Frequently asked questions
A Maremma is a livestock guarding dog, bred in Italy for centuries to guard large flocks of sheep on the plains and in the mountains. Other Old World breeds with similar temperament are the Great Pyrenees in France, the Komondor and the Kuvasz in Hungary, the Tatra in Poland, the Shar Planinetz in Yugoslovia, the Anatolian and Akbash in Turkey, and the Tibetan Mastiff in Nepal and Tibet. The Maremma originally lived day and night with its flock, and its white coat mimics the coat of the sheep in its flock. It was bred to take responsibility for keeping the flock safe from 4-legged predators, primarily the wolf, and from 2-legged thieves; and kept proficient at its job by frequent life-and-death battles with the wolves.
Very!!! And they are very physical about it. They want to know where all family members are and to be close to them. The dogs lean on you, body block you, paw you; and some even want to hug you or nibble you affectionately. They do not fawn on you, and certainly not on strangers, for attention; but they demonstrate constantly, their deep devotion to their bonded intimates.
The Maremma Sheepdog Club of America does NOT recommend the Maremma as a pet. The Maremma actually never considers itself a 'pet'. It is a working dog, with 2000 years of genetic background of livestock guardianship behind it, and it needs a job to keep it occupied. If it is to be in the house with a family, it must be temperament-tested and heavily socialized from the time it is a small puppy. A puppy should be outgoing and friendly with everyone, but its rowdy behavior needs controlling; after all, a 10 month old puppy may weigh 100 pounds! It must also get used to meeting strangers. By the time it is two years old, it will be less outgoing with strangers, and may even decide it doesn't want ANY stranger to touch it, its master, or its property. To limit this future possessiveness, you must get your dog used to being handled by many friendly strangers when it is very young, and KEEP AT IT. But even then, you must personally introduce your dog to all new strangers who enter its territory (your home and property), and you may have to be present each time that they return.
These breeds were developed as personal protection dogs, and they look to their master for instructions. They excel, for example, in formal obedience trials, and they may be suitable for attack training and schutzhund work. Maremmas, and other livestock guarding breeds, have been selected to take responsibility and to make their own decisions in the absence of a master. This means that they want to make up their own minds, and decide for themselves, how best to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. To give examples: they are likely to think the garbage man is stealing from you; they may think a plumber with a tool in his hand plans to attack you or your property; they may think your Uncle Bob, who is a stranger to the dog, is accosting the children if he grabs one suddenly to give a hug. In other words, to live easily with a Maremma you have to be able to foresee situations which look "potentially dangerous" to your dog. It is strongly recommended that you have a place to put your dog out of harm's way if someone the dog does not like has to be in your house or you have to be away. This can be an escape-proof room, dog run, fenced yard, or a shipping cage. The Maremma is not suitable for attack training.
Oh yes, this is its primary role, and it is an incomparable guard dog. This guarding is instinctive, needs no training, and will probably intensify with age. The problem is rather that the Maremma can guard you too much, can guard your neighbors as well as your own family, etc. and may become physical about it.
Maremmas love babies and small children. With older children or adolescents, they will react very negatively to anything they construe as teasing, and they object to strange children being physical with THEIR children. They enjoy playing with well-behaved 'doggy' children; but may not understand that some play activities are not a threat to them, or their charges.
The Maremma lives happily with other dogs and other animals - indeed, this is what it was bred to do, provided only that it is the boss. Two males can be difficult to handle if both insist on being dominant, but socialized Maremmas love cats, and cats respond to them. They also readily accept other dogs, birds and any livestock, especially sheep and goats. They have almost no hunt and chase instincts, though initial encounters with other animals should be carefully supervised. A playful Maremma puppy can seriously hurt a baby lamb without meaning to, and a cow or horse can hurt a Maremma puppy.
On the average, adult males are a bit larger than bitches and average 27 inches tall and weigh 75 to over 100 pounds, while bitches average 26 inches tall and weigh 66 to 88 pounds.
Puppies grow best if they can move freely. Grown dogs require less exercise. If you live in a city or in the suburbs, exercising should be done on a lead. A Maremma should never be chained up.
Housetraining is usually extremely easy; Maremmas are usually clean dogs in the house. A shipping cage is extremely useful for house training; and it is helpful to have the dog used to being in a cage in case it has to be confined at any time. Obedience training is a necessity with any dog of this size. We recommend starting a puppy early as a part of its play with you. At 4 or 5 months they learn readily and with pleasure, though only in brief sessions. Later they are not quick to respond to a command, mainly because they feel they should decide for themselves, when and where to sit, lie down, or stay.
A house dog this size requires obedience training. Classes are useful for this as well as for socializing the dog. It is best if you work with the dog as a team and not have the training done by a stranger. As independent thinkers, they are rarely candidates for high scores in obedience, so don't expect a push-button dog. Any Maremma that spends time with livestock must have the introduction to its livestock carefully supervised. It must be taught its boundaries. The best way to do this is to go around the boundaries of your property, with the dog on a lead, repeatedly until the dog understands that this is his territory. An older Maremma can usually teach a younger one its habits and behaviors, so if you are going to use this method for much of your training, be sure the older dog is well-behaved.
They can do. Puppies are both curious and physical, and their energy has to be channeled. If you provide things they are allowed to chew on along with firm indications of what is off-limits, this is not too hard to control. Barking is more difficult as barking is a significant part of its livestock guarding instincts. Your Maremma never barks without a reason, but if it is confined where many strangers pass by, it is very difficult to keep it from announcing the passage of each one. Like all dogs, a Maremma should be reprimanded immediately, when performing an unwanted behavior, not even a few seconds later, or it will not understand what is wanted. Unwanted behavior should never be tolerated until a later date, as dogs are creatures of habit and always easier to train, rather than to re-train. Beatings and severe physical punishment are understood by dogs as torture and never accomplish their intended purpose. Your Maremma will stay bonded to you as long as it is treated with love and respect, but if your Maremma rejects you for some mistreatment, you and everyone around the dog are in danger.
This is a rare breed that is in great demand for sheep, goat, alpaca and llama guarding. Litters are usually not large and few litters are registered with MSCA each year. We recommend against purchasing puppies from unregistered litters, as they may be mixtures of unknown instincts that make their behavior unpredictable. We do recommend that prospective buyers check on all registrations and pedigrees in advance. Price varies with the different breeders, and with the demand, but usually is between $350 and $750. A special puppy or older dog will probably be even more. You may well have to purchase a puppy from a breeder far away from you; and you may have to pay a deposit and wait to get a puppy, as well as having to pay for shipping of the pup.
Love for your Maremma, or admiration of the breed, is not enough. Maremmas are completely unlike any other (non-livestock guardian) breed of dog you have ever owned, and as such need special owners who are prepared for the challenges they present. If you are a person who requires instant, unquestioned obedience to commands by your dog, don't buy a Maremma. If you are a person who does not have generous amounts of time to spend with your dog, don't buy a Maremma. If you are a person who lives in cramped quarters, has young children, or has neighbors who would object to a barking dog, don't buy a Maremma. If you do not have a large, fenced in yard, don't buy a Maremma. If you are a person who has expensive breakable possessions, don't buy a Maremma. If you are a person who cannot commit to the lifespan of a dog (up to 13 + years), don't buy a Maremma. If you are a person who collects unique breeds of dogs, don't buy a Maremma just for the reason that they are "different"! If you are a person who has had trouble owning and managing any other breed of dog, don't buy a Maremma. If you are a person who would find any of the Maremma characteristics to be a problem, don't buy a Maremma. If you are a person who has not had prior successful experience with Maremmas, don't buy any Maremma except as a puppy.
The Maremma Sheepdog Club of America maintains a list of its members who also may be breeders. Some breeders offer hip dysplasia-free certification of both parents. Some offer contracts and guarantees. Some offer more help with a dog than others. A reputable breeder will supply a health certificate and a record of dewormings and shots. They will have tattooed the pup or micro-chipped it for permanent identification. They will replace a dog found to have a congenital fault. A pedigree should be provided, as well as a registration application, unless registration is to be withheld by mutual consent. If conditions are involved in the sale, these should be stated in writing, and signed by both parties. Be sure you ask questions. A concerned and reputable breeder will probably have a lot of questions for you, too. It really is best if you have a lot of confidence in your breeder, and some opt to wait for a puppy until one is available from the breeder they have chosen. See our 19 Questions For Buyers To Ask Maremma Breeders and Info & Forms pages for further information.
Remember that the Maremma Sheepdog Club of America is here to help you in any way we can. Please don't hesitate to call or email us if there is information you need that is not found on our web site.
MAREMMA SHEEPDOG CLUB OF AMERICA
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