Posted: Wed May 22 00:00:00 PDT 2002
By Virginia Parker Guidry
Strong, handsome and powerful, the adult Rottweiler stands out in a crowd. Its distinct, self-assured presence is evident to onlookers, regardless of their familiarity with the breed. As puppies, however, this awesome breed is round, fuzzy and reminiscent of a little bear. This look, combined with their puppyish antics, make them incredibly endearing-perhaps to a fault, for who can resist a cute, bear-like creature?
Choosing a Rottweiler pup, however, is a much more involved process than simply giving into temptation. It's a process that requires critical thinking and careful evaluation. Following are a few thoughts and ideas from breed enthusiasts to help you do just that.
Know the Breed
Before ever choosing a pup from a litter, think carefully about the breed. "First read as much as [you] can about the breed," says Mary Ann Schneider, breeder and enthusiast. "I don't think the Rottweiler is for everyone."
Most important to consider is its temperament. Rottweilers have been described by those who have built strong ties with the breed as loving, comical, bright and loyal. In addition, the breed is strong-willed and determined.
A Rottweiler requires an owner who can successfully win its heart and establish a position as pack leader.
Another important consideration is the size of the typical adult Rottweiler, says Catherine Thompson, Rottweiler breeder and American Kennel Club judge. "Decide if you have time for a dog of this size and stature, and can take on the responsibility for a dog of this size and stature," Thompson says, warning that the Rottweiler is not simply a big black and tan Labrador Retriever. "This is something that's going to live with your family for 10 years and has the potential for being able to eat the neighbor's kids," she says.
"Put in as much time picking out a puppy and learning about the breed as buying a television set," Thompson emphasizes. "This is essential for all breeds but especially true for ours because they're big and they're scary, and they scare the neighbors. And [those unfamiliar with Rottweilers] really need to know as much as possible about what they're getting into so there aren't any big surprises."
While learning about the breed, you must decide whether you like it well enough to take on the responsibility of caring for a Rottweiler in your own home. An essential part of that responsibility, says breeder Jane Justice, is ongoing obedience training beginning at about 12 weeks of age. "I believe, being a working dog, they need a job," Justice says. "They need to work for you."
Continued obedience training, in conjunction with clearly established house rules, remind the Rottweiler that the owner is the leader. "If a person doesn't have that type of commitment in mind, I think they should go get another breed," Justice says.
Obedience training is especially important because of the Rottweiler's large size, willful personality and damaged reputation. Left to its own devices, the strong-minded Rottweiler is likely to find trouble, often without even looking for it.
When choosing a pup, it's essential to consider temperament and behavior, which are generally influenced by genetics, socialization, training and lifelong discipline. "Temperament probably is the most important because that's what makes a dog livable," Thompson says. "And then it's nice if they're healthy enough to give you 10 years of happiness and service."
The ideal Rottweiler temperament, according to the AKC breed standard, is a calm, c onfident, courageous dog that is self-assured and somewhat aloof. The Rottweiler does not make immediate and indiscriminate friendships; it waits quietly and takes a wait-and-see attitude toward influences in its environment. It is naturally protective of home and family and wary of those other than family members.
Unfortunately, the increased popularity of the breed has given rise to problems such as bad breeding practices, lack of socialization and inexperienced owners, all of which can lead to behavior problems or bad temperament. "Mental and physical soundness kind of go hand in hand," Thompson says. "People can fall in love with homely dogs as well as they can with beautiful dogs. But if they can't be lived with, it's not going to do the people any good.
How do you know which pups will grow up mentally sound, with a temperament compatible with the AKC standard? Many breeders such as Justice find tests helpful in determining a pup's general character; its level of dominance; its acceptance of training; its willingness to retrieve; whether it is outgoing or introverted; or if it is people-oriented. "You can tell a lot about the puppy's general personality at 7 weeks," Justice says. "It's not 100 percent, but I like it as a tool."
Testing methods vary among canine professionals, and there's no standard test, no standard name and no consensus about what temperament testing is or should be, whether it's accurate and useful, or who should administer the testing. Many breeders use temperament, or puppy aptitude, tests, which were first used by early guide dog trainers to predict the pups most suitable for service. Others eschew tests in favor of their long-time experience in raising and handling litters. After daily interactions and observations, a breeder can tell which pup is dominant and which is shy.
Prospective owners should ask the breeder about each pup's temperament and ask to see the parents. If present, both should appear approachable, sane and friendly. Be wary of big male Rottweilers chained to trees, Thompson says. "If he's kind of a jerk, maybe his kids are going to be jerks," she says. "Is that what you want to take home?"
A reputable Rottweiler breeder is worth his weight in gold-and then some. After all, breeders know their pups better than anyone else and are best able to help you choose a pup. "The breeder, if they've got some years of experience, will know how their puppies come around, how they turn, that type of thing," Thompson says.
Because of the importance in knowing what breeders forecast for their puppies as they grow, choose a breeder as carefully as you choose a pup. The breeder should adhere to ethical breeding practices, be actively involved in a breed club or competition and show genuine enthusiasm for the breed. "I think the biggest thing is to pick a breeder you can trust," Justice says.
In some cases, breeders maximize on their familiarity with their Rottweilers by choosing pups for buyers to ensure a proper match. "Personally, people who buy from me don't pick their puppies," Justice says. "I pick their puppies for them."
Others use their breed insight to pick the best home for the puppy. "As a breeder, you know yourself what puppy should really go to what type of home," Schneider says. "You try to screen the family as best you can, meet the people who are looking for a puppy, see them at least once or twice, and speak to them on the phone. I don't sell my puppies on the telephone; I sell them when I meet the people. I have to like them, and my dogs have to like them."
However, for a Rottweiler puppy to select the people they do and don't like, including an owner, is much in keeping with the breed's strong-minded character, Thompson says. "I always recommend that you take the puppy that likes you," she says. "There's always one that hangs around or is the first one if you call, 'Puppy, puppy.' Numerous times I have seen the puppies pick the people they wanted to go home with. And I think that's a very good indication that the match is pretty good."
A healthy Rottweiler is also worth its weight in gold. When evaluating a litter of puppies, look for these simple signs of good health: proper weight; cleanliness, including clean surroundings; lack of odor; clear, not runny or red, eyes and nose; clean ears; full hair coat without balding patches; and no excessive scratching.
Healthy puppies should also appear well-socialized, playful and friendly. "The puppies should be really active and friendly and jumping on you and chewing on your shoelaces and you can't get rid of them," Thompson says.
Another important factor in a puppy's long-term health is its sale age, which should be between 8 and 10 weeks. "I keep my puppies until 10 weeks," Justice says. "I would be very wary of anybody letting go of puppies at 6 weeks of age."
Like most purebred dogs today, the Rottweiler suffers from a variety of heritable diseases, which cannot be determined by a quick look-see. Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and eye problems are the most common conditions, but cardiac disorders also affect the breed. Because of the degenerative nature of such maladies, deal only with breeders who routinely screen for the diseases and conditions that affect the breed. This is the best assurance, though no guarantee, of taking home a pup that's free of these conditions.
Orthopedic disorders are screened by taking X-rays of each dog's joints. Genetic studies have shown that breeding radiographically normal dogs produces less joint disease than when breeding affected dogs or dogs of unknown status. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, a nonprofit foundation that provides a standardized method of evaluating and registering the X-rays, is the most common method of certification. The Wind-Morgan Program of the Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine is another.
To get an idea of a puppy's orthopedic health, ask to see orthopedic certification of both parents from one of these organizations. Reputable breeders will usually offer the information without asking. If the dog is less than 2 years old, it cannot be certified. If the breeder presents certification validation, it's probably for the grandparents.
Eye diseases, those present at birth and those that develop later in the Rottweiler's life, are screened by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, an organization that works in conjunction with the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. Ask to see each parent's CERF number, which is evidence the dog has been screened and found free of heritable eye disease. Be aware that CERF registration is good only for 12 months from the examination date. Thereafter, every dog must be re-examined by an ACVO diplomate and re-registered in order to maintain up-to-date CERF registration.
In addition to evidence of heritable disease screening, ask to see the puppy's health record and note the vaccination and deworming dates. Once you've completed your preliminary health examination and have purchased a Rottweiler puppy, breed experts advise taking it to your veterinarian within 48 hours for a complete, professional examination.
Bits of Wisdom
Be truthful with the breeder about what you plan to do with your puppy, Thompson says. In order to get a particular puppy, some people claim to want a show dog, with no intention of showing it. "I don't think there's anything that's more disheartening than selling your pick of the litte r to somebody to put in the backyard and never have it see the light of day," she says.
When choosing pups for competition of any kind, such as the currently popular herding and agility, Justice recommends pups that, based on puppy aptitude tests, show an interest in retrieving; have a medium-to-high pain tolerance; are very forgiving after correction and don't sulk; aren't noise-sensitive; and show themselves to be partners.
Choosing the right Rottweiler puppy takes a large commitment to educating yourself about the breed, self-analysis to determine your ability to care for the breed, and a willingness to wait until the right puppy comes along. When it comes right down to it, however, nobody can map out the perfect strategy to selecting the perfect puppy for you. At that point, it's like any puppy choice, says Justice, who likes independent dogs. "It's a personal pick."
Virginia Parker Guidry is a free-lance writer based in Spring Valley, Calif.
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