The Rottweiler is a breed of domestic dog, regarded as medium-to-large or large. The dogs were known in German as Rottweiler Metzgerhund, meaning Rottweiler butchers dogs, because their main use was to herd livestock and pull carts laden with butchered meat to market. This continued until the mid-19th century when railways replaced droving. Although still used to herd stock in many parts of the world, Rottweilers are now also used as search and rescue dogs, as guard dogs, and as police dogs.
The Rottweiler is one of the oldest of herding breeds. One author supposes that it has a history possibly dating back to the Roman Empire, the Rottweiler may be a descendant of ancient Roman drover dogs, dependable and rugged mastiff-type dogs with great intelligence and guarding instincts. During their quest to conquer Europe, the Roman legions traveled in large numbers across the continent. The lack of refrigeration meant soldiers brought herds of cattle for food. Drover dogs kept the herd together and guarded it 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.
The dog breed was subsequently named after Rottweiler, a town in the region. It became an important trade centre 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 were eventually known as Rottweiler Metzgerhunds, or “Butchers’ Dogs”. As railroads became the primary method for moving stock to market, the demand for the Rottweiler breed declined, as did their numbers, so severely diminished by 1882 that a show in Heilbronn, featured only one very poor representative of the breed.
The build up to World War I saw a great demand for police dogs, which led to a revival of interest in the Rottweiler. During the First and Second World Wars, Rottweilers saw 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 2017, the American Kennel Club ranked the Rottweiler as the eighth-most popular pure-breed in the United States.
In the breed standard published by Fédération Cynologique Internationale in 2018, the Rottweiler’s behaviour/temperament should be:
The Rottweiler is good-natured, placid in basic disposition, very devoted, obedient, biddable and eager to work. His appearance is natural and rustic, his behaviour self-assured, steady and fearless. He reacts to his surroundings with great alertness and at the same time even-tempered.
In the American Kennel Club’s “Official Standard of the Rottweiler,” the Rottweiler’s temperament should be:
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.
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 many dog sports including Agility and Schutzhund.