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Soul Dog: Maremma sheepdogs bark a lot … like, a lot

    Bella hiking at Mt. Spokane State Park

    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 …

    Maremma sheepdogs make beautiful puppies
    Bella hiking the Okanagan as a puppy

    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.)

    Bella and my husband out for a walk
    When she was just a babe

    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.

    Author

    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

    8 thoughts on “Soul Dog: Maremma sheepdogs bark a lot … like, a lot”

    1. Enjoyed your story We have a 9 month old female “Lily”
      We live on Vancouver Island. She is one of Cliff Trudeau’s pups from WShington!
      Love her to bits.

    2. My big boy Spenser is ‘sir barks lot’ and when he wants attention he puffs and barks . At night mainly, but anytime really he puffs n barks to scare off the possums and darkness or anything that moves really . He patrols the garden with his barks then comes back with a big maremma smile . He likes to have play time too where is literally falls on top of his human and sloths around. Getting to know his barks now . This was very helpful

    3. I LOL’d for real reading this. I fosterfailed on a rescue in June 2021 named Davis (likely Maremma/G Pyr) and I’m learning to identify his different barks. Right now, for example, I’m listening to: “THERE IS A BUNNY IN THE YARD GO GO GO!” I’ve learned to check what he’s barking at, acknowledge it, and tell him whether there’s something to be concerned about. I bring some treats and we practice different obedience commands right after to help reset his brain. It’s not a perfect system and some days it’s A LOT but he is absolutely worth it.

    4. Our Maremma is named Lusta (probably the worst name for her because she is anything but). I saw her at a local shelter and she was beautiful. I was positive she would be adopted right away. When I returned a few weeks later she was still there. She was severly depressed and had to be carried out by two staff members to use the bathroom and usually did not get up.I felt so bad for her and I already had two large hearding dogs that were rescued in a townhome and I said “whats another one going to hurt”. After 3 days of being depressed at my home, the real Lusta came out…she dragged me around, barked non stop and would get out of any gate (we used gates instead of crates so they would be together and have a bit more room to move about). She gets along great with my kids and our cats. I own a home in the country now with a large yard to run around in and most of the time she prefers to sleep outside and keep watch. She isnt agressive unless someone shows agressive behavior so she normally just barks alot inside when we have visitors.She barks when someone comes to the property and it becomes different if they come to the door. If i allow her to socialize with the visitor she usually just wants to be pet non stop and hogs the attention. Outside, if any animal, human, vehicle is in the area she flips out aside from the neighbors dogs which she has seemed to become friends with. Her bark is very different with them and they bark back and forth as though having a conversation. Aside from protecting and alerting us, she does not bark but what she perceives as protection is mostly non stop barking when outside. She is also very stubborn and smart. She can get out of every gate we have had internally and externally. I have made extra accomodations to my front gate so that she stops opening it and getting out, however she always comes back after a good run around the neighbors farm and cemetary in the scary events she does get out. And for those curious…Lusta is hungarian for Lazy…named for her demeanor in the pound and i couldnt have been more wrong.

    5. Hi.

      We to have a Bella and boy can she bark. We got her as rescue dog a few years ago. She was on her fourth home and needed to be re-homed as then owners could not cope with her barking. We live in rural New Zealand and she was our fourth maremma. We think she likes the sound of her own bark. I have found that if you praise the dog and tell them that they are doing a good job barking at whatever they are perceive as a threat then they tend to stop or at least bark less. We love the breed to bits, like most maremma owners we cannot see life without them.

    6. MIchael Kenneth Cowan

      Am about to pick up a Maremma male pup…8 weeks old…in two days…we are in rural Queensland…sub tropics…and shall train him as a companion dog..am approaching 73…puppy/dog will be incentive for me to walk much more…any advice most welcome…Cheers…Michael

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