Day

January 31, 2020

The sheepdog of Abruzzo

When you caress a soft white sheepdog of Abruzzo you caress a history made of ancient times and traditions.

The origin of the sheepdog of Abruzzo is related with its primary functionality. The dog that defends the flock from the wolves assaults originated almost certainly in Asia. In particular around northern Iran about six thousand years ago. In those places probably the donkey, the goat and the sheep have been domesticated for the first time in history.

The canine types depicted in some low reliefs of those areas are practically the same known today. So it seems that those primitive people well understood the selection mechanisms to obtain breeds with different shapes and inclinations. A progenitor of the sheepdog of Abruzzo certainly arrived in Italy very early. Probably during the Phoenician or the Greek era. The Phoenicians were well known dogs merchants so the origin could be linked to the commercial exchanges of that times. For the Greeks, similarly, due to the operations between Asia and their colonies of Magna Graecia.

The Marsi people, however, fully developed the potentialities of these dogs.

These ancient and skilled shepherds already practiced a type of transhumant herding characteristic of a warm and temperate climate by imitating the nature. In fact, the local herbivorous species moved the flocks in the valleys during the winter and over two thousand meters on the mountains during the summer. To follow the flocks the Marsi carefully selected the qualities of the character of this wonderful dog breed bringing it to the degree of perfection that we know today.

One of the main feature of this animal is the total absence of the predatory instinct. This is the result of a real genetic feat obtained with techniques that are partially still unknown. This characteristic is much more important than the white coat that distinguishes it from the wolf. The total absence of the instinct to attack the sheep makes this dog ideal for defending the flock on any occasion.

The wolves defense dog lived everywhere in the world where pastoralism was practiced. However the people of Abruzzo had the merit of selecting a breed that maximizes the qualities of reliability, affection for sheep and courage. Already during Roman times the characteristics of the “canis pastoralis” are described and indicated as local. The historical reasons for the development of the sheepdog of Abruzzo in that period were due to the big importance of the breeding of sheep to the wealth and to the economy. The Roman had also a particular passion for animals. So if they discovered a dog with particular qualities of ferocity, strength or courage and considered it useful for some employment, they had no difficulty in importing it from Asia or other distant regions.

Pastoralism continued to be the main source of income for Abruzzo and for the entire kingdom of Naples.

This happened until after the unification of Italy. The crown of Naples was in fact dependent from taxes paid by the Abruzzo’s flocks. The sheep bred was mainly the “Gentile di Puglia” breed. This is a very rustic selection adaptable to poor and arid pastures. The sheep was even capable of feeding on straw only if necessary. They ensured a good production of milk, wool, meat and lambs. The breeding was so important in those times that when the prince Francesco got married, king Ferdinando asked to all the big owners to donate a large number of sheep that would constitute a personal income for the prince.

The rich gentlemen, to improve the rich source of income coming from sheep farming, invested into the sheep breeds selection. King Ferdinand of Naples and subsequently his son Francesco personally took care to improving not only the breed of sheep, but also the mastiffs used to defend them. Breeding and agriculture was a passion for the Bourbon kings. They personally established which cattle should cross each other and this certainly happened also for the sheepdog of Abruzzo.

This type of dog existed almost everywhere from the Alps to Sicily, but for historical reasons the selection center was Abruzzo. For centuries, in fact, this region represented the place where sheep farming was most developed. For this reason the shepherds cultivated a breed so specialized in defending the flock from predators. The sheepdog of Abruzzo once unleashed against an opponent rather than fleeing succumbs. Almost a suicidal instinct, contrary to the survival instinct, absent in the wild animal.

The Abruzzo sheepdog is beautiful dog breed.

From a morphological point of view, a typical subject has a large conical head. It has a medium-large size with 30-45 kilograms in weight and a stature between 60 and 73 centimeters at the withers. It has a completely white thick coat, does not have abundant skin and has a black nose truffle and black eyelid rhymes. She has a gait with a long step or an extended trot. However, in the Abruzzo mountains the shepherds do not pay much attention to the appearance of the dog. They appear, from a morphological point of view, to be rather heterogeneous. There are specimens with darker spots in particular on the ears, others with slightly curled hair, others with pink truffles and so on. The only feature they care about seems to be the white coat.

The shepherd, on the other hand, looks with attention at the dog’s attitude towards the protection of the flock. In breeding puppies they leave ample space for nature and instinct, sometimes refraining from touching dogs. This is used to get the dog used to seeking less the company of man and more that of sheep. In addition, in this way the bitch breeds the offspring without interference by strengthening the maternal instinct, which does not happen in breeding specimens. Shepherds of Abruzzo leave the dominant male with control over the harem and pre-domination over reproduction.

The females thus have pregnancies and regular births without altering the natural course of events. The traditional shepherds’ diet consisted mainly of whey with the addition of barley bread and  polenta. The meat was also never completely missing. In every behavior there is a genetically innate part and another learned. For this reason, there is the risk to lose it at least in animals not used for sheep farming.

Sheeps dogs Abruzzo