May I have your attention, please?
There is one thing Maremma sheepdogs are known for — aside, of course, from their excellent guardian traits.
It’s the barking.
Jaysus, when Bella starts to bark …
Why Maremma sheepdogs bark
Why not? That’s what dogs do. It’s the song of our people.
In Maremma sheepdogs, though, the bark is the first line of defense.
Maremmas will bark at anything they perceive to be a threat to their property. With working dogs trusted to protect livestock and flocks, those threats are four-legged predators, like wolves, coyotes and bears.
They bark to scare away threats. Or not scare away. Maybe annoy the crap out of.
Watch this one bear be all, “Ah my gawd, keep it down, would ya?”
In companion Maremmas, those threats can include the UPS truck, the FedEx truck, the USPS truck, the kids on skateboards, the kids on bicycles, the kids running, neighbors walking their dogs, neighbors walking, neighbors getting the mail, a plastic Safeway bag floating aimlessly past the window.
At 5 a.m., it’s usually the black cat. Or the orange tabby. Or a deer.
That’s about when my husband turns into the bear. Except he has nowhere to run.
The trouble with it all
You will read, hear and get told Maremma sheepdogs don’t belong in suburban and urban environments.
Many hopeful dog owners see the cute cottonball of a Maremma puppy and ignore the warnings.
Then the barking starts. And the neighbors complain.
(Luckily, the two Rottweilers on the corner, the Newfoundland around the block, the husky on the corner, the Pyratolian across the street and all the other dogs in my Spokane Valley neighborhood contribute to the cacophony. I live in Dogville, USA.)
It means, however, that the gorgeous little floof of a puppy — the one that grows up to be a 100-pound stubborn, independent dog that sheds a lot — is misunderstood as the asshole dog that won’t shut up and gets dumped at the city shelter.
And because Maremma sheepdogs trust their humans fearlessly and infinitely, they are broken. Left alone to wonder why.
They become defensive in caged situations and they can lash out. One bite to a shelter worker and that gorgeous floofball that was given up for barking too much is destroyed.
Ultimately, that’s why a lot of breeders won’t sell puppies to suburban and urban homes.
I get it. I really do.
First-time dog owners aren’t cut out for this. I wasn’t when Shep came into my life as a rescue and it’s why I’m dedicating these Monday posts to a bit of education about the breed.
To help people like me who, out of the goodness of their hearts, rescued an adult dog and had no idea what they were getting into.
Back to Bella
I have discerned at least 11 different barks from Bella.
- There’s someone on the street.
- It’s the UPS/FedEx/USPS truck.
- Jesus H. Christ, there’s somebody walking up the house!
- It’s another dog walking by. Hi, hi, hi, hi.
- Cat. Goddamn cat in my yard!
- Dad’s home.
- I would like to go outside and eat snow, please.
- I gotta pee.
- I GOTTA POOP.
- It’s dinner time and you’re late.
- It’s peanut butter time.
Each bark has a different cadence and tone to it. The third and fifth ones are her most terrifying. Like the-world-is-ending kind of stuff.
Also anything to do with food is really quite demanding. This is peanut butter time:
Honestly, that face.
She does bark a lot. And I know of at least two sets of neighbors who aren’t particularly happy about it when we’re all trying to enjoy our backyards in the summer. (Acreage in Montana, please?)
We manage it the best we can. We’ve been talking her through it for seven years.
“Bella, it’s OK.”
“Bella, look, it’s just Uncle Bill.”
And we thank her, for alerting us to real dangers, like the brats who like to play Nicky-Nicky-Nine-Doors. Like, it’s January … can’t you go play some video games in your basement?
(We both acknowledge that we did some stupid shit when we were kids but back then, we got our arses tanned for it.)
Husband gets far more frustrated by her barking than I do.
Because of those nine days in 2014 when there was no barking. No clicking of toenails on the ceramic floor. No demands for dinner.
I can’t get upset about her barking.
Because the silence of those nine days was deafening.
So I gently say to him, “There will come a day when there is no barking.”
And he becomes more patient with her.
The Soul Dog Journey Project
These stories of Bella, to be told every Monday in 2022, are part of the Soul Dog Journey Project, a mission by my friend Marika at @dirtiedogphotography in Seattle. After losing her Soul Dog, Kerouac, last year, she’s put together a 52-week project that gets us telling the stories of how we are connected to our dogs and what they bring to our lives.
Each week, there’s a new story prompt to get our creative juices flowing. This week’s prompt is “attention, please.”
Bella’s barking makes me smile. Her instincts as a Maremma sheepdog are strong and true. Her assertiveness gives me goals.
The girl knows what she wants and, dammit, she’s gonna get it.
Don’t be shy. Tell me in the comments about how your dog gets your attention. And if you’ve found yourself here because you have Maremma sheepdogs that bring you a deeper connection than you’ve ever known, well, you just know.