If you saw our last post or glanced at our Facebook page the past few days you probably noticed that we have a dog. Not just any dog though, she's a ~6 month old Maremma that we hope will one day become a primary protector of our livestock (and ourselves, if need be). Her name is Sophie and since she's our first animal on the farm we're pretty obsessed with her. She's also very special to us because she was a gift from a friend of ours in NY that breeds Maremma's and that we were a long-time customer of at the farmer's market. It brought tears to our eyes when he offered us a pup as a going away present.
Maremma's (we discovered after a week of avid online research) are a very different breed of dog than your typical house dog. When we visited Italy we saw them in action guarding goats and sheep in the Abruzzese mountains. They appear similar in color and coat to Great Pyrennes (Pyrs), but are generally a bit smaller and lankier (at least from our observations). The females get to 80-100 lbs on average and the males will get a bit larger. I've seen Pyrs that are much larger than that and the Pyrs are typically bulkier as well. Maremma's do not typically seek afection from humans and can be quite shy for the first few days (or weeks/months) when transitioned to a new home. For people that grew up with house dogs this is very strange. When you get a new puppy you want it to crawl all over you and love you. You want to pet it and play with it and throw the ball for it. From what we read, and based on our experience with Sophie, Maremma's don't want that.
The first six days she was very quiet and reserved. She generally kept to herself and wouldn't budge if we tried to walk her on a leash. However, when left off the leash she would follow us everywhere. Walking out into the fields she'd keep a 30-50 foot radius and then come back every so often to touch base. Despite her apparent comfort and knowledge of her domain we decided to build a run for her at night just in case she got the urge to venture off and not come back. She's also only five months, so we're not quite comfortable that she could hold her own with the neighboring dogs.
Well, today we got the first glimpse of her true spirit. While I sat upstairs on a rainy day, setting up my home office, I saw a big white dog come galloping down the back pasture. At first I thought it was Sophie and I thought, "well, that's great, she took a little trip to the back pasture, at least she feels comfortable leaving the house vicinity by herself." And then I saw some black on the ears and the nose looked darker too. Then I saw that it was a much bigger dog and it was headed straight where Sophie had taken cover from the rain near our ramshackle barn. Our farm has been basically abandoned for the past 2-3 years, so the neighborhood dogs have each claimed their stakes of our land. I'd seen a few come over near our house during prior visits. I knew it was just a matter of time before one came to steal Sophie's food. I was just waiting to wake up in the night to a fight and jump out the back door to break up a fight.
So as the neighboring guard dog made it's way to the barn in the rain I wondered where Sophie was. She was hidden from view and I figured she was too scared to come out at challenge the bigger dog whose territory she probably thought this was. But just as he approached the side of the barn I saw her nose pop out. And then her coiled body emerged, fur standing on end, seemingly ready to attack. And then the first of her barks. Bark, bark, bark. Step by step, nice and slow she approached the trespassing canine and pushed him backwards toward where he came from. She jutted and charged and he took off down the fence line, far into the distance. Good girl, Sophie. Good girl. You're a guard dog now!