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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
Massive and muscled, the Rottweiler can be a gentle giant or a scary beast, depending on his personality and his owner. In general, he takes awhile to warm to strangers but is a loyal and loving family member. With the work ethic of a world leader, the Rottweiler needs a job to be truly happy.
The Rottweiler descends from dogs used by the Romans to drive the herds of cattle that fed the army as it marched through Europe.
The Rottweiler is one of the more recognizable breeds with his large head, solidly muscled body, and distinctively handsome black-and-tan markings. He is intelligent, strong, and loyal. His fans seem to fall into two camps: Those who consider their dogs to be large but gentle love bugs, and those who wish their dogs to be anything but. News stories of killer Rotties in the hands of inexperienced or less-than-savory owners have turned many people off the bad-to-the-bone dogs, but reputable breeders are picking up the pieces and restoring the reputation of the breed. A word to the wise: Don’t underestimate this dog’s power and protectiveness.
The Rottweiler is a big dog and can weigh up to a hefty 135 pounds, most of it muscle. Bred for generations to use his protective instincts and independent judgment when his family or territory is threatened, this is one tough customer. It’s no surprise that these dogs are used in police work. They’re often the target of laws aimed at controlling or banning dangerous dogs, and some insurance companies won’t sell homeowners’ policies to anyone who owns a Rottweiler.
Even so, it is entirely possible to find a gentle, family-friendly Rottweiler. Rotties from many different backgrounds can be quiet, calm, and easy-going. But all Rottweilers need structured, consistent training from an early age as well as focused socialization around children, strangers, and other pets if they are to be well-adjusted members of the family and well-mannered when taken out in public. Be fair and firm but never mean with the Rottweiler and he will repay you with love and respect.
Even the gentlest, best-behaved Rottweiler can put children, the elderly, smaller adults, and anyone who is unsteady on his feet at risk. A vestige of the dog’s heritage as a cattle herder is bumping — and the nicest Rottie’s idea of a playful nudge might have a much greater impact.
Rotties put on weight easily and need at least a couple of 10- to 20-minute walks daily, plus mental stimulation in the form of training and puzzle toys to keep their bodies and minds in shape. Even five minutes of practicing obedience skills in the backyard will give the Rottie a feeling of accomplishment. Rotties thrive when they have work to do, whether it’s obedience competition, competitive protection work, agility, carting, therapy dog work, or herding.
It’s no surprise that over the years the Rottweiler has excelled as a police dog, herding dog, service dog, therapy dog, and obedience competitor. In fact, the Rottweiler can do nearly anything asked of him, and if you don’t ask, he’ll probably find something to do on his own — which may involve eating your sofa or digging a hole for that swimming pool you always wanted in the backyard. But in the right home, with early socialization and training, the Rottweiler can be a wonderful companion, guardian, and all-around dog. He should live indoors as a family dog.
The Rottweiler descends from dogs used by the Romans to drive the herds that fed the army as it marched through Europe. Along the way, the Roman dogs bred with local dogs, and in the town of Rottweil, the result was strong dogs used by butchers to drive cattle to market. On the way home, the dogs served as protection, guarding the butcher’s proceeds from robbers. The dogs also pulled carts, delivering meat and milk to customers. With the advent of motorized vehicles, the need for the Rottweiler decreased and the breed nearly disappeared. Fortunately, German dog lovers saved it, and people in other countries began to appreciate the breed for his work ethic and protective nature.
Today, the Rottweiler ranks 11th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club. That’s down quite a bit from the 1990s, when he was ranked No. 2 for two years in a row, but that’s just fine with Rottweiler people. They are satisfied to keep the breed as their own special secret.
Rottweilers are individuals, and their personalities range from serious and reserved to silly and fun loving. Some are one-person dogs, while others are affectionate even toward nonfamily members. Out of the same litter, one Rottie may have a high amount of drive, leading him to dismantle your living room for lack of anything better to do, while his mellow brother is happy to sit on the sofa with you eating popcorn. Whatever his personality, a proper Rottweiler is more likely to be calm and alert instead of nervous, shy, excitable, or hyperactive.
The Rottweiler is aloof, not in your face, but he will follow you around to ensure your safety. He doesn’t mind being by himself, which under certain circumstances can make him a good choice for people who work during the day. When he is with his family, he is inclined to be loving and sometimes even clownish.
It may surprise you to learn that the Rottie is not innately a guard dog. He is a thinking dog whose first reaction is to step and back and look at a situation before taking action. It takes a high level of training for a Rottweiler to learn to step forward in situations.
It’s important to learn to read the Rottweiler’s behavior. For instance, he is not typically a barker. If a Rottweiler is barking, you should pay attention and go see what has caught his interest.
Do not assume that just because your Rottweiler loves your children that he will love other children as well. That is not usually the case. Play between children and Rotties should always be supervised, especially when neighbor kids are around. If the Rottweiler thinks “his” children are being hurt, even if they’re not, he will step in to protect them.
Rottweilers are territorial and will not permit strangers onto their property or in their home unless their owner welcomes the person. Some Rottweilers will not even let people they know into the house if the owner isn’t there, which can be a problem if you need to have a pet sitter or some other person come in while you are gone.
Start training your Rottweiler puppy the day you bring him home. That little black-and-tan ball of fluff is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Do not wait until he is 6 months old to begin training, or you will have a much bigger, more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, counter-surfing, and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained, or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Rottweiler, the “teen” years can start at 6 months and continue until the dog is about 3 years old.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Rottweiler doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Rottie, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. The Rottweiler is prone to a host of health problems. Here’s a brief rundown on a few conditions you should know about.
Rottweilers are one of the breeds most affected by hip dysplasia, a genetic deformity in which the head of the femur doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket. This condition can range from mild to severe. Severe cases are extremely painful and often require surgery to correct. Even with the surgery, the dog is likely to develop arthritis as he ages. Elbow dysplasia and osteochondrosis of the knee and shoulder also occur in this breed.
Rottweilers can develop progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, eyelid deformities, and other vision and eye problems.
Rottweilers can develop heart problems, including cardiomyopathy and subaortic stenosis (SAS), a narrowing of the aorta that carries blood away from the heart. This usually shows up first as a slight heart murmur, but murmurs can often occur in puppies who have no heart problems as adults. SAS can lead to sudden death, even at a young age, so have your dog’s heart checked regularly.
Rottweilers are prone to other conditions including vonWillebrand's disease (an inherited disease that affects blood clotting ability), hypothyroidism, Addison's disease (a disease of the adrenal gland), gastroenteritis, folliculitis, and a fairly high rate of cancer.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
Before individual Rottweilers can be included in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database, the American Rottweiler Club requires them to have a clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, hip and elbow evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and an OFA cardiac (heart) exam. You can search the OFA and CHIC websites yourself to see if a pup’s parents are listed.
If the breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been vet checked, or any of the other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every Rottweiler visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. Rotties can develop hot spots on their skin. Bored Rotties can lick themselves to the point of sores called lick granulomas on their front legs. Blown cruciate ligaments are not uncommon.
Rottweilers are sensitive to high temperatures. Never leave one outdoors on a hot day without access to shade and an unlimited supply of fresh water.
Rottweilers are more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach distends with gas and can twist on itself (called gastric torsion), cutting off blood flow. Bloat and torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums, lip licking, trying unsuccessfully to vomit, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary intervention, and surgery is necessary in many cases. Unfortunately, dogs that have bloated can bloat again, so most veterinarians offer a procedure known as gastropexy or "stomach tacking," which anchors the stomach to the body wall to help keep it from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common health problems: obesity. The ideal Rottweiler weighs 75 to 110 pounds, but some people breed them to weigh much more, up to 135 pounds. But bigger is not always better. Excess weight puts more pressure on joints and can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia and arthritis. Keeping a Rottweiler at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of diet and exercise to help ensure a healthier dog.
The Rottweiler has what’s called a double coat. The medium-length outer coat is straight, coarse and dense, lying flat on the body. The soft, downy undercoat is present on the neck and thighs, and its thickness depends on whether you live in a cool or warm climate. A Rottie’s coat is shortest on the head, ears, and legs, longest on breeching (the hair on the hind thighs).
The Rottweiler’s coat sheds moderately — in other words, more than you might think — but requires little grooming. Brush him weekly with a rubber hound mitt or soft bristle brush to keep the hair and skin healthy. In spring and fall, he will have a heavy shed, known as “blowing out” the coat and will need to be brushed more frequently to get rid of all the loose hair.
Bathe the Rottie as you desire or only when he gets dirty. With the gentle dog shampoos available now, you can bathe a Rottie weekly if you want without harming his coat.
Clean the ears as needed with a solution recommended by your veterinarian. Don’t use cotton swabs inside the ear; they can push gunk further down into it. Wipe out the ear with a cotton ball, never going deeper than the first knuckle of your finger.
Trim the nails regularly, usually every couple of weeks. They should never be so long that they click on the floor. And don't forget to brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Find a breeder who is a member in good standing of the American Rottweiler Club and who has agreed to abide by its list of mandatory practices, which include screening all dogs being bred for genetic diseases, selling only with a written contract, and guaranteeing a home for any dog the breeder sold if the owner becomes unable to keep him.
Ask to see the results of genetic screening tests for a pup’s parents. The American Rottweiler Club requires its member breeders to screen all breeding dogs for hip dysplasia. The clearance should be from either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip). ARC also requires breeders to have OFA clearance on breeding dogs’ elbows, as those joints can also be dysplastic. Additionally, breeders must have their dogs’ eyes cleared each year by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). Finally, OFA clearance of the parents’ cardiac health is required.
Look for a breeder who will do even more than the required minimum testing. Certification by the American Temperament Test Society (ATT), OFA clearance of the parents’ thyroids, and certification that the parents are free of inherited bleeding disorders like von Willebrand’s disease are all signs of a truly dedicated breeder.
Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog. The ARC has additional guidelineson how to interview and select a Rottweiler breeder.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Rottweiler puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Whatever the price, the puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Rottweiler might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Rottie may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Rottweiler in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Rottweilers available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Rottweiler. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Rottweilers love all Rottweilers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The American Rottweiler Club can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Rottweiler rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Rottweiler home for a trial to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Rottweiler, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Rottweiler to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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