The Rottweiler is one of the oldest of herding breeds. With a history possibly dating back to the Roman Empire, the Rottweiler may be a descendant of ancient Roman drover dogs; a mastiff-type dog that was a dependable, rugged dog with great intelligence and guarding instincts. During their quest to conquer Europe, the Roman legion traveled in large numbers across the continent. The non-existence of refrigeration meant the soldiers had to bring herds of cattle with them on their excursions for food. These drover dogs were not only used to keep the herds of cattle together, but to guard the supply stock at night. Around A.D. 74 the Roman army travelled across the Alps and into what is now southern Germany. For the next two centuries the Roman drover dogs were continually used in herding and driving cattle for trade even after the Romans were driven out of the area by the Swabians.
A town in this region was eventually given the name Rottweil. It became an important trade center and the descendants of the Roman cattle dogs proved their worth by driving the cattle to market and protecting the cattle from robbers and wild animals. The dogs are said to have been used by traveling butchers at markets during the Middle Ages to guard money pouches tied around their necks. The dogs eventually came to be called Rottweiler Metzgerhunds, or butcher dogs. As railroads became the primary method for moving stock to market, the need for the breed declined, as did the number of Rottweilers. The number of Rottweilers diminished so severely that by 1882 in a dog show in Heilbronn, there was only one very poor representative of the breed.
The buildup to World War I saw a great demand for police dogs, and that led to a revival of interest in the Rottweiler. During the First and Second World Wars, Rottweilers were put into service in various roles, including as messenger, ambulance, draught, and guard dogs.
The Deutscher Rottweiler-Klub (DRK, German Rottweiler Club), the first Rottweiler club in Germany, was founded on 13 January 1914, and followed by the creation of the Süddeutscher Rottweiler-Klub (SDRK, South German Rottweiler Club) on 27 April 1915 and eventually became the IRK (International Rottweiler Club). The DRK counted around 500 Rottweilers, and the SDRK 3000 Rottweilers. The goals of the two clubs were different. The DRK aimed to produce working dogs and did not emphasise the morphology of the Rottweiler.
The various German Rottweiler Clubs amalgamated to form the Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub (ADRK, General German Rottweiler Club) in 1921. This was officially recorded in the register of clubs and associations at the district court of Stuttgart on 27 January 1924. The ADRK is recognised worldwide as the home club of the Rottweiler.
In 1931 the Rottweiler was officially recognised by the American Kennel Club. In 1936, Rottweilers were exhibited in Britain at Crufts. In 1966, a separate register was opened for the breed. In fact, in the mid-1990s, the popularity of the Rottweiler reached an all-time high with it being the most registered dog by the American Kennel Club. In 2013, the American Kennel Club ranked the Rottweiler as the 9th most popular purebreed in the United States.
“Rottweiler breeders aim at a dog of abundant strength, black coated with clearly defined rich tan markings, whose powerful appearance does not lack nobility and which is exceptionally well suited to being a companion, service and working dog.” This breed is all about balance, endurance, proportionality, intelligence and strength. The various standards in place for the Rottweiler’s physical appearance specify these characteristics.
Anatomy of the Rottweiler
- Head (eyes)
- Snout (teeth, tongue)
- Dewlap (throat, neck skin)
- Highest Point of the Rump
- Legs (thighs and hips)
- Hind feet
The skull is of medium length, and should be broad, especially between the ears. The forehead line is moderately arched as seen from the side, with the occipital bone well developed without being conspicuous. The stop is well defined. The Rottweiler nose is well developed, more broad than round, with relatively large nostrils and always black. The muzzle should appear neither elongated nor shortened in relation to the cranial region. The nasal bridge is broad at the base and moderately tapered. The lips are black and close fitting with the corner of the mouth not visible. The gums should be black, or as dark as possible. Both the upper and lower jaws are strong and broad. According to the FCI Standard Rottweilers should have strong and complete dentition (42 teeth) with scissor bite, the upper incisors closely overlapping the lower incisors. The zygomatic arches should be pronounced. The eyes should be of medium size, almond-shaped and dark brown in colour. The eyelids are close fitting and should not droop. The ears are medium-sized, pendant, triangular, wide apart, and set high on the head. With the ears laid forward close to the head, the skull appears to be broadened. The skin on the head is tight fitting overall. When the dog is alert, the forehead may be slightly wrinkled.
The neck is strong, of fair length, well muscled, slightly arched, clean, free from throatiness.
The back is straight, strong and firm. The loins are short, strong and deep. The croup is broad, of medium length, and slightly rounded, neither flat nor falling away. The chest is roomy, broad and deep (approximately 50% of the shoulder height) with a well-developed forechest and well sprung ribs. The flanks are not tucked up.
The tail was traditionally docked at the first or second joint or Natural Bob Tail (“stumpy”). However docking is now banned in many countries and this is reflected in the FCI Standard. It remains legal in others, notably the USA and New Zealand and this is reflected in the AKC and NZKC Standards.
When seen from the front, the front legs are straight and not placed close to each other. The forearm, seen from the side, stands straight and vertical. The slope of the shoulder blade is about 45 degrees. The shoulders are well laid back. The upper arm is close fitting to the body. The forearm is strongly developed and muscular. Pasterns are slightly springy, strong but not steep. The front feet are round, tight and well arched, the pads hard, nails are short, black and strong.
When seen from behind, the rear legs are straight and not too close together. When standing free, obtuse angles are formed between the dog’s upper thigh and the hip bone, the upper thigh and the lower thigh, and the lower thigh and metatarsal. The upper thigh is moderately long, broad and strongly muscled. The lower thigh is long, strongly and broadly muscled, sinewy. The hocks are sturdy, well angulated, not steep. The hind feet are slightly longer than the front feet. Toes are strong, arched, as tight as the front feet.
The traditional gait of a Rottweiler is a trot. Therefore, the Rottweiler is a trotter. Trotting in this breed is by no means a fault, and is required. This movement comes naturally to the Rottweiler and should appear as such; any deviation may lead to a disqualification in the show ring. While walking, the Rottweiler’s legs, both front and hind, should move in a straight forward and backward manner. As with the straight movement of the legs, the path the Rottweiler moves in should also be straight. The Rottweiler’s gait is all about balance and effectiveness as the breed is still used as a herder today.
The coat consists of an outer coat and an undercoat. The outer coat is of medium length, coarse, dense and flat. The undercoat should be present on the neck and thighs. The undercoat must not show through the outer coat. Rottweilers living in hot climates may have acclimatised and may be missing the undercoat. Rottweiler coats tend to be low maintenance, although they experience heavy shedding before their seasons (females) or seasonally (males). According to American Kennel Club breed standards, a Rottweiler’s coat is short and straight. A coat that is long or wavy is considered a flaw to the AKC.
Color and markings
The color and markings of a Rottweiler are very distinctive. A Rottweiler is always, by any breed club standards, black with well-defined mahogany or rust-colored markings that do not take up more than ten percent of the dog’s body color. All Rottweilers standard to AKC specifications have one mahogany dot above each eye on the inner brow ridge, on the cheeks, one strip on each side of the snout; cheek markings do not cross over the bridge of the nose, the top of the nose should remain black. The markings on the face should move down onto the dog’s throat. On the chest, a Rottweiler will have two downward-facing triangular marks. On each front leg the marks will stretch from the forearm to the toes. On the hind legs, the markings will begin on the inside and move outward onto the stifle, then out onto the hock stretching to the toes as well. AKC standards recognize that the black base color is not completely voided on the rear pasterns. There is a patch of rust or mahogany underneath the tail that resembles a triangle as well. A thin strip of black should be present on each of the Rottweiler’s toes.
Technically a “medium / large” breed, according to the FCI standard the Rottweiler stands 61–69 cm (24–27 in) at the withers for males, 56–63 cm (22–25 in) for females, and the weight must be between 50 and 60 kg (110 and 132 lbs) for males and 35 and 48 kg (77 and 105 lbs) for females. Weight must be relative to height.
According to the FCI Standard, the Rottweiler is good-natured, placid in basic disposition, very devoted, obedient, biddable and eager to work. Their appearance is natural and rustic, their behaviour self-assured, steady and fearless. They react to their surroundings with great alertness.
The American Kennel Club says it is:
a calm, confident and courageous dog with a self-assured aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. A Rottweiler is self-confident and responds quietly and with a wait-and-see attitude to influences in its environment. It has an inherent desire to protect home and family, and is an intelligent dog of extreme hardness and adaptability with a strong willingness to work, making them especially suited as a companion, guardian and general all-purpose dog.
Rottweilers are a powerful breed with well-developed genetic herding and guarding instincts. Potentially dangerous behaviour in Rottweilers usually results from irresponsible ownership, abuse, neglect, or lack of socialisation and training. However, the exceptional strength of the Rottweiler is an additional risk factor not to be neglected. It is for this reason that breed experts declare that formal training and extensive socialisation are essential for all Rottweilers. According to the AKC, Rottweilers love their owners and may behave in a clownish manner toward family and friends, but they are also protective of their territory and do not welcome strangers until properly introduced. Obedience training and socialisation are required.
A 2008 study surveying breed club members found that while Rottweilers were average in aggressiveness (bites or bite attempts) towards owners and other dogs, it indicated they tend to be more aggressive than average toward strangers. This aggression appears correlated with watchdog and territorial instincts.
According to a CDC study into fatal dog attacks on humans between 1979 and 1998, Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs were responsible for more than half (67%) of all deaths. In the years from 1993 to 1996 Rottweilers were responsible for half of all deaths. They concluded that “fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers)….” They also wrote that:
- “It is extremely unlikely that they accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities.”
According to the American Kennel Club, Rottweilers have a natural gathering style with a strong desire to control. They generally show a loose eye and have a great amount of force while working well off the stock. They make much use of their ability to intimidate.
The Rottweiler often carries the head on an even plane with the back, or carries the head up but with the neck and shoulders lowered. Some females lower the entire front end slightly when using their eyes. Males also do this when working far off the stock in an open field. This is rarely seen in males when working in confined spaces such as stock yards.
The Rottweiler has a reasonably good natural balance, force-barks when necessary, and when working cattle uses a very intimidating charge. There is a natural change in forcefulness when herding sheep. When working cattle, it may use its body and shoulders and for this reason should be used on horned stock with caution.
The Rottweiler, when working cattle, searches out the dominant animal and challenges it. Upon proving its control over that animal it settles back and tends to its work.
Some growers have found that Rottweilers are especially suited to move stubborn stock that simply ignore Border Collies, Kelpies, and others. Rottweilers use their bodies to physically force the stubborn animal to do its bidding if necessary.
When working with sheep, the Rottweiler shows a gathering/fetching style and reams directions easily. It drives sheep with ease.
In some cases, Rottweilers have begun herding cattle without any experience at all.
If worked on the same stock for any length of time, the Rottweiler tends to develop a bond with the stock and will become quite affectionate with them as long as they do as it directs.
The Rottweiler is also exceptionally suited for and is commonly used in the dog sport of Schutzhund.
Rottweilers are a relatively healthy, disease-free breed. As with most large breeds, hip dysplasia can be a problem. For this reason the various Rottweiler breed clubs have had x-ray testing regimes in place for many years. Osteochondritis dissecans, a condition affecting the shoulder joints, can also be a problem due to the breed’s rapid growth rate. A reputable breeder will have the hips and elbows of all breeding stock x-rayed and read by a recognised specialist, and will have paperwork to prove it.
They will also have certificates that their breeding animals do not have entropion or ectropion and that they have full and complete dentition with a scissor bite.
As with any breed, hereditary conditions occur in some lines. The Rottweiler is very prone to osteosarcoma which is among the most common causes of early death in Rottweilers. For unknown reasons, Rottweilers are more susceptible than other breeds to become infected with parvovirus, a highly contagious and deadly disease of puppies and young dogs.
If overfed or under-exercised, Rottweilers are prone to obesity. Some of the consequences of obesity can be very serious, including arthritis, breathing difficulties, diabetes, heart failure, reproductive problems, skin disease, reduced resistance to disease and overheating caused by the thick jacket of fat under the skin.
Breed surveys in the US, UK and Denmark, and UK vet data puts the average lifespan of Rottweilers at 8 to 10 years.
As with the vast majority of large-breed dogs, Rottweilers are also predisposed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
The portrayal of Rottweilers as vicious or malevolently aggressive dogs in several fictional films and TV series, most notably in The Omen, along with sensationalist press coverage, has created a negative image of the breed. However, some films and television shows, such as Lethal Weapon 3, the 1998 film Half Baked, and the hit HBO show Entourage, have portrayed Rottweilers in a positive light. They are also featured in the children’s book series Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day.
In an event widely reported by the media, a two-year-old UK Rottweiler named Jake owned by Liz Maxted-Bluck was recognised for his bravery by the RSPCA. The dog was out walking with his owner when they heard screams. Jake chased off a man as he molested a woman on Hearsall Common, Coventry, in July 2009. He located the attacker and his victim in thick scrub, chased off the attacker, led his owner to the scene, then stood guard over the victim until police arrived. The attacker was convicted of serious sexual assault and jailed for four years. Jake was nominated by police for the bravery award and medallion after the incident. Det Con Clive Leftwich, from Coventry police station, said: “From our point of view Jake the Rottweiler stopped a serious sexual assault from becoming even worse.”