During your escapades along the Alpine trails, you have surely come across herds accompanied by large white dogs who could impress you with their barking and their build. Why is the presence of these protection dogs essential? What role do they play? What attitude should we adopt towards them? All the answers can be found in our complete guide to patou.
Before going home to get to know this dedicated four-legged protector, a little background is in order! A brief aside on the essential role of pastoralism in maintaining the health of summer pastures, emphasizing the need to protect herds against predators.
In Combloux and in the Mont-Blanc region, this rich pastoral tradition has succeeded in preserving its liveliness through the ages.
But let's come back to our sheep… Finally rather to those who keep them. In short, you have understood our famous herd protection dogs, also called the patous.
After having outlined, in broad terms, the portrait of this faithful guardian, let’s explore together:
- We will briefly introduce you to other guard dog breeds,
- We then turn to the crucial question: What should you do in the presence of a patou?
- We'll then share with you expert tips for interacting safely with these loyal four-legged guardians.
- Finally, we will conclude by offering you valuable documentary resources, which will help you implement these good practices during your possible encounters with patous.
What is a patou?
The Patou, also referred to as “Pyrenees Mountain Dog,” “Pyrenees Mountain,” “Pastou,” or even “Pastor” in Occitan, constitutes a ancestral canine breed originating from the Pyrenees, a major mountain range located between France and Spain.
The Patou is traditionally used as herd protection dog, especially to protect sheep against predators such as wolves and bears.
Physical characteristics of the Patou
The Patou is distinguished above all by its imposing stature and its obvious robustness. Displaying a considerable size, this dog sports a well-developed musculature and a solid bone structure.
It is a large, well-muscled and strong-boned dog. Its coat is thick, dense and often white, which allows it to camouflage itself among the sheep in its care.
Traditional role and temperament of the Patou
The main role of the Patou is to protect the herds by demonstrating strong predator deterrence.
Endowed with a deeply protective nature, these faithful guardians are distinguished by their calm and their patience.
Bred to be independent, these dogs have the ability to make quick decisions as soon as they perceive a threat to the herd.
In case of danger, the Patou acts without hesitation, whether by barking or by directly confronting the predator(s), without adopting, at first sight, an aggressive attitude towards him.
The Patou is also valued for its ability to adapt to harsh mountain conditions and for its endurance, including in these high altitude environments.
Top 6 Herding Guard Dog Breeds
For many years, different breeds of dogs have been bred for the purpose of watching over flocks. Among the latter, we find:
Maremma and Abruzzo dog
Originally from Italy, this sheepdog is similar to the Patou in size and appearance. It is often used to protect flocks of sheep, especially in Italy.
Originally from Hungary, the Kuvasz is a shepherd and protection dog. It is traditionally used to herd herds and protect property.
Originally from Slovenia, the Karst dog is a versatile herding dog recognized for its exceptional talent in guarding and driving herds. In addition to this, he also proves to be an excellent family companion, both loyal and loving.
Traditionally bred for the protection of sheep herds, this Hungarian canine breed, known for its thick corded white coat, has a watchful and territorial nature. Calm and reserved towards strangers, he is devoted to his family. Although it may appear indolent on the surface, the Komondor Hound is alert and agile.
The Anatolian Shepherd
Originally from Turkey, this powerful and protective breed is often chosen to guard the herds. Endowed with an imposing stature, a vigilant nature and an unwavering loyalty, he excels in the task of protection that falls to him.
The Abruzzo Shepherd
Apart from the name, this Italian dog breed has great similarities with the “Hound of Maremma and Abruzzo”. It is also used for the protection of herds.
It is important to emphasize that these dog breeds have been carefully selected and bred to excel in herd protection, making them naturally deterrent to predators.
It should be noted that the aforementioned breeds also possess a highly developed protective instinct.
In addition, they show great adaptability to life in mountainous environments. All these reasons make them herdsmen perfectly adapted to the environments of the Alps and the Pyrenees.
The patous, these large surveillance dogs for livestock, are born in the heart of sheepfolds and grow up within the herds.
Since they consider the sheep around them to be their peers, they feel a responsibility to protect them from any intrusion or disturbance.
Their reaction then stems from a territorial instinct, an intrinsic desire to defend their territory (in this case, the sheep enclosure) and their pack (composed of sheep and other Patous).
Mountain hikes: The guide to good behavior when dealing with a Patou
During your hikes, you can meet herds of grazing sheep. Guard dogs are there to protect them from any aggression.
The golden rule: STOP and KEEP YOUR DISTANCE from the herd.
Be patient and take the time to bypass the herd (when possible) rather than crossing it, even if it is on the path you are following!
Indeed, getting too close to the livestock, trying to pet or take a lamb in his arms can be interpreted by the guard dog as an act of aggression towards the animals he is protecting.
The protection dog is not a companion dog:
- you should not try to caress it;
- you must not feed him;
- you should not get close to take a photo of it.
He is not trained to be aggressive but he is educated to be dissuasive.
Arriving near his herd, he can approach you, until he smells you, sometimes while barking:
- Absolutely stop!
- Stay calm,
- Give him time to identify you (sniffles…),
- Do not face him but position yourself in profile (avoid the dog taking this attitude as a confrontation),
- Don't look him in the eye,
- Talk to him calmly,
- Avoid sudden movements,
- Do not threaten him with a stick or a stone,
- Avoid shouting,
- Walk away calmly (avoid running)
In the event of an attack, stay still and do not struggle.
If you are at bike :
- go down when you are near the herd,
- calmly walk around the herd.
If you are in an area where pet dogs are allowed: remember to keep them on a leash.
Even the smallest dog can run towards the herd. The protection dog risks interpreting this action as an attempt at predation and will intervene.
- Do not carry your dog in your arms at the approach of the guard dog.
Practical guides for safe interaction with patous
How to behave well in front of a patou: tips and tricks
If you are still wondering about the conduct to adopt in the presence of a guard dog, do not wait to explore the guide developed by theInstitute of Livestock.
In addition to this brochure, discover the expert advice of the DREAL Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and gain expertise on gestures to adopt in the presence of patous !
Mapping of herds guarded by patous on Cordon
The idea of crossing a patou in the mountain pastures does not enchant you? With this card, be one step ahead! To better circumvent them, plan your route by having a detailed view of the areas where they could possibly be.
Share your experience with guard dogs
Forto improve coexistence between mountain users and the Patous as well as listing the altercations associated with the latter, we invite you to share your encounters with these faithful guardians.
By completing this brief online survey you will help pastoral services and local authorities to respond more effectively to incidents.