October 15, 2011 by Terry Ropp
By Terry Ropp
One of the dog breeds more common here than in many other parts of the country is the Great Pyrenees as it is known in the States or Pyrenees Mountain Dog elsewhere. Two area families, Marvin and Linda Jones in West Fork and Mike and Diane Hawkins in Prairie Grove put the breed to vastly different uses with equal success and delight. The Jones’ have five dogs and use them to guard sheep, goats, and, — believe it or not — chickens. The Hawkins’ on the other hand, have a registered male they use as a family pet.
In spite of the names, the Great Pyrenees appears to have originated in Asia Minor about 11,000 years ago and then migrated to the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France about 5,000 years ago with shepherds and their herds. This is where they acquired their current names. Generally the dogs are very large and white with an instinctual sense of loyalty to their “family,” whether that family is human or animal.
“We haven’t lost a single animal, whether a sheep, goat or chicken, to any critters since we have had these dogs,” Linda said.
Marvin and Linda got their first Great Pyrenees about 10 years ago when a friend gave Marvin a puppy as a birthday present. The dog was promptly named Pup, a name which became more incongruous as the puppy grew into a large male significantly over one hundred pounds. The original Pup is gone but Marvin and Linda now have five working dogs on the farm guarding their sheep, goats and chickens. The alpha male of the pack is also named Pup and an offspring of the original Pup.
The experts agree with Linda, saying that one dog will die trying to defend its herd but that two are indestructible and can defend against anything whether the predator is a bear, puma or wild dog pack. Their main means of defense is intimidation. They growl and bark and curl their tails high over their backs, called spinning the wheel, which makes them look larger and even more threatening.
Mike told the story of walking his first dog Ariez on a leash in Fayetteville Park when a large Rottweiler approached.
“Ariez immediately got between us and just looked at the other dog and curled his tail,” Mike said. “The other dog looked back at Ariez for a moment and backed off.”
Mike also told of the night he came home and his current dog, Jude, didn’t recognize him at first. The dog barked and jumped against the fence of his pen, clearly ready to defend his territory. As soon as Mike said something, the bark changed entirely to one of acknowledgement and welcome. Diane, who was in the house, heard the racket and said, “I guess he has two barks.” Mike added, “Sometimes he just wants to talk to me and you can tell that bark is totally different.”
One of the differences among the dogs is where their strongest loyalty lies. One day Marvin was working with the goats when Pup thought he was being too rough with one of his primary family, the herd. Pup bit Marvin in warning but did not attack him. The next day all was fine and Marvin could work with the herd easily if a bit more carefully. Mike said he knew of one guard dog that wouldn’t even let his owners collect chicken eggs.
In contrast Mike had Jude, who has been raised and trained as a pet, at a three-day dart tournament where they encountered four little girls in the hall. Spying the beautiful and very large dog, the girls rushed to Jude with one hanging on his neck, two around his middle, and one at his rear all hugging and cooing at him. The dog never even growled.
“He just loved all of the attention,” said Mike.
In fact, whenever Marvin and Linda get near, the dogs rush to them and vie for attention … which they get lavishly.
Another difference among the dogs is the way they are trained. Mike uses traditional training methods with treats and praise to teach his dogs how to walk with a leash and follow basic commands. Guard dogs, however, are trained by older pack members, usually the mother.
“You just put them with the herds when they are very young and let their instincts and parents teach them,” Linda said.
Both Jude and the Jones’ dogs like to be in the middle of their family. Among the herds, the Jones’ dogs appear to sleep and laze about, sometimes hidden in taller grass. However, if something unfamiliar or predatory approaches they just raise their heads over the grass and look, barking in warning only if necessary.
Similarly, If Diane and Mike are in different rooms in the house, Jude will lay on the floor between the rooms so he can see and protect both. If Mike is there alone, however, Jude wants to be close enough to touch Mike. Jude surprised Mike last winter during the big snows. Mike went out to find him and called toward the dog house in his large pen. Soundlessly and like the Jones’ dogs, Jude rose up from a mound of snow that had covered him during the night.
Both Mike and Linda agree that the dogs’ long, thick hair functions as insulation both in summer and winter. Because their skin is pink and would sunburn easily, neither shaves their dogs to help them cope with summer heat.
“During the worst of the heat, I did hose them down a couple of times, but I think that made me feel better than it did them,” Linda said.
Pup and his son Durango fell through the ice last winter and were in the cold water unable to get out for hours until Linda noticed and Marvin came home and rescued them. They tolerated being dried off with towels but clearly preferred to be left alone. Their heavy fur protected them completely from the cold. The next day they were fine if a bit stiff.
There is one other thing about which both sets of owners agree, and Mike said it best.
“I will have Great Pyrenees until they outlive me.”