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Despite their affectionate nature, Rottweilers are unfortunately seen as intimidating or vicious by many. In fact, Rotties and other so-called “aggressive breeds” are often the targets of bans and restrictions due to their unfair reputations.
Many supporters of these bans point to the common myth that Rottweilers have uniquely dangerous bites. In particular, many claim that Rottweilers have locking jaws that make their bites especially deadly, and that they are next to impossible to remove from their target.
On the other hand, Rottie owners are quick to point out that any dog can bite, and their gentle giants are incredibly good-natured when properly socialized.
So what’s the truth? Can Rottweilers lock their jaws?
In reality, no healthy dog breed has locking jaws and that includes Rottweilers. While Rottweilers do have powerful jaws, there’s not locking “mechanism” and this is simply a myth. The only time a dog’s jaw will truly lock, Rottweiler or otherwise, is a result of tetanus.
This article will examine some of the myths and realities of Rottweiler bites, including the infamous lockjaw myth.
Why Do People Think Rottweilers Lock Their Jaws When They Bite?
Where the myth that Rottweilers lock their jaws originated is unclear. One strong possibility is that this misconception got carried over from other “aggressive” breeds with similar-looking head shapes, such as pitbulls and other bully breeds.
Many falsely believe that pitbulls have locking jaws because they often refuse to let go when they bite. But as any pittie owner who has played tug-of-war with their pooch can tell you, this has more to do with their determination than any weird locking ability! Of course, pitties still have strong jaws but just as with Rottweilers, they don’t lock.
Another reason this myth may be so prevalent is simply that it sounds scary. Rottweilers are often listed as one of the breeds most likely to fatally injure (though the truth is a bit more complicated). So of course when spreading rumors about a big, scary, killer breed, something as intimidating as a locking jaw might be added to the mix.
Do Rottweilers Ever Have Lockjaw?
Rottweilers can have locked jaws, but not in the way that you may think. In fact, if your Rottie has a locked jaw it might be the one that’s in trouble!
A Locked Jaw May Be Caused By Tetanus
Our dogs love to be outside, but when outdoor playtime gets too rough, Clostridium tetani can invade untreated wounds and cause tetanus. Although most of us associate tetanus with stepping on rusty nails, this nasty bacteria can be found pretty much everywhere.
Deep wounds, animal bites, or scratches from metal all allow C. tetani spores to enter and cause infection. As the bacteria grows and multiplies it produces a toxin that damages nerve cells and progressively leads to muscle spasms, paralysis, and of course, lockjaw.
Thankfully, tetanus is treatable in dogs, especially if it is caught early on. It is important to always clean any open wounds your dog has to prevent tetanus and call your vet if they are showing any signs of rigidity or disease.
A Locked Jaw May Indicate A TMJ Disorder
A dog’s lower jaw is connected to its upper jaw by the temporomandibular joint, also known as the TMJ. Throughout the day, your dog relies on its TMJ to chew, bark, or open their mouth. When a dog’s TMJ functions improperly or dislocates, it can be uncomfortable or even painful for them.
TMJ disorders are typically seen in breeds such as basset hounds and Irish setters, but any breed can have it, including your beloved Rottie. A dog with a TMJ issue may appear to have their jaw stuck open for a few seconds after yawning or may seem distressed while eating.
Here’s an example of a dog with a temporarily locked jaw caused by TMJ issues:
TMJ issues are often developmental, but they may be brought on by old age or injury. A visit to the vet is always worth it to ensure your Rottweiler is happy, healthy, and comfortable!
How Bad Is A Rottweiler’s Bite?
Rottweilers are known for their strong build, broad head, and independent nature, but do these traits make their bites any worse?
Do Rottweilers Have Strong Bites?
As demonstrated in recent studies, the force of a dog’s maximum bite varies dramatically depending on anatomy. In all of these studies, the strongest bites were found in dogs with large skulls and short heads.
In other words, along with other large brachycephalic dogs like pitbulls and mastiffs, Rottweilers have some of the strongest bite forces in the dog world. In one study, a Rottie had a bite force of 2172 newtons at its fourth upper molar!
Looking at the numbers alone may be startling, but that doesn’t mean that your beloved Rottie is a ticking time bomb. Rottweilers are known to be highly trainable and eager to please, so a properly trained and socialized Rottweiler is unlikely to bite you out of nowhere.
Do Rottweilers Let Go When They Bite?
Although they may be popular as guard dogs nowadays, Rottweilers were not originally intended for aggression. Their bulky frames and square heads may resemble breeds historically bred for fighting, but Rottweilers were historically draft dogs, herders, and livestock guardians.
This breeding makes them naturally protective, but they are not known to be tenacious like some other breeds. Instead, they tend to be obedient dogs who eagerly obey commands. Training your dog to “drop it” or “let go” in advance can go a long way in the unlikely possibility that your Rottweiler does bite. You can also use this practical command around the house to manage Rottweilers that like to chew or even teach your Rottie to retrieve.
Are Rottweilers Aggressive?
Common belief would have you think that Rottweilers are killing machines with locking jaws, but that could not be further from the truth- even if it is how they’re often portrayed in movie and television. Although they are known to be wary of strangers, Rottweilers are not more likely to be aggressive than the average dog toward their owners. In fact, miniature poodles are more likely to turn against you!
Rottweilers are an obedient breed known for loyalty rather than unpredictability.
That said, Rottweilers were historically bred to be faithful guardians and are still known for their protective nature. A poorly trained and poorly socialized dog may see any stranger as a threat and will stand its ground accordingly.
How To Prevent Rottweiler Bites
Socialize Your Rottweiler
It is important to properly socialize any dog, but large dogs such as the Rottweilers breed especially require devoted socialization time. Socialization should start when your Rottweiler is young and is an ongoing process. Although it is easier to socialize puppies, even adult dogs can learn to get along with strangers. Still, it’s much easier to train a Rottweiler before they’re fully grown so it’s always good to start early!
Not only should your Rottweiler become accustomed to strangers outside the house, but also guests at home. Your Rottie should learn to be comfortable around men, women, children, and other animals by regular exposure to all of them.
Take Special Precautions with Children
Most victims of dog bites are young children. Even the best of us probably have memories of pulling a dog’s tail or petting a cat a bit too eagerly. This rough behavior combined with an often poor understanding of dog body language can spell disaster.
Small children should always be closely monitored around large dogs, and great care should be taken when introducing them.
When it comes to allowing children around large dogs, prevention is a two-way street. Children should be taught to be gentle with their furry friends and learn signs of discomfort, just as dogs should be taught how to calmly interact with children.
Be A Responsible Owner
Rottweilers are unfortunately linked to a high percentage of severe bites but the breed itself isn’t to blame. The greatest predictor of whether or not a dog will bite is not its breed but rather how it is cared for. A 2013 review of fatal dog bites by the National Canine Research Counsel identified that 70.4% of dogs involved in such attacks were not considered family pets, and 77.9% were not spayed or neutered.
Many irresponsible owners are drawn to Rottweilers thanks to the stereotypes surrounding them and encourage their dogs to behave violently.
Rewarding aggression or “training” your dog to be a guard dog rather than a family pet is not a good idea. Your dog doesn’t know the difference between a welcome and unwelcome guest, and the former is just as likely to receive a bite as the latter. The presence of a large dog alone is enough to dissuade most trespassers, so additional training for an already protective breed is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Additionally, Rottweilers already have the natural instincts to guard and it’s more important to mange these rather than enhance them.
Contact A Trainer
If your Rottie is showing signs of aggression to people or animals, it’s a good idea to contact a professional dog trainer. Many certified trainers have experience with large, aggressive dogs, but several sessions of positive reinforcement training may be required.
Simple commands such as sit, stay, and drop, can defuse otherwise tense interactions.
Even if your dog is not aggressive, obedience school and regular training can keep your dog entertained and socialized.
If this article has taught you one thing, it should be that healthy Rottweilers do not have locking jaws when they bite. If your dog appears to have a jaw that is locked, a vet visit is recommended to test for illness such as tetanus or TMJ issues.
Even though it doesn’t involve jaw-locking, a Rottweiler’s bite still has the potential to be very powerful.
As with any large breed, socialization, training, and supervision are always critical for the safety of everyone involved. Taking preventative measures to avoid aggression and biting is just part of responsibly owning a Rottie.