Lupé sat outside in the snow. It was 25 below. She sat just staring at the house. Finally, a neighbor called Tim, the guardian of Lupé, and expressed concern about a dog out in that temperature and told him the dog must be depressed.
“Nope,” Tim replied, “He’s just a Great Pyrenees.”
I had called Tim Holte, a high school friend, because he was an experienced Great Pyrenees guardian. He also happens to be an amazing photographer who I follow on Facebook. But what caught my attention was his Great Pyrenees was usually with him as he shot pictures of the Lake Michigan coast. And the Pyrenees would be off-leash.
This confused me. The times we’ve had Toby, our Great Pyrenees, off-leash or when he’s escaped, he was gone and out of sight in a heartbeat.
For example, we were working with Toby and Ryan Tyson, our wonderful trainer.
We were at a local park. Ryan wanted to see how Toby would react to being off leash. I am usually a darkly pessimistic person. But Ryan’s sunny optimism (What’s the worst that could happen?) won us over.
We went down to the arroyo and let go of the leash — and Toby was off. “Don’t chase him!” Ryan said, again optimistic that nothing would go wrong. “Just call him back.”
I called his name: nothing. He didn’t even look back. We started walking, then jogging and then full-out running after this stubborn dog. When we finally caught up to him, Toby just looked at us with that Great Pyrenees look of superiority.
So that is why I called my friend Tim. I was worried we might have underestimated our understanding of all things dog — at least when it came to GPs.
When I got Tim on the phone, he sighed. “They are stubborn, aloof. They don’t care about food or treats. Lupé digs holes in the backyard and gets in them so that we can’t find her. I don’t think they are trainable. They’ll do the basics, but they are way too proud to ‘stay’ or ‘come.’ And they bark. A lot.”
And yet, Tim has had a series of Pyrenees. They’ve all been rescues from Kentucky.
So that begs the question: Why not Labradors or golden retrievers?
Tim answered that it might take a while — a year or more — but it’s just special when you bond with a Great Pyrenees. They like to patrol morning and evening, but then they are content to lay on the couch with their head on your lap (except, of course, when they need to protect you from the FedEx driver: Let the howling commence).
They are gentle giants. Tim told me that once Lupé found a nest of baby rabbits in the backyard. One by one, she carried the babies into the house and put them in a bathtub. When Tim released the bunnies back into the wild (with their mom), Lupé whimpered (This is a dog that is strong enough to take on a wolf).
Tim let that story sink in. But then, worried I was missing a crucial point, he reminded me about the Great Escape of 2015. They had taken two Great Pyrenees to Minneapolis (our hometown) for a funeral. Misplaced confidence led them to believe they could leave the dogs at Tim’s sister’s house — she had a big, fenced-in yard. To be on the safe side, they also hired a nephew to keep watch.
Within the first 10 minutes, after they left to go to the funeral, one dog had jumped the fence, and the other had dug under the fence and escaped. Both were found eventually. Yet it was a testament to dogs who believe their No. 1 job is being with their human partners, who have no sense of the danger (wolves and coyotes) that lurks everywhere — presumably even in a Lutheran church.
As I write this, our Great Pyrenees mix, Toby, has commandeered a couch by a window. This fulfills his two missions in life: to keep guard and to sleep. He’s been with us for about 16 months now, and we’ve adjusted to his lifestyle (because he certainly has no intention of adapting to ours).
For his sake, we are hoping for a snowy winter so he can bury himself in it and stare at his humans with that Great Pyrenees’ sense of superiority. We’ll know that he actually loves us!