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!

(3) comments

Jennifer Biesterfeldt

My family has always had German Shepherds and/or Collies. I considered myself to be knowledgeable about dogs. Our family German Shepherds were very obedient and intelligent. Our Collies were very intelligent, a tad willful, but generally obedient. All were wonderful additions to our family. Two years ago our Collie, Odin passed away of old age. He was an amazing dog in so many ways. Our family was crushed. After a few months we decided to bring another dog into our family. A nearby farmer had a litter of Great Pyrenees available. The GP parents worked the livestock on the farm. The puppies lived with their parents in the barn with the goats and sheep. The other puppies were going to other farmers in the area. But one puppy, a handsome ball of white fluff had eye problems that required surgery. The surgery would require weeks of downtime to heal which would be problematic for his herding career. We fell in love with the little polar bear puppy immediately and decided to add him to our family. We named our wonderfully affectionate pup Bailey's Irish Creme.

Bailey was a remarkably fast learner. He was housetrained within a week. At that point, the greater challenge was getting him to come into the house. I think he missed barn life. And he was a smidge nocturnal. But he did come in. More than anything else he wanted to be with his new family.

Bailey also wanted to work. He especially enjoyed the challenges of herding our cats. They were not nearly as amused by their new guardian as we were. Fortunately they could escape onto higher ground, bookshelves, trees etc. Of course we had to find an acceptable middle ground on cat herding techniques. Nocturnal and indoor cat herding was NOT acceptable. Outdoor cat herding is acceptable with minimal barking.

Which brings us to the barking. Barking is a constant. We're convinced he barks at satellites and butterfly wings ...and

everything else in between. On garbage day we have to keep him inside. He just doesn't get why we let the nefarious big truck steal the precious contents in the garbage cans. He puts his head in my lap, looks at me with those big brown eyes, and grumbles when I won't open the front door to let him protect and retrieve the garbage.

As Bailey grew larger and larger, he also became more opinionated. He does not like baths. Period. My husband and teenage son attempted to force Bailey to take a bath. They took him to the bathroom. I'm not entirely clear on what happened when the bathroom door was closed. But when the door opened again, my husband and son looked like they took a bath in their clothes. But Bailey was almost as dry as he was when they started. My husband mumbled something about the dog doesn't like baths and he can clean himself. We settled on brushing him thoroughly and hosing him when more is needed.

Bailey is absolutely loving and dedicated to his family. He would put his life on the line to protect his family (cats and kids equally). Bailey does not view himself as subservient to anyone. He recognizes my husband and I are the alphas. (Apparent in GP thinking thats more like a democracy than a Aristocracy or dictatorship). When we call him, he will come... but he will smell the roses...the ground, the fire hydrant, and anything else of interest on the way. Bailey is indeed a wonderfully loving companion. But he is a completely different personality from our past Collies and German Shepherds. He is very much an independent thinker with opinions and a willingness to openly disagree. And yes, if the gate is open and he decides to go for a moonlight jog....he won't hesitate to run like the wind. But he'll come back later to make sure the cats and kids are safe.

Richard Vinet

Thank you for your use of the word "guardian," Mr. Wilson. We are, in fact, guardians of our companion animals. I "own" my toaster. My relationship with it is nothing even remotely like my relationship with my beloved German Shepherd. It's time everyone realizes the difference between living, feeling beings and intimate objects.

Pat Boring

During these darkly pessimistic days (I don't have a Great Pyrenees to distract me) nothing makes me laugh more than your columns. I wish you could write a column every day, but realize how busy you are trying to figure out your GPs. Thank you so much! Patricia

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