Does Positive Reinforcement Work for Great Pyrenees?

“The Great Pyrenees is a large sized dog and a dominant breed.”

“The Great Pyrenees is a dominant breed of dog.”

“It (Great Pyrenees) has an independent, somewhat stubborn, nature and may try to dominate a less secure owner.”

Let me start by saying that I do not like the words “dominant”, “submissive”, and “alpha”. Pack theory has be debunked – let’s move past it. I understand some people use these terms in a more humane way, but the stigma still exists.

Before bringing home my first Great Pyrenees, I did a ton of research. Article after article warned me that my Great Pyrenees would be a “dominant dog”. I would have to ensure I was “alpha” to prevent my pyr from taking over or becoming aggressive. I read that my pyr would need corrections, should never be on the couch, or have any of the same treatment as the humans. I started to wonder if I was making the right decision.

I’m thankful I didn’t buy into what I read or else I probably wouldn’t have Mauja and Atka.

Great Pyrenees are independent thinkers and extremely smart. They were bred to work on their own and don’t need to be told how to do their job. Just because a pyr isn’t guarding livestock doesn’t make the instinct go away. They need to be convinced that what you are asking is in their best interest. “Because I said so” doesn’t cut it with this breed.

Due to their intelligence and independence, people often feel these dogs need to be “put in their place”.

The common training method for pyrs and other livestock guardian breeds is to get your dog to respect you through reinforcement and consequences. If you teach your dog to “respect” you through consequences, what kind of a relationship are you creating with your dog?

Not one that I want.

I wanted Mauja and Atka to trust me. To know that I would never hurt them and always look out for their best interest. Does that mean they get to do whatever they want? Does it mean they have taken over the house? No. It means we work together to find a common ground – to build a positive, trusting relationship.

Working with a Great Pyrenees can be a challenging training adventure, but that just makes successes even more rewarding. If you go into training recognizing that your pyr is just as smart (if not smarter) than you, training will be incredibly enjoyable. Personally, I love the challenge of a smart, independent dog. The kind of dog that doesn’t plop into a sit in half a second. The kind of dog that makes me think outside the box. However, that doesn’t mean I snap their collars when they don’t listen or force them off of the couch. It means I became less noticeable than their breed instincts and I need to determine how to get us back on track.

From day one, Mauja and Atka were trained through positive reinforcement. Neither of them have growled at me or tried to “take over the house”. They aren’t possessive and they don’t make the rules. These are things the articles assured me would happen if I didn’t show my pyr I was “alpha”. Mauja and Atka sit politely for food, toys, and to get their leashes on for a walk – regardless of whether or not I have a treat. In true pyr fashion they take their sweet time, but they enjoy my affection and praise. They do this because we have a strong bond, not because they are avoiding consequences.

I challenge everyone with a Great Pyrenees or other livestock guardian breed to try positive reinforcement training. Enhancing your relationship will bring out the best traits in your dog, not to mention yourself 🙂

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16 comments on “Does Positive Reinforcement Work for Great Pyrenees?”

  1. Great post! I’m so glad you didn’t buy into any of that research that you did!

    It makes me so sad that people still think they need to dominate and use aversive punishment on their dogs. 🙁 It’s such a common excuse, too! Oh my dog is a tough breed, I HAVE to use this prong collar (etc… ). It’s depressing.

  2. I often go to Forum and I am still amazed at the number of people that think they must be “Alpha” etc. While some dogs will tolerate this nonsense – A Pyr is much too smart for that. I have only used positive reinforcement with my two Pyrs. I remember teaching my female Ivy “leave it” she mastered it quickly and then became bored with it. She still “leaves” everything that I ask her to.

    Mine are both rescues and the first (Ivy) came to us as a fearful dog, 5 months old and under socialized – the wrong type of training could have turned that fear into aggression. Our formula for success was patience, learning new behaviors,patience, lots of treats and more patience and as you say – build that bond of trust. Then we got her a male Pyr as her BFF. I’ve never seen two dogs that just knew each other immediately!

    However, I do believe these dogs are not for everyone and the more research one does the better, especially if you are planning on adopting through a Great Pyr rescue.

    • I completely agree that they are not for everyone. Having a pyr certainly isn’t like having a golden or other eager to please breed. I always tell people to talk to several people that already have the breed. You’ll be much more prepared that way 🙂

  3. I met lots of Kuvasz owners in Germany that had real problems with Kuvasz dominance issues. We socialize Katie really well taking her with us to work from the day we got her until we moved to the US. She does have a mind of her own, though, and training was not too bad except for come. She had me in tears many times. She still tries to run when I call her sometimes, but these days I can easily catch her. She has been a challenge which I love. All three of my girls are challenges since they are all independent thinkers, but so am I. I can’t imagine a perfectly obedient dog, for me I would be bored to tears. It is not a breed for everyone but if you are up for a challenge these types of dogs are amazing! I would have another one if they didn’t shed so much which is the biggest issue for me with Katie.

    • Socialization is SO incredibly important for these breeds and makes a world of difference. I agree – I love the independent thinking and the challenge.

  4. It’s sad that people assume larger breeds need to be “dominated” – really, the opposite is true since they are too big to truly be physically controlled! Trust and patience win the training race, I think. Wonderful post, Kelsie, and thanks for joining the hop.

  5. I love this article, and I completely agree with everything you said. I read a lot of articles before and after adopting my pyr as well, and I found most of the advice also was negative and pushed the alpha system. I don’t think that is necessary with Great Pyrenees at all. They are an extremely intelligent breed and also super sensitive. Yes, there are stubborn moments. However, positive reinforcement has been the best training method for my girl too.

  6. I am a dog trainer and the Mama of a Pyr/Irish Wolfhound mix named Shenanigans. I adopted her when she was a year old and had no training whatsoever. She totally responded to positive training once she figured out there was something in it for her. Although she enjoys affection, it’s only when she wants it, so the “reward” has to be something she really wants – such as going outside. Door opens when her butt hits the ground, and stays open as long as she doesn’t door dash. This type of training really came in handy when my 90 year old Dad came to live with me a year ago and because she was trained with no words, only actions, she fell right into the same habits with him. I just can’t say enough about using positive training with these wonderful dogs.

  7. It’s all about Patience with the GREAT ONE. I inherited one from my ex. She decided to get him to replace me as a guardian. They tied him up to a tree all summer, at first they had a cage for him, they would put him in the cage before they left for work, but he broke through by breaking the corners!! And he was a puppy still. When I’d come to get my daughter they had to hold him back so he wouldn’t bolt out the door. After two years, she decided to move and decided to go where no dogs were. She told me she was going to get rid of him (knowing I wouldn’t let that happen). First thing I did, took me a week…get him to sit when ever I opened the door. When she came to get my daughter and saw him sit when I opened the door, her mouth dropped. It just took patience with him. I still had to leash him, but one winter I let him lose when it was snowing hard, If you let him go in the summer..he would bolt and explore the neighborhood and when you chased him, it was a game. In the snow (in Utah), he loved it but it was harder to get away. one winter the snow was so bad, cars were going 10 miles an hour. I had him lose in a parking lot and he decided to run along a fence line and cut between two parked cars…the Domino pizza guy was going 10 miles and the dog ran right out in front. He smacked was like a deer..he just ran back to me. I think it scared him…this machine that he usually wants to chase. I had him checked out and he was okay. scared me to death, but I noticed it put him in a position to stay closer and after that he would wander a little but wait until I got close to him. I started to take him up in the mountains on trails and let him get up far…then he’d come back down the path looking for me. He’d wait for me then stay with me and do his thing, After 2.5 years, we finally came together as one. he was stubborn, always on the couch, taking attention from dates that came over….a true hoarder of attention but the best dog I have ever had. I gave him back to one of the kids as I had to leave the state for school. He is perfect now…7 years of age, but I can drive by and there he is, standing on the front door, never running or out of control. I think IF one takes the patience with them (and I NEVER spoiled him, something I would get chastised about not doing from dates) and you keep them, they turn out like true obedient soldiers. It seems they take a lie longer to hit that maturity point, but once they do….they are magnificent. Once we were on the trail and he decided to stop to rest…down the mountain come three horses with riders. He springs aloft, gets between myself and the riders and just barks aloud. Unfortunately, one rider almost fell off, but that loyalty from my Pyrenees was….hair tingling. They are the best dog, but from puppy or adoption, you must stay dedicated to their learning.

  8. To get your PMD to respect you, first respect your PMD. I raised mine the way I once raised a horse, i.e., through natural dog/horsemanship (or did they raise me?). Through feeling and touch. I lived with her in the wild for the first few years so there was never any question about me being the ‘superior’ species or ‘dominant’ dog. She would have laughed at the very idea of it. She passed away last December aged 14+. We were together 24/7. The best relationship of my life. Once you establish a relationship of mutual respect I found that words were unnecessary. We communicated through eye contact and body language. We knew what we were feeling and acted according to what we considered fair. What a breed of dog is this!

  9. I rescued a GP directly from his original owners when he was 8 months old and 90 pounds. Extremely neglected, matted so bad he had to be shaved, but absolutely a gentle-dog. I took him and when I realized he did not even know what treats were, my heart was broken for him. I boiled chicken livers for him and coaxed him into the house. We had a 3-day sleet/ice storm and I was land-locked to my home. For those 3-days we did what I have come to believe was the best thing we could have done; laid on the floor together, ate popcorn, and watched marathon runs of “Underworld”. I saved his life and he, in turn, saved mine. I went into a deep depression and was suicidal. The ONLY thing that kept me going was the thought that no one else could love or understand him the way I did and I would not leave him to anyone else.

    The years have passed and so has he. But from day one Thor taught me so very much about myself, kindness, patience, expectations, I could go on and on. We had many adventures. He became a registered therapy dog and we would go to nursing homes and visit the elderly. We would even go into the Alzheimer’s ward and he knew exactly what to do and who to go “see”. I miss him terribly.

    You are absolutely correct in your assessment of this magnificent breed. In my working with Thor I quickly learned that voice tone was everything. He would sulk for days if my voice was sharp. He never did learn “come” but if I turned away after I called his name and began walking, he would always come running to my side. Bless you for posting this. I have learned that with this breed in particular, they will not do something if it does not makes sense to them. Thor would “fetch” for me about two times, on the third fetch he would stand by me, look at the toy, look at me again as if to say, “Why do you keep throwing it away? You must not really want it.” and promptly lay down. Hilarious.

  10. Great article! I have two livestock guardian dogs – Mindy, a Great Pyr/Karakachan female that I got as a 10-week old puppy, and Duke, an Anatolian Shepherd/Maremma that I got a year later – he was almost 6 when I got him. I’ve chosen to respect and trust both of them and it’s worked beautifully – I can’t really put into words how much I LOVE my dogs. It’s a 100%/100% relationship between us and it really, really works.

  11. I’m happy to have read this, I’m seeing more and more about patience and positive reinforcement. My last dog was a border collie, incredibly smart and although not always easy to deal with, was not difficult for me to train (I was a child, had no real experience in training). My new girl is a Pyrenees/wolf hybrid and she’s as defiant as you might be thinking she is. I have noticed such a difference in personalities between breeds, my border collie only wanted to please…my pyr/wolf does not. Certainly not in the same way at least! I’ve really had to from a relationship beyond owner/dog with my pyr and I couldn’t be more happy. She is still only a puppy at 4.5 months but we have come so far together, she truly is my best friend. Everything from barking, digging, chasing cats, to bolting, the more we understand each other the more well behaved we BOTH are, all thanks to positive reinforcement and patience.

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