Working Maremma

Here at Sallson over the past 20 years we have been very lucky to have been able to observe and live with these dogs working with a variety of different animal species under many different conditions and they have become an indispensable part of our lives.

The year before they came to live with us we lost over 100 lambs and since then we have never ever lost a single animal due to any kind of predator. We have learned that success with a working Maremma depends on three things. The natural instinct born into the dog. Proper socialisation and bonding and Fitness for function.

Compromising on any of these is not conducive to having a working dog which is dependable and doing the most effective job for which the breed has been intended to do.

Natural Instinct

First and foremost you need to source your dogs from a breeder who is using their dogs for work and is selecting dogs for their working ability as a priority. You can be assured that a Sallson Maremma has strong working lines and that selecting for this natural instinct is a definite primary goal in our breeding program.

Sallson only breed MDBA registered pedigreed dogs as this enables us to see not only the story of the dogs we are considering breeding with but also the work and health of the ancestors. It enables us to share information on our dogs with other breeders so they too can use detailed information when selecting their breeding dogs.

The Master Dog Breeders and Associates breed registry pedigree data base helps us to do this more efficiently than traditional purebred dog registries. In this way we can be sure we are using healthy, well temperamented dogs with strong working lines.

When we profile our pedigrees we take into account all qualifications and particulars for the dog and not just how many dog show champions are in their ancestry as is the case with traditional registered pedigrees. We do not believe selection for the show ring and breeding dogs which are untested for working ability is in the best interests of the breed.

Training/bonding

From the outset you have to understand that training a Maremma is much different to methods which are used to train dogs for other common canine activities such herding, hunting, obedience agility etc. Training involves raising the dog with the animal you intend it to guard which establishes the bond between them with very little interaction with humans or any other species of animal. Attempting to short cut this is not advisable.

You need to watch them and be ready to correct unsuitable bad habits developing to ensure the dog fits in with your expectations and how you manage your property. The result is a dog which is dependable, trustworthy with their animals, protective and attentive.

Maremma will show behaviours to the animals they are working with which are usually lost in puppyhood in most other non-guarding breeds and they like to follow routines. They bark when something new approaches, they show no predatory behaviour and will often lick the muzzle of adults, play wrestle with other dogs as more often seen in puppies. They have been selected to show submissive and investigating behaviours to the animals they are working with in order to build trust and be non – threatening. This is much different to other working dogs which are expected to stand their ground, eye ball the animals they are working with etc. Some new owners who are used to herding breeds are concerned at the submissive behaviour their new pup will show when it first arrives home when in fact this is normal Maremma behaviour.

Initially the training focuses on building a bond with the species of animals the dog will be working with but it should be remembered with animals which are not used to the guardian dogs that training the animals as well as the dog is part of the process. You don’t need to be concerned about the dog accepting the animals but depending on the species the animals may take some time to accept the dog.

When a dog is bonded at a young age to a particular species they prefer to be with that species their entire life and young animals which have been raised with the dog usually demonstrate attachment behaviours to the dog for life. This bonding process requires keeping the dog in a confined area with some of the species it will be working with. Simply putting it in a paddock with these animals can sometimes see more playing and chasing which needs to be corrected.

It is really important to place your pup with your animals and don’t allow it access to the house, other types of animals and limit handling by people. If you are taking more than one or if you have other dogs don’t allow them access to these dogs including their litter mates for more than short periods each day. You will need to pen your dog with the animals it will be working with preferably for 12 to 16 weeks.

If the animals it is bonding with will be staying on the property for a long time you can leave the same animals with the dog for the entire time but many farmers like to rotate the animals to get them all used to the dog. Ensure you have food shelter and water in the pen for all of the animals and if possible place food etc around the outside of the pen to encourage other animals of the same species to come up to the fencing and meet the dog.

Let the pup out of the pen several times a week for short periods for some exercise and to grow accustomed to a wider area. When the pup has been locked up with the species you are bonding it with for around 12 weeks you can open the gate to the penned area and your pup should now follow the animals into the wider area and mingle with the other animals. It’s a good idea to pen it for about another 4 weeks at night with several of the species it is working with. You are watching for the dog to want to stay with the animals rather than following you.

You want the dog to be human friendly to enable workers and family to interact and work with it without fear of being seen as the enemy but human dog interaction needs to be limited to feeding times or when you are checking your animals but restrict patting when it is in the pen or in the middle of the paddock.

Obedience training is not recommended for a working dog as this encourages the bond the dog will develop with humans and all training is lost when it is turned onto a threat etc and the natural instinct takes over anyway. There will be a variety of needs for management of the dog depending on what species it is working with, the size of the property, the numbers the dog is working with and the type of predators it needs to guard against.

Of course on a few acres where the dog is expected to guard several different species including the humans the entire process will be handled differently. Further information on dogs in various situations and hobby farm type situations is available on request and part of our information for puppy buyers. 

Fit for function                                   

Your breeder also needs to be taking into account possible genetic and health conditions as well as temperament of the parents and relatives to ensure you get a great dog which will cope with all conditions, and environments and also be fit for the job for many years with great quality of life. Taking note of the breed standard which has been intrinsic in selection with roots back over 2000 years and has developed a breed most suitable physically for the work it needs to do is also an important part of selecting the best stud stock.

The physical characteristics are what enable it to have the gait, stamina and vision and reactions and other breed standard characteristics most effectively. If people breed these dogs without due consideration to the breed standard then its ability to do what it has been bred to do will erode just as much as it will if the ability for it to work is overlooked for its success in the show ring. Even slight differences in bone length ratios and angulations impact on the dog’s ability to move as it is supposed to in order to work effectively as it changes the gait.

Less pigment is a disaster for an Australian working dog where lighter noses and less pigment around the eye create issues with sunburn and insect bites when they live in paddocks with the animals they are charged with protecting. We believe the way the conformation show ring is taking the breed is not in its best interests and this is why our puppies will receive MDBA registered pedigrees in the belief that more than simply its show ring success should be recorded.

Potential problems and how to avoid them

Again I will say you need to source your dogs from a breeder who is using their dogs for work. The reality is that you get what you select for in any breeding program and if things other than working ability are seen as a priority in selection of breeding stock over this then over time these natural instincts are diminished. Lessons should be learned from other breeds where working lines now barely resemble bench lines and bench lines are no longer capable of doing the work as effectively as they should.

There are some breeders who live in suburbia with their Maremma with no idea of whether they have a strong working ability and these dogs should be overlooked for breeding regardless of whether they are conformation champions or not in our opinion. Many problems develop because people have attempted to short cut the training and bonding period or they have not followed the basic guidelines.

Play Behaviour

Young dogs may decide to play with the animals they are guarding the same way they do with litter mates. This behaviour usually passes by 12 to 18 months old but in my opinion it is completely unacceptable and needs to be something to be aware of and take action with immediately in the event you see it happening. You will see the dog display typical come play behaviour and if the animal runs a play chase occurs. This is never O.K. and needs to be corrected as part of the training. Management of this behaviour is available on request.

Wandering and Fence jumping

This can be an issue and it is usually caused by confusion over where their boundary ends, but also seeking human company when the animal has been patted too much etc, or not understanding that they are only supposed to be watching their own animals.
For example one dog may go over a neighbour’s fence to guard their sheep as well as yours. Ensuring that you keep patting and human interaction to a bare minimum during its bonding term prevents them wanting to leave their charges and return to the house or to seek out human company.

Mind you no one wants a large animal which they can’t handle or control so some interaction is good. Just don’t feel sorry for it and bring it in to sleep in the house. In states where it is legal to hav an electric fence this is a good quick solution for a dog which is going over or through fences and quickly teaches the dog to avoid all fences or a yoke or dangl stick made from poly pipes is also is a good solution as well.

Newborn animals

It’s a good idea to supervise your dog when it is first exposed to its first breeding season to ensure it doesn’t make mistakes.
Eating the placentas is normal and there is no concern with this causing future
harmful behaviours.

Stalking behaviour

A word of warning; stalking behaviour with body language like a border collie with a crouch and a lowered head is not only unacceptable it is also uncorrectable. This is a genetic trait of herding dogs and is very undesirable in any livestock guardian. This dog should be replaced and certainly never ever used for breeding. This is a major argument against cross breeding or for breeding with dogs which have not shown they are capable of doing the required job expected of a guardian.