The official breed name in Italian for these majestic dogs is the pastore maremmano abbruzzese or pastore abbruzzese and they originate from the mountains of Abruzzo in central Italy. Abruzzo, which hit the headlines in 2009 because of its terrible earthquake, is located below Umbria and Marche between the calf and the ankle of Italy’s ‘boot’.
The dogs were first used by shepherds of the region thousands of years ago to help them protect their flocks from predators and that is still their principal use today. Maremma sheepdogs love protecting things. This is worth bearing in mind if you decide to get one, as they will first establish their territory (whether a hundred hectares or a back garden), their family (the shepherd and his sheep or you, your children, cats and chickens) and then take the protection of
everything very seriously indeed.
The Maremma is a cute fluffy puppy but a large adult dog. They weigh between 40 – 55 kilos depending on whether they are male or female and the height is between 63 and 73 cm. Their full mature size is reached about two and a half years old.
They are white and long haired with black muzzle and very dark eyes. Some say the white colour was maintained by the shepherds to differentiate them from wolves in case of an attack, some say it was to help them blend in with the flock of sheep and give the predators a shock.
A beautifully poetic description on an Italian Maremma website says: “Bianco è bello. – Bianco è mistico, e i montanari abruzzesi hanno uno spirito religioso molto profondo. – Bianco è pratico facilita il controllo della razza; è lo stesso colore della lana delle nostre pecore."(White is beautiful, white is mystical and the Abruzzo mountain people have a very deep religious spirit. White is practical, it helps control breed standards and it is the same colour as our sheep’s wool.)
When used as a sheepdog, the puppy is traditionally placed in the middle of the sheep as soon as possible in order for him to quickly learn his job. He has to keep calm and avoid frightening his precious charges, for panic spells disaster in a flock. He learns to be cunning and self confident and to hide from the sheep any tension he feels. He would ultimately sacrifice his life to protect them.
He licks the lambs, literally lies down with them, eats and sleeps with them. A Maremma is part of the flock as well as its protector and stays close to them, never moving more than a few hundred metres away.
Is a Maremma for You?
The Maremma sheepdog was created with a sole role in mind – to guard a flock – and that must be uppermost in your thoughts if you decide to get one. They are not like other dogs. The Maremma Sheepdog Association of America states clearly on its website ‘the Maremma is not recommended for use as a pet.’ This is because the dog is bred to be independent, use his initiative and be self sufficient and so does not respond to orders in the way other dogs (for example German Shepherds) do.
He is obedient to a certain extent on his own terms. He will view you and your family as his sheep and may become noisy and territorial as he tries to protect you. He is not a subservient dog and does not go overboard on demonstrations of overt adoration, yet he would die for you.
They are gentle with other pets, particularly vulnerable ones, but distrustful of anything they see as a threat. This can range from bears and wolves (they can kill a wolf) to the postino (postman). They are not guards dogs in the sense that German Shepherds or Dobermans are, but will try to outwit or scare off aggressors first. Remember their origins – they were used to protect the shepherd’s only asset – his sheep – and would do so regardless of cold, heat, hunger or thirst.
Maybe it is because of the disparity between the appearance of the cuddly bundle and the size and character of the adult that so many Pastori Maremmani end up in dog pounds or abandoned.
Maremma Sheepdog Products
Love your Maremma? Then show the world with these cool products to buy for yourself or a friend.