Friday, 11 September 2015

Learning about Guardian Dogs - What is a Maremma?

We are getting rather excited in this house. Next week an Australian movie called "Oddball" is going to be showing in cinemas.  It's about a dog called Oddball.  Oddball is a Maremma Sheepdog/Guardian Dog. Most people have never heard of the breed before. 

We have our very own Maremma and he is just beautiful.  They are a very special breed of dog and are more human (and domestic cat) than dog I think.  They are not a common breed and are not a breed well suited to being a domestic pet in the suburbs (please don't think they are just like a Labrador and easy to have as pets - they are a huge handful) so when you end up with one, it's not common to see them around, let alone in a movie, and you get a tad excited.  My son thought other kids needed to know all about them and should watch the movie and so sat with me to help write this post. 

This movie is a based on a true story. Maremma's are being used to protect penguin colonies (like on this movie) and even colonies of bandicoots.  Will be great for the kids to see I think.  We can't wait!  

Movie Trailer for Oddball.

There is a lot of information about the Middle Island Maremma project online and well worth some investigation if you'd like your children to learn about it before seeing the movie.

Click here to read an article about the story and the movie.

Click here for the Projects Facebook Page
And Click here for more information on the project.

This is a link to click for information on the Bandicoot Bodyguard project using Maremma Guardian dogs.
How is a Maremma different to other dogs? 

They are bred to be livestock guardians. 
They are instinctively protective of their flock. They don't round them up like a cattle dog or a Border Collie. They guard them.  If you put them with chickens, sheep, alpaca, goats, etc then they guard them becoming part of the flock.  They live out in the fields, are nocturnal and sleep during the day and are alert and on watch at night for predators. They also take on behaviors and traits of the animal they are bred to guard. A regular dog either squats (female) or raises its leg (male) to urinate.  A Maremma just stands, legs spread a little wider than normal, and urinates just like a sheep would.  Their tail hangs straight down like a sheep's does too, only raising up in a defensive position when alerted. They have thick fur that when left out in the elements resembles a sheep's fleece from distance. They are difficult to spot in a flock and this camouflage helps surprise predators. 

A Maremma and his flock.

What happens when you have a Maremma as a pet? 

Well the family becomes the flock. Your other pets also become part of their flock.
If you have other dogs they will then wag their tail. Our boy doesn't wag unless he is happy and wanting attention, which is when our other dog wags the most.  He learned to do this as was around 6 months old before this behaviour was adapted.  We also have an old cat.  So our Maremma will lick his paws and clean his face and ears just like the cat does. He will sleep where the cat does and in the same positions. Often waking, looking to check the cats position then copying and going back to sleep.  He will allow the cat to interrupt his dinner time and allow the cat to eat from his bowl while he waits patiently for him to leave so he can resume and eat what is left. 

Little and large 'cat' balls. 

My son is who he is most protective of.  When we are doing school work he will follow us to where ever we are to sit and keep watch.  Each time my son moves, the dogs eyes follow.  He will sleep but as soon as my son fidgets or moves, gets up, makes noise etc, the dogs eyes open to check all is ok.

Homeschool in session with student and companion.

It all sounds very cute, and boy oh boy do they look even cuter, but there are things to be careful of.  If we go to a park we will muzzle our boy.  Why?  Well I once read a great description of a Maremma, which said "Friendly with family, wary of strangers".  It is so very true.  I would trust him with my life and to protect my son without hesitation or concern. But I know his job is to warn off others. If it was just myself and the dog he is open to being given a pat (after looking to me to check if I will allow it), but if my son or our other dog was approached by other people or other dogs, the protective nature kicks in and he will growl and bark and assert his dominance. Due to his large size, people can get very frightened by a dog barking wanting to come towards them and standing so tall. He will position himself in front of my son where he can. Always on guard. 

Our Holiday photo - My Maremma 2yrs, my son 7yrs, my Collie 3yrs 

In most breed information documents, they are described in the 'Giant' size range (think St. Bernard, Great Dane) with weight ranges for females between 30 - 45kgs and males between 40 - 70kgs (our boy is 55-60kg depending on the seasons), and average standing height of 75cm. In an Australian summer we get our boy clipped (as seen in the above photo) but in winter they have a very thick double coat which can add a lot of weight to them (and width LOL).  When they stand up on hind legs, like at a fence to see over, they can easily look down on someone 6 ft tall. 

My Maremma and my Border Collie as 10 week old pups.

The above photo shows you the difference in size between our Border Collie and our Maremma. Both photographs were taken at 10 weeks old.  Trust me when I say the food bill is not small.

Cuddling his pillow just like his boy aka my son.

They sleep a lot. They are not a high energy dog. As mentioned earlier they are more alert and awake at night and are described as nocturnal so sleep a lot during the day.  If you are not on a farm leaving them outside with a flock, and are in the suburbs where you and your family are their flock then do not leave them outside at night if you want to get any sleep.  They will bark at every sound to warn you.  If you have them inside where they can see you peacefully sleeping, they will sleep soundly inside and possibly snore LOL. They will also copy your sleep positions and demand a pillow to cuddle as pictured above LOL.  Having a child with ASD and other medical conditions, he is up a few times a night for various reasons. I am alerted at night to any stirring or waking of my son by my Maremma barking to wake me.  He will bark to wake me if the power goes off, if the other dog needs to go outside or any strange activity in the neighbourhood that even the dogs at those homes don't hear.  

However don't confuse 'not a high energy dog' who sleeps a lot, with easy.  They get very bored if left alone in a backyard. They need a companion or something to guard. As we homeschool, he has us around a lot to guard. When we are out he has our other dog to guard. You will often find him patrolling the perimeter of the backyard, pacing the fence line every hour to make sure all is safe on the home front. 

They are Italian (Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese) in heritage and similar breeds include the Pyrenean Mountain Dog (or Great Pyrenees) from France, the Kuvasz of Hungary, the Tatra of Poland and the Cuvac of Slovakia.  

If your children would like to see another movie starring one of these lovely dogs, check out:
Santa Buddies

The Search for Santa Paws
Santa Paws 2 - The Santa Pups

My Maremma wearing his Santa hat well.

  All three of these Disney Santa Paws movies have a Great Pyrenees as Santa Paws and Puppy Paws (they have bigger/lower hanging jowls on the face).  It is actually also a good way for children to see the differences between a Labrador pup and one of these breed of pups. Actually it will help you too. So many of these pups are sold in pet stores as Labrador or Golden Retriever pups as they can look similar to the untrained eye. But 3 months down the track you have a much larger handful than you bargained for.  It is for this reason that so many are handed to shelters and need to be re-homed. Maremma Rescue was established to help with re-homing these amazing animals and to help with educating the public on how to care for them. 

I hope this blog post has given you some knowledge on the Maremma Guardian dog if you didn't know much about them before.  My son is happy that I wrote this with him anyway so from that perspective it's been worth writing.  I hope you get the chance to watch Oddball the Movie too and learn about the amazing project on Middle Island off Warnambool in Victoria, Australia. 

My big sooky beautiful 'baby' of the family. 

1 comment:

  1. I love your post, and definitely will watch the movie. Thanks for sharing