Catherine de la Cruz
One of the most unpleasant surprises a new owner of a Great Pyrenees encounters comes the first time he takes his adolescent or adult Pyr for an off-leash walk. The puppy who had clung to his owner’s side suddenly moves out of reach, becomes deaf to all commands and entreaties, and decides to wander away, far faster than an ordinary human can move. For some, the surprise comes when the front door is left open – the result is the same. One “gone” dog.
The explanations for this behavior vary – the dog isn’t obedience trained, it is examining its territory, it needs more exercise – and the “solutions” range from yelling and running after the dog, to long sessions in obedience class, to never taking the dog out of the yard. The truth is, the only real explanation is “it’s a Pyr’s nature” and the only real solution is NEVER let the dog off leash outside its own yard.
A top obedience competitor, who trained her Pyr to its Utility Degree and Draft Dog title, said that her dog would take advantage of her smallest degree of inattention to wander off and no amount of obedience training would make him “come” when he “went walkabout”.
Pyrs used as Livestock Guardian Dogs on large farms or open range are reported to stay near the sheep - or not, as their understanding of the job takes them; some can be found sleeping with the sheep, some on a hill overlooking them, some making the rounds of their perceived “territory”, marking it against predators. Dogs used on small fenced pastures are more often reported to be found somewhere they shouldn’t be, often trying to expand their defensible perimeter. One long-time Pyr owner reported, “The Pyr that has five acres wants fifty; the one that has fifty wants five hundred.” One LGD Pyr who cared for her sheep on five hundred acres also periodically could be found on the neighboring 300 acres, checking out their sheep.
Perhaps this tendency to wander could be bred out; but might not doing so also remove the independence, the ability to think for itself, the ability to handle new situations, that makes this breed what it is? Perhaps those who want a dog to go with them off lead should get a breed that doesn’t wonder what’s behind the next bush, beyond the next hill, that doesn’t want to clear its new-found territory of all other canines. But for those who can’t imagine living without a Great Pyrenees – get a leash and use it.