by Patricia Princehouse Excerpted from “Kennel Review”, October 1990

Judges are beginning to encounter more and more Pyrenean Shepherd at shows, and fortunately the quality of these dogs is generally excellent. However, the future of the breed in North America depends on well-informed breeders and judges – breeders who continue to produce top-quality dogs, and judges who recognize and reward outstanding Pyr Sheps when they see them.

In his 1927 work "Les Chiens Pyreneens" (bible to Pyrenean Shepherd breeders), Bernard Senac- Lagrange indicates that the breed has existed in the Pyrenees mountains of Southern France since the Bronze Age. A hardworking peasant’s dog, this little herding breed did not appeal to the aristocracy as did his large, livestock-guarding counterpart, the Great Pyrenees. Thus it was not until the early part of the 20th century that the breed attracted the attention of cynophiles and a standard was painstakingly drawn up written primarily by native Pyreneans who had the breed in their family for generations. The Pyrenean Shepherd was officially recognized in France in 1923. Today the breed is highly competitive at French shows and is the 16th most popular breed in France (based on registrations with the French Kennel Club).

The Pyrenean Shepherd is unique. It cannot be readily compared to any other breed. There are two varieties of Pyrenean Shepherd: rough-faced (“museau normal” in French) and smooth-faced (“face-rase” in French). The rough-faced is by far the more popular of the two both in his native land and in North America. The varieties are freely interbred, smooth faced dogs frequently showing up in litters from rough- faced parents. Show classes are separated by variety. A representative of each variety competes in the herding group as with Collies.

Rough-faced dogs are most commonly fawn. Smooth-faced dogs are frequently blue merle. However, in both varieties a wide range of colors is acceptable including fawn with or without black mast, grey ranging from charcoal-black to silver, brindle, black, blue merle, and fawn merle. A black dog may have white markings over as much as one-third his body. Other colors may be self-marked but excessive white is to be penalized. More than one their white disqualifies as do tan points. Thus there are no tricolored dogs and the blue merles must not have copper points.

The Pyr Shep is the smallest of the French herding breeds. Rough-faced bitches range 15” – 18”, males 15 ½” – 19”. The smooth-faced variety can stand slightly taller. However, in both varieties a minimum height and weight is preferred.

Although coat has a great deal to do with the first impression a dog gives, it is not one of the most important aspects of the breed. Body coat length is of negligible import. Rough-faced dogs can have semi- long body coat with minimal fringing, or they may carry long coat with extensive fringing which may form “cadenettes” (thin cords) on the legs. Some individuals carry coarser “goat hair: (poil de chevre) cots which do not cord and are almost always semi-long. Both semi-long and long-haired coats are equally desirable. Again, it cannot be stressed firmly enough that coat does not make the dog. Expression, conformation and movements determine the quality of a Pyrenean Shepherd.

The Pyr Shep should present a rustic appearance He should never appear overly coiffed, and ribbons must be withheld at the first sign of scissoring – especially on the head. It is extremely important that the facial hair not hide the eyes. An overabundance of facial hair obscures the eyes and ruins the expression. Correct facial hair is somewhat like that of the Cairn, never like a Briard or Bearded Collie.

Ch. Urrugne de l’Estaube is an outstanding rough-faced bitch displaying a classic head and expression and conformation. She is small and lightboned with excellent length of neck, body and thigh, excellent tuck up, and short, well0turned hocks. Her head is superb – small, almond0shaped eyes, ears set right on top of the head, triangular muzzle, excellent muzzle to skull proportion, and just the right amount of facial hair giving the face a windswept look.

The rough-face dog must be rectangular – longer than he is tall. He should always be active and alert and light on his feet. A minimum of bone is desirable. A heavily-boned, wide bodied, cobby dog is to be severely penalized. Similarly, the Pyr Shep does not move wide either front or rear. Going away, hocks should move parallel but feet should toe out slightly. This toeing out at the foot is considered highly desirable in the working dog as it is believed to give better leverage on steep mountain slopes. A slight toe out in front is also considered perfectly acceptable. Thus four-square terrier movement is not desirable in the Pyrenean Shepherd and is not to be rewarded.

From the side, the correct Pyr Shep exhibits excellent but unexaggerated reach and drive. Length of stride is highly desirable. The dog should “shave the earth” with the feet never far from the ground. An attractive little dog while standing, the Pyr Shep really comes into his own at the trot. At moderate speed the head is carried high, giving a picture of great harmony, showing off the length of neck blending smoothly into the shoulders, topline level over the back then rising into the loin and rounding the rump into the slope of coup. It should be noted that while most Pyr Sheps have natural bobs or docked tails, a long tail is perfectly acceptable so long as it is correctly set and carried. The correct natural tail is set on low, following the slope of croup, and is carried low, never raising above the level of the back. The tail should have a crook at the end. In the case of a smooth-faced dog, a natural tail should be well plumed.

The smooth-faced Pyr Shep appears more square, higher on hock and more level in topline than the rough-faced dog.

Pyr Sheps usually have ears cropped straight across with a single cut. The fringing gives the ears their rounded appearance. This utilitarian ear crop (unlike the Briard, Beauceron, Bouvier, or any other cut) has been used by working shepherds in the Pyrenees mountains since time immemorial and the vast majority of both show and working dogs have cropped ears. Natural ears re perfectly acceptable so long as they are correctly set and carried. Correct natural ears re rather small and are set high on top of the skull with the top one third to one half of the ear tipping forward or slightly to the side.

A word on temperament: The Pyr Shep is very much a working sheepdog. He is nervous, intelligent and quick to action. A laid-back, mild-mannered temperament is not typical of the breed. Extremely devoted to his owner, it comes as no surprise when the Pyr Shep prefers not to allow a stranger to touch him. So, a certain amount of shyness in the showring is to be expected. However as a good working herder the Pyr Shep is highly trainable. Thus an unruly dog should not be heavily penalized but his owner should be encouraged to finish the dog’s show training before presenting him again.

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