TEAMWORK & RESPONSIBILITY
Gisele Zilberman Excerpted from "The International Great Pyrenees
|As I mentioned previously, it is
in France that both breeds, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog and the Pyrenean Shepherd
have lived side by side for centuries, working as a perfect team with the
shepherd. To find the one without the other is like having a missing link in
the pastoral pattern of the Pyrenees.
The shepherd and his dogs
form a three-cornered team, as he gives orders to the little sheepdogs, each
one eager to obey with all the quick intelligence and initiative it possesses,
every move watched closely by the big mountain dog who only interferes if a
situation crops up where the sheepdogs need help then he is ready to rush to
I have found the study of this three-cornered
partnership particularly interesting for three reasons:
1. The shepherd
cannot carry out his work of keeping the flock without the dogs.
2. Without the orders and directions given them by their master, the
sheepdogs are incapable of achieving all their tasks: driving the sheep where
the shepherds require them to go, stopping ewes from straying to dangerous
slopes where the lamps might fall down a ravine, carefully keeping on the
precipice side of a dangerous part in order that the flock is in no danger of
accidents even finding lambs in blinding mists when the bleating of the mothers
is the only guide to their whereabouts.
3. The big Mountain Dog, in
turn, watches over them all. The sheepdogs know quite well their big companion
is there, ready to protect them from any attack: they only need to call and he
will respond with a rapidity which is all the more surprising when one
considers his great size. Should wolves, bears, or foxes approach the flock,
Patou will be ready to fight to the death to drive them away.
What lesson is
there here, for us humans: each partner ready to play his part, one never
interfering with the other, but ready to come into play when needed?
While on one of my mountain climbs I had an experience that clearly
demonstrates the responsibility in Pyrenean Shepherds. My second story happened
in this setting.
The Massif du Balaious is noted for
marvelous mountain climbs but is also a refuge for mountaineers on the way up
or down the peaks. Glaciers, snows and bilberry bushes are marvelous
attractions for the brown bears of the Pyrenees. Whether they ever attacked
shepherds or mountaineers is doubtful, but this was a place where it was
prudent to be careful if coming across their footprints.
This had been
the case not far from the Larribit Refuge where I arrived one day, very tired
after a strenuous climb and feeling rather sick following a meal from what had
evidently been bad tinned meat.
Straw mattresses on the floor
of the refuge are always here for passing mountaineers and I was glad to lie on
one, as I felt feverish. Suddenly I heard the far-off sound of bells: it was a
flock of sheep descending the slopes, as I realized when I heard the
shepherds voices and he barking of dogs.
An hour later the whole flock
was grazing around the refuge and three shepherds entered the hut in which I
was resting. Though the opening I could see their dogs nine of them
red tongues lolling with unkempt gray black and white and tawny coats.
After a chat with the shepherds they made me some hot tea, well
sugared and laced with alcohol and lent me a sheepskin vest to cover myself.
They also told me there was a bear in he vicinity and they were, that evening,
going down to the village for a salt lick but would leave their dogs in charge
of the sheep. They would return early the next morning but they told me they
would assign three of the dogs to stay with me n the hut throughout the night
(three remained with the sheep).
Then they left after giving
orders to the little Sheepdogs, and at that time, I could never see a dog
without wanting to pet it. But I did not know anything about these Sheepdogs
and was surprised to see them draw back as I put out my hand to stroke them.
They were not growling, but as far as they were concerned, I was their charge,
their task for the night and they had arranged themselves as follows: one in
front of the door which could not shut properly, one in between this one and
myself, and the third continued to run around me for the five or six hours he
was on duty, just as if I had been some sheep he had been ordered to guard,
sniffing me as he want past, not quite sure of what he had there!
Their pledge to man was obviously to the shepherds, not to me! If I
moved they looked around towards the door, then approached me took stock of the
situation, then decided all was well and settled down to wait for the
I did not manage to fall asleep but watched the three of them with
wonder at their organization and conscientious behavior. Twice during he night
a noise was heard outside - in the twinkling of an eye, the dogs were barking
furiously, one stayed right next to me, one went outside, running and barking
all around the hut, and the third ran backwards and forwards between the other
two. In the morning the dog which had been running all night around me
disappeared; the other two had remained at their posts as if this was the
An hour later, or thereabouts, I heard voices and only
then did the other two start to bark, but they stayed where they were. The
shepherds were arriving back with three of the others and the salt. In this
short space of time they had covered incredible distances, staffs in hand, dogs
at their heels. As they appeared in the entrance the two remaining dogs ran to
greet them, their task finished.
My return to the valley is of
no interest apart from the fact that I decided from that day to own and breed
these dogs. Since then, how many times have I had occasion to admire this
intelligence, adaptable to any circumstances, signaled in the Standard, but
perfectly illustrated in this first encounter with the Bergers des
My third story is about a Pyrenean Sheepdog in Dordogne:
a lesson on initiative and imagination.
A year after having sold a
little bitch, whose parents were sheep-trial champions, I had a visit from her
owner; a farmer on his way to the Brive market, who had come out of his way to
bring me a photo of Urielle. There she was, in colour, on a chair in the middle
of the farmyard, a little Queen!
He had one day left his flock
of sheep in an open field with only Urielle to look after them while he went
back to the farm to fetch some tools he was away for a few hours. He
arrived back to find an empty field: no sheep and no dog! In a nearby vineyard
a neighbor had seen the following scene, which he descried with much laughter
It was incredible! Soon after you left a young bull belonging
to Monsieur Laplagne came into the field. Your bitch saw him arrive, and as you
were not there, she decided to round up the sheep and guide them home as you
generally do in the evenings. When I saw them I did not know you were not
there, but everything was in order there was no need to worry, and the flock
was going towards your farm.
continued the story: I went straight home and could not believe my eyes.
Urielle had indeed driven all the sheep into their fold and was sitting in
front of the gate as she obviously could not shut it. She was worried when she
saw me but when I called her to me to pet her, she jumped around, delighted."
I was glad Urielles owner was understanding. A man less versed
in sheeplore might have scolded her for having brought the sheep home without
an order to do so; this would have resulted in a loss of confidence between two