Lamb’s best friend: Italian guardian dogs used to protect sheep from sea eagles

They have been used since Roman times to scare away wolves and bears.

But now a breed of guardian dogs from Italy could be used to help protect new born lambs from sea eagles.

In the first project of its kind in the UK, falconers are training two Maremma puppies, Luigi and Peaches, to help farmers protect their livestock from large birds of prey.

Since their reintroduction in the 1970s, farmers believe white-tailed eagles have killed hundreds of lambs by plucking them from fields during the spring. 

Now Jonny Ames, who runs Rothiemurchus Falconry, near Aviemore, hopes to train the dogs to look out for predators and is currently using drones to teach them to spot threats from the air.

Sea eagles are the UK’s largest bird of prey and have a 2m wingspan. They were hunted to extinction in the UK by 1918 but began to be reintroduced in 1975.

‘The dogs came from a working kennel in Italy that supplies farmers all over Europe who are having problems with wolves,’ Jonny said. 

‘This particular breed that we have I think are ideal for the UK because they’re very soft and not difficult to train.


‘They’re not aggressive towards people, which is important with having right of access in Scotland. 

‘If you had people coming into a field with these dogs the worst thing they’re going to do is lick them to death, they are a bit too friendly for their own good.’

The puppies are beginning their training having already been introduced to Jonny’s flock, which he bought specifically for the project

‘The first part of their training was to let them grow up with sheep and also to see whether the sheep would accept the dogs, because if the sheep were scared of the dogs forever, obviously it would never work,’ he said. 

‘But the sheep accepted the dogs, the dogs are very laid back around the sheep and the sheep just seem to read the body language of the dog and see that they’re no threat. 

‘At the moment we’ve been using a drone with an eagle lure on the bottom just to see their reaction when something big starts coming out of the sky. 

‘The female is really good and she barks at anything new, when the drone comes over she barks and tries to drive it away. 

‘She is on the ball and will definitely do a good job.

‘The male is very laid back but he’s only seven months old, so we’ll need to see how he develops

‘We’re not trying to teach these dogs to attack eagles. They are there to bark at when there’s a predator around.

‘If that predator, like a fox for example, pushes them and is not baking away with the barking then they would charge it.

‘They don’t engage with predators unless they really have to.’

Jonny then plans to place the dogs with a farm on the west coast in December to give them time to bond with their sheep before next year’s lambing season.

‘We’d spend a month or so settling the dogs in and getting them used to the flock, and once everybody’s happy, we’d leave them with the farmer,’ said Jonny.

‘We would also like to get some funding for an ecologist to look into the project, analyse the results, and see if the dogs are working or not.

‘In the future, if it is successful, we would hope to bring more dogs over from Italy and train them up for farmers.’

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