The Maremma Sheepdog is a rare working breed originating in Central Italy. There, in the High Appenines and plains of the Abruzzi region, the Maremma has been bred for some two thousand years. His sole function during this time was to guard the flocks and property of the shepherd; first from wolves and bears still to be found there, and, latterly, from thieves and bands of stray dogs.
Shepherds frequently leave their Maremmas in sole charge of their flocks while they attended to business elsewhere. Consequently, over the centuries, the dog developed a strong guarding instinct and a responsibility for taking decisions. While still maintaining a strong sense of loyalty to the shepherd, the Maremma's primary allegiance was to the flocks - and he would never desert whatever had been entrusted to his care. These instincts remain with the breed, as we know it in Britain today.
The Maremma is a loyal and devoted guard who sees his main function in life as being the protector of his master and his master's property. He is constantly aware of this responsibility and will see a threat in any strange object or being.
It is unusual for the Maremma to wander, for he prefers to stand or lie at the property boundary where he will warn strangers away with his bark. He will not attack without provocation, but trespassing is not taken lightly and he is very wary of strangers. He is, nonetheless, affectionate to his owners although the male is, at times, ashamed to admit that he has a need for any physical reinforcement of the bond that exists between him and his master. Old friends are accepted, but the Maremma will usually remain on duty during their presence. Strangers are not welcome and the dog should be under control when irregular callers are admitted. A 'formal introduction' - best made when the caller has been admitted and is seated - usually suffices to satisfy the dog that there is no danger. But do remember that he makes his own judgements and may suspect danger when you see none.
The Maremma Sheepdog is a large dog of imposing presence and majestic bearing. He is strong, active and, for his size, very lithe. He is all white, although markings of lemon, fawn or biscuit are frequently seen, particularly on the ears and at the base of the tail. The eyerims, lips, nose and pads should be black.
Size will vary between 23 1/2 inches for a small female, to some 28 1/2 inches for a large male. One will seldom see dogs below the minimum size. In Italy, dogs of 30 inches and above are quite common. On average, the Maremma bitch will stand some 25 inches at the shoulder, whilst the average dog measures 27 inches. This is not a large dog, compared to such as the Mastiff, but more of the size of a large German Shepherd. To most people, however, that is a large dog and this size is frequently accentuated when the Maremma is in full coat.
Rather surprisingly, the Maremma can appear to exercise more than a degree of control over his size. Around the house they are almost dainty, particularly in their movements, and accidents are a rarity. They have the ability to curl themselves up and shrink to half their full size, especially when they have lost control of a situation or are unhappy. On the other hand, when suspicious or faced with a threat, the Maremma thinks of himself to be a large dog: he stands erect and alert, his ruff comes up and he becomes what he is: a large dog who can dispose of most threats to his property by virtue of his size and appearance. The average Maremma Sheepdog weighs between 80 - 100 lbs.
Some form of social and obedience training is essential for all dogs and the Maremma is no exception. He has an active mind of above average intelligence, and without some form of training, he will quickly become bored. Training, particularly that of a social nature cannot begin too early and should start as soon as a puppy is taken into your home. You will find the Maremma receptive to basic obedience and the simple commands of 'sit', 'heel', 'down' and 'stay' will be readily learned. You should not, however, expect to receive from a Maremma the same blind obedience that you would expect from a Border Collie. It is not in the Maremma's nature to obey a command and to look up to his master, anxiously awaiting the next order. Rather he will work out, in his own mind, the logic of the command given and, having come to the conclusion that it is reasonable, obey. There is normally a pause of some seconds between giving the order and having it obeyed. Because of this, Maremmas do not well in formal obedience trials, for, as a breed, they tend to make their own decisions rather than blindly obey. Obedience training will, however, be beneficial to both owner and dog. A puppy is ready for this at between four and six months of age.
As an adult Maremmas will guard naturally and without any training, although as puppies they are outgoing and friendly. The breed tends, when unchecked, to bark more than most. This is particularly true when they are behind a wall or fence and are aware of strange footsteps or other noises. This is all very well if one lives in a remote area, but can be unacceptable in an urban environment. A firm 'NO' whilst they are still puppies will minimize this.
Housing and Environment
The Maremma Sheepdog is a rugged and hardy dog who will live happily out of doors throughout all weathers. In its native country, is almost unheard of for the breed to 'live-in', although the majority of them kept in Britain live the life of a 'housedog'. The harsher outer coat is both weather resistant and water repellent. During the summer months it reflects a great deal of the heat, although the dog will seek a shady spot and become less active. The Maremma is by nature exceptionally clean in his habits and house trains easily. He also has the advantage of having virtually no 'doggy' odour except when wet.
Like many other breeds he is quickly bored. If he is left unattended for long periods this may result in his chewing anything around the house, or digging holes in the garden. Rawhide bones and toys will help overcome the chewing problem and a firm 'NO' from the master will stop wanton chewing and hole digging. The real answer is not to leave him without your company for long periods.
The puppies are large and active and require a lot of exercise for proper development. It should be remembered, however, that their growth rate is particularly fast and long walks or formal exercise is best avoided until six months of age. It is best if they get their early exercise, essential for the development of growth, within the confines of the garden. In this manner they can, and will, decide for themselves when they have had enough and then, childlike, curl up and sleep. It is worth mentioning here that a dog, particularly a young puppy, requires a corner of his own to which he can retire secure in the knowledge that it is a haven where he is safe from interference. This is important when the Maremma is being reared in the company of young children who cannot, or will not, always understand that the puppy requires his 'rest' periods, just as they themselves do.
Coat and Grooming
The coat of the Maremma Sheepdog is white, thick and heavy. It is double coated. This is to say that there is a soft woolly undercoat, particularly in winter. The topcoat is longer and somewhat harsh. This double coat is surprisingly water-resistant. On a wet day dirt will be attracted to it, especially on the legs and underbody, but nothing really penetrates. As the dog dries, so any dirt on the topcoat falls away. With a coat of this nature, grooming can be kept to a minimum. Most of the time the dog will look in pristine condition. It should be remembered, however, that the dog still needs regular grooming, to stimulate proper coat growth and skin condition. Bathing may never be necessary,
but can be done safely, provided the dog is dried quickly, especially in the winter months. Standard care is needed for eyes, ears, pads and nails. Maremmas normally moult once a year as winter approaches, although central heating can upset this routine, and it is not uncommon to have dogs shedding their coats in mid-winter. Female Maremmas sometimes moult more frequently than dogs and both may shed some of their undercoat in early summer. Moults tend to be rather rapid affairs, especially if a bath is given when the moult first commences. Between moults the Maremma looses little, if any, hair.
There has been a great deal of speculation as to whether two Maremma Sheepdogs will live happily together, without one or the other establishing dominance. Possibly a great deal depends upon the individual dogs and the environment in which they are kept. In Italy, in a working environment, it is not uncommon for two and more males to live and work peacefully together. On occasions it has been known for two females to be difficult together.
In general, Maremmas love company and if it takes the form of another of his own kind, so much the better. He is normally very tolerant of other breeds and lives quite happily with them. He will seldom, if ever, pick a quarrel and is slow to anger. He can be provoked under extreme circumstances and when he fights he really means it. Dogs of the breed are usually subservient to any bitches, which they live with despite their greater size and strength. Trouble is likely to occur over food or if another dog gets too close to something that the Maremma regards as 'his own'.
In general Maremmas like other animals and will readily accept them as being part of the household. He likes company, best of all that of humans whom he tends to regard as equals. If human company is not available, then any animal will do. It is true to say that Maremmas thrive on company, any company. Family pets, like other dogs, they will adore cats, hamsters or chickens.
A Maremma will also accept responsibility for these other pets and will guard them. Although Maremmas are not hunters they will 'chase' strange birds or other animals off the premises and will instinctively 'see off' any trespassing dog.
Maremmas are normally marvellous with children of their own family and usually respond well to others. They are not, however, 'gentle giants' and, although very playful as pups - and even as mature dogs - they are strong and can be very physical in play. They will never knowingly hurt a child, although even the Maremma puppy will not always be tolerant when a child insists on play while the Maremma is engaging in a 'rest period', especially when the puppy is rebuffed when he approaches the child to play and the child does not want to.
Although the Maremma will usually accept all children as readily as his own, it is best if the owner makes a formal introduction between them and remains at hand until they have been accepted as friends.
Like most large dogs Maremmas are rather late to mature. A Maremma may well be fully-grown between twelve and eighteen months, or may even continue to grow until two years of age or more. He is not fully mature in mind or body, however, until he is two to three years of age, and he normally goes through a personality change at around eighteen months. At this age, his guarding instincts, which have lain dormant until then, come to the fore and he becomes increasingly protective as full maturity is reached.
A Maremma, which has been reared in isolation, will become more difficult for a stranger to handle when he has reached maturity and early social training is essential if the dog is to be acceptable to neighbours, etc.
The Maremma is a very fast growing dog as a puppy and will develop from a birthweight of approx. 1 1/4 lbs. to reach some 70 lbs. in its first six months. A plentiful and nourishing diet is needed during this period; the breeder will provide you with details of a suitable diet.
As the dog approaches adulthood, you will be surprised to notice that Maremmas actually turn into relatively small eaters. This will vary somewhat with individual dogs and be mainly influenced by the amount of exercise the dog receives.
It is firmly recommended that you see grown dogs in their home environment before you purchase a specimen of this breed.