DOUG may have the appearance of a big cuddly pet, but don’t let that fool you. He means business.
The seven-year-old maremma was bred to work and he takes his job – being a shepherd for four goats – very seriously.
It is something Upper Loddon and Avoca Landcare network facilitator Chris Pollock wants people to weigh up if they are considering the breed as a pet.
Mrs Pollock says Doug is a highly valued member of the Pollock household, but he is most certainly not a pet in the strictest sense.
"They should never, ever be bought as a pet," Mrs Pollock said. "People do buy them as pets because they are such an attractive dog but it only ever results in a very unhappy dog.
"They have centuries of breeding as a working dog. It is instinctual, so they cannot really be trained as a pet."
Maremmas were bred in Italy to be put out with sheep.
As pups they are bonded with the animals – any animal – they are meant to protect, becoming part of the herd or flock.
"They can be great with chickens, sheep, penguins, anything really," Mrs Pollock said. "They learn to mimic the livestock they protect. Doug acts like he believes he is a goat.
"The goats also obey him. He has a certain bark and the goats know to get behind him if there is a potential threat."
Doug is from the same bloodline as the maremmas on Middle Island who famously protect the penguins there.
He lives with his goats – Beech, Skippy, Stumpy and Blotch – on Chris and Geoff Pollock’s property at Amherst, near Talbot, even eating chaff like the goats, along with dog pellets and scraps.
"He looks after me and the kids too, but he’s bonded to the goats," Mrs Pollock said. "I wouldn’t want to ask him to choose between us or the goats because he would always choose the goats.
"He works all night and usually sleeps during the day, and becomes very agitated if he is apart from the goats. If we have to go to the vet we have to take one of the goats with us."
Mrs Pollock says maremmas don’t like change and, if the animal they are bonded to is not in the vicinity, they fret.
This is problematic if they become bonded to people because they cannot cope with the family going away even for a holiday.
The maremma’s highly specialised breeding means there are other potential difficulties.
"People can try to crossbreed them and that causes all sorts of problems," Mrs Pollock said.