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Great Pyrenees vs German Shepherd: The Differences (with Pictures)

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

Great Pyrenees vs German Shepherd - Featured Image

Few dogs are as well-known as the German Shepherd, famous for their loyalty, brains, and amazing working ability. The enormous, fluffy white Great Pyrenees is one of the most popular giant breeds and are known for their relaxed personality and majestic appearance. Both breeds trace their roots to Europe, where they were developed for similar jobs as livestock guards and herding dogs.

The German Shepherd later took their talents to other professions, serving as guide dogs, detection canines, and police and military dogs, along with companion pets. Great Pyrenees are still used as working farm dogs but are more often found as family pets. In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between these two working breeds to help you decide which is the best fit for you.

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Visual Differences

Great Pyrenees vs German Shepherd - Visual Differences
Image Credit: Left – HelloRF Zcool, Shutterstock | Right – Osetrik, Shutterstock

At a Glance

Great Pyrenees
  • Average height (adult): 25–32 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 85–100+ pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–12 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, independent, indifferent
German Shepherd
  • Average height (adult): 22–26 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 50–90 pounds
  • Lifespan: 7–10 years
  • Exercise: 2+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Smart, driven, eager to please, attentive

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Great Pyrenees Overview

Great Pyrenees puppy strolling down the road
Image Credit: Kerrie T, Shutterstock

Personality

The Great Pyrenees was bred to live with and guard livestock herds in harsh conditions and is a watchful, independent dog. They are calm, gentle, patient dogs by nature, but don’t be fooled: the Great Pyrenees is always on guard. If they sense a threat to their flock or family, these powerful dogs have the speed and strength to handle the problem.

At home, the Great Pyrenees does well with children due to their mellow personality, but they may be too big for families with small kids. They enjoy their families but need their alone time, making them a good choice for households where people aren’t home as much. The breed usually gets along with other pets if they can still have space when needed.

Exercise

Great Pyrenees can be barkers because of their guardian instincts. However, they don’t require a lot of exercise because they prefer to save their energy in case of emergency. About an hour of moderate exercise daily should keep them fit.

great pyrenees dog with owner
Image Credit: Cody Hanson Photography, Shutterstock

Training

The Great Pyrenees is an intelligent breed. After all, they were bred to care for helpless sheep independently, with no humans to guide them. However, this job also required the Great Pyrenees to be an independent thinker who did things their way. That independent nature can make them a challenge to train.

Great Pyrenees frequently don’t see the point of following commands just because you ask them to. They are smart enough to know what you want but just choose not to do it. Because of their size, the Great Pyrenees must receive early socialization and learn basic manners.

Consistent, positive training works best for this breed. Keep training sessions short, or they may become bored and lose interest.

Health & Care

Like all deep-chested breeds, the Great Pyrenees is at risk of bloat. They can also suffer from genetic joint conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia, luxating patella, and osteochondrodysplasia. Great Pyrenees are prone to several eye conditions and a degenerative neurological condition called neuronal degeneration.

Overall, the Great Pyrenees is considered a healthy breed. It’s best to choose a breeder who performs all recommended screening tests to maintain this breed’s standard of quality.

Young woman petting one happy white great pyrenees dog outside at home porch of log cabin
Image Credit: Andriy Blokhin, Shutterstock

Grooming

The Great Pyrenees has a thick double coat, developed to protect them from the elements as they lived outdoors with their livestock herds. However, they don’t have heavy grooming needs because their coat naturally resists dirt and tangles. Weekly brushing, along with regular nail trims, ear cleaning, and preventative dental care, is usually sufficient.

The Great Pyrenees will shed their undercoat seasonally. Be prepared to increase your brushing frequency to keep up with all the white fur released into your house.

Suitable For:

The Great Pyrenees is suitable for most households, including those with children. They do best with older kids who understand how to respect their space and won’t be easily knocked down by a giant dog. Because they don’t require a lot of exercise, Great Pyrenees may be suitable for an apartment or small space if they don’t bark too much. If you need a working dog for your hobby farm, the Great Pyrenees is the perfect choice.

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German Shepherd Overview

bi-color german shepherd puppy
Image Credit: Lurin, Shutterstock

Personality

German Shepherds are the ideal working dogs and fiercely loyal family protectors. Since they’re intelligent, driven, devoted, protective, and brave, the German Shepherd is always alert and usually moving. They are naturally suspicious of anyone they don’t know, which can be a problem if the breed is not carefully socialized and trained.

A poorly socialized German Shepherd may view unfamiliar pets, people, or situations as threatening and react aggressively. They can make excellent family companions and attentive child guardians, but only with the right mix of training, exercise, and socialization. German Shepherds thrive on attention and contact with their humans.

Few breeds are more willing to put themselves on the line to protect those they love than the German Shepherd, which is why they are a favorite for police and military work. They don’t like being left alone and always need some way to keep busy.

Exercise

German Shepherds are high-energy dogs, especially when they’re young. They generally need at least 2 hours of vigorous exercise daily. Jogging, hiking, running off-leash in a fenced area, or participating in canine sports like tracking or agility are good physical activities for a German Shepherd.

If German Shepherds don’t get enough exercise, they’ll look for other outlets for their energy. Typically, these are problem behaviors like barking, chewing, digging, or even obsessive behavior like tail chasing. This is not the dog for you if you don’t have the time or energy to keep them active.

two german shepherd dogs running in a field
Image Credit: thraniwen, Pixabay

Training

Considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds, German Shepherds are also eager to please their owners, which typically makes them easy to train. It’s a good thing, too, because this is not a canine you can get away with not training. We already discussed the issues that can arise if the German Shepherd isn’t properly socialized.

Unfortunately, because the breed has a scary reputation, German Shepherd owners have no margin for error regarding their dog’s behavior. German Shepherds must always be well-mannered and under control. Early socialization and training are critical for this breed.

Mental activity is just as important as exercise for the German Shepherd. They were bred to work and will be most calm and balanced if they have a job to do. As a German Shepherd owner, it’s your job to channel the best traits of the breed in a positive direction.

Health & Care

German Shepherds have consistently been among the most popular breeds in the United States for decades. Unfortunately, popularity also drives demand, and unethical breeders may try to cash in without considering the health of their dogs. German Shepherds are prone to multiple health conditions, most of which are inherited.

Orthopedic conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia are common in the breed. German Shepherds are one of the dogs at risk for degenerative myelopathy, which is a progressive spinal disease. They are also prone to cancer and a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. Epilepsy, eye conditions, and a digestive disorder called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are frequently found in German Shepherds.

Most of these conditions can be detected by genetic testing before a German Shepherd enters a breeding program. Research breeders carefully if you’re interested in a German Shepherd puppy.

German shepherd puppy is fed and checked out by a veterinarian. choking, inhaling tiny things, or object inhalation
Image Credit: Mihail Guta, Shutterstock

Grooming

German Shepherds have a double coat and shed frequently. Like most double-coated breeds, they experience heavier shedding seasonally. Weekly brushing—more during shedding season—will help keep the hair under control. Regular ear cleaning, nail trims, and preventative dental care are also necessary.

Suitable For:

German Shepherds are best suited for experienced owners with the time and energy to keep them active, socialized, and well-trained. They can do very well with children but must be socialized and supervised with them first. German Shepherds are not a good choice for small spaces or apartment living because of their energy levels. They are also prone to separation anxiety if left alone too often.

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Which Breed Is Right for You?

Although both are working dogs, the German Shepherd and the Great Pyrenees are very different in personality and care needs.

If you are a less experienced dog owner, the Great Pyrenees may be a better choice because they don’t have the German Shepherd’s extensive exercise and training requirements. Both dogs can make good family pets, but the Great Pyrenees can tolerate being left alone better than the German Shepherd. German Shepherds need more space than Great Pyrenees despite their smaller overall size.

While finding a German Shepherd breeder may be easier, you’ll need to be more careful about researching them because the dog is prone to more inherited health issues than the Great Pyrenees. Whichever breed you decide is right for you, take the time to learn more about what it takes to live with and care for the Great Pyrenees or German Shepherd first.


Featured Image Credit: Left – Ryan Leeper, Pexels | Right – Anna Dudkova, Unsplash

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