The Maremma sheepdog is a majestic, agile dog with a thick white weatherproof coat. It is named after the plains in southern Tuscany: the Maremma was used for centuries as grazing land, and this dog was originally bred here for herding and guarding sheep and cattle.
The exact origins of the breed are still unknown, but it is probably a close descendant of the great, white Eastern sheepdogs that slowly spread across Europe over 2,000 years ago.
It has been claimed that at some point there were two separate breeds: the Abruzzese and the Maremmano. The former was widespread in the Abruzzo region, had a longer body and was more of a mountaineer. However, in the 1950s the two were officially established as a single breed with the name Maremmano-Abruzzese.
The Pastore Maremmano (Italian name for Maremma sheepdog) is very intelligent, determined and loyal, with a highly developed guarding instinct that he automatically exercises to protect his family. He is affectionate and friendly, yet very independent. The breed does need lots of space and exercise: if it not working as an active flock guardian, it needs to be taken on long daily walks and must be given frequent opportunities to run free.
These characteristics led this Italian sheepdog to be the breed of choice for a very successful experiment that has been taking place in Australia, where Warrnambool’s Middle Island is home to the Little Penguin, i.e. the smallest of the penguin species standing at 40 cm tall and weighing about 1kg!
The Little Penguin population had been decimated by fox predation over the years, with an estimated 600 penguins in 1999 reduced to less than 10 by 2005. Thanks to the Middle Island Maremma Project, Maremma sheepdogs have been trained to protect the local penguins from foxes since 2006, allowing the population to slowly grow to well over 100 penguins today!
For more on this interesting project, watch this video on youtube: Middle Island Maremma Project