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Two Maremma dogs that protect penguins sitting next to each other,

Meet the Maremma Dogs of Middle Island: Dogs That Protect Penguins

The Maremma sheepdog is a livestock guardian dog breed from Italy that has protected sheep from wolves for centuries. They are also the devoted guardians of a colony of Little penguins, the smallest penguin species, on a small Australian island called Middle Island. Why do these penguins need these protectors? Check out the amazing story about these dogs that protect penguins.

A History of Middle Island Little Penguins

While little penguins spend most of their time in the ocean,  they come to the shore of Middle Island, Warrnambool, every breeding season. While they used to breed along in more locations, environmental changes have driven them to this place.

But what was once a safe haven for these birds became their path to near extinction with the introduction of the European red fox in the area. At certain times during low tide, Middle Island becomes accessible to these non-native predators who prey upon these cute little birds.

The situation got so bad that the Little penguin population went from nearly 1,000 to fewer than 10 individuals. The Middle Island penguin colony was on the verge of being wiped out.

Two Australian little penguins on land during breeding season

An environmental science student working on an egg farm where the chickens were protected by Maremmas thought that the dogs could save the penguins. The local city council agreed to give it a try, and in 2005, the Middle Island Project. The first two dogs were adults who decided this new job wasn’t for them and left the island to go home at low tide.

The next dogs were puppies, trained from an early age to bond with chickens…with minimal human contact. These young dogs were released on the island, but apparently, they got a little rambunctious with the tiny penguins and killed around 10 of them in rough play.

Eudy and Tula: The First Dogs That Protect Penguins

Back to the drawing board. Two new Maremma pups named Eudy and Tula were the next pair of guard dogs to arrive on Middle Island. The third time’s a charm. Eudy and Tula have successfully guarded the now-growing penguin population for ten years.

Both dogs passed away in 2021 with full support from the project staff. They have also been succeeded by three other fluffballs named Mezzo, Isola, and Oberon.

You can learn more about the Middle Island Maremma Project and also help fund the next generation of penguin guard dogs too. Can’t get enough of these cute dogs and penguins? Check out the movie Oddball (the name of the first dog) for more animal adorableness.

What's With The Maremma dogs?

If you're looking for a breed of loyal and reliable guardian dogs, the Maremma Sheepdog should be your go-to. Primarily raised to fiercely protect livestock from wild predators, these large white fluffy pups have been used for centuries to do just that.

Maremmas are mountain dogs originating in Central Italy, where they were historically bred to guard sheep or other livestock on the various farms of the region. They were specifically bred to blend in with their protector flock—their white woolen coats helping them blend into the herd—while intimidating and chasing away foxes, wolves, or bears.

The Maremma is a hardy breed, capable of surviving long hours outdoors in cold and wet climates such as those found in the Apennines, where they were first used. They are also a very calm breed, with an independent character that allows them to make decisions by themselves—a trait that gives them a great sense of responsibility when it comes to protecting their flock.

Physical Characteristics

Two Maremma dogs sitting next to each other on the grass

Maremmas are big dogs that carry some impressive physical characteristics. For example, their thick fur of long and thick hair protects them from the hot summer sun as well as the cooler winter temperatures.

They have an average height of around 22-28 inches and can weigh up to 100 pounds (45kg), depending on their breeding. You'll definitely know when you're in the presence of a Maremma!

They also have a strong, muscular build, with a broad head and deep chest. Their eyes are almond-shaped and come in shades like brown or hazel. Other defining features include a large, long neck and an adorable expressive face with soft folds on the forehead.

Coat Colors

The most common colors for Maremma coats are white, yellow, and orange. However, they also come in rare colors like tan, red, or roan (a mixture of white and another color). Some even have black spots that become visible when they molt each season!

Adaptive Nature

Maremma's adaptive nature is one of its biggest strengths. These dogs can live happily in places with different climates or terrains. Studies show that they are able to adjust to temperature changes quickly, making them suitable for both cold climates and hotter places with little effort on your part!

Temperament And Behavior

Maremmas are gentle giants, but they can also be incredibly protective. They make amazing guardians, as they’re naturally alert and keenly aware of their surroundings. It’s part of what has made them so popular with farmers and shepherds in Europe and beyond who need to protect their flocks from predators.

While Maremmas tend to be fairly laid-back, they’ll fiercely defend those they care about if faced with a potential threat. They’re loyal to the end and have even been referred to as “the dogs with a human soul.” Here are some other things you should know about their temperament and behavior:

Sweet Temperament

Maremmas are known for being calm, patient, sweet-natured dogs that get along great with people, especially children that play around them. It’s not uncommon for them to act as a kind of babysitter for kids in the family. Of course, socialization is key when it comes to any breed, so you should introduce your Maremma pup early on to other pets and people who come over frequently.

Ability To Bond With Animals

As we said earlier, Maremmas make excellent guardians because they quickly bond with animals such as sheep or horses (or goats or chickens). This bond is so strong that they often view these animals as part of their “family" and will watch over them protectively.

It's clear that Maremma dogs are loving companions with a loyal streak and plenty of personality, a great combination for any family looking for an affectionate pooch!

Wanna show off your love for these amazing animals? Check out some of our amazing dog lover apparel. A fourth of the proceeds will go to no-kill shelters for these boys and other animals!


How do penguins protect themselves from predators?

Penguins protect themselves from predators by adapting. They go to extreme climates such as the Antarctic winter in order to avoid land predators, and they have also developed a coloring that helps in hiding them in their environment.

Why is it important to protect penguins?

Aside from bringing smiles to our faces with their cuteness, penguins also play an important role in the ecosystem.

What dogs can protect you?

Well-bred guard dogs include the Labrador Pinscher and the boxer. While all dogs are protective to a certain degree, some are better at it than others.

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Odel - November 27, 2023

Thank you for info. So interesting. Love these dogs.

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