As invading Roman armies traveled, they tended to leave a trail of abandoned dogs in their wake, no matter where they went. The dogs were large and mastiff-like, but they were kept to herd sheep and cattle to feed the soldiers. As the livestock was eaten up, surplus dogs were left behind.
One area that became the residence of a sizeable population of abandoned Roman dogs was southern Germany. While they may have been useless to the Roman soldiers, they were properly appreciated by the locals and were kept to guard native livestock for several centuries. Over time, the mastiff was crossed with various sheepdog breeds to enhance its herding ability still further. The new type of dog was used to drive herds of cattle to market, particularly in Rottweil—sort of a European cowtown. But not only could it herd—it was a capable draft dog, and when a bag of money was tied around its neck the safety of the money was invariably assured.
The Rottweiler was valued until the mid-1800s when large-scale cattle drives were banned, ending the breed’s job as a herding dog. Furthermore, railroads were by this time putting an end to the need for draft dogs, leaving the Rottweiler without a purpose. Its numbers fell quickly.
Fortunately, a new purpose for the Rottweiler was found in the early 1900s—police work. From police dog it was only a short step to another role as a military dog. When World War I came around, the Rottweiler was found equal to the occasion. During the war, it served many purposes, ranging from hauling weapons and other supplies to sniffing out the wounded on the battlefield.
The first Rottweiler in America arrived sometime after the war, probably in the late 1920s. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1931, and it also quickly caught on with the American police and military. After World War II, the Rottweiler came to the attention of the general public and started to increase in popularity very quickly, first as an obedience competitor and later as a tough-looking pet and watchdog. Unfortunately, the more popular the Rottweiler became, the more puppy mills appeared to supply the increasing demand at any cost. Dangerous poorly bred Rottweilers were the result.
The reputation of the Rottweiler was tarnished by poor temperament in some lines, setting its popularity back for a time. This proved to be for the best, however, as conscientious breeders stepped up to the plate to restore the innate stability of the breed. Thanks to their efforts, the Rottweiler has remained a favorite in America, ranking as the 8th most popular breed in the nation according to AKC registration statistics.
The Rottweiler retains his historic versatility, as, thanks to his great work ethic, he will readily learn to carry out any meaningful task. He has proven his worth in trying positions ranging from police and military work to search and rescue, but he can also excel at less serious tasks. He can serve as a personal watchdog, pull a cart, or compete in sports such as agility.
The old herding instinct is still alive and well in this breed, but it is important to note that the Rottweiler has a considerably more forceful style than most herding breeds. While he can learn to moderate his approach with flightier livestock, the Rottweiler is at his best when dealing with stubborn, dominant animals, particularly cattle.
In general, a well-bred Rottweiler is quietly devoted to his family. He is happiest when allowed to be with his people, where he can fulfill his duty of protecting them. Away from his family, he can become frustrated, aggressive, or anxious. But this does not make the Rottweiler clingy. He is very loving toward his people, but shows his affection primarily by following them from room to room to ensure their safety, although he may indulge in the occasional shoulder bump. Females can be slightly more demonstrative.
Care should be taken to properly introduce the Rottweiler to visitors. He is not naturally reactive, but will take time to evaluate newcomers and form an opinion of them. If he sees that a guest is clearly a friend of the family, he will allow his good nature to shine through. Those who appear to pose a threat will meet with a harsh reception. The Rottweiler will be most accurate in his distinctions if he is introduced to friendly visitors from a young age.
Exercise caution with children. Some Rottweilers never become accustomed to the noise and fast movements of small children, and even a friendly Rottweiler can accidentally injure toddlers by bumping them around to herd them. Be especially vigilant if the neighbor’s children come over to play, as if roughhousing ensues the Rottweiler will leap to the defense of his own children.
This dog is not suitable for homes with other pets, as he is aggressive toward other canines. A few can adapt to living with a cat that they have been raised with, but this is not a sure thing. In general, it is safest to assume that the Rottweiler will prefer to be the only pet in the home.
The Rottweiler needs a strong owner that he can respect or he will easily end up dominating the household. He will test every member of the family from a young age, and will only obey those he recognizes as being in authority. However, the Rottweiler’s respect must be earned through a firm mind and an immovable will, never through physical strength. If a contest of authority devolves into a test of sheer brute force, the Rottweiler will win—every time. But once his respect is won, the Rottweiler is completely obedient and easy to train. Females tend to accept authority better than males in this breed.
When herding, the Rottweiler seeks dominance first and foremost. He deliberately finds and confronts the most stubborn individuals in the herd. He fears nothing and will quickly progress from blocking to charging to body-slamming if he feels the situation calls for stern measures. Once he has worked his herd long enough to gain their respect, however, the Rottweiler will tone down his approach and take good care of the animals. His preference is to gather livestock, but he can be taught to bring them to the handler or to drive them ahead.
The Rottweiler looks like a tough dog, and indeed he is. He suffers from fewer health problems than many popular breeds. Unfortunately, the difficulties that he is prone to can be extremely serious. Careful attention to good health should be a top priority for Rottweiler owners.
One of the first things to note is that the Rottweiler is susceptible to digestive problems, ranging from embarrassing flatulence to life-threatening bloat. This, coupled with a hearty appetite disproportionate to the dog’s real food needs, means that the owner should take no chances when it comes to diet. Feed a quality dog food, preferably in two or three moderate portions a day rather than in one big meal. Also pay attention to your dog’s weight. The Rottweiler is quite efficient when it comes to packing on the pounds.
However, be cautious when exercising the Rottweiler to keep him slim and fit. He has a proportionately short nose that makes it harder for him to pant to cool off, leaving him prone to overheating. (This short snout is also why he snores.) Furthermore, the Rottweiler is a big dog that takes a long time to mature. Excessive exercise, especially on hard surfaces, can damage his bones and joints while he is still growing.
Other common problems in the breed include:
- Hip dysplasia.
- Elbow dysplasia.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes inefficient due to thickened walls.
- Aortic stenosis, a narrowing in the aorta leading to severe complications including sudden death.
- Bone cancer.
Also, be careful where you let your puppy play, as the Rottweiler is more susceptible to the infectious gastrointestinal disease parvovirus than other breeds.
- Minimal grooming needs.
- Adaptability to cold climates.
- Work ethic.
- Ability to handle the toughest livestock without being intimidated.
- Disreputable breeders.
- Legal liabilities.
- Need for supervision around children.
- Potential aggression to strangers.
- Unsuitability for homes with other pets.
- Need for an assertive owner.
- Exercise requirements.
- Need for owner’s constant companionship to avoid behavior problems.
- Need for a job.
- Heavy shedding.
- Poor heat tolerance.
- Life-threatening health problems.