People stop and stare when a Rottweiler appears on the scene. This medium to large working dog has striking coloring (black with brown markings ranging from rust to mahogany) and a muscular frame. Loyal, intelligent, and courageous, the breed gives off an air of nobility and self-confidence. In fact, the Rottweiler’s versatility has attracted people for millennia.
The Rottweiler’s Roots
The Rottweiler we know today descends from mastiffs that lived in the Roman Empire more than 2,000 years ago. These rugged dogs accompanied Roman legions north through the Alps, since these soldiers were on their way to invade what’s now Switzerland. Along the way, ancestors of the Rottweiler helped move cattle that was intended to be eaten or eventually sold, and kept the livestock safe from predators and thieves.
The Romans frequently stopped in what is now Rottweil, Germany, a significant center for livestock trade in the south. The city gets its modern name from its red roof tiles, but in ancient times, it was known as Arae Flaviae. After the Roman Empire collapsed, Rottweilers became valuable working companions in this part of Germany. They herded livestock in butchers’ yards, and would pull heavy carts full of meat to market.
After the sale, a “drover,” someone who moves livestock, often placed the money in a purse around the dog’s neck. One look at this proud, protective breed might have made potential robbers think twice. Soon, the dog became known as the “Rottweiler Metzgerhund,” or “Butcher’s Dog of Rottweil.” Over the centuries, the breed was crossed with other developing breeds, such as the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, and the Appenzeller Sennenhund.
The Rottweiler’s Evolution as Working Demand Declined
During the Industrial Revolution, railroads became the primary form of transportation, so butchers and drovers no longer needed Rottweilers to cart heavy loads to market. As a result, the Rottweiler population declined. By 1882, there was just one Rottweiler present at a dog show in Heilbronn, Germany. Fortunately, fanciers who valued the Rottweiler’s working ability and traits bred the remaining Rottweilers scattered throughout Europe, preserving this striking dog.
Even the American Rottweiler Club (ARC) can’t exactly confirm what they looked like during this period. “We don’t have a true record of how Rottweilers looked exactly, but we know they were different sizes and colors,” says Robert Galusha, president of the ARC. “Over the natural evolution, their appearance has no doubt changed, but they remain a dog of assurance, confidence, and protection.”
Rottweilers Shift to Police Dogs
In the early 20th century, the German Police Dog Association began employing Rottweilers, German Shepherd Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, and Airedale Terriers as police dogs. Rottweilers also found jobs pulling heavy carts for workers and protecting private properties and businesses.
Eventually, people realized this brave breed would make a loyal household companion. In 1930, a German immigrant to the United States named Otto Denny bred the first Rottweiler litter. At the time, the puppies were registered with a German-based breed club, as the American Kennel Club did not yet recognize the breed. The AKC added a Rottweiler to its stud book in 1931, and the breed became a member of the Working Group. The Rottweiler’s AKC breed standard was initially published in 1935, then revised in 1971 and 1990.
Breeders Help Bring Rottweilers Back in the U.S.
Dedicated breeders, like Joan Klem, helped build the Rottweiler’s popularity in this country. “Joan’s two brothers and father formed Rodsden, the first Rottweiler Kennel in the U.S.,” Galusha says. Klem registered her first Rottweiler litter in 1949, and she later became involved in the American Rottweiler Club. ARC was formed in 1973 as the national parent club and became a member of the AKC in 1991. Although membership is worldwide, most of the ARC’s membership resides in the U.S.
By the mid-1990s, the passion for the breed soared as more people learned about the dogs’ affectionate but watchful nature. Rottweiler clubs flourished, with over a thousand international member organizations. At one point, the Rottweiler ranked as the second-most popular breed in the U.S.
The ARC president still remembers his first Rottweiler. “Seventeen years ago, I bought ‘Diego,’ my first Rottweiler, because of the breed’s appearance and temperament,” Galusha says. “He was confident and courageous but knew not to run toward danger. People on the street always wanted to pet him and were amazed at how silly and soft-hearted he was.”
A Talented Breed All-Around
Everyone who loves the breed remembers when they first saw a Rottweiler. For Lew Olson, it was at the International Kennel Club Dog Show. “I was mesmerized by their presence and power,” says Olson, now an AKC judge and the director and judges’ education chair of ARC. “It was love at first sight.”
Olson’s first Rottweiler, “Rodsden Berte Von Zederwald,” came from the Klen family’s Rodsden kennel. “When he was about 12 weeks old, I heard a noise on the roof,” Olson says. “He ran barking and snarling toward the sound and whatever it was left in a hurry. I felt safe that no one would enter my yard.”
“Berte” easily won his American and Canadian championship titles and multiple Working Group first placements. But Olson was amazed at how many dog sports titles her dog earned. “We competed in tracking, herding, agility, obedience, and rally. He was a fast learner and was good at everything,” Olson says. “Berte could also tell the difference between threatening and non-threatening behavior.”
Companions, Sporting Dogs, and Therapy Dogs
Since 1992, Katie Maess of Mason, Ohio, has trained her Rottweilers in several dog sports. Earning multiple titles, they particularly excelled in obedience, Barn Hunt, AKC Rally, conformation, Diving Dogs, and tracking. However, they enjoy their weekly therapy visits. Maess and her Rottweilers “Otis” and “Desi” current do therapy dog work at several agencies, as did her previous four Rottweilers. “I enjoy showing off my dogs and seeing how much joy they bring to people,” says Maess.
Registered with Therapy Dogs International, her current team goes to a variety of locations. They visit a high school that teaches nursing skills, an assisted living facility, and a residential, vocational agency for adults and teens with physical and mental disabilities. The dogs also go to Miami University during orientation, midterms, and final exams, as well as during Suicide Prevention Week. “My dogs exude confidence, and they’re comfortable wherever we go,” Maess says. “At Dominion [Senior Assisted Living Facility], the dogs roam from person to person and will charge at the door to greet someone. They seem to know who needs them the most.”
Maess recalls one special therapy visit she and one of her previous Rottweilers, “Boris,” made to an assisted living home. Years later, the memory makes her smile. “A frail and bedridden woman tapped on her bed for Boris to hop up. Can you believe my 110-pound Rottweiler climbed up gingerly and lay beside her? He was so careful not to step on her. The woman had the biggest smile.”