The Pastore Maremmano Abruzzese, Maremma Sheepdog, originated in Italy where it has been used for many centuries as a flock guardian for sheep and goats. It was first imported into the United States for this purpose in the early 1970’s. Since then, the Maremma Sheepdog has continued to increase in number and popularity. You’ll commonly hear them referred to as LGD’s (Livestock Guardian Dogs).
The Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese (the literal English translation of the name is “The Dog of the shepherds of the Maremmano and Abruzzese”) is an old breed, the “Canis pastoralis”, a white sheep guardian dog described two thousand years ago in ancient Roman literature by Columello, Varro and Palladius.
Similar dogs are depicted in many sculptures and paintings from Roman times to the present.
They have not undergone any special changes during the centuries, since their selection was done only by the shepherds, who have always safeguarded and enhanced the breeds functional abilities, which are the characteristics related to their ability to guard sheep from wolves (great size and strength, correct temperament, thick white coat, etc).
The Maremma-Abruzzese shepherd dog traces its origins to the Tibetan mastiff, from which many similar breeds descended: the Kuvasz in Hungary, the Akbash of Turkey, the Tatra in Poland, the Great Pyrenees in France, etc.
These breeds are similar in form and structure and in each of their respective countries their job was protection of the flock.
Some of these breeds have not performed this task for many years because of the disappearance of the wolf from areas of civilization.
The Maremma-Abruzzese sheepdog, however, has never stopped working, because the wolf has never disappeared from the central Italian Apennine Mountains, the Abruzzo in particular, thus making it necessary to continually use the dog to protect livestock.
During the Second World War, the Maremma was almost eradicated by the invading German Army who could not contend with their ferocity as guard dogs and shot them on sight.
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 Abruzzese was formed in 1950, and one for the Maremmano in 1953. On January 1, 1958 the breeds were unified by the Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiano, the national dog association in Italy.
The explanation given is that a “natural fusion” of the two types had occurred due to the seasonal movement of sheep flocks from one region to another, particularly after the unification of Italy.
Sheep farming developed into an annual trek from the mountain grasslands of Abruzzo and Molise (and other parts of central Italy) south to the lower pasture land in Puglia where sheep were over-wintered, and 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 Apennine Mountains 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.
The first Maremmas were introduced to the U.S. in the mid-1970’s by the Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Their ultimate goal was to research the guarding abilities of the breed and to perform a comparative study alongside several other livestock guardian dog breeds (Anatolian Shepherds, Shar Planinetz, Anatolian/Shars, Maremma/Shars).
The impetus for the study occurred in the early 1970’s, a decade of change in predator control policies that left “neither the livestock industry nor the environmental community satisfied”. It began as a resurgence in the use of an ancient form of sheep protection, the guardian dog.
Several factors contributed to this phenomenon, including Federal restrictions on the use of substances to kill predators, the relative inability of existing techniques to provide adequate relief from predation in certain situations, and a desire by some to use non-lethal methods of reducing the loss of livestock to predators.
The project began in 1976 after consultations with livestock industry leaders at the Winrock International Livestock Research and Training Center in Arkansas.
Initially, guarding dogs were observed during a 1-month tour of a dozen ranches in the United States where producers were reportedly working with guarding dogs, and a 3-month tour of sheep-producing regions in Europe and Turkey where the best dogs available were purchased.
Dogs from working stock were obtained in Italy (Maremma), Turkey (Anatolian Shepherd), and Yugoslavia (Shar Planinetz). Other breeds donated to the project were tested but in very small numbers. The three main breeds were used as breeding stock to produce pups for the various programs.
Beginning in 1978, pups were leased to qualifying growers. The original intent was to test 100 dogs in the Northeast. By the end of 1987, the project was keeping records on 1,091 dogs. The original estimate of 100 dogs needed to analyze behavior and reduction of predation had grown to an average of 109 dogs produced per year for 10 years. Dogs had been placed in 37 states.
The 10 year study of livestock guarding dogs show that the dogs are an effective tool for reducing predation.