We purchased our first Maremma, Marco, in the summer of 2019 after we started to lose our free range chickens to a persistent fox family and hawks. Unfortunately, upon bringing Marco home at 6 months old, we noticed he stood with an odd posture and was slow to rise and lay down. Shortly after, he started making a high pitched noise (like a scream) when he took off running after predators. Marco completed x-rays with our local vet at 9 months old, which showed bilateral hip dysplasia. An orthopedic specialist opined the way his condition presented on x-rays combined with the severity at such a young age, was highly likely to be congenital (genetic) and not from an injury or other environmental factors. Marco completed PennHIP and Provisional OFA at one year old to double check the diagnosis. Both of the evaluations confirmed Marco had hip dysplasia with moderate osteoarthritis already set in as if he was an elderly dog.
As a result, in late 2019, we added two structurally sound and registered Maremmas to our farm: Dam Eureka Sammie June and Sire Benson Ranch Giovane (pronounced Jo-va-nay). Our original Maremma, Marco, was neutered when he turned 18 months to prevent any accidental breedings. Marco remains on modified duty in an attempt to preserve his hips as long as possible. With our Maremmas out patrolling 24/7, we have yet to lose another chicken to predators. They also keep our potbellied pigs, goats, mini cows, and barn cats safe. Our neighbors frequently post on Nextdoor about foxes and coyotes out and about, taking small pets. We rarely see any predators on our property anymore thanks to our wonderful Maremmas acting as deterrents.
Our experience with Marco fostered a desire to breed better working dogs that were not crippled in pain or reliant on pain relievers for the duration of their lives. In consultation with our vet, we structured our breeding program to have PennHIP completed on all our puppies at 16 weeks old to assure they are homed with healthy hips. Both of Marco's parents were owned by a MSCA Code of Ethics breeder, registered, and had completed OFA hip testing with passing scores, yet Marco and at least one other sibling (from a later litter) have tested positive for hip dysplasia. Hip testing the dam and sire does not mean the puppies will be free from hip dysplasia! Make sure the breeder you choose is forthcoming about this possibility. PennHIP can be done as early as 16 weeks old; research shows PennHIP is a reliable and valid evaluation for dogs at this age and older.
Some breeders will claim hip testing can injure the hips since they need to be placed in a certain position. The research shows this is unlikely; vets are skilled in x-ray procedures and don't yank and pull on the legs, they gently position dogs for the procedure. All vets that perform PennHIP must complete and pass a training on the procedure to become certified. Ask your vet if you can watch one of their x-rays, or at least have them talk through their x-ray process, and confirm for yourself if still uncertain about the safety.
Some breeders also argue that Maremmas are sensitive to anesthesia, which is used for PennHIP. While this might have been an issue several years ago, modern veterinary practice has advanced and there is little (of course never zero) risk in using anesthesia with LGDs. We've talked extensively to our vet and he has indicated that within the last few years anesthesia has come so far that they no longer even worry about using sedation in elderly dogs. If you've had dogs for a while, you know that anesthesia used to be a big "no way" for older dogs due to significant risk for fatality. Don't fall for these unfounded arguments from breeders. We are more than willing to provide you with published research on the safety of hip testing. We would never intentionally place our dogs in unsafe or compromising positions. We have read everything we can get our hands on to make informed decisions based on science.
We chose the Maremma as we wanted a breed of livestock guardian dog (LGD) that gave ample warning barks before engaging with a predator. Some breeds of LGDs are quicker to take down an intruder. Waiting to bite is important to us as we have neighbors that frequently walk past our property, and kids that stick their hands through our fencing. We wanted our LGD to tell these individuals to back up, but not attack unless the person(s) actually came on our property without permission and then still refused to leave. If the person does not heed the warning, our Maremmas corner the individual on the property and force the individual to retreat through intimidation. We require this level of protection due to frequent stock theft in our area. Livestock is not cheap to replace.
The same goes for non-human predators. The Maremma makes their presence known through barking as a deterrent for animals to stay away from the property. As the sun sets every night, our Maremmas engage in about five minutes of barking as a reminder to stay away. While all LGDs will bark as a warning, some breeds will wait until they can see the predator or their stock is actually threatened. Our Maremmas start barking when they smell or hear something miles away. They always have their noses pointed up sniffing the air. They have done such a good job with deterrence that rarely has a predator stepped foot on our property in four years. This allows us to live in harmony with nature instead of having dogs that collect a pile of bones every night.
While this last point is debatable, anecdotally Maremmas stay close to their stock and are less prone to wander. We have definitely found this to be true as our three Maremmas are always laying with the stock, rarely leave their side, and do not show any desire to escape from our property. Will a Maremma still wander if your fence falls down or your gate is left open? Most definitely. However, our experience is they do not have that innate urge to try to widen their territory when proper boundaries and secure fences are in place. This is our personal experience and the experience of other Maremma breeders we have talked to, not a 100% truth. There will always be individual differences within a litter, and a chance your Maremma will love to wander should you give them the opportunity.
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