Several years ago I tried to get an impression of what Pyrs were like in the 1800s andearlier by searching through books about the Pyrenees Mountains. I thought at first thatperhaps artists might have appreciated the beauty of the dogs and sketched them, but sadlythe grandure of the Cirque de Gavernie and other places seems to have captured mostartistic minds and something as prosaic as a dog guarding sheep does not rate even acareless scribble. However, some visiters to the Pyrenees did describe the dogs, albeit briefly.
For example: LETTER FROM THE PYRENEES, T.Clifton Paris (John Murray, London, 1843) (p104)
"The Pyrenees are famous for a race of dogs of great size and most noble bearing,which protect the flocks and herds from bears and wolves: I saw them here (the village ofGabas) for the first time , and the two specimens that lay at the door of the aubergestruck me as very similar in their appearance to the Newfoundland breed as known in England, being black and white and of about the same size, with bushy tails, long silkycoats and magnificent heads"
(p143) "I had walked for about an hour through the darkness of this solitary region (between Cauterets and Luz), when I found myself marching abruptly into the midst of arecumbent flock of sheep. To be attacked by the dogs was the work of a moment; and as theywere five in number, their assault soon wore a most menacing aspect: at the criticalmoment, however, when the angry animals seemed inclined to make a dash upon me, the shepherd came roaring from his cabane, and order was immediately restored. Although in notranquil mood, I could not help admiring the obedience and segacity of my nobleassailants: they walked quietly away without any suppressed growl or skulking demeanour,seeming to say that they attacked me with no particular malice, but for the purpose ofsummoning their master, who would now inquire my business. The Pyrenean dog ranks among the noblest of his kind, as is as remarkable for docility as for strength and courage: heis not the drover of the flock, - to drive it here and there, or to keep it together: onthe contrary, he walks in advance and leads it to the mountain side, or toward evening tothe cabine of the shepherd. His principle duty, however, is to defend his fleecy chargefrom the wolf or bear: and should either venture to attack, he unhesitatingly gives battleand generally comes off the victor."
An English couple, Mr & Mrs Ellis, visited the Pyrenees in 1840 and wrote of theirtravels in:
Summer and Winter in the Pyrenees, Mrs W.S.Ellis, (Fischer, London, 1847):
"The shepherds are always accompanied by a dog, of a kind peculiar to the Pyrenees, as large as a Newfoundland dog, but more like a wolf in shape, and always white, with amixture of buff, or wolfish gray. These dogs, though large and powerful, have the appearance of being gentle and docile, from their being thin, and badly fed; but they have a disposition to be otherwise, I can testify, having been twice seized by them, and having also heard of many instances in which they were the terror of the neighbourhood. Mr.Ellismet one day on the same road we were travelling, with a very communicative priest, who told him that he always rode with pistols, to defend himself from thesedogs" ....."Perhaps the most singular feature in the character of the shepherd's dog of the Pyrenees, is, that like his master, he always leads, instead of driving the sheep. He is brought up entirely amongst them, and sleeps in the same fold. It is a curious sight to see the shepherd and his dog coming first out of a field, and the flock following."..."The first symptom of the approach of autumn, which, however, I was unable to believe in at that time, had been the coming down of the flocks and herds from the mountains...The last flock we saw, was one of a hundred sheep and three goats, which came every night from the adjoining mountain to lodge in a small pen, or parc, as it is called, placed for them in one of the meadows of St.Paul. This pen was moved everynight, and the shepherd received two france per day for lodging his sheep there. I had often wondered why there was along with every flock, about the proportion of three goats to a hundred sheep; and we learned that the mountain dog, so important to the shepherd, was fed while on the mountains, by the milk of these goats. The dog belonging to this flock, used to stay beside the pen all night, while his master went away to sleep. He never attempted to drive the sheep when they went out, but always walked first with hismaster. I now discovered also, that the sheep which appeared to be led so patriachally by love for their master, were in reality led by their love of the salt which he carried in his pocket, into which the goats often thrust their noses."