Livestock Guardian Dogs: Maremmas

Keeping livestock is one of the fundamental differences between a hunter-gather society and basically all other forms of society. Livestock allow for a source of not just food but fuel, fiber, and often milk.

I was interested to learn for example that the earliest commonly kept dairy animal was not the goat, but the sheep.

Livestock guardian dogs (LGD) were developed by people to live with the animals they were meant to protect.

 LGD are not the same as herding breeds like Collies or Shepherds, who work alongside people to move livestock. Ultimately, a Collie is a person’s partner. LGD were bred to work independently and without people.

A good LGD learns from its dam how to live amongst the livestock. They then spend their lifetime amongst the flocks, or herds they protect.

These are breeds that were designed to never come in with people; if they are in a shelter it is the same shelter that the livestock is in – barns, sheds, etc.

As a result, their coats are weather resistant and vary depending on the weather and other conditions of the geographic region they were originally developed in.

The Maremma was developed in Italy to live with and protect sheep. This was a breed that needed to be willing to fight wolves to protect the flock but would gently interact with lambs.

 Many generations of breeding for this flexible temperament has led to a large, intelligent breed of dog.

 Maremma have also proven to be adaptable to watching many kinds of animals including cattle and avian like chickens and ducks.

Maremma are kept with their animals from the time they are pups. They have also proven they can adapt to living inside with people and learn things like house-training quickly.

 Remember though, these are very independent dogs who have a strong instinct to make their own decisions and who have been bred for centuries to live outside and move. This is not a breed that is suitable for a novice dog handler or appartment life.

They are better adapted to living on farms or ranchers where they may occasionally come inside but still spend the majority of their lives outside, watching over their animals and property.

  In North America they are proving well suited to multipurpose livestock protecting where they are showing they can move from watching lambs in the early spring, chicks in the later spring, and the property in general during the summer when both other dogs and wild animals can prove a danger to livestock.

When kept in pairs or groups the dogs themselves seem to naturally work out that one will stay with the livestock while another will patrol the area, or one will stay with the animals further from the house and one with those kept closer.

 They can also be put out in pastures far removed from people, with just their flock and will remain there independently protecting.

If Maremma should decide that their livestock needs to move for safety reasons, they do not herd, they lead.

 Sheep particularly look to the Maremma for protection and have been seen following their guardians from one pasture to another, although typically the dogs move with the sheep, not leading them.

As a small but steady number of people are deciding to ‘return to the land’ and raise their own livestock for milking, fiber, meat, eggs, etc. multipurpose homesteads are once again starting to dot the landscape. Many of these people wonder what type of LGD would help protect their range of livestock.

I recommend a Maremma from working stock, particularly if you want a dog that will not attack strangers or automatically try and kill other dogs. One the traits I particularly appreciate about Maremmas is that they provide warnings first and do not escalate to violence if it is not necessary — necessary can happen when a predator is attacking their livestock.

Once virtually unknown outside Italy, the Maremma’s flexible, intelligent nature is seeing them turn up in slowly increasing numbers.

I expect we will also start seeing more of them being kept as pets in homes.

This is a breed that will require exercise and will benefit from having jobs to do…those who live and work with them speak very highly of the breed.

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