I am often asked this question by potential LGD owners trying to do their due diligence in researching LGD breed traits and assessing their needs as owners. This research is complicated by the fact that conflicting information abounds. Many potential owners like the idea of being responsible for only one dog. Over the years, and based on my experience with many, many Maremmas, I have developed strong opinions about this issue so I will share them with you here.
Here are the facts:
Canines are social creatures
These facts are undeniable. If you bring an LGD into your life without accepting that these facts exist, and adjust your expectations and management of the dog accordingly, you are likely to be frustrated and disappointed in your relationship with your new LGD. I can tell you that if you are feeling frustrated the dog likely is too, and he is probably confused and quite possibly frightened because of the “corrections” that often come from the owner while the dog is trying to do his job and understand his world in the only way he knows how. There is a regrettably high rate of failure for LGDs due to behavior problems that often stem from a lack of understanding and acceptance of the two facts stated above. Dogs often pay a very high price for having learned behaviors that are incompatible with their owner’s expectations and are relinquished to rescues, shelters, or euthanized. With an owner’s realistic expectations and appropriate training support of an LGD it is possible for the dog to thrive in the working environment for which he is genetically designed and for the owner to be delighted with this new addition to the farm!
I believe Maremmas should be allowed to work in pairs. I know that the quality of life for a pair of dogs is high, that they are safer from predators because a predator with other options is unlikely to take on a pair of large noisy guardians, and I know a pair of dogs is more likely to meet the needs and expectations of the owner, provided proper management and training is offered the dogs.
I am committed to that premise to the extent that I will not place my puppies in single working dog situations.
LGDs kept as single working dogs often exhibit these behaviors:
They bark excessively
They “play” with livestock or become aggressive with livestock
They guard resources (people, food bowls, sleeping space, etc.) excessively and inappropriately
They become aggressive towards household pets
They climb fences or dig under and leave their appropriate territory
Dogs that do these behaviors are letting their owners know that something in their life situation isn’t working for them. If you have the wisdom to purchase two dogs, put them in the field with the livestock you want them to be responsible for, and then just walk away, problems are still likely to occur.
For the first two years (at least) of a Maremmas’ life participation of the owner and management of the environment is critical to the dogs’ success, and the safety of the livestock they live with. A pair of happy working dogs is far less likely to develop these behavioral issues. I absolutely believe that raising a pair of dogs appropriately is easier than trying to convince one dog to do a good job working alone.