Dewclaws are dogs’ thumbs and big toes.

Great Pyrenees great white wanderers

Next time you watch a werewolf show, like the new series Bitten, watch to see how the human transforms into a wolf.

  • Jan. 20, 2014 4:00 p.m.

“Winter White” leads us next to the Great Pyrenees. A gentle giant whose job was to protect sheep flocks in the Pyrenean Mountains of France, the “Pyr” (pronounced “peer”) is one of my favourite giant breeds. People who love them are attracted to their massive size and loving personalities. They are often bought as protection dogs on farms in our area. I myself bought a Great Pyrenees, directly descended from many generations of sheep protectors, to keep coyotes off our property after several attacks on our dogs. Many times this dog protected our animals by running off coyotes, and even bears, on our acreage.

This dog, a sweetie named “Sam” was supposed to be a property dog but he loved our family so much that as a puppy he broke the screen and climbed through our kitchen window. The breed can be a bit stubborn. In fact I found him quite difficult to train because he was always so darn happy that discipline seemed to mean little to him, any kind of correction was met with the same level of blissful contentment as love and affection.

Traditionally used as a protector in high mountain ranges, the Great Pyrenees was raised with the sheep and could be left on its own with the flock for days at a time and would patrol huge areas of mountain pasture. This does not translate well into today’s world of smaller acreages – the Great Pyrenees is too often known as a wanderer. Neighbours will sometimes find a big white dog patrolling every property in the neighbourhood. This is a case of good fences making good neighbours because not everyone is happy having strange dogs in their yards. In our case, we had problems with Sam wandering and sadly we lost him on the highway.

The David family – June, her daughter Diane and son Joe – love “Joey,” a Great Pyrenees they rescued about a year ago. Raised with little socialization, Joey came to them needing reassurance and training. They have offered him gentle handling and patience and he has become a devoted family pet.

When they first adopted him they did find that he would take off, luckily returning home even when he was not yet bonded to them or the property. Ever since, they have been more careful to be sure he is prepared to be loose without wandering. Frequent on-leash walks have led eventually to being able to let Joey off-leash with confidence that he will not leave and he can be seen walking nicely on- or off-leash on or near their Crescent Bay property.

Great Pyrenees have a weather-resistant double coat which requires frequent, thorough brushing to keep them clean and to remove loose hair. If not brushed, the undercoat will matt, and dirt and burrs and debris will gather in the matted undercoat. A thorough combing and bath promotes a trouble-free, clean coat, so much so that the Great Pyrenees we groom at Brouse Loop Kennels are easily maintained with just a spring and fall grooming. Nails may need to be trimmed more often.

“Pyrs” are interesting because they are one of the breeds that have rear “double dewclaws” up the inside of their back legs. Many pet lovers aren’t aware that the dewclaw is actually the thumb of the dog. On the back legs, the dewclaw is actually the big toe – imagine having two big toes on each foot!

Next time you watch a werewolf show, like the new series Bitten, watch to see how the human transforms into a wolf. I find dog anatomy fascinating and would like to write more about the skeleton of the dog in future columns.


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