This is a working, producing ranch. The dogs are here primarily in their very important role as guardians to our Miniature Donkeys, mini cows, sheep, goats, and even chickens and a turkey. Prior to their arrival we had losses to mountain lions; once from a field right off our lawn. We also have coyotes and the occasional bear. Since the guard dogs have been working we don’t even find the tracks of such predators. One of the aspects I most appreciate of the livestock guardian situation is that the dogs allow me to feel safe about raising my livestock, and the natural predators in the area can continue to live their productive lives as well. Mountain lions, in particular, are magnificent animals and I do not want to see them have to be killed for me to pursue my dreams of ranching. I feel a respect for them, and after all, I moved into their backyard and encroached on their territory. They have a place in the ecosystem, and so do I. The presence of the dogs brings us harmony and a lack of violence.
We selected the Maremmas as our breed of choice because of their gentle temperament. The Maremma registry web site says a successful Maremma should be attentive, protective, and trustworthy. This has certainly been our experience of them. Our dogs are soulful and friendly. They come to check in with me when I enter their fields and get their snuggle time. Then they happily go right back to their herd or flock. When they perceive a threat it’s almost like they flip a switch and turn into a totally different dog. They are formidable! In most situations the presence of the dogs; their perimeter checks, scent marking, and their periodic barking, serve as a deterrent to predators. The predators go looking for an easier meal! I have no doubt that these dogs would attack whatever threatened their livestock. It is said that the mark of a great guardian dog is that he makes you think you may not really need him because you see no evidence of predators. In the heat of the day the dogs often lie around looking a lot like white carpet. They may even appear lazy. But when evening comes and I go to bed and close my eyes these incredible dogs get up and go to work. I can shine a spotlight on the fields and see the dogs doing perimeter checks in the middle of the night. They do bark, and I do hear them, and some nights are nosier than others, for instance if the coyotes are close. But oddly enough the barking does not annoy me because when I hear them I feel like they’ve got my back. They are vigilant while I sleep. That is soooo comforting to me.
If you would like to know more about guardian dogs, and this incredible breed, I would suggest you start by reading about them on the Maremma registry web site.
That address is: http://www.maremmaclub.com/maremma-sheepdogs.html
Not everyone should own a Maremma. They are complex and specialized dogs. Through education potential buyers may have a better feel for what living with a Maremma is like and have more realistic expectations of them. While these dogs are largely self taught, an owner certainly can set them up for success or for failure, sometime unknowingly. The club does sponsor a Maremma rescue; through education hopefully fewer dogs will need rescue homes.
I am passionate about promoting health testing for Maremma breeding dogs. A breeder can evaluate a potential breeding dog’s character, his aptitude as a working dog, and his conformation, by living with him. By taking advantage of the comprehensive health testing available for hip and elbow dysplasia, and for eye and heart genetic flaws, a breeder can select for breeding only those individuals who can contribute favorably to the Maremma gene pool based on the strength of observation and health testing. Breeding any animal comes with great responsibility.
As a breeder I offer a health testing incentive to my buyers. I offer compensation of $100 to any buyer of our pups upon proof of PennHIP certification, or $50 upon proof of OFA certification, whether that dog is to be used as a breeding dog or not. This has benefits to the buyer, me as the breeder, and to the dog in question. As a breeder this will give me good feedback on how strong my breeding program is – a report card, if you will. The owner of the dog will know what level of responsibility the dog is suited to based on hip and elbow evaluation, and if the dog has breeding potential.
It is possible to see the statistics for Maremmas that have had OFA health tested by going to the OFA web site. When I first did this I was amazed at how few Maremmas have been tested. I believe this statistical information is of great importance in protecting the future of this breed as genetically healthy.
I look forward to see participation in the OFA and PennHIP programs rise and will do my part in an effort to see that happen!