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Maremma Dogs

Maremma are often referred to as Italian sheepdogs, where for centuries they have been the traditional companion of herdsmen protecting flocks of sheep, especially in the mountainous northern regions of Italy.

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Every European country has it ‘native’ breed of livestock guardian dog, with small differences in appearance or temperament that have developed over centuries in particular regions to suit local conditions.

Maremma, while not your average ‘trainable’ companion dog, excel in caring for ewes and their lambs, but are also adept guarding most other species of livestock.
Unlike a herding dog such as the Kelpie or Border collie, a livestock guardian dog does not control the movement of the flock with aggressive or predatory actions causing bunching. Instead, these dogs will blend into the flock and generally ignore the individual animals in favour of keeping an eye out for potential threats in a broader arc. These qualities make them particularly useful in guarding East Friesian sheep who tend to graze away from their offspring and whose lambs are quite helpless when new.

The Maremma has a solid, muscular build, thick white coat, large head, and black nose. Their double thick coat is very effective in keeping them warm in our bitter winters and they happily live outdoors all year. Maremma typically weigh between 30–50 kg and stand from 60–75 cm - though some dogs can grow to massive proportions. These dogs take about two years to fully develop into adults, but most of them become capable protectors long before that. They are similar in appearance and purpose to other European bred livestock guardian dogs, such as Anatolian Shepherds or Pyrenees Mountain Dogs, but are not territorial or aggressive towards people.

Maremma are introduced to livestock as puppies so they imprint on “their” animals. A maremma dog raised with sheep or goats will generally not be an effective guardian of cattle and one raised with cattle will not be an effective guardian of goats or sheep. Imprinting is critical because Maremma behave in a non-predatory and protective way only toward animal species they have been raised with. Bonding maremma dogs to cattle is more difficult than bonding them to the smaller livestock species.

Maremma are working animals and are not generally suited to domestic life. Proper socialisation and instinct, not training, are key to rearing maremma as an effective livestock guardian dog. They are faithful to (usually) a single human master and do not take directions from anyone. This can be very frustrating, but is a natural response that allows these dogs to independently care for their flock and protect them against many dangers.

Livestock guardian dogs seldom kill predators; in most cases predator attacks are prevented by a display of aggressiveness and the dogs regular presence tend to condition predators to seek unguarded non-farm animal prey. Livestock guardian dogs are known to drive off predators that physically they would be no match for, such as eagles or wild dogs.

Environmentalists have come to appreciate livestock guardian dogs such as Maremma because they allow sheep and cattle farming to coexist with predators in the same or nearby habitats. While foxes are not considered ‘valuable’, like wolf populations or cheetah on other continents, ways of separating them from farm stock without the use of traps, firearms or poison are important both for the environment and for the safety of farm families.

We find that Maremma are proactive in patrolling ‘their’ paddocks and are very effective in deterring most predators before they are close to the flock.  Unfortunately, we have also come to rely on Maremma in protecting our stock against stray domestic dogs.