So let’s talk about a perfect world. As I think back over the years and my experiences with the dogs there are some aspects common to their success. This begins with the specific space they occupy, exclusive of livestock. This issue is rock solidly fundamental to how Maremmas see their world and what they are comfortable with. Anyone I have spoken with about Maremmas has heard this speech from me, and you will see it in writing many times.
Maremmas own the ground they stand on, as defined for them by the fence line surrounding them. LGDs feel responsible for the management of this ground from very early in their lives. When a Maremma enters a field new to him, he’ll stop and take a look around. Then he will immediately head to the left or the right and do a perimeter check of the whole field, often without pause. His nose will go down, his tail will lilt and be carried straight out behind him. He’ll stand tall, and his gait will be loose but purposeful. This is the posture of a dog you have not asked too much of.
Remember, these are puppies, not experienced working dogs. They see themselves as capable and exhibit clear working behaviors. Care must be taken to support their early confidence. We have cultivated these instinctual traits by carefully and incrementally increasing the level of responsibility they are introduced to and our participation with them as they explore and learn to own these new areas.
I watch the body language of the pups very carefully. A pup who carries himself as I have described, is in an area of an appropriate size for him to learn in at his age and skill level. However, a pup who is overwhelmed shows body language that is quite different.
A frightened pup will carry himself low to the ground and hang to the edges of the field. His back will be rounded, and his tail curled somewhat under him. He’ll almost look as if he’s trying to be invisible. That pup needs support now. You, as the owner and (hopefully, if you are lucky and work at it) partner of this pup, have responsibilities too. This is what that should look like.
The “perfect” first ground for the pups in their new home is at the hub of activity, but they should not feel overwhelmed by it. The pups need a place to retreat to. The area should be small enough that it feels manageable to them easily, but in view of property they ultimately will guard, or will feel inclined to be aware of and be watchful over.
This very first area should not have livestock in it, but at least a few said critters should share the fence line. Removing livestock from a pup who feels confidence and pride in working may be perceived as punitive by the pup, but too, you don’t want to overwhelm a pup in a new situation, so strive for balance.
Often the transition period can be tougher for the livestock than the pups, so it is important to give the livestock time to consider these canine interlopers in a safe and non-confrontational situation. The last thing your new pups need is to be rolled by the livestock they are looking forward to getting to know.