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The Maremma Sheepdog or Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog (Italian: Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese), usually referred to simply as the Maremmano or Abruzzese Sheepdog, is a breed of livestock guardian dog indigenous to central Italy, particularly to Abruzzo and the Maremma region of Tuscany and Lazio. It has been used for centuries by Italian shepherds to guard sheep from wolves. The literal English translation of the name is "The dog of the shepherds of the Maremma and Abruzzese region". The English name of the breed derives from that of the Maremma marshlands, where, until recently, shepherds, dogs and hundreds of thousands of sheep over-wintered,[1] and where the breed is today abundant although sheep-farming has decreased substantially. The breed is widely employed in Abruzzo, where sheep herding remains vital to the rural economy and the wolf remains an active and protected predator. Similar breeds include the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, the Kuvasz of Hungary, the Tatra of Poland, the Cuvac of Slovakia and the Šarplaninac (although not white), with all of which it may share a common ancestor;[2][3] and the Akbash Dog of Turkey.

Maremma-Abruzzese Sheepdog
Cane Pastore Abruzzese Abruzzo.jpg
A working Maremmano on the Gran Sasso of Abruzzo, Italy
Other namesCane da Pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese
Pastore Abruzzese
Pastore Maremmano
Abruzzo Sheepdog
Abruzzese Sheepdog
Common nicknamesMaremma, Maremmano, Abruzzese sheepdog
Classification / standards
FCI Group 1, Section 1 Sheepdogs #201 standard
ANKC Group 5 (Working Dogs) standard
KC (UK) Pastoral standard
NZKC Working standard
UKC Guardian Dog standard
NotesPastore Maremmano-Abruzzese – Italian Breed Standard
Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)


Ancient history and iconographyEdit

Descriptions of white sheep defense dogs are found in ancient Roman literature, in works such as those of Columella, Varro and Palladius. Similar dogs are depicted in numerous sculptures and paintings from Roman times to the present.[4] Among the earliest is the series of large statues (two in Rome, one in Florence, one – the Duncombe Dog – in England) copied from a Hellenistic bronze from Pergamon.[5] Iconographic sources that have been identified as relevant to the history of the Maremmano include:[5]

Recent historyEdit

Sheepdog of the Abruzzes circa 1915

The first registration of the Maremmano in the Libro delle Origini Italiano of the Kennel Club Italiano, as it was then called, was of four dogs in 1898. There were no further registrations for many years. In 1940 there were 17 dogs registered. The first standard for the breed was drawn up in 1924 by Luigi Groppi and Giuseppe Solaro.[12]

Until 1958 the Pastore Maremmano, or shepherd dog of the Maremma, and the Pastore Abruzzese, or 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 1 January 1958 the breeds were unified by the ENCI, the Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiano, the national dog association of Italy. The explanation given is that a "natural fusion" of the two types had occurred as a result of movement of the dogs due to transhumance of sheep flocks from one region to another, particularly after the unification of Italy.[13] Until 1860, the mountains of the Abruzzo and the plains of the Maremma lay in different countries.

As sheep farming developed into an annual trek or transhumance from mountain grasslands of Abruzzo and Molise (and other parts of central Italy) south to lower pasture land in Puglia where sheep were over-wintered[citation needed], 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 Apennines 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, Canada and the United States.[14]


Maremma Sheepdog

The Maremmano has a solid, muscular build, a thick white coat, a large head and a black nose. According to the breed standard, males should weigh 35 to 45 kilograms (77 to 99 lb) and stand 65 to 73 centimetres (26 to 29 in) at the shoulder, while females weigh 30 to 40 kilograms (66 to 88 lb) and stand 60 to 68 centimetres (24 to 27 in). Some dogs may be considerably larger. The coat is long and thick; it is rough to the touch, and forms a thick collar around the neck. It should be solid white; some minor yellowing may be tolerated.[15]

Some divide the breed into various subtypes, largely based on small differences in physical attributes and with subtype names based on village and provincial names where the dogs may be found, e.g. the Maremmano, the Marsicano, the Aquilano, the Pescocostanzo, the Maiella, and the Peligno.[16] However, biologists dispute this division, as well as over reliance on minor physical differences, as the dogs were bred over the centuries for their behavioral characteristics as flock guardians.[citation needed]


A roccale of a different type
The roccale or vreccale, a spiked iron collar

The traditional use of the Maremma sheepdog is as a guardian for the protection of sheep flocks against wolves. Columella, writing in the first century AD, recommends white dogs for this purpose, as the shepherd can easily distinguish them from the wolf, while Varro suggests that white dogs have a "lion-like aspect" in the dark.[17] The dogs work in groups; three or four dogs are an adequate defense against wolves and stray dogs. Their function is mostly one of dissuasion, actual physical combat with the predator being relatively rare.[18] Nevertheless, working dogs may be fitted with a roccale (or vreccale), a spiked iron collar which protects the neck in combat. The ears of working dogs are normally cropped.


Maremma used as livestock guardian dogs are introduced to sheep flocks as puppies so they bond to the sheep. Some ranchers place Maremma puppies as young as 3–4 weeks old with young lambs, but beginning this bonding process at 7–8 weeks is more typical.[19] Although it is easiest to bond Maremma to sheep and goats, cattle ranchers have found that the dogs bond with cows and Maremma are increasingly used to protect range cattle.[20] Some ranchers have successfully trained Maremmas to protect free-range fowl, such as chickens, from predation from ground threats such as coyotes, stray dogs and foxes as well as aerial threats such as raptors (hawks, eagles, owls, etc.).[citation needed]

In Warrnambool, Australia, the world's first trial using a Maremma to guard a dwindling little penguin population on Middle Island [21] against fox attack, commenced in 2006. This project won the 2010 Australian Government Coastcare Award.[22] While using Maremma to guard an endangered species is rare, Maremma, along with other breeds of livestock guarding dogs, are appreciated by environmentalists because they make it possible for livestock to co-exist with predators such as wolves and coyotes, reducing their predation by 70% to 80% or more.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Barker, Graeme; Tom Rasmussen (2000). The Etruscans. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 33.
  2. ^ Ancona, George (1985). Sheep Dog (1st ed.). New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. ISBN 9780688041199.
  3. ^ [ Le Origini del cane Pastore - Maremmano Abruzzese (in Italian). Circolo del Pastore Maremmano - Abruzzese. Archived 25 August 2016.
  4. ^ Dal Medioevo al 1800
  5. ^ a b c Breber, Paolo (1983) Il Cane da Pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese 2nd edition. Firenze: Olimpia (in Italian) "The Maremmano-Abruzzese shepherd dog"
  6. ^ Stephanitz, Max von (1901) Der deutsche Schäferhund in Wort und Bild: Herausgegeben im Auftrage des Vereins für deutsche Schäferhunde (in German) Augsburg: Lampart
  7. ^ V[illot], F[rédéric] (1855) Guide through the galleries of paintings of the Imperial museum of the Louvre Paris: De Soye and Bouchet, p.620, entry 387
  8. ^ Gobin, Alphonse (1869) Traité pratique du chien; histoire, races, emploi, hygiène et maladies Paris: Mme Ve. Bouchard-Huzard (in French) "Practical treatise of the dog; history, races, use, health and illness"; cited by Breber (1983), p.27
  9. ^ Dandolo, Conte Vincenzo (1804) Del governo delle pecore spagnuole e italiane e dei vantaggi che ne derivano Milano: L. Veladini (in Italian) "Of the management of Spanish sheep and of the advantages they offer"; cited by Breber (1983), pp.173–175
  10. ^ Knight, Charles (1833) (ed.) Penny magazine of the Society for the diffusion of useful knowledge Volume 2 London: Charles Knight p.200
  11. ^ Coleman, Charles (1850) A Series of Subjects peculiar to the Campagna of Rome and Pontine Marshes, designed from nature and etched by C. Coleman Rome: [s.n.]
  12. ^ Franco Simoni (1987). "Storia ed etimologia" (in Italian), in: Fiorenzo Fiorone (1987). I pastori italiani: il maremmano-abruzzese e il bergamasco. Milano: De Vecchi Editore. ISBN 978-88-412-2316-1.
  13. ^ Standard del cane da pastore maremmano abruzzese (in Italian). Ente Nazionale dell Cinofilia Italiana. Archived 22 June 2016.
  14. ^ Livestock guarding dogs: their current use world wide by Robin Rigg 2001 Archived 30 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Cane da pastore Maremmano Abruzzese - Lo Standard (in Italian). Circolo del Pastore Maremmano - Abruzzese. Archived 31 October 2017.
  16. ^ Abruzzese Shepherd Dog - Types and Subtypes by Marco Petrella
  17. ^ cited in: Lorna Coppinger and Raymond Coppinger, Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution (2002), University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-11563-1, page 120.
  18. ^ Caratteristiche del Cane da difesa del gregge (in Italian). Circolo del Pastore Maremmano - Abruzzese. Archived 5 November 2013.
  19. ^ a b USDA Livestock Guarding Dogs Archived 27 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Coppinger, R. and L. Coppinger. 1995. Interaction between livestock guarding dogs and wolves. Pages 523–526 in L.N. Carbyn, S.H. Fritts and D.R. Seip, editors. Wolves in a changing world. Canadian Circumpolar Institute, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
  21. ^ Warrnambool City Council: "Penguin numbers up after world-first maremma trial" Archived 16 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^