When you picture a service dog, what breed of dog do you think of? Most likely it was a Lab or a Golden Retriever. Probably not a Rottweiler.
A service dog is a dog who is specifically trained to help a person with a disability. There are service dogs for all different kinds of disabilities, including visual impairments, hearing loss, mental disabilities, or even seizures.
A good service dog should be calm, brave, smart, and people-focused. Many Rottweilers have all of these traits. Rottweilers have been used as both service and therapy dogs in the past, and many Rotties still serve in these capacities today!
Rottweilers can make great service dogs. Let’s take a look at why.
Reason 1: Their size is an asset.
For some types of service dogs, size doesn’t necessarily matter. But for dogs who are trained to help a person with a physical disability, size is definitely a factor.
Oftentimes, a person with a physical disability will depend on their service dog for support in walking or moving, guidance, or performing everyday tasks such as opening doors or retrieving objects.
Rottweilers tend to be big dogs. Full-grown males can grow up to 27 inches tall and could weigh over 130 pounds.
Rotties are muscular and solidly built, which makes them very dependable for people who may need to lean on them or who may need assistance moving.
Reason 2: Their personalities are built for service and work.
Rotts are genetically wired for work. They were originally bred as cattle dogs and guard dogs. Although work as a service dog is obviously very different, Rotties still enjoy having a job to do. They are extremely smart, and they’ll understand the importance of their job.
Around their families, Rotties are known for being kind, loyal, and gentle. A properly trained service dog absolutely needs to have all of these traits when serving their human.
Last but not least, Rotts adore being around their people! If you own a Rott, they probably frequently follow you around the house. Since a disabled person will need their service dog to be on duty most of the time, a people-focused dog is a must for service dogs.
How do you train a Rottweiler to be a service dog?
Training for a service dog is long, detailed, and rigorous. These service dogs need to be able to serve their humans consistently and without error. Let’s take a look at some of these steps for training.
- Service dogs are almost always spayed or neutered. Dogs who have been spayed or neutered are typically calmer, less aggressive, and less territorial than dogs who have not been. Those traits are vital for service dogs.
- Basic commands come first. A service dog-in-training must know basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. Once the Rottie has those down, they can move on to more complex tasks.
- Trainers have to know what motivates their dog. What does your Rottie love as a reward? Treats? A particular toy? A belly scratch? When a trainer knows what will motivate their dog, they’ll be able to train more effectively.
- Future service dogs have to learn certain manners around people and in public. Rotties like people. If your Rott has been properly socialized, they probably love to greet other people. However, a service dog has to be focused solely on the person they’re serving, not distracted every time they see a new potential friend.
- Service dogs have to understand the difference between being “on-duty” and “off-duty.” Just like any working animal (or even a human!), service dogs need time off. Most service dogs have a cue that signals them that they can be off duty and relax. Teaching them that word early on will help reinforce the importance of being “on-duty.”
- Service dogs become specialized! Not every service dog can serve any person with a disability. There are dogs specifically trained to help people with physical disabilities, dogs trained to spot medical conditions such as seizures or high blood pressure, or dogs like Seeing Eye dogs for the blind. At this point in their training, a Rottie will need to learn those specialized skills.
- Get your Rottweiler certified. Although it’s different for every type of service dog, most areas of service will have some sort of assessment for the dog to go through. Trainers will know all the steps to take for appropriate licensing.
Why aren’t more Rottweilers service dogs?
Although there’s not really a set-in-stone answer to this question, there are a couple of factors when it comes to the limitations of Rottweilers as service animals.
- Rotties can be high-maintenance dogs. If you own a Rottie, you know that they can be a lot of work! They need quite a bit of exercise every day, and they are constantly seeking attention- sometimes to the point of following their owner around the house all day. That may not be the best-case scenario for service dogs.
- Rotties may need additional training because of their natures. If they’re not socialized and trained properly when young, Rottweilers can tend to be more aggressive, protective, or mistrusting of humans. If they got into the habit of this when they were young, those habits will be difficult to break before they can be trained as a service dog.
- Rottweilers oftentimes have undeserved negative reputations. Unfortunately, due to negative perceptions in the media, many people have poor opinions of Rottweilers. Although we can improve that reputation with education and positive media stories, it may still be a long time before Rotties are viewed positively as service dogs.
What about therapy dogs? Can Rottweilers be therapy dogs?
Yes, absolutely! Rottweilers have been very successful as therapy dogs in the past. In 2015, a Rottie named Wynd won the Award for Canine Excellence for her work as a therapy dog. Other Rotts have served as therapy dogs in hospitals, nursing homes, veteran organizations, and child therapy situations.
Studies have shown that therapy dogs can make an incredible difference when it comes to boosting mental health in people of all ages. Petting and interacting with a therapy dog can actually decrease stress and release endorphins to lighten your mood.
Therapy dogs are trained very differently than service dogs. Bigger dogs, like Rottweilers especially, will need training simply to make sure they can be calm and gentle in all situations and with any stimuli. However, unlike service dogs, therapy dogs do not have to go through specialized training to handle specific disabilities.
Rottweilers have worked in the past and continue to work today as service dogs and therapy dogs. Although they’ll definitely need to go through rigorous training, especially as a service dog, Rotties can be very beneficial in both of these roles.