Have you ever seen one? The pastore abruzzese or the sheep dog of Abruzzo is also known as a Maremma and is the most common sheepdog found in Italy (especially in central Italy – Abruzzo and Tuscany). It’s history and presence is linked to the ancient tradition of sheep farming and the migration of sheep and shepherd from the mountains of Abruzzo to the grassy plains in Puglia. Over the centuries, from pre Roman times and onwards, the shepherds would leave the cold and harsh climate of the Apennines by October and head south on foot towards the area of Foggia where the climate was milder and better feed throughout the winter months. After about 8 months, with the onset of springtime it would be around May when they would walk back to Abruzzo.
Indispensable to this was the presence of several sheepdogs or Maremmas to protect the flock from the big bad wolf – the predator of the sheep. Often the dog would be fitted with a spiky metal collar (vreccale) around their neck to stop the wolf attacking the dog.
pastore abruzzese or Abruzzese sheepdog in the Apennines.
The characteristics of a this sheepdog is that it is a well balanced, loyal, reliable and a very protective dog. The Abruzzese sheepdogs have a typically black nose and longer hair than the ones in Tuscany.
Herds of sheep in the Maiella National Park – Maremmas are essential.
Abruzzese sheepdogs can be trained as a pet.
What a beautiful sheepdog.
.If you go to the Gran Sasso National Park in August, typically in the first weekend – there is a fabulous festival, or ‘blessing of the shepherds and sheepdogs’. It is a spectacular sight to behold when thousands of sheep, their shepherds and the sheepdogs quietly come down from the mountains to receive mass and a blessing. There are stalls and food (of course- we are in Italy!).
In Australia a marvellous experiment in 2010 has turned into a lifesaver for the penguin population of Middle Island in Victoria. They trained an Abruzzese sheepdog to protect and defend a dwindling flock of fairy penguins – amazing really. It has proven to be loyal and real protector against the foxes attacking the penguins. Alas no wolves there, but the little sly fox..
It is now the subject of an Australian film called “Oddball” the Maremma sheepdog who saves the day. I will have to search for this film definitely. Read here the latest article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
When you visit Abruzzo
you will have a chance to see these marvellous creatures in all their glory in the stunning setting and great backdrop that Abruzzo’s national parks offer. To find out more contact Luciana.