If you are looking for a dog breed to guard your livestock or help on your homestead, then there are two very similar breeds to consider for the job: The Maremma Sheep Dog (MSD) and the Great Pyrenees.
This article will explore the similarities and subtle differences between these breeds so you can decide which will be better for your situation.
Interested in how the Maremma Sheepdog and/or Great Pyrenees shapes up against some other breeds? Check out our guides below:
In This Article...
- Maremma Sheepdog vs Great Pyrenees : Similarities And Differences
- Maremma Sheepdog : Breed Profile
- Great Pyrenees : Breed Profile
- Which Is Better For You? Great Pyrenees Vs Maremma Sheepdog?
Maremma Sheepdog vs Great Pyrenees : Similarities And Differences
In fact, both of these livestock guardian breeds are quite similar in many ways. They share a similar look from a distance, although the Great Pyrenees does grow significantly larger. Both have medium to long coats with a thick double coat that will create a major shed a few times a year. To be kept indoors, both would need regular outdoor brushing to keep the house from becoming overtaken with shed fur.
In terms of exercise needs, it is safe to say that both benefit from moderate amounts of exercise, but in practice, most owners find them to be fairly laid back as long as they have a little outdoor room to roam and enough attention to keep them engaged when kept as family pets.
As guardians, both the Maremma and Great Pyrenees are territorial and careful to guard their flock (or family). The GP is the more aggressive of the two breeds when it comes to dealing with strangers or threatening animals, although both will deter predators such as coyotes and wolves from preying on their flock.
Many ranchers raise the puppies of either of these breeds around the young of the animals they are to protect, usually sheep, goats, and even cattle. They are naturally gentle with young animals and people alike, sensing quickly that young ones are their special charge.
Maremma Sheepdog : Breed Profile
The Maremma Sheepdog, also known as The Pastore Maremmano Abruzzese, is an old Italian breed dating back for centuries. Earliest written records of the likely ancestors of the breed go as far back as 2,000 years. It’s likely predecessors likely included the Tibetan Mastiff, also a predecessor of the GP. The breed was shaped in the field over the centuries as shepherds chose the best of their stock according to function and selectively bred for the perfect temperament, intelligence, and protective instincts.
In the 1970’s, this breed was imported into the United States as part of a program to study the ancient use of Livestock Guardian Dogs to balance the needs of ranchers and environmentalists in their struggles to protect dwindling populations of wolves and other natural predators. This pilot program was a success, and it led to a great increase in the use of this and other breeds of guardian dogs in the ranching industry.
You won’t find the Maremma Sheepdog in the AKC registry because it has not been formally accepted as a distinct breed. However, the breed standard is maintained by the Maremma Sheepdog Club of America and is recognized in the Guardian Dog group for the United Kennel Club and the Pastoral Group by the UK Kennel Club.
When it comes to their guarding style, the Maremma has been bred to work in numbers to discourage predators by offering an intimidating presence. In fact, they are known to be less aggressive with predators, usually chasing them off by simply letting predators know they are better off moving on with loud barking and an aggressive stance. In the field, Maremma are more likely to scare off predators without actually initiating a fight.
They are also known for having a major soft spot for young, injured, and vulnerable animals in their flock. Having a stronger drive for empathy with other creatures, some have found them to be a bit more preferable for family life with small children (although both breeds have a good reputation with kids).
Slightly smaller than their GP counterparts, the standard specifies 25.5 – 28.5 inches for males with females slightly smaller. In terms of weight, the male should be 77 – 99 pounds with females coming in at 66 – 88 pounds.
Coat And Appearance:
The Maremma Sheepdog and the Great Pyrenees have a similar look. The white coat of the Maremma is similarly medium long, double coated, and prone to shed quite a bit. Some have a slight lemon or ivory tint to their coat, but other colors in the coat are forbidden in the breed standard.
Health And Life Expectancy:
With an average lifespan of 12-14 years, the Maremma has a slightly better lifespan than the Great Pyrenees. However, they are prone to hip elbow dysplasia as well as some congenital eye problems such as cataracts and retinal disease. Careful screening for these conditions before breeding is important.
Great Pyrenees : Breed Profile
Bred to work in the rough terrain of the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, these guardian dogs have also been around for centuries and subject to selective breeding for their performance of duties in the field.
With larger predators such as wolves and bears to contend with, often without the direct supervision of their shepherds, the Pyrs does have a more aggressive and bold disposition and is more likely to be ready to engage in direct combat with a potential threat to his flock.
In addition to being known as a prized livestock guardian, the breed was also a dog of French royalty who prized the breed as a national symbol. Known as the Pyrenees Mountain Dog in most of Europe, this breed enjoys more popularity in most of Europe as well as the U.S. and Australia than does the Maremma Sheepdog.
Fun Fact: Fossil remains of this ancient breed have been found dating back to the bronze age
Bold, courageous, and protective are words that come to mind with this brave protector of livestock. Known to be a bit more headstrong that the MSD, this breed does benefit from some experienced handling. That being said, they are also known for being gentle with children and animals and can be quite affectionate.
They can become problem barkers and tend to be more active at night if kept in the field as guardians for livestock.
Larger than the MSD, the Pyr is significantly larger. The males tend between 110–130 pounds and 27–32 inches tall, with females slightly smaller.
Coat And Appearance:
A thick, usually white, double coat adorns this breed. They are particularly thick coated around the neck, a nice defense against predators. This can create a mane like appearance, particularly among the males. They are well suited to be outside even in cold conditions while a white coat keeps them from getting too warm in the summer of temperate zones, although shade should always be provided for working dogs outside.
Health And Life Expectancy:
A larger dog, the life expectancy of this breed is slightly shorter, coming in at 10-12 years. Health conditions to look out for include elbow and hip dysplasia, eye disorders, luxating patellas, and neurological and immune-mediated disorders. Tests for the dysplasias and patellas are recommended by the breed club before breeding responsibly.
Which Is Better For You? Great Pyrenees Vs Maremma Sheepdog?
The Great Pyrenees May Be The Best Breed For You If:
- You have a flock of sheep, goats, or cattle that you want to protect from nighttime predation from coyotes, wolves, or brown bears.
- You are looking for a guard dog who will be wary and potentially aggressive with both strange animals and strange people that wander on to your property.
- You are able to provide strong leadership to this sometimes stubborn and strong willed breed.
- You have a large property and are looking for a dog who will stay near the action rather than wander off on a scent trail.
The Maremma Sheepdog May Be The Best Breed For You If:
- You have a flock of ducks, geese, sheep, goats, or horses that you want to protect from nighttime predators such as coyotes, fox, or black bears. (For larger or more aggressive predators, the Great Pyrenees may be a better choice.)
- A little bit softer in temperament, this breed may be the better choice of the two for those new to dog ownership.
- You are looking for a large guard dog who will still be friendly with new people.
- You have small children and are looking for a gentle giant to add to your family.
Neither Breed Is A Good Fit For You If:
- You live in an apartment or have a small yard.
- Are looking for a dog with low grooming needs.
- You live in a very hot climate.
- You lack access to the outdoors for regular romps.