What colour is a Pyrenean Mountain Dog?
These colour patches may be on the head, ears or base of the tail, with a few permissible on the body. In general these markings should not cover more than one third of the dogs body in total and are usually a lot less.
When puppies are born, their markings may appear darker. As they grow however, while some will stay darker on some dogs, many of these markings will fade. When fully grown, some Pyreneans with markings will look almost all white, with only very soft, light markings visible, often on the ears.
Can a Pyrenean have black markings?
The short answer to this question is no. A purebred Pyrenean can not have black markings.
Black is a colour which is not known in the Pyrenean Mountain Dog gene pool and there have been no verified examples of registered Pyreneans (Pyrs which have a verified and traceable family tree) with black markings which go from the tip of the hair all the way to the root. Black markings are different to badger markings (caused by the agouti gene) where the tips of the hair can look black, but the hair is banded and of a much lighter colour closest to the skin.
Around the period of the First World War, the breed was reduced significantly in numbers in the Pyrenees. As a result, an effort was made by those who knew and loved the breed to ensure its continuation as it had been for many thousands of years. To do this a breed standard was created which drew significantly on what the shepherds in the Pyrenees mountains considered to be a correct Pyrenean. For example, the requirement for the breed to have double dew claws on the hind legs, for the dog to 'make the wheel' with its tail when alert and that badger markings on the head and a patch of the same colour on the base of the tail (with the rest of the dog all white) was considered to be "U ca pla p'apat" (which means a well or nicely marked dog in the dialect of Labeda).
Dogs with black markings were considered to be crossbred by the shepherds and not the 'true breed', so this fact was specifically made note of. A standard developed in France in 1907 states the following (which I have translated from the French):
"Defects: ...White with red or black spots denoting the junction with the St. Bernard or Newfoundland (black hair is strictly prohibited, but it is appropriate not to confuse black hair with badger hair colouring)"
The first official standard for the breed in France (developed in the 1920's and published in 1927) says the following about colour:
"White or white with spots; colour of a badger or pale yellow or wolf grey on the head, the ears and at the base of the tail. Spots of the badger are esteemed the most. One or two spots on the body are not considered faults"
Under the heading of "Faults" the 1927 French standard includes "other colours than those mentioned above denoting crossing".
While there are some that may claim to have Pyreneans with black markings, in all cases I have ever come across these dogs are not registered and have no true verifiable pedigree. The origin of the black markings on dogs claimed to be 'pure' Pyrenean may vary. Often they may be crossed with dogs such as Border Collies or Cattle Dogs, so if someone has black marked or heavily ticked pups or dogs for sale it my pay to look at what other dogs they have around the property too. In some it is possible that they are the result of dogs that were crossed with Pyrenean Mastiffs or Newfoundlands. The Pyrenean Mastiff is another livestock guardian breed which is heavier in type than the Pyrenean Mountain Dog and originates mostly on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees mountains. You can see the two different breeds on the French Pyrenean breeds club website.
Here is a link to some pictures of Pyrenean Mountain Dogs on the French breed club website; and
Here is a link to some pictures of Pyrenean Mastiffs on the same website so you can compare the two.
The Pyrenean Mastiff may occasionally have black markings and it is a permitted colour in the breed standard for that breed. It is possible that some dogs sourced from farms in the Pyrenees mountains and taken to places such as the US have been a cross of these two types of dogs. Bottom line though is that a dog with black markings that go to the root of the hairs will not be a purebred Pyr. There is therefore no real guarantee that it will act like a Pyr is supposed to act (and may potentially have traits that are completely opposite to those desired in a livestock guardian breed). The shepherds in the Pyrenees did not want the crosses for a very good reason as livestock guardians with the traits of other breeds (such as a herding dogs willingness to chase stock or breeds with less instinct to protect a flock and stay with them) were a liability rather than an asset.
Article copyright Tracy Bassett 2015
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