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Maremma Sheepdog

The Maremma Sheepdog, in Italian Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese, usually referred to as just Maremmano, is a breed of livestock guardian dog indigenous to central Italy, particularly to Abruzzo and the Maremma region of Tuscany and Lazio. It has been used for centuries by Italian shepherds to guard sheep from wolves. The literal English translation of the name is "The dog of the shepherds of the Maremma and Abruzzese region". The English name of the breed derives from that of the Maremma marshlands, where until recently shepherds, dogs and hundreds of thousands of sheep over-wintered, and where the breed is today abundant although sheep-farming has decreased substantially. The breed is widely employed in Abruzzo, where sheep herding remains vital to the rural economy and the wolf remains an active and protected predator. Similar breeds include the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, the Kuvasz of Hungary, the Tatra of Poland, the Cuvac of Slovakia and the Šarplaninac (although not white), with all of which it may share a common ancestor; and the Akbash Dog of Turkey. See Mountain dog breeds.


Appearance The Maremma Sheepdog has a solid, muscular build, a thick white coat, a large head and a black nose. According to the breed standard, males should weigh 35 to 45 kilograms (77 to 99 lb) and stand 65 to 73 centimetres (26 to 29 in) at the shoulder, while females weigh 30 to 40 kilograms (66 to 88 lb) and stand 60 to 68 centimetres (24 to 27 in). Some dogs may be considerably larger. The coat is long and thick; it is rough to the touch, and forms a thick collar around the neck. It should be solid white; some minor yellowing may be tolerated. Some divide the breed into various subtypes, largely based on small differences in physical attributes and with subtype names based on village and provincial names where the dogs may be found, e.g. the Maremmano, the Marsicano, the Aquilano, the Pescocostanzo, the Maiella, and the Peligno. However, biologists dispute this division, as well as over reliance on minor physical differences, as the dogs were bred over the centuries for their behavioral characteristics as flock guardians.

Temperament Despite their large size, Maremma Sheepdogs can be good companion dogs in areas with adequate open space. Centuries of breeding the dogs to be gentle with lambs but fiercely protective of their flock has created a breed that will bond to families and show a calm, intelligent disposition. However, the dogs may display hostility towards outsiders and they are not suitable companion dogs for urban areas due to their large size and need for open space. These dogs bark as a normal part of their guarding duties and this creates problems often with owners on small holdings or keeping a maremma as a companion in a populated area. A ranch type environment works best, away from neighbor's property lines and road traffic. In this environment, a dog house is not necessary because the dogs prefer to sleep with livestock.


Ancient history and iconography Descriptions of white sheep defense dogs are found in ancient Roman literature, in works such as those of Columella, Varro and Palladius. Similar dogs are depicted in numerous sculptures and paintings from Roman times to the present. Among the earliest is the series of large statues (two in Rome, one in Florence, one – the Duncombe Dog – in England) copied from a Hellenistic bronze from Pergamon. Iconographic sources that have been identified as relevant to the history of the Maremmano include: A Hellenistic bas-relief, of which a drawing was published by Max von Stephanitz in 1901 A votive statuette in the Museo Archeologico of Capua A 14th-century mediaeval fresco in the church of San Francesco in Amatrice, at the foot of the Monti della Laga, in the comune of Rieti; the dog wears a roccale A 14th-century fresco in Santa Maria Novella, in Florence

A 'Nativity' of Mariotto di Nardo (active 1394–1424); the dog wears a spiked collar Abraham and Lot on their way into Canaan by Bartolo Battiloro, in the Collegiata of San Gimignano

A detail of the Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem by Benozzo Gozzoli, c.1460 Rough ink drawings on the maps of the pasture-lands of the Tavoliere di Foggia published in 1686 by Antonio and Nunzio Michele di Rovere A seventeenth-century engraving of the Roman campagna by Joannes van den Hecke An eighteenth-century maiolica of a bear-hunt by Candeloro Cappelletti (1689–1772) of Castelli, Abruzzo Hunting the Wolf by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1746, from the collection of Louis XV; the dogs to the left and right of the wolf are described in a catalogue of the museum as "large dog[s] with long hair". Wolf dogs from the Abruzzo were imported into France at about this time. They were used by François Antoine, "Antoine de Beauterne", in his successful hunt for the Beast of Gévaudan in 1765; according to Gobin, under Louis XV (r.1715–1774) the Venerie Royale or Royal Hunt was composed in large part of Abruzzese wolf-dogs and Sicilian mastiffs. The cane da lupo or wolf-dog used by Vincenzo Dandolo to defend Spanish sheep on the mountains above Varese An illustration in the Penny Magazine of 1833

An engraving by Arthur John Strutt of a shepherd and his dog in the Roman campagna in 1843 Several engravings by Charles Coleman in his collection A Series of Subjects peculiar to the Campagna of Rome and Pontine Marshes

Recent history

The first registration of the Maremmano in the Libro delle Origini Italiano of the Kennel Club Italiano, as it was then called, was of four dogs in 1898. There were no further registrations for many years. In 1940 there were 17 dogs registered. The first standard for the breed was drawn up in 1924 by Luigi Groppi and Giuseppe Solaro. Until 1958 the Pastore Maremmano, or shepherd dog of the Maremma, and the Pastore Abruzzese, or shepherd dog of the Abruzzi, were regarded as separate breeds. A breeder's society for the Pastore Abruzzese was formed in 1950, and one for the Maremmano in 1953. On 1 January 1958 the breeds were unified by the ENCI, the Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiano, the national dog association of Italy. The explanation given is that a "natural fusion" of the two types had occurred as a result of movement of the dogs due to transhumance of sheep flocks from one region to another, particularly after the unification of Italy. Until 1860, the mountains of the Abruzzo and the plains of the Maremma lay in different countries. As sheep farming developed into an annual trek or transhumance from mountain grasslands of Abruzzo and Molise (and other parts of central Italy) south to lower pasture land in Puglia where sheep were over-wintered, the dogs came to play a central role in the centuries-old migration, an annual event vital to Abruzzese culture. Maremmano dogs continue to be widely used by Italian sheep farmers in areas where predation is common, such as the Apennines of central Italy and the open range land of national parks in Abruzzo. Besides their wide use in Italy, Maremma Sheepdogs are extensively used as Livestock guardian dogs in Australia, the United States, and Canada.

Use The traditional use of the Maremmano dog is as a guardian for the protection of sheep flocks against wolves. Columella, writing in the first century AD, recommends white dogs for this purpose, as the shepherd can easily distinguish them from the wolf, while Varro suggests that white dogs have a "lion-like aspect" in the dark. The dogs work in groups; three or four dogs are an adequate defense against wolves and stray dogs. Their function is mostly one of dissuasion, actual physical combat with the predator being relatively rare. Nevertheless, working dogs may be fitted with a roccale (or vreccale), a spiked iron collar which protects the neck in combat. The ears of working dogs are normally cropped.

Training Maremma used as livestock guardian dogs are introduced to sheep flocks as puppies so they bond to the sheep. Some ranchers place Maremma puppies as young as 3–4 weeks old with young lambs though beginning this bonding process at 7–8 weeks is more typical. Although it is easiest to bond Maremma to sheep and goats, cattle ranchers have found that the dogs bond with cows and Maremma are increasingly used to protect range cattle. Some ranchers have found success training Maremmas to protect free-range fowl like chickens from predation from both ground threats such as coyotes, stray dogs and foxes as well as aerial threats such as raptors (hawks, eagles, owls, etc.). Recently in Warrnambool, Australia, the world's first trial utilized a Maremma to guard the dwindling penguin population of Middle Island. This project won the 2010 Australian Government Coastcare Award. While using Maremma to guard an endangered species is rare, Maremma along with other breeds of livestock guarding dogs are appreciated by environmentalists because they make it possible for livestock to coexist with predators such as wolves and coyotes, reducing their predation by 70% to 80% or more. National park authorities in Italy, the United States and Canada have promoted use of the Maremma Sheepdog, as well as other types of LGDs, to minimize conflict between endangered predator species and ranchers.