MASTIN DEL PIRINEO
A FEARLESS AND LOYAL GUARDIAN
Introduction to the Pyrenean Mastiff:
It has been close to twenty years since the Pyrenean Mastiff / Mastin del Pirineo was threatened with near extinction. Their function as guard dogs and livestock protectors was no longer necessary since there were no more wolves left in the Spanish Pyrenees mountains and many of the owners of the Mastin lost interest in continuing the work of preserving their breed.When the Spanish club members began the laborious work of localizing and qualifying the Pyrenean Mastiff they were only able to classify a little more than a hundred of the breed.
The successful rebirth of a breed of dogs requires selective breedings, but in the case of the Pyrenean Mastiff, given the circumstances of their near extinction, Spanish breeders had to be especially selective in order to maintain and improve the breed. It is a major undertaking to trace the ancestry of a breed to very old origins. The dogs of today are the result of selective breeding by the people seeking to continue the desired characteristics passing necessary traits from the parents to their offspring. The primary origin of the Pyrenean Mastiff is the same as all the other breeds that existed in the southern areas of Europe from Turkey to the Iberian Peninsula. In the area now known as Cataluna, mastiffs were used to guard castles, mansions and villages. These dogs were used by the nomadic herders of sheep and cattle. They existed for the sole purpose of guarding the vast herds of sheep, and they adapted in each case to the environment and the ecological, social and economic circumstances of the countries and towns in which their work took place. The genetic basis that their ancestors have provided has enabled them to live together peacefully with the livestock. But apart from this ability they also share the bloodline that decides their size, their physical vigor and tenacity in the fight, a necessary attribute for the eventual meeting with the predators that steal the livestock.
Within the big cattle dogs of southern Europe it is very possible that the fundamental genetic material for the formation of such breeds as the Anatolian Karabash, the Ovtcharka, the Kuvasz, the Komondor, the Owczarek Podhalanski or Tatra Mountain Sheepdog, the Sarplaninac, the Maremma-Abruzesse, the Pyrenean Mountain dog or Great Pyrenees, the Pyrenean Mastiff and the Spanish Mastiff are all descendants from the dogs that accompanied the conquerors from Asia who plundered Europe in medieval times.
The Pyrenean Mastiff is a very old breed. Its origin is Spain where it is native to the southern slopes of the Pyrenees mountains. The mastiff was developed in the region that stretches from Aragon to Navarra. The breed, once known as the Navarra mastiff (mastin d'Aragon) was at one time almost extinct but has gained new interest in recent years. However it is still rare despite this fact. The farmers at that time had selected a dog with the body and temperament that they needed to do the job of guardian. Those qualifications requiring a dog that was strong and functional, intelligent and of course courageous yet gentle with those in its charge. These qualities are what has made the Pyrenean Mastiff a breed with a "special" character and behavior.
History & Development:
The Phoenician traders acquired mastiffs in Assyria and Sumaria. These dogs were sold in Spain where they were to be bred as working dogs and used to guard and drive the large flocks of sheep to and from the grassy pastures. The average dog usually had the responsibility for about 200 sheep - and five or six dogs would be used to take charge of around 1000 head of sheep. In their work of protecting the herd they were assisted by the shepherd dog today known as Gos d'Atura Catala (Catalan Sheepdog). The Pyrenean Mastiff has been influenced from the blood of molosser dogs. Two large and powerful breeds resulted from this influence. The French raised their dogs in their own direction and style, hence leading to a characteristic type that later became known as Chien de Montagne des Pyrenees (Pyrenean Mountain Dog/Great Pyrenees). In the Southern Pyrenees, the Spanish chose to remain with the traditional type dogs, working dogs that were more primitive and wide and less refined.
In the past, and even today it has been the custom for livestock to wander in their nomadic search for better pastures. This system was know as "trashumancia" or "system of migratory shepherding". In this our Pyrenean Mastiff played a crucial role. The sheep pastured along the southern slopes of the Pyrenees from June to the first snows which usually came at the end of October or beginning of November. This was when the great mastiffs, with their hoarse bark and ferocious jaws, protected the flocks from the attacks of the wolves and bears which at that time were so abundant. A pair of adult mastiffs wearing their "carlancas", a collar of iron spikes used to protect the neck and could put to flight double the number of attackers, such was their anger and imposing anatomy. This however was not all. The mastiffs were great experts in the mountainous regions and they instinctively avoided the ravines and dangerous areas, leading the shepherds and flocks by firm ground. The particular benefits of these watchmen were not only their size but their great intelligence to distinguish between friend or foe.
A Unique Breed:
The Pyrenean Mastiff is a molosser breed which indicates that size and structure are of great importance. Often there has been confusion between the Pyrenean Mastiff (Mastin del Pirineo) and the Spanish Mastiff (Mastin Espanol). The Spanish Mastiff has a shorter coat, slightly bigger head and a little more skin on the throat. The Pyrenean Mastiff has a longer coat and the base coat color is always white with an obligatory mask around the eyes and on the ears and well defined patches of color on the body. The mastiff has a thick, abundant and coarse coat that is medium long on the body but is slightly longer on the throat and neck. Coat colors most frequently seen are white with markings either golden, any shade of gray, black or badger, sand, red or marbling markings on the sides of the head and ears and the beginning of the neck. Double dew claws on the hindlegs are typical but not obligatory in this breed. The double dew claws added support to the mastiffs when ploughing through deep snow much like a "snow shoe" would. In both breeds the head is important, the structure powerful, a wide chest and round ribs.
The Pyrenean Mastiff, is different to the wonderful, Spanish Mastiff in that the Spanish Mastiffs were developed for much less traveling than their cousins. Due to the characteristics of the countryside in the old Kingdom of Aragon the seasonal journeys were much longer and the work routines of the dogs much harder than that of the other breeds.
There are again many who would compare the Pyrenean Mastiff to its French counterpart, the Great Pyrenees or Pyrenean Mountain Dog as it is known in the U.K. Each breed is unique - the Great Pyrenees is more profusely coated and the coat tends to stand out much more from the body and possesses a more graceful head. The Pyrenean Mastiff is a strong and powerful dog of great size. Average height at the withers for males is 32 inches/81 cm and 29 1/2 inches/75 cm for females. Life expectancy is around 12 or more years. The head should be massive, broad and strong, with a wide and deep muzzle. The neck is powerful and surrounded by loose skin and hanging double dewlaps. The face is symmetrical and the eyes are small and dark with the lower eye lid showing when relaxed. The tail is carried low much like a staff - and has a fringe and should have a curl at the tip and although it stands up when active, is never carried over the back. With regard to the feet they will have splayed toes and webbing between. This assisted with movement in the snowy seasons.
The Pyrenean Mastiff is a dog of loyal and honest character and an excellent protector of children and family. For those who would dare challenge the temperament of this breed - watch out! Although always friendly and alert the Pyrenean Mastiff has the ability to defend itself and those in its charge should the need arise! It is a very calm dog and has not inherited the "hair - trigger" or stubborn personality of many other guardian breeds. The Pyrenean Mastiff is a dog happy to please his owner and enjoys his owners company. In comparison to the Great Pyrenees they will not consume food sparingly! The Pyrenean as a breed that is playful and not difficult to train. Our breed upon first glance has also often incorrectly been compared to the Saint Bernard with which there actually is not any relationship. It would be considered a fault for the Pyrenean Mastiff to display a Saint Bernard type head or muzzle and the structure of both breeds is completely different.
Entertainer & showmeister Thomas Gottschalk with his dogs from both sides of the Pyrenees mountains..... Great Pyrenees Highlands Mogli (at left) and Pyrenean Mastiff - (Balou) Ch. El Mascarado de la Tierra Alta (Both dogs bred by De La Tierra Alta Kennels). Photo courtesy Redaktion TierBILD. - Germany
In 1659 Mazarino, Regent of France, negotiated the annexation of extensive territory to the north of the current border from Felipe IV, King of Spain, through the Treaty of Pyrenees. This affected the traditional nomadic wanderings of the canine breeds of the mountain ranges. Starting from this political division there came the development of four different breeds: the Pyrenean Mountain Dog(Great Pyrenees) and the Small Pyrenean Shepherd of the French side (Berger de Pyrenees), the Spanish Mastiff and the Pyrenean Mastiff in Spain. The Pyrenean Mastiff was subject to less European influence than their cousins to the north. During the international expansion in the last hundred years the breeds have prospered. The Pyrenean Mountain Dog (Great Pyrenees) has had a deserved and well noted diffusion from many countries. The Pyrenean Mastiff has lived unaffected and completely unaware of these developments. Around 1950 the wolves in the Spanish Pyrenees became extinct and the old guardian was left without work. The utilitarian selection for breeding on the part of the shepherds ceased and the breed began to be diluted as any ethnic grouping. Many people questioned why it was necessary to keep such a large and now non functional dog.
By the middle of the year 1975, a new interest erupted in the breed. Measuring, photographing, taking notes and listening to the talk of the elders on their experiences with the Pyrenean Mastiff. Those that lived through those years remember the traditional shepherds, some of them landowners, others workers, old veterinarians and small poultry farmers. Today's Spanish breeders have kept in contact with many of them to the present time as they are the core that kept the interest in the breed alive. These are the people who assisted the researchers of the breed since they were the ones retaining great knowledge of these dogs. The dogs that were found were more homogenous in some areas than in others, even half breeds. Not a lot but maybe two hundred acceptable specimens of which maybe half became officially registered.
The breeders deemed it necessary to make the shepherding dogs a functional classification though this is a difficult task. In the care of the sheep the domestic canines carried two distinct functions, one guiding, and the other protection from harm. In relating to these two basic tasks the shepherding breeds were divided into two large groups. In the first group were the herding dogs who faced the herds or flocks and guided them with the shepherds. This group fundamentally coincides with the first group of the F.C.I. The second group of shepherding dogs is made up of the very well known protectors, the mastiffs, entrusted with defending the domestic animals from the attacks of the predators. Such dogs as the Spanish Mastiff and the Pyrenean Mastiff are included in the second group of the F.C.I. The functional specialization of the herding dogs and the protectors show that animals in the second group are much larger than in the first.
The Pyrenean Mastiff Arrives In The U.S.A.:
It is great thanks to a very good friend of ours, Rafael Malo, FCI judge and owner of Tajadera del Tio Roy, Spain - that our kennels De La Tierra Alta - would come to know and love the Pyrenean Mastiff and then through these efforts so would the U.S.A. In working together with Rafael the Pyrenean Mastiff would soon come to find a new home here in the U.S.A. The road that lay ahead would prove to be one of many challenges and hurdles to over come. The introduction of this new breed to the U.S. would have been an almost impossible task without all of the valuable efforts of many involved.
1996 marked an historical year as the first Pyrenean Mastiffs arrived in the U.S.A. Zoy - Minero Tajadera del Tio Roy (Manolo) and Elena Tajadera del Tio Roy arrived at De La Tierra Alta kennels in southern California. This was a memorable moment for it marked a new beginning for the Mastin here in the U.S. and an interest to work closely with Spain and Europe to ensure the survival of the Mastin del Pirineo as a breed in this country. De La Tierra Alta currently has twenty two imports from select bloodlines - Tajadera del Tio Roy, Castillo de Ali, Do Limoeiro, De Domus, El Bellotero, Rocaforte, Larresalkoak, El Paso del Oso, Moralet, Wela Brillante, Iirismaan, Springstrand and Bondadoso which were specifically chosen to establish a foundation genepool for the breed in this country. In addition we now have quite a few champion American bred mastines as well. As it is with many breeds and so in the case of the Pyrenean mastiff it is still not always easy to acquire a mastiff of good quality which of course is very necessary if it is intended for breeding purposes. One visiting Spain today will find that the days of the "working" mastiff are gone and they are no longer commonly seen roaming their own countryside with the sheep. Those families who have chosen to hold on to this piece of their heritage have now become the experts on the breed and the mastiffs have been retired to the functions as guardians of private property and the family companion.
The Pyrenean Mastiff is registered here in the U.S.A. with the Pyrenean Mastiff Club of America and therefore in this country will only be shown through rare breed organizations or club specialty's. Show and breedable mastins in addition will also be registered F.C.I.
On October 1, 1997, history was made - Bullonera Tajadera del Tio Roy gave birth to her first American born litter. The puppies were premature so there were only two females who survived from this noted litter. In accordance with their Spanish heritage and as a tribute to their origin, they were given traditional names - Pilar de La Tierra Alta and Zaragoza de La Tierra Alta.
On November 25, 1997, Zoy - Minero Tajadera del Tio Roy, became the first Pyrenean Mastiff to obtain the title of Champion in the U.S.A. with ARBA - American Rare Breed Association. Zoy also was the first mastin to earn an International championship title through the IABCA in 1999. Elena Tajadera del Tio Roy became Champion on August 14, 1997, proudly making her the first female to hold this title. On December 18, 1997, Icaro de El Bellotero followed suit and obtained the champion title. Shortly thereafter, IIrismaan Big Babucha bred by Vuokko and Pentii Kiiski became the first female Pyrenean Mastiff from Finland to become a champion in the U.S.A. To date De La Tierra Alta has produced many champions within the U.S.A. They will surely be followed by many more excellent examples of their breed over the next few years.
Aspects Of Health:
Although large in size the Pyrenean mastiff matures at a slow rate and this often evident up to the age of two years or more. The Pyrenean Mastiff is not an easy dog to breed and due to the large size of the litters which may often be about twelve to fifteen, the mortality rate can be quite high. Mastiff mothers are clumsy and often trample their young. As a rule the Pyrenean mastiff is a very healthy breed, due to the fact that there have been very few changes in its genetic make - up. The breed is more prone to suffer from conjunctivitis than other breeds, caused by a moderation in their vision due to their lifestyle. Entropion (turned in eyelids) and ectropion (turned out eyelids) can at times occur and both conditions may respond to conventional medications or can be corrected by a fairly simple surgical procedure. Occasionally abnormalities of the jaw causing a mis - alignment of the jaws can be seen, usually a defect involving the superior or inferior jawbone, either bone being abnormally short. The Pyrenean Mastiff puppy grows very rapidly and if not given sufficient nutrients in its food it can develop rickets, caused by a deficiency of Vitamin D which is essential in providing calcium and phosphate for the formation of healthy bones in the young mastiff. Hip dysplasia can affect the Pyrenean Mastiff but is not yet so widespread in our breed there again due to few physical changes in the type of the mastiff. These large dogs were equipped with a looser hip than that of smaller breeds and this was necessary in their function of climbing rocky mountainsides. Only radiological diagnosis can determine if this condition is present. As far as diet is concerned a superior dog food that is not extremely high in protein for the first few months is important. However the protein intake should be monitored especially after six months since this breed can be prone to "panosteitis" commonly referred to as "growing pains". This can sometimes last up to two years!
The Pyrenean Mastiff Club Of America (P.M.C.A)
Club Americano del Mastin del Pirineo
In 1996 the Pyrenean Mastiff Club Of America (PMCA) was established and is today the official organization and registry representing our great Spanish breed here in the U.S. The goals of club members involve dedicating themselves to the preservation of the breed and in doing so continuing the early efforts of those who worked so hard to keep our breed strong. The Pyrenean Mastiff Club Of America provides assistance to future owners with breed information, registration, pedigree, DNA collection, micro chipping, breeders directory, radiographic screening, show information and mastiff related items. Organization of shows and specialties are planned for the long term. The PMCA publishes a bi - yearly newsletter "The Spanish Giant" available to members.
In conclusion as we look back over the last few years with our Pyrenean Mastiffs we have absolutely no regrets. Our kennels are proud to be involved with this magnificent breed and our dogs and puppies have now gone to many states all over the U.S. It is a great feeling to see so many now also enjoying the wonderful temperament of our mastin friends!