The main rule of animal husbandry, and before that of the Nature itself, is that "Form follows Function", and under this aspect, the Maremma sheepdog is a livestock guardian. Hence, who could define the shape, the size, the type, the character of a Maremma better than the shepherds themselves could?
Consequently, the second rule is that dog shows shall control and identify the correspondence of certain breed characteristics according to the functions it was bred to fulfill. This is to be done by verification and exaltation of the “master model” that is never to be adopted to the passing fashion trends of one generation. The breed standard for the Maremma that is still in force today, even though with some slight modifications, was ratified by the FCI in order to fit with other existing standards, setting dimesions, proportions and other prescriptions that were not invented but obtained observing dogs working with livestock.
The first standard, in fact, dates as far as 1924, age when all of the Maremma population was used exclusively as livestock guardian, not as “garden decoration” as happened in the 50th. The sample of the specimen selected to create those first standard was not bred by competitive breeders, but by shepherds who chose their dogs only based on their utility. By the way, the shepherd of almost a century ago (and not the perfectly manicured owner of the livestock herd entrusted on Albanians or Macedonians, as happens today), knew exactly that the dog had to be sturdy, yes, but also to be able to follow the sheep, 24/7 365 days a year, on all soil and in any weather. He knew that excessively huge dogs could not master the agility and endurance required in a livestock guardian. If the shepherds needed a heavy-weight animal, the dog experts of the 20th would have found a different kind of breed.
During my excursions in the Abruzzo and Apulia regions in the 80th I observed exactly this fact, namely that all the livestock guardians were not as huge and heavy as some of the dog breeders of that time liked to describe. More recently, I’ve had the confirmation of this idea by the shepherds of Sicilia and Sila who select their dogs for being strongly boned and big in size, but never compromising the endurance and a certain agility. Let’s be honest, the face-to-face encounters that led to fights between the shepherding dogs and the wolves have always been much too rare in order for the shepherds to select dogs apt to combat. The only data that we have on wolf killings in the Central Appenines Region are by Umberto D'Andrea: from 1810 to 1924, the dogs (always in a pack and never a single dog alone) have had a role in only 8% of the wolf killings (and only cubs under 10 months old).
Having said that, it s true that nowadays there are huge and heavy Maremma sheepdogs, that may have their place in a colonial house or a kennel where the daily tasks are similar to those that were once entrusted upon Corso or Mastino Napoletano. But no shepherd in the world would have ever thought of bringing them along during the transhumance when dogs and sheep had to walk for days. The white shepherd dog is exceptionally unique because it his work has always been unique.
Obviously, it doesn’t mean that the opposed vision of the breed is true: light bones structure, fox head, narrow chest, poodle coat, as neither of these characteristics would consent to survive in the shepherding environment.
The rumour that the current breed standard shall be adopted to represent a higher, very heavy dog, with changed skull/muzzle proportions, thick skin with dewlap and hanging lips is an insult to the memory of our ancestors. Personal tastes or even the desire to render standard the model of dogs that one incidentally has at home, shall not obtain scientific value.
We all agree on substituting some adjectives that offer too much space for interpretation by explanatory synonyms, or on adding back the list of defects, disappeared mysteriously from the Italian standard, though kept in the original FCI one. Going beyond that would mean following personal interests and launch ulterior modifications after the generation change. It cannot be that the breed that has been preserved up until now shall be turned upside-down by a desire of someone who cannot reach titles and honors in a different way.
I could conclude here my considerations, as both ENCI and FCI know perfectly all of the above, so there is no real damage threat for the breed, but the idle chatter, through social networks and otherwise, can cause severe image loss for the breed, especially abroad.
Lets discuss and philosophize about everything, but don’t degrade the concreteness of the standard with ephemeral debates. Those who had worked on it were neither stupid nor ignorant, and the authority that had approved it was not a bridge club.
Gianni Vullo - Expert Judge ENCI FCI