Strong, sturdy, and companionable, Rottweilers are one of the more imposing breeds that are suitable for life as a family pet. The breed’s history is said to date back to Roman times, when it was used as a cattle droving and guard dog, roles for which it was further refined over the millennia. With training, adequate socialisation, and firm leadership, “Rotties” make loving family pets that will guard their loved ones against all-comers. However, it is very important that these noble instincts are channelled and controlled, for aggression and inappropriate dominance behaviours are common in poorly trained individuals.
Rottweilers are intelligent and trainable dogs that thrive on having a job to do, whether it be guarding property or pulling a sled! They require a moderate amount of exercise, and are not suited to an all-indoor lifestyle, preferring a decent-sized territory to call their own. Rotties do not require a lot of grooming, and are not known for excessive drooling. They are not always very sociable towards other dogs or smaller animals, and so may not be suitable for households in which they are not the only pet.
Despite their large size and propensity to certain health problems, most Rottweilers have a life expectancy of 9–11 years.
About & History
It is perhaps not surprising to learn that Rottweilers hail from the town of Rottweil in western Germany, where they have been bred as working dogs for many hundreds of years. Indeed, it is believed that the breed descended from droving Mastiff-type dogs used by the conquering Roman armies of 2,000 years ago. These dogs were responsible for herding and moving cattle with the invaders, providing a mobile source of food in the absence of refrigeration and other means of food preservation. These large dogs also served as camp guards and ancillary troops, being large and naturally fearless.
The breed was later utilised in Germany to drive cattle to market, as well as to pull butchers’ carts, and so well-bred specimens should reflect this heritage in their powerful, stocky build. It is also said that the dogs would have carried money in a pouch around their necks – likely to dissuade all but the bravest or most foolish thief! However, due to the emergence of the railroad as the most efficient method of transporting livestock, Rottweiler numbers declined precipitously in the late 19th century, to the point where only one dog was presented for judging at a German show in 1882.
Together with the Leonberger, the breed was saved in the early 20th century by a dedicated group of enthusiasts, and numbers again began to swell around the advent of World War I when demand for Rottweilers as Army dogs soared. The first Rotties were imported to the US in the 1920s, and the breed became one of the most popular pedigree dogs in America over the following 60 years. However, the breed’s nature and requirement for competent training meant that many people were not suitable Rottweiler owners, and the incidence of aggression and dog bites attributed to the breed rose correspondingly. As a result, the Rottweiler is now slightly less popular, although still ranks in the American Kennel Club’s top 20 most-registered breeds.
The Rottweiler is a large, very solidly built dog which should display a mellow and noble demeanour. The general body shape should be proportionate, without excess development of the forequarters in relation to the rest of the dog. The dog’s head should be large, with a broad, well-muscled skull and a wide, powerful muzzle leading to a black nose. The mouth should exhibit a neat, scissor-type bite. The ears are set high on the skull, wedge-shaped and drooping, and the eyes should be dark brown and almond-shaped.
It is considered a fault for Rottweilers to be too slender; the neck and back should be very broad, with prominent musculature. The limbs also carry a great mass of muscle, and the chest and abdomen should be wide and well developed. The hindlimbs should not be too upright, but allow a slight “spring” when relaxed. In motion, the Rottweiler should have a clipped, “easy” stride, and be capable of breaking into a free and flowing run. Although tail docking is still permitted in some countries, in the UK, all dogs should now be presented with a full tail, which hangs down when relaxed, but has a slight upward curl.
The coat is medium to short in length, slightly coarse, but glossy nonetheless. All Rottweilers should be predominantly black in colour, with tan markings around the muzzle, eyes, chest and paws. Males are usually 61–69 cm (24–27 in) tall at the shoulder, with females measuring between 56–63 cm (22–25 in), and weights are quite variable. Most females will weigh between 36–46kg, but males may be between 50 and 60 kg, with some large individuals weighing even more.
Character & Temperament
Rottweilers should be calm, reserved and aloof with strangers, and very affectionate and biddable with their owners, including with children. The breed is characteristically very alert and watchful, and should be adaptable to a range of social settings. They are instinctively protective towards their family, and make excellent guard dogs. A Rottweiler should be confident without being aggressive, and should never be nervous or timid.
It must be pointed out that this description applies to well-trained, well-socialised, and adequately controlled Rottweilers. Without adequate leadership, socialisation, and training, the breed’s natural defensive and dominant tendencies can be a recipe for disaster, and Rottweilers are responsible for a large proportion of all reported fatal dog attacks each year. This statistic stems from a population of Rottie owners that are incapable of providing the appropriate environment for their dog; one in which the dog must realise his place as a subordinate pack member who must obey the pack leaders, i.e., the owners. Although Rottweilers are intelligent and very trainable, they are not suitable for novice dog owners, or individuals looking for a lap dog to be lavished with love, but not necessarily discipline. It should also be noted that aggression towards other dogs can be a problem, and great care must be taken if introducing a Rottweiler to smaller dogs in particular.
Rottweilers are very trainable, and will usually respond well to obedience training. They generally enjoy agility work or learning to pull carts or sleds, these activities being instinctive to them. Rottie puppies are mischievous, and most will attempt to push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in terms of chewing, play biting, and stubbornness.
The owner must be firm, calm, and persistent in correcting these behaviours, and early socialisation and obedience are crucial. Puppy classes or group obedience classes are ideal settings in which to practice social skills.
When sourcing a puppy, always be sure to buy from a reputable breeder who is happy to show health records for his breeding dogs. By choosing a breeder before choosing a puppy, the likelihood of encountering a health problem is much reduced. Although the Kennel Club classifies the breed as Category 1 – meaning there are no significant health concerns, the following are the more common conditions encountered in Rottweilers.
- Addison’s Disease – Usually first encountered in young to middle-aged female dogs, this is a deficiency of steroid hormones, also known as hypoadrenocorticism. It is the result of autoimmune damage to the adrenal glands, which are small organs sitting beside either kidney. It most commonly first manifests as bouts of gastroenteritis, which may include bloody vomiting and diarrhoea. Usually very manageable with appropriate care and medication.
- Behavioural Disorders – As alluded to above, problems with aggression are not unusual in the breed. These are best prevented, rather than treated, with intensive positive socialisation experiences and firm training from a young age.
- Diabetes Mellitus – Rottweilers are one of the breeds predisposed to developing insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. As in humans with this form of diabetes, regular medication is required to manage blood glucose levels. This most commonly takes the form of twice-daily injections of insulin, a hormone normally produced by the pancreas in health.
- Entropion – Young Rottweilers with a “squinting” expression may have this condition, where the lower and/or upper eyelids scroll inwards and cause irritation to the eyes. This will usually require surgical correction, although mild cases may improve slightly as the pup grows.
- Elbow Dysplasia – A condition causing lameness due to malformation of one or both elbow joints in growing dogs. Can be due to numerous growth deformities, all resulting in incongruity and joint pain.
- Eosinophilic Panosteitis – Lameness, which may shift from one leg to another over time, due to inflammation of the growing long bones. Seen in young dogs up to 18 months old. Can usually elicit a pain response when pressing on the affected part of the bone. Young dogs will eventually outgrow the condition.
- Haemolytic Anaemia – A lack of red blood cells, caused by autoimmune destruction within blood vessel or reticular organs (liver and spleen). May be caused by tick-borne infections, severe illness, or due to an inherent immune dysfunction.
- Hip Dysplasia – As with elbow dysplasia, malformation of the hip joint is a common cause of lameness in growing Rottweilers, although this condition is now becoming less prevalent due to hip-scoring schemes for breeding animals.
- Hypothyroidism – Any Rottweiler showing signs of unexplained weight gain, loss of exercise tolerance, or symmetrical hair loss should be screened for reduced thyroid function. Thyroid hormone has many diverse biological functions, and reduced levels due to lymphocytic thyroiditis can cause profound changes throughout the body.
- Lupoid Onychodystrophy – Another form of autoimmune disease, in which invasion of the nail beds by white blood cells leads to deformed and weak nail growth, with a propensity to developing secondary bacterial and fungal infections. Supplemental minerals and oils may help, but most affected animals will also require steroid treatment to manage the condition.
- Lymphosarcoma – Rottweilers are prone to developing this cancer of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). Signs may be vague, such as weight loss and vomiting, or may be more obvious, as large firm swellings underneath the skin. While the prognosis for lymphosarcoma is poor in the long-term, palliative chemotherapy can give very positive results.
- Polyneuropathy – Degenerative condition causing loss of nerve and muscle function. Seen to develop in young adults, leading to loss of mobility and potentially difficulties in swallowing.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy – Degeneration of the nerve tissue at the back of the eye responsible for vision, PRA leads to blindness and is, unfortunately, untreatable. Animals affected by this condition should not be used for breeding.
- Protein-losing Enteropathy – Chronic, profuse diarrhoea caused by failure to absorb nutrients from the gut during digestion. Also characterised by dramatic weight loss in most dogs.
- Sub-Aortic Stenosis – The most common form of congenital heart disease in the breed is caused by a narrowing, or stricture, of the main blood vessel exiting the left side of the heart. Signs vary depending on the severity of the stricture, but a heart murmur is usually audible in affected puppies.
- von Willebrand’s Disease – An inherited condition in which clotting function is impaired due to an abnormality of the platelets, which are small white blood cells responsible for plugging tears in blood vessel walls. May first be seen in young animals undergoing routine juvenile neutering.
Exercise and Activity Levels
Rottweilers require moderate amounts of exercise, at least one hour of lead walking daily. They are quite energetic for such a large breed, and will enjoy off-the-lead activities, swimming, and cart pulling, but care must be taken to ensure they are always controlled in case of encountering other dogs, with whom they may fight. Although heavily-built, most Rottweilers will enjoy agility classes given the chance, as this provides both physical and mental stimulation.
Rotties shed reasonably heavily, and will certainly require a vigorous brushing at least once a week. The coarse coat is quite resistant to most everyday dirt and dust, but most dogs will look (and smell) their best if washed once every 6–8 weeks.
As a breed, they tend not to suffer badly from dental disease, being fond of chewing, but as with any puppy, it is worth introducing teeth-brushing as a part of routine care and hygiene. Rottweilers also have very strong nails, which may need regular trimming if not exercising on paved surfaces. This may need to be done by a professional, as the breed’s lack nails mean it is not possible to see where the blood vessel runs within the nail. Cutting into this vessel will cause pain and bleeding.
The imposing physical stature of the Rottweiler has made it a favourite for TV and movie roles. The breed has appeared in:
- The Omen
- Lethal Weapon 3
- Half Baked
Rotties have been crossed with many other breeds to endow their offspring with their strength, courage, and capabilities as guard dogs:
- Bernweiler – Cross between a Rottweiler and a Bernese Mountain Dog
- Boxweiler – Cross between a Rottweiler and a Boxer
- Bullweiler – Cross between a Bulldog and a Rottweiler
- Golden Rottie – Cross between a Rottweiler and a Golden Retriever
- Miniature Rottweiler – Cross between a Rottweiler and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Golden Rottie – Cross between a Rottweiler and a Golden Retriever
- Rotterman – Cross between a Rottweiler and a Doberman Pinscher