The Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog (Maremma) is an Italian breed of large white dogs, bred specifically for the protection and driving of sheep. All individuals are distinguished by an innate distrust of strangers, as well as the ability to independently analyze the situation and make decisions.
The Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog is a responsible guardian and protector that easily gets along with any representatives of the fauna but is extremely distrustful of two-legged strangers who stepped into its territory. Only children are capable of melting the ice in the heart of the Maremma, whom she willingly trusts, forgiving the most annoying pranks. These harsh “blondes” also build their relationship with the owner not according to the classic scenario for shepherd dogs. An owner for a dog is a friend and companion but by no means an object of worship, whose requirements must be fulfilled with lightning speed. The family film “Freak” (2015) brought additional fame to the breed.
The Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog got its name thanks to two historical regions of Italy – Maremma and Abruzzo. For a long time, the regions were arguing among themselves for the right to be considered the homeland of dogs. But since the conflict dragged on, and there was no preponderance on either side, the dog handlers had to compromise and write both regions in the name of the breed. As for the first mentions of gigantic white-haired shepherds, they can be easily found in the works of the ancient Roman authors Rutilius Palladius and Lucius Columella. Describing the peculiarities of farming in the territories of the Eternal City, both researchers noted white dogs that are dexterous in grazing and driving sheep.
Sculptures and frescoes depicting the first Maremmas have also survived. Check out the ancestors of today’s shepherd dogs at the Capua Archaeological Museum, the British Museum (look for the figure named Jennings’ Dog / Duncombe’s Dog), the Church of Santa Maria de Novella in Florence, and the San Francesco Temple in Amatrice. If you happen to visit the exhibition of paintings from the Vatican’s Pinakothek, be sure to find the painting “Christmas” by the medieval painter Mariotto di Nardo – the Maremma-Abruzzo Sheepdog is depicted on it very realistically.
They began to register the breed in herd books in 1898 – at the time of the procedure, only 4 individuals were issued documents. In 1924, animals received their first standard of appearance, drawn up by Giuseppe Solaro and Luigi Groppi, but later, until 1940, shepherd dogs were no longer involved in registration. It is worth paying attention to the fact that until the middle of the 20th century, dogs from Maremma and dogs from Abruzzo were positioned as two independent breeds. This was explained by the fact that historically individuals from these regions very rarely contacted each other, developing in isolation. The mixing of phenotypes took place only during the drive of cattle across the country – the shepherd dogs accompanied the sheep, entered into contact with dogs from other regions, and produced mestizo puppies along the way. The unification of the breed clans into one family called the Maremmano-Abruzzese Shepherd Dog took place only in 1958, at the insistence of the same Giuseppe Solaro.
Maremmano is a solid but by no means overweight “blond”, who inspires respect with his impressive noble appearance. External nervousness and feigned suspicion are not inherent in the breed, therefore, the expression of the muzzle in shepherd dogs is more concentratedly attentive than stern. The physique of the representatives of this family is moderately stretched, but at the same time balanced. Males are noticeably larger and heavier than bitches. The standard height of a thoroughbred “boy” is 65-73 cm, weight – 35-45 kg. “Girls” weigh 30-40 kg with a height of 60-68 cm.
The shape of the skull of the Maremmano-Abruzzo Shepherd Dog resembles a polar bear. The head itself is in the form of a cone, large, without relief outlines. The rounded cheekbones stand out well on the wide cranium. The divergence of the headline with the upper line of the muzzle is noticeable, forming a convex profile pattern. The occipital protuberance and superciliary arches are clearly marked. The frontal furrow, on the other hand, is strongly smoothed. The stop is implicit. The muzzle is about ⅒ shorter than the skull.
Impressive jaws with massive, evenly set incisors. The teeth are white, healthy, forming a correct scissor bite in the bow. The lips of the Maremma-Abruzzo Sheepdog are devoid of the fleshiness characteristic of many large breeds, therefore they barely cover their teeth. As a result: if you examine an animal with a closed mouth in profile, only the corner part of the lips, painted in a rich black tone, will be noticeable.
With more than impressive dimensions, the Maremmano has small eyes. The shade of the iris is usually buffy or chestnut blue. The eyeballs themselves do not differ in convexity, but a deep landing is also not typical for them. Bordered in black, the eyelids have an elegant almond-shaped cut. The look of the breed is intelligent, perceptive.
The Maremma-Abruzzi Shepherd’s ear is characterized by excellent mobility and a hanging position. The ears are set above the cheekbones, that is, very high. The size of the ear sheet is small, v-shaped, with a pointed tip. The length of the ear does not exceed 12 cm. An important nuance: today’s Maremma’s do not stop ears. The exception is individuals who continue to carry out herding services.
A large black nose with wide nostrils should not extend beyond the front edges of the lips.
In a purebred shepherd dog, the neck is always ⅕ shorter than the head. The neck is thickest, without dewlap, remarkably muscled and arched at the top. This part of the body is very abundantly pubescent, as a result of which the coat closer to the chest forms a rich collar.
The body is strong, slightly elongated. The round, tapering chest goes down to the elbow joints. The back is straight from the wide, raised withers to the croup, then with a slight slope. The lumbar part is shortened and does not protrude beyond the upper dorsal line. The group is strong, with a good slope: the angle of slope from the base of the tail to the hip is 20 °. The bottom line is of an arched type with a tucked-in belly.
The hind and front legs of the Shepherd are in balance with the body and have an almost straight set. The scapular regions have developed muscle mass and elongated contours, the shoulders are at an inclination of 50-60 ° and are closely pressed to the sides. The forearms are longer than the shoulders and are located almost vertically, the metacarpal joints are thickened, with a clearly defined projection of the pisiform bones, the size of the metacarpus is necessarily ⅙ of the length of the front leg.
In the Maremma-Abruzzo Sheepdog, the hips are inclined (directed from top to bottom). The lower leg is shorter than the femur, but with strong bones and lean muscles. The hock joints are thick and wide. Metatarsus is a strong, dry type, necessarily without dewclaws. The dog’s paws are rounded, the toes are closed, the claws are black. A less preferred option is chestnut claws.
Since the croup of the Maremma-Abruzzo Sheepdog is characterized by a strong slope, the base of the dog’s tail has a low stance. At rest, the tip of the tail hangs below the level of the hocks. In a walking shepherd dog, the tail is raised no higher than the upper back, while the tip is noticeably curved.
The Maremmano canine resembles a horse’s mane. The hair is long (up to 8 cm), rather hard, abundant, and uniform on all parts of the body. It is desirable to have a collar on the chest and feathers on the hind legs. The light waviness of the coat is not considered a defect either. Very short hair on the head, muzzle, front of the legs, and ears. In winter, a thick undercoat grows on the body, which disappears by summer.
The ideal Maremmano is a dog with snow-white hair. It is undesirable, but it is permissible to have areas on the body painted in ivory, or light red and yellowish lemon.
- The nose lobe is devoid of pigmentation.
- Unreasonable cowardice.
- The muzzle is convex or concave.
- Pronounced undershot jaw.
- Strabismus, iris stained irregularly, eyelids without pigment.
- Short or completely absent tail.
- Curly coat.
- Solid isabella color, as well as the presence of spots of this shade and black hairs.
Do not confuse the security activity of the Maremmano with the working technique of the wolfhound. Historically, the breed was bred to scare away enemies from the herd – there was never a question of engaging in a fight with predators and thieves who decided to feast on a free lamb. Usually, the dogs worked in a group: each participant in the action had his own observation post, which helped to repel the enemy’s attack promptly. Modern Maremma-Abruzzo Sheepdogs retained the guardian instincts of their ancestors, which could not but leave an imprint on their character.
All members of the family of today’s Maremma are serious and proud creatures who periodically have problems with subordination. It cannot be said that these “Italians” are the most difficult to educate shepherds, just unconditional obedience is not their strong point. The dog considers the man in general and the owner, in particular, to be equal to himself, therefore, all attempts to “suppress” the animal with his authority can be considered a failure.
Condescendingly, the Maremma-Abruzzi Shepherd Dogs refer only to children, patiently enduring their strokes and suffocating hugs. True, such benevolence does not apply to an unfamiliar baby, so if friends with a not particularly well-mannered child visit you, it is better to isolate the dog – the Maremmano can react to the leprosy of someone else’s offspring suddenly.
The breed has a pretty good memory, supported by selectivity in communication. Usually, a dog peacefully greets guests who have previously appeared on the doorstep of the house and are remembered for their exemplary behavior. Strangers and family friends who previously provoked the pet into a conflict, the animal suspects of all mortal sins and scans with a markedly hostile look.
Hunting habits of Maremmano are absent as such, so the breed is not dangerous for other domestic animals. Moreover, existence side by side with other representatives of the fauna awakens ancient instincts in the shepherd. As a result: the Maremmano begins to “graze” chickens, ducks, cows, and, in general, any living creatures up to penguins.
A slight detachment of behavior and an unwillingness to blindly follow the owner of the Maremmano were formed deliberately. Historically, contact between puppy and owner has been minimized, and individuals that have been friends with humans have often been discarded. At a month and a half, the Maremmano were already put into the fold with the sheep, so that they learn to protect their “flock” and weaned from communicating with the owner. This helped to educate the shepherd dogs responsible, capable of making independent decisions, defenders, but not the most obedient campaigners.
There is an opinion that the Maremma-Abruzzi Shepherd Dogs, in principle, are not aimed at memorizing commands, so if the pet succeeds in developing adequate behavior to the demands “To me!” and “Sit!” is already a great achievement. In fact, everything is not so sad. Yes, Maremmano is not servicemen, and when faced with the choice of guarding the territory or racing after the stick thrown by the owner, they will always choose the first option. Nevertheless, it is possible to train them. In particular, with a half-year-old puppy, you can easily complete the OKD course. The teaching methodology is the same as for all shepherd dogs – the Maremmano do not need exceptions and indulgences.
A very important nuance is punishment. No physical impact should be exerted, no matter how provocative the puppy may be. And the point here is not in the subtle mental organization of the dog. It’s just that the Maremma-Abruzzo Sheepdog will never forgive you for a blow and will stop recognizing your authority after the very first execution. The most difficult period in the life of every owner of a Maremmano dog is the age of 7-9 months. This is the period of puberty when the puppy grows up and begins to infringe on the title of a chief in the house.
You will have to deal with the grown-up bully stricter but without assault. A short leash is effective for disciplining your pet. Training at this time is not canceled, but is carried out in a standard model, but with more stringent requirements. Another “cure” for disobedience is the demonstration of physical superiority. This approach is used only in a situation where the dog challenges the owner to open confrontation. Usually, to sober up a presumptuous animal, a push to the chest (not to be confused with a blow) or a sharp jerk of the leash is enough.
In articles devoted to training the breed, inexperienced owners are strongly advised to resort to the services of a professional dog handler. However, do not rush to blindly follow the recommendations: the pro will teach the Maremmano, of course, but she will mainly obey him, not you. If you want to get a well-mannered and adequate dog, train it yourself, and take your pet to classes with a dog handler a couple of times a week to get useful advice and correct mistakes.
The Maremmano-Abruzzo Shepherd Dog is an open-air cage-type dog. It is also possible to meet representatives of the breed who have managed to get used to living in a city apartment, but it is important to understand that in such cases the animals simply adapt to the situation. We are not talking about any full life in cramped conditions.
Ideal when the pet can move freely from home to yard and back. For life on the chain, Maremmano is also not created: such restrictions break the psyche of the shepherd, turning it into an embittered and uncontrollable creature. The breed does not need intense physical activity, but twice a day, an adult dog needs to be discharged for a walk. Walking the Maremmano is supposed to be 1.5-2 hours, and in any weather, so for inactive owners, the shepherd from Abruzzo is not the most suitable option.
The coat of the Maremma Abruzzo Sheepdog is considered self-cleaning. This means that the dog is capable of getting dirty, but this condition will not radically affect its exterior. Dirt sticks to Maremmano in rainy weather, while only the dog gets wet, and the undercoat remains dry and clean in any case. The coat of the breed does not stray into tangles if the dog is healthy and at least minimally looked after.
Shepherd males shed once a year, with females such transformations can occur more often, especially during the gestation and birth of puppies. Many breeders recommend bathing the Maremmano at the very beginning of the molt – this speeds up the process of changing the coat. In other cases of bathing, it is better to replace it with a systematic dry or wet brushing – in the period between molting, the hair of the Maremma-Abruzzian Shepherd Dogs almost does not fall out.
Puppies should be brushed more often, ideally daily. To quickly replace the junior wool with an adult one, you need to purchase a slicker coat. Maremma kids do not like this device, but with its regular use, they quickly get used to enduring it. Puppies’ claws are cut every two weeks, adults – once a month. Systematic hygiene of the ears and eyes of the Maremmano is also required. No specific skills are required for this. From the corners of the eyelids, dust lumps should be removed daily with a damp cloth, and the ears should be cleaned once a week with a napkin moistened with a special lotion.
The breed is suitable for a natural diet, which should be based on any lean meat and offal. Heat treatment of meat is not required, since raw animal protein is healthier for shepherd dogs. You can supplement the menu for Maremmano with frozen boneless sea fish, low-fat cottage cheese, and yogurt. The egg can be given no more than 1-2 times a week. Be sure to make shavings for your pet from raw fruits and vegetables – apples, pumpkins, carrots, zucchini. These salads can be seasoned with sour cream, unrefined sunflower oil, or fish oil. For cereals with meat, it is better to use buckwheat, rice, and oatmeal.
A bowl of water must be freely available, while a bowl with lunch and dinner is given to the pet for a strictly defined time. If the dog does not want to finish the portion, the food is removed. This approach allows you to discipline the animal and quickly accustom it to the regime. From 1.5 to 2 months, Maremma-Abruzzo Shepherd puppies are fed six times a day. From 2 to 3 months – five times a day. By 3 months, it is recommended to reduce the number of feedings to four per day. From 4 to 7 months, the Maremmano is fed three times a day. An 8-month-old puppy is considered an adult, so his bowl is only filled with food twice a day.
Important: do not be impressed by the impressive dimensions of the breed and do not try to increase the standard portion of food – the shepherd should not get fat and spread out in breadth, which will create additional problems for the joints.
With proper care, Maremmano-Abruzzo Shepherd Dogs live up to 12 years old and are in good health. At the same time, the breed has an increased sensitivity to anesthetics, which complicates many veterinary procedures, including operations. Like most large breeds, Maremmano also has joint problems. In particular, animals may develop hip dysplasia, diaphyseal aplasia, and patellar dislocation.
How to choose a puppy?
- If you do not plan to raise a working shepherd dog from the Maremmano to protect livestock and property, look for breeders engaged in the breeding show and domestic breed lines. Their wards are more focused on contact with a person and less suspicious of others.
- A good Maremmano puppy is a brave puppy! If at the entrance to the nursery you were barked by a four-legged shaggy ball, you can be sure that in the future a brutal and stern watchman will grow out of it.
- It is undesirable to take a couple of same-sex puppies: both in work and everyday life, males and Maremmano bitches get along better with representatives of the opposite sex.
- Assess the living conditions of puppies in the kennel: dogs should not be locked up and be afraid of people. An unpleasant smell in the room where animals live also does not characterize the breeder in the best way.
- It will be a great advantage for litter producers to have test results for genetic joint dysplasia.
- Always check the age of the manufacturers. Keep in mind that Maremma-Abruzzo Shepherd bitches are allowed to breed from 18 months of age and end their breeding “career” by 8 years.
- Ask the seller what this litter of puppies is for the year. Ideally, the Maremmano produces offspring every 12 months. In some cases, two litters are allowed per year – the FCI no longer registers more.