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Maremma Sheepdog
Maremma Sheepdog

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Other names
  • Cane da Pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese

  • Pastore Abruzzese

  • Pastore Maremmano

Nicknames: Maremma
Country of origin: Italy

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 Maremmano and Abruzzese region". When this was translated into English to name the breed it became Maremma Sheepdog, which gives the casual observer of the name the misconception that this dog will round up a herd of animals. 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 and the Šarplaninac (although not white), with all of which it may share a common ancestor; and the Akbash Dog of Turkey. 

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.

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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.

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, photograph

  • Abraham and Lot on their way into Canaan by Bartolo Battiloro, in the Collegiata of San Gimignano

  • 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 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 
Until 1958 the Pastore Maremmano ("Shepherd Dog of the Maremma") and the Pastore Abruzzese ("Shepherd Dog of the Abruzzi") were regarded as separate breeds. A breeder's society for the Pastore Abruzese 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.

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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.

Maremma used as LGDs 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.
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Sheepdogs Save Australia's Endangered Penguins

Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer
Date: 03 June 2013 Time: 03:20 PM ET 

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Maremma sheepdogs such as the pair pictured here help protect endangered penguins from foxes on an island in Australia.

Penguin-snatching foxes are no match for Maremma sheepdogs, bred to guard against wolves in Italy's mountains. Since a pair of dogs was stationed on Southern Australia's rocky Middle Island during breeding season starting in 2006, the population of Little Penguins has soared from less than 10 to nearly 200, the New Zealand Herald reported. No foxes have killed penguins in the past seven years, according to a report by the Nature Glenelg Trust, which monitors the project.

Little Penguins are the smallest penguin species and live on the Australia's and New Zealand's islands and shores. The red foxes, an invasive species, reach the islands by swimming in shallow water from the mainland.

Australia has a history of dubious experiments in using one species to control another, such as the invasive and poisonous cane toad, introduced to combat sugarcane-nibbling cane beetles. And there were a few hurdles at first, such as the dogs scaring the baby penguins to death when they herded them back to their nests, the Herald reported. That behavior was quickly fixed. Now, the Maremma guardian dog project is so successful its now used on nearby Point Danger for gannet birds, and won a 2010 Australian Government environmental award.
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Maremma penguin protectors must be trained properly to succeed on Middle Island

ABC South West Vic By Emily Bissland
Posted about 6 hours ago

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PHOTO: Mezzo is the newest member of the penguin protection team in Warrnambool, south-west Victoria. (Supplied: Warrnambool City Council)

This is Mezzo, an Italian sheepdog puppy. Cute, right?

But don't be deceived by his fluffy face, this adorable Maremma will soon weigh about 40 kilograms and become the fierce, fox-fighting guardian of a now-famous island colony of little penguins.

If he passes his two-year training program Mezzo may be the next real-life Oddball, star of the family-friendly 2015 movie.

Mezzo and companion dog Isola's training regime will be challenging, not so much for the dogs but for the trainers.

Their Italian names loosely translate to Middle and Island, the rugged island the coast of Warrnambool in south-west Victoria where they will spend most of their adult lives protecting penguins from foxes.

Managed by Warrnambool City Council, the Middle Island project began in 2006 and has successfully bolstered penguin numbers, gained international media attention and famously featured in Oddball.

At the beginning, there were just 10 penguins alive on Middle Island because of sustained fox attack.

Twelve years later under the protection of two loyal Maremmas — Eudy and Tula — the colony is thriving with estimates of between 70 and 100 nesting penguins.

Eudy and Tula are being retired to make way for Mezzo and Isola and the challenges of training the newcomers are ongoing.

Training a conservation warrior

Maremmas are calm, good-natured, wilful or independent but above all they are fiercely loyal to their flock and wary of strangers.

If a Maremma has not been well socialised with other people or dogs and one strays into their territory, they could be in grave danger.

This is where the challenge of training the dogs really lies, not just in their ability to protect penguins.

"Maremmas have an instinctive ability to protect whatever is in their territory," Trish Corbett, coordinator of the Middle Island project explained.

"Anything that is invading the territory, is a threat. The way they protect them {the penguins} is via their scent, which is a big deterrent.

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PHOTO: Mezzo is Warrnambool's newest penguin protecting recruit and has two years to train up. (Supplied: Warrnambool City Council)

"If that's not enough, they have a really deep bark. That is generally enough to keep predators away. But if not, I have no doubt they would chase the foxes away," she said.

Ms Corbett said the biggest problem was getting that "fine line between how much to socialise them with people".

Daily socialisation with chickens

In 2015, previous new recruits Avis and Amor were found to have been over-socialised with people and had not spent enough time on the island and so were not doing their job properly.

To avoid a repeat, Mezzo and Isola are on a strict training regime.

"Mezzo is being taken to the island every second day while the crossing is safe," Ms Corbett said. "He is being intensively trained to be calm around birds and other small animals.

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PHOTO: You've got big shoes to fill young man — Mezzo meets his mentor, one of the Maremmas that is retiring(Supplied: Warrnambool City Council)

"He is taken over {to the island} at night weekly to get used to the shearwaters flying around and landing on the island and boardwalk and penguins arriving."

When he isn't on the island, Mezzo is having daily socialisation with chickens on a farm.

First attack in 10 years was devastating

Middle Island is small and close to Warrnambool's mainland, so close that the narrow strip of sometimes shallow ocean between the mainland and the island can be waded through by humans — and foxes.

The penguins access the island from its southern side by taking a death-defying leap out of the deep, unfettered waves of the Southern Ocean onto a rocky platform.

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PHOTO: Middle Island is often accessible by foot at low tide but can also be surrounded by a treacherous ocean. (ABC Open: Melanie Wells)

In August last year, the project team was devastated when it suffered it first fox attack in 10 years.

"We counted 140 dead penguins, which was a huge loss," said Ms Corbett.

"The problem with foxes is that one individual can kill hundreds of birds in just one night — they will kill for fun."

How did it happen?

"One of the {retiring] dogs is scared of thunder and lightning — there's a risk she will try and get off the island and we lose her in the current," Ms Corbett said.

At the time, wild winter seas had eroded a deep channel between the island and the mainland, leaving a treacherous ocean pass.

A thunderstorm was approaching so the dogs were taken off and with the penguins unprotected, it is assumed a fox made it across to the island for the killing spree. 
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