In episode 3 of our pet-friendly travel special, I was lucky enough to get up close and personal with the Middle Island Penguin Project Maremma Sheepdog ambassador dogs, Amor and Avis.
Whilst they are promoting an important conservation message, another message I hope people will take away from my visit and interview with the Project Co-ordinator Dr Patricia Corbett, is that whilst the Maremma Sheepdogs are well suited as guardian dogs in rural and large block locations, they simply don’t do well in suburbia.
About the Flock Guardian breed
As a Flock Guardian breed, traditionally they were employed as sentinels and defenders of sheep or goats. Today they are becoming popular protectors of livestock such as poultry, alpacas and, of course, even colonies of Little Penguins!
Flock Guardian breeds are designed to live permanently with animals under their protection, so as they have been bred to protect their flock or ‘family’ from predators they can be fearless and territorial, hostile towards unfamiliar people dogs and people.
Some Flock Guardian breeds can be gentle and make good house dogs, but others are unsure of city life and nervous in suburbia.
When it comes to the Maremma Sheepdog, they are one of the more friendly, well-balanced and affectionate breeds, loyal, brave and determined. For this reason, we do see some people choosing to have them as companion animals at home.
So, if you are considering this breed as a pet, then think about what they were bred to do and some of the behaviour issues you may see as a result. It is not a decision to be taken lightly.
The Maremma Sheepdog is suited to at a minimum a very large yard with lots of wide open space. This is what they are used to.
They need space – mentally and physically; if they are not working with an ‘active flock’, they need long, brisk, daily walks and the chance to run free a lot.
They can get along with other dogs and pets but can be reserved with strangers; people who are not welcome on your property will be stopped in their tracks.
As a pet they are not overly outgoing or attached like other dogs, but they will defend their house and master and are known to be very attentive with children.
Training and behavioural considerations
The Maremma Sheepdog is a highly intelligent breed and trainable, but they are not for the passive or inexperienced owner.
Firm and confident handling is a must, as is consistency in order for them to listen.
If they have been put to work protecting a flock, they won’t find it easy to follow your every command as they have been bred and trained to be independent.
As a breed designed to protect their flock, they are known to bark too of course. This is another reason why they don’t do well in suburbia and some of the usual training techniques used to address problem barking are not always going to be successful in this breed.
The Maremma Sheepdog all weather coat requires regular, thorough brushing and care should be taken when they are shedding.
They are not well suited for very hot conditions and, like double-coated breeds, their hair should never be shorn.
They need plenty of shade and water available on hot days, as do all dogs, but these guys in particular. For more tips on keeping your dog cool in the heat, click here.
If you watched my interview with Trish, you would have heard that she is studying a Certificate III in Certificate in Dog Training & Behaviour with the NDTF to help her work with breeds like the Maremma Sheepdog and becoming a firm, confident and consistent handler – something that all dogs, regardless of their breed and ‘job’ require.
If you’d like to find out more about the NDTF and how the course could help you with your own dog and training click here.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog training, minding and walking business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.