to always be able to feel his bones, but should never be so thin that you can see them!

Known Health Problems

Pyrenean Mastiffs are generally healthy dogs in comparison to other purebreds. Aside from the very preventable risk of developing Gastric Dilation Volvulus (discussed above), Pyrenean Mastiffs sometimes present hip and elbow Dysplasia. Annual visits to the vet for checkups will set your mind at ease regarding your dog’s health.

How to Choose a Pyrenean Mastiff Puppy

Pyrenean Mastiffs are rare dogs, and the Pyrenean Mastiffs USA Club only has 12 registered breeders listed. Seven of the breeders are located in the United States, and five are in Spain.

When choosing a Pyrenean Mastiff from a litter, look for a puppy that seems curious, confident, and friendly. It is not a good sign if the dog tends to pace. Make sure its gait is light and smooth. Any sluggishness is a sign that something is not right.

How Much Do Pyrenean Mastiffs Cost?

Due to their rarity, Pyrenean Mastiffs are on the expensive side of purebred puppies. Depending on the breeder’s track record for producing high-quality puppies, the cost of a Pyrenean Mastiff with a pedigree can fall anywhere between $1200 and $1800 dollars.

Keeping in mind that a Pyrenean Mastiff will also run up a large food bill over the course of his lifetime, so is not a dog to get if you are financially strapped.

Pyrenean Mastiffs vs. Other Mastiff Breeds

Pyrenean Mastiff

Mastiff dogs are all large breeds, bred to serve as warriors or guard dogs and herders. Depending on what source you trust, there are anywhere between 14 and 20 different types of Mastiff dogs in the world. Before you purchase a Pyrenean Mastiff, you might want to compare it with other types, to make sure this dog is the one you really want.

Quick Breed Summary Table

 

Pros  Cons
  • Calm, patient temperament
  • Drools excessively when excited, or when food and water are in view
  • Generally healthy dog with almost no genetic conditions
  • Eats a large amount of food, which will cost a lot more than food for a smaller dog
  • Great for hugging and snuggling when you need a good friend
  • Takes up a lot of space in your house, and needs a home with a large yard
  • Does not need to be taken on very long, strenuous walks
  • Will not like spending the night outside alone – he needs to sleep in your home close to his “herd”
  • Highly intelligent and easy to train
  • Friendly to most people and animals
  • An attractive, regal looking dog you will be proud to walk around with
  • If not trained early and well, hard to control due to his sheer size
  • Will bark if he senses danger, and because he is a large dog he may scare people when he barks
  • This is a rare breed and you may have to wait several months before a puppy is available for purchase

Summary

Pyrenean Mastiffs are wonderful dogs for families with children, active couples, and even active singles that have large homes and yards. They are noble, graceful, non-aggressive dogs, but will protect you if they sense you are in any sort of danger.

Owning a Pyrenean Mastiff means you will have to put up with lots of drooling, lots of shedding, and lots of trips to the store to buy more dog food. But it also means you will benefit from the huge dog’s huge heart, from the love it shows you and your family, with few demands for special attention in return.

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