Maremma Sheepdog: A Reliable Protector

Maremma Sheepdog standing in the field
John Walton
Written by John Walton

As any livestock producer will agree, protecting your livestock from predators is a constant concern. Besides sturdy fencing, you can employ the help of dogs to protect your livestock. A perfect livestock guard dog will keep predators at bay. The Maremma Sheepdog is one great choice for that.

A perfect livestock guard dog who has been used to watch sheep, cattle, and even penguins for centuries, this dog is loyal to their flock but unfriendly to predators. This independent and determined dog has a natural predisposition to outdoor living since they are resistant to diseases and adverse weather conditions.

If you have been thinking about adopting a Maremma Sheepdog, keep reading. We did thorough research on this dog, and in this guide, we provide all the information you need to decide whether the Maremma is the dog for you or not. You will get to know this dog’s history, character, care features, grooming, health conditions, and if they will get along with your pets and children.

Breed Characteristics

Maremma Sheepdog's head

  • Adaptability: Good; the Maremma will adapt very well to cold climates. However, they do not do so well in hot climates.

  • Trainability: Moderate; an independent thinker that needs to be trained at a very early age. The trainer needs to be firm and consistent.

  • Health and Grooming: Moderate; the Maremma Sheepdog has a double coat that is weather resistant.

  • All Around Friendliness: Very Good; this breed will naturally guard even other pets like cats in the home.

  • Exercise Needs: High Maintenance; the Italian Sheepdog likes to be outdoors and needs space to roam around.

Dog Breed GroupGuarding Dog
HeightMales: 25-28 inches
Females: 23-226 inches
WeightMales: 80-100 pounds
Females: 66-88 pounds
Lifespan11-14 years

The Maremma is a livestock-guarding dog from Italy. This dog has been used for centuries to guard flocks of sheep in the mountains as they are not bothered by any amount of cold. Most breeders breed this dog to keep their flock safe from predators such as wolves that are common in the mountainous areas of Italy.

The Maremma Sheepdog Club of America does not recommend this dog as a pet. If they are to be kept as family companions, they need another job to keep them occupied.

A true outdoor breed who loves to roam freely, the Maremma Sheepdog should never be chained. Additionally, early socialization and training are paramount so that the dog knows how to behave around strangers and other pets.

If you leave the training for later, your Maremma will not be quick to respond to any of your commands and might ignore them altogether. Maremma dogs are independent thinkers and are not eager-to-please dogs. This is why they need an experienced handler who is firm and consistent.

See Also: Easiest Dogs to Train

The primary role of the Maremma is to guard, and they do this perfectly. Their guarding abilities come naturally and will most likely intensify with age. Introduce the Maremma to their livestock early so that they know their boundaries.

They are always alert and will not hesitate to protect their owner and flock from any potentially dangerous situation. Maremmas love children—especially those they have been brought up with—and they will even protect them from teasing by other children.

Maremma dogs will also live peacefully with other animals and even act as their protector—this is what the dog was bred to do. The dog is not a herder or a hunter. Thus they will not chase or hunt small animals. You can be assured that they will peacefully co-exist with other pets.

However, they will always be the boss of other animals, and this might make it difficult for them to coexist with other dominant breeds.

Main Highlights

Maremma Sheepdog playing in snow

  • The Maremma Sheepdog is from Italy, and its origin is from two areas: the Abruzzi and the Maremma.

  • The dog is used in Australia to guard penguins against wild dogs, foxes, and birds of prey.

  • The dog’s massive build and impressive white coat give the Maremma Sheepdog its distinctive features.

  • The Maremma Sheepdog is a livestock guardian used to guard sheep in the mountainous area of Italy.

  • This is a large breed that has a thick double coat that is water-resistant and water-repellant—ideal for cold climates

  • The dog’s protective instincts come naturally and become better with age

  • This is a friendly dog that is loyal to their family and is very protective of their territory.

  • The Maremmas love children and get along well with other animals in the household as they were bred to guard.

  • This breed thrives well outdoors. They need to roam around in an open space and should never be chained.

  • The Maremma Sheepdog is an intelligent and independent thinker that needs a patient and consistent trainer.

  • The dog’s strong will makes training a bit difficult as they are bred to stay with the sheep and not to follow their master.

  • They should be introduced to their flock early so that they know their boundaries.

  • This breed is loyal to its flock and intolerant of intruders.

  • The dog has a tendency to bark and will announce every intruder with a bark.

  • The average litter size for the dog is four puppies.

  • The Maremma matures slowly. The maturity age is two years, and care should be taken not to overfeed the dog.

Breed History

Maremma Sheepdog running

The country of origin for the Maremma Sheepdog is Italy. There are two regions of Italy that lay claim to this breed: the Maremma and the Abruzzi.

Other breeders believe that the dog came from two separate breeds. The Abruzzese was considered to be more of a mountain dog and had a longer coat compared to the Maremmano whose coat was shorter. The two were established as a single breed in the 1958, and the breed was officially given the name Maremmano-Abruzzese.

This breed was developed as a flock-guarding dog, and they are a descendant of the famous sheepdogs that were common in Europe 2,000 years ago. Other dogs that had a similar role include the Great Pyrenees of France, Kuvasz of Hungary, Akbash, and Karabash of Turkey. All of these breeds can be traced back to the Tibetan Mastiff.

During World War II, the breed was almost eradicated. However, after the war, the dog’s numbers rose significantly. Although this breed can be seen in US, Australia, Canada, and other European countries, they are still most commonly found in Italy.

Despite being popular, the breed remained unrecognized until 1924 when the first breed standard was drawn. It also took many years for the owners of these dogs to register them as pedigrees.

The Maremma Sheepdog has many other names, including Maremma, Maremmano, Pastore Maremmano, Abruzzese, Cana de Pastore, Maremmano-Abruzzese, Abruzzese Sheepdog, and Italian Sheepdog among others.

In Australia, the dog is used to protect endangered colonies of penguins in Warrnambool. The increase in the bird’s numbers can be said to be due to the protective nature of the Maremma against predators.


Maremma Sheepdog standing on the road

The Italian Sheepdog is a large muscular breed. They weigh around 100 lbs. and they stand at 29 inches tall.

The difference between male and female Maremma dogs is evident. Male Maremmano is bigger in size and tougher. Their collar is also big like a lion’s mane. They are stronger and sometimes aggressive to other dogs of the same sex.

Females are a few inches smaller. They are gentler and shy although they will not permit a stranger to touch them even when the owner is present.

These dogs have a distinctive bear-like head with a black nose that can change color to pink as the dog ages. The strong jaws have a scissor bite. The ears are small, V-shaped, and pointed, while the eyes are small with a lively and intelligent look.

The tail has dense hair and is low set. The dog has long, thick, harsh hair that has a wave. The dog’s coat is also very dense. The accepted colors of this breed include white with ivory, pale orange, lemon, or light yellow markings on the ears,

Personality and Character

Maremma Sheepdog puppy walking

This is one of the most loyal dog breeds. A Maremma can remain true to one owner for their whole life. Additionally, this is an excellent guard dog. They are brave, determined, and always sober.

The dog is not a herder so they will not chase the animals they need to protect. They will sit alone with their flock for days, and they will guard them against predators. They do the job of guarding livestock perfectly without the need for further instructions.

The Maremma Sheepdog takes control of their flock with utmost dominance and dedication. They will also guard their owner’s property and territory. They are at their happiest when working.

The Maremma is a known enemy of the wolf, and if you live in mountainous areas, you can be sure your sheep will be safe. The Maremma’s thick coat is suited to mountainous and cold climates.

The Sheepdog is also intelligent, independent, and strong-willed. This can make training for a first-time owner difficult. This is not a submissive dog, and they are not eager-to-please.

They will listen to commands, weigh them, and decide if they will perform them or not. If they think there is no need to perform a certain command, they will simply ignore it. The training should be characterized by mutual respect and consistency.

These dogs also see themselves as equal partners with their trainer. It is very important for the human to establish himself or herself as a pack leader. Any dog who is allowed to be the human’s pack leader can be dangerous as they will communicate their displeasure with a bite or a growl.

See Also: Dog Aggression Training

Health and Potential Problems

Maremma Sheepdog lying on ground

The Italian Sheepdog is normally a healthy breed, and their lifespan is 14 years or more. Like any other dog, the Sheepdog will need vaccination from common dog ailments such as parvo, rabies, and distemper among others. You also need to give them heartworm preventive medicines if you live in areas prone to this disease.

Further, fleas and ticks sprays are necessary as these parasites can remain in their thick coats and build up since the dog will spend most of their time outdoors.

When buying a puppy, ensure you get them from a certified breeder and ask if they are certified free from elbow and hip dysplasia since these are common diseases in large breeds such as the Italian Sheepdog.

Below are some common diseases that affect this breed.

#1: Hip Dysplasia

This condition affects the hip joint and is very common in large breeds. It is often a genetic ailment. Other factors that have been identified to cause this disease include overfeeding, strenuous exercises during puppyhood, and neutering the dog at a very young age.

Your Maremmano will show decreased activity, pain in hip joints, reluctance to run or jump, or have a swaying gait if they are suffering from this condition. Your vet will conduct a physical exam on your dog if they suspect the dog is suffering from the condition.

In cases of inflammation in the hip joint, the blood count of the dog will not be normal. X-rays are also important to see the signs of the disease and to know the extent of the damage on your dog’s hip joint.

Surgery might be a treatment option, but depending on your dog’s size and age, your vet might recommend weight management, painkillers, special diets, and physiotherapy.

See Also: Best Joint Supplement for Dogs

#2: Bloat

Bloat is a life-threatening condition common in dogs. The Italian Sheepdog’s deep-chested build is one of the factors that make them a high-risk dog for the occurrence of this condition.

This condition occurs when your dog’s stomach is filled with gas, food, or fluids that cause it to expand and exert pressure on other organs. This can lead to reduced blood flow to vital organs such as the heart.

When your Maremmano is suffering from bloat, they will act restless, try to vomit, droll, pace, and might even look at their stomach. If the condition gets worse, they might collapse, be short of breath, and have pale gums. If you suspect your Maremma has bloat, get them to a clinic immediately as this condition can cause death.

You can protect your dog from bloat by feeding them a low protein diet with 22% to 26% protein. Further, keep the dog on two small feedings daily rather than one large feed. Avoid giving your dog food from a raised bowl, do not exercise the dog immediately after a meal, and do not overfeed them either.

See Also: Bloat in Dogs

#3: Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia affects the front elbow and causes pain and even lameness. The symptoms of the disease might not be visible in the dog’s early years. If your Italian Sheepdog is not certified, the dog can pass the condition to his/her offspring.

Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, although genetic, can also be caused by overfeeding your dog, which can cause their bones to grow too quickly. Over strenuous exercises while the bones are still developing can also lead to damage to the bones.

A veterinarian will accurately diagnose the condition first to know which part of your dog’s elbow is faulty. One of the treatment options might be surgery. However, in some cases, your vet will recommend weight management, physiotherapy, stem cell therapy, or painkillers from the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs group.

#4: Entropion

This condition is caused by an abnormality in the eye that causes the eyelid to roll inward. This causes the hair on the surface to touch the dog’s cornea. It leads to pain or corneal erosion. The condition can also affect the dog’s vision

The treatment of the condition is surgery where a section of the skin is removed from the eyelid to reverse the inward rolling.

#5: Anesthetic Sensitivity

Some dog medical procedures such as surgery often need anesthesia. This is a drug that reduces pain and feeling in all or a part of the body where the procedure is bound to take place.

Unfortunately, the rate of anesthesia death in pets is higher compared to humans. Some dogs do experience an allergic reaction to the drugs used to induce anesthesia. This reaction can be mild such an irritation on the site of injection or serious like anaphylactic shock.

The vet can perform some pre-surgery exam with blood tests to identify any condition that might cause a reaction to anesthesia. In case your Maremma shows signs of reaction under anesthesia, the vet will administer appropriate drugs to stop the reaction.

In life-threating situations, additional fluids and emergency drugs might be given to support bodily functions.

Care Features

Maremma Sheepdog with its owner

This is a breed that needs ample space. They are a working dog, and if they are not told to guard the flock, they need to be taken for daily walks. They need long walks, not a short one around the block. The Italian Sheepdog also needs a big space to run free.

This is not the ideal apartment or city dog as they will be very bored with a routine lifestyle. They should never be kept in a confined area as they do better with outdoor living. If they are bored and frustrated, they make a very unhappy family companion.

See Also: Best Dogs for Apartments

Socialization of this dog is essential. Puppies should be taught how to react to different situations and different kinds of people. You also need to introduce the dog to their livestock charges at an early age if you are keeping them to guard livestock.

In Italy, the dog is introduced to small animals such as lamb at an early age and the rest of the flock much later. This enables the dog’s protective instincts to set in early. It also teaches the dog to be gentle with even smaller animals and to be hostile to predators.

The thick coat of the Maremmano is suited for the cold or mountainous climate. They can also comfortably sleep outdoors. However, this dog is not suited for very hot weather, and on hot days they should always have shade and lots of water.

The Maremma must have an experienced trainer or handler who will use positive methods and be patient and consistent as this dog is very independent. Any type of hostile treatment will backfire with this dog.

The owner should be stern, fair and never seen as harsh by the dog. It is also important for owners to understand that they might not get instant responses for their commands.

The dog does bark to warn off intruders, and it is essential to teach your dog the “quiet” command at an early age as barking can become a problem later.

Feeding Schedule

The Maremma is prone to suffering from bloat, and thus they need to be fed several smaller meals daily rather than one large meal. While the dog is a large dog, they are not a big eater.

The dog matures slowly and can take up to two years. They should be fed a special diet that is for giant breeds from puppies until maturity. Do not overfeed the puppies to prevent hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia. Poor nutrition at a young age will lead to skeletal health issues as the dog ages.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

Maremma Sheepdog sitting on the ground

The Italian Sheepdog has a dense undercoat that sheds two times annually. The outer coat is harsh and thick and repels dirt. This is a clean dog that does not have an odor unless when wet. The coat does not tangle and should never be shaved.

If you plan on keeping this breed as a livestock-guarding dog, you will need to groom them. They will spend most of their time outside protecting the flock, and if not well taken care of, ticks and fleas might find a comfortable home in their hair.

Being a dog who loves the outdoors, they are bound to get dirty and even muddy. Thoroughly comb and brush the dog’s hair regularly. Take extra care when the dog is shedding and brush them more often to remove the loose hair. If you bathe this dog, thoroughly dry them before you allow them to go guard the sheep.

The Maremma Sheepdog will not have a problem sleeping outside. Even in cold weather, this dog will still be comfortable. However, during the hot days, the dog will need shelter. You also need to provide shelter for them from wind, ice, and snow especially at night.

Trim the dog’s nails periodically and be sure to check on the dog’s ears and eyes to prevent infection.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

Maremma Sheepdogs playing together

The Italian Sheepdog is a gentle and considerate dog with children. Children should treat them with respect, and for the very small ones, adult supervision is necessary.

This dog does like company and will make friends with your cat. They can also be trusted with other household pets and livestock such as chicken, and they will ensure they are safe. However, a male Maremma might not stand other dogs, especially those of the same sex.

These dogs are bred to guard and are very good at it. Even when introduced to a stranger, your dog will be very alert and will watch for any danger. Barking is a significant part of their guarding instincts, and they will announce every stranger with a bark.

They are not aggressive dogs but will use their size and voice to deter intruders. They will protect anything they deem as part of their pack.

Wrap Up

Maremma Sheepdog puppy

The Maremma Sheepdog is a devoted guardian. They will comfortably guard a herd all day. They will also guard your property and even your children. If you are looking for a dog to guard your livestock, this large and gentle dog might be the best for the job.

So long as you keep the Maremma Sheepdog busy, they will be okay. This is not a breed that you keep as a family pet. They love the outdoors and must be given time to roam around.

They will do well on a farm and the countryside but not in an apartment setting. However, if you are looking for a protector who is loyal and gentle, we might just have found the dog for you.

Tell us what you think about the Maremma Sheepdog. Would you own such a dog? Why or why not? Do you have experience with this breed? Let us know in the comments section below.

If you decide to welcome a Maremma Sheepdog into your family and you need a name for him/her, check out our article on big dog names.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.