Training Secrets for Rottweilers
His ancestors did not lounge in royal palaces. They did not sit on velvet cushions. They were not worshipped from afar. His ancestors were always workers, but they weren’t always Rottweilers — they were war dogs, drover dogs, draft dogs and farm dogs. The Rottweiler’s journey began with the Roman quest to conquer Europe.
When Not in Rome...
Around 50 B.C., thousands of Roman troops trekked northward over the Alps in search of new holdings. The only way to feed so many soldiers was to bring their food supply "on the hoof.” They controlled their cattle with intelligent, hardy, courageous dogs. Fortunately, they had just the right breed for the job — the Mollossian.
Long cherished since the Greek ages, this dog displayed courage facing opponents in wars and in gladiator matches, affirmed his intelligence controlling unruly cattle and demonstrated his loyalty guarding homesteads. The Mollossian probably traces back to the Tibetan Mastiff and other large Asian breeds that handled and guarded stock.
The Roman army placed its trust in this dog, knowing that if he failed, Rome’s expansion would fail. But he did not fail, and he performed tirelessly on the trail and sometimes remained behind to help at encampments along the way. Wherever the Roman army traveled, they scattered the seeds of the Rottweiler. They followed Alpine passes and rivers, and along the Neckar River in southwestern Germany, one such seed germinated and flourished in the town of Arae Flaviae. An important administrative and trade center, Arae Flaviae had been settled for 2,000 years before the Romans took over in A.D. 74. The Romans transformed the town into a fortified villa, building a Roman bath and other distinctive structures, topping the best buildings with red-tile roofing. The town later became known as the red villa: first as Rottwil and eventually Rottweil.
The breed’s days as a Roman citizen were numbered. Around A.D. 260, Suebi and Alemanni tribes conquered Rottweil and vanquished its Roman inhabitants. Many of the Roman dogs remained to serve new masters, and it was in their new role that they probably developed into the breed we know today. They continued their work as cattle dogs, controlling cattle in the butcher’s yard, pulling the butcher’s meat-laden carts around town and driving cattle from town to town. Once a Rottweiler had delivered a herd to the market, the dog protected the lone drover walking home with a pocket full of money, who was easy prey for robbers. They tied the money in a leather purse around the dog’s neck, where no robber dared grab it. As Rottweil continued to grow as a cultural and trade center, more visitors began to admire and acquire the Rottweil metzgerhund (butcher’s dog), as they called him.
Rottweil often traded with Switzerland, and the Rottweil butcher dogs probably interbred with Swiss breeds, such as the Appenzeller, the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Entlebucher and the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. Other local farm, hunting and fighting breeds may have also crossed with the butcher dogs to create a dog who could hunt boar, as well.
The Rottweiler continued performing his duties relatively unchanged until the mid-1800s, when railroads developed and cattle could be transported without dogs and without dangerous cattle drives through towns. At the same time, public outcry about the abuses of draft dogs outlawed that practice. The Rottweiler was suddenly unemployed. By 1900, only a single Rottweiler was left in Rottweil.
The world was changing in other ways. As dog shows, dog clubs and dog enthusiasts emerged on the scene, serious fanciers were determined to save the Rottweiler. They gathered the best remaining Rotties from Europe, carefully preserving their best attributes while improving their shortcomings.
New uses for dogs were emerging, as well. In 1910, the Rottweiler, with his protective and stable nature, became one of the first breeds adopted by the German Police Dog Association. Once again Rotties excelled at their jobs and gained the public’s admiration. This surge in popularity rested on the foundations laid by the drovers and butchers who molded the breed; the fanciers who saved Rottweilers from extinction and promoted their abilities; and, of course, the Rottweiler who possessed such a tenacious spirit.
The breed also gained attention from several Rottweiler clubs, which gave rise to Rotties’ prominence as police dogs. The clubs did not always agree when it came to the vision of the perfect Rottweiler, but they did agree they had to save the breed and its working heritage. In 1921, the clubs merged to form the Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub, or General German Rottweiler Club. Its motto was "Rottweiler breeding is working dog breeding.” They had seen what breeding strictly for looks had done to other breeds, and were determined to prevent the Rottweiler from deteriorating by requiring that any Rottweiler must first prove himself as a working dog before being awarded a German Championship title.
The Rottweiler had other worlds to conquer. Just as his ancestors had fanned out from Rome, he began to fan out from Europe. The first recorded Rottweilers in America came with German immigrants to New York in the late 1920s. Because the American Kennel Club did not yet recognize the breed, the first American Rottweiler progeny was registered with the ADRK in Germany. It wasn’t until 1935 that the AKC granted official breed status to the Rottweiler.
From Obscurity to Infamy
The Rottweiler remained a rare breed in America for many years. A walk down the street with a Rottweiler might have elicited a few stares and raised eyebrows — no doubt most passers-by thought the dog was simply some newly arrived mix of some sort. Even the show scene ignored them. Their small entries warranted obscure benching areas and little acclaim. No ready market existed for Rottweilers in those days, yet dedicated breeders maintained lines that molded the modern Rottweiler. Kennels such as Rodsden, Follow Me, Palos Park, Von Stahl, Srigo, Freeger, Panamint, Wellwood, Crestwood, Giralda and Hohenreissach had a profound influence on the breed and can be found behind most American Rottweilers today.
Early attempts to form a national breed club failed, but the American Rottweiler Club, formed in 1973, survived; however, the Rottie remained obscure. A few Rottweiler fanciers lamented that people wanting a trustworthy companion were missing out on one of dogdom’s best-kept secrets. A few even wished the breed was more popular.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the perceived need for protection and the popularity of exotic breeds — and prices — soared. People began breeding Rotties for money, and in turn, their puppy buyers rationalized breeding their pups to get a return on their investment. Rottweilers became common, prices fell, and as more people could afford Rottweilers, they too felt compelled to breed. By the mid 1990s, the AKC was registering more than 100,000 Rottweilers each year, placing it as the second most popular breed in America.
Knowledgeable, ethical breeders bred for good health, temperament, working ability and conformation, but their efforts were swamped by the tidal wave of carelessly bred Rottweilers. They knew the breed was popular because the Rottie was a great dog, but they also knew he was not the breed for everyone. They knew the combination of irresponsible breeders and owners was perhaps the most dangerous threat the breed had ever faced in its history.
Poorly bred and socialized Rotties allowed to run at large brought infamy to the breed when they harmed people. Legislation specific to breeds targeted Rottweilers, and some communities imposed restrictions that made even responsible Rottweiler ownership difficult or impossible. Rottweiler breeding had lost its profit margin, and many former Rottweiler owners admitted they were not up to the challenge. By the end of the decade, registrations had dropped to a little more than 37,000. The Rottweiler had seen his day in the sun, and he had been burned.
But the breed’s challenges don’t end there. Breed-specific legislation is not unique to America. In 2000, Germany passed the toughest laws ever brought against specific types of dogs, which included Rottweilers. Dog lovers around the world banded together to fight these laws.
Other laws target the look of the breed. Legislation banning tail docking in dogs has passed in several European countries. Because Rottweilers traditionally have been docked for hundreds of years, the breed’s undocked tail shape and carriage have not undergone the selection by breeders that would normally have occurred. Concerned breeders argue that undocked tails will lack uniformity and force breeders to focus on tail conformation to the exclusion of other more important traits, such as temperament.
The Rottweiler survived difficult times in the past, and has relied on saviors in the form of strong-willed fanciers. Throughout the years, the breed maintained a core of dedicated breeders who refused to succumb to the temptation of feeding the fad. These same breeders remained after the breed’s fair-weather friends abandoned him. They fought public misperceptions about the breed. They produced Rottweilers who represented the best the breed had to offer and preserved the valuable Rottweiler for the 21st century.
The intelligent, strong, athletic and courageous Rottweiler continues to maintain the work ethic of his ancestors. He is equally adept as a schutzhund, obedience, agility or conformation competitor, and brings the same valuable toughness to bear as a police aid, a search-and-rescue member, a contraband detector or a therapy dog. Above all else, the Rottweiler is a noble, gentle and loyal companion, who fearlessly and doggedly beat the odds; he is the dog world’s survivor.
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