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When my partner and I got together, she already had a Rottweiler, Stella. I was a little intimidated at first; I had never had a dog so big before, and hers was particularly hefty.
So I brought her outside to play fetch, thinking to myself “Well that’s what you do with dogs, right?” My dog loves to fetch!
I tossed the ball for her and watched it bounce across the yard. So did she. We both stood there, both still, and watched it come to a stop about twenty feet away.
I tried again. She watched me again. I stood there looking at Stella and wondered “Can you even play fetch?”
Do Rottweilers retrieve? All dogs, including Rottweilers, can retrieve and learn to play fetch. Rottweilers were not bred for retrieval work, so they have characteristics that make them particularly poor retrievers. But Rotties are smart, motivated dogs, so it’s not that difficult to teach them how to fetch. Just keep expectations low.
Don’t believe me? Check out this guy’s moves:
It turns out that Rottweilers are not a breed that is predisposed to retrieval work or games of fetch. While they were bred for lots of outdoor activity, the retrieval work was usually left to the faster, slimmer breeds of dogs that were around.
However, not everyone had a wide variety of dog breeds to pick from, and Rottweilers were a great option for people who needed an all-around working dog and some even made their way onto the farm.
This made Rotties adaptable and super smart. And you can teach them to be good retrievers, although it’s doubtful that they will ever be great.
Why Are Rottweilers Bad At Fetch?
There are a number of things that make Rottweilers not-so-great at retrieving and fetch, at least compared to, say, a Golden or Labrador Retrievers. After all, those guys have retriever right in the name.
It’s important to note however that all dogs are different. Some retrievers will never play fetch and some Rottweilers are great at it.
However, here are some general reasons Rotties are not great retrievers:
They Aren’t Physically Built For It
Rottweilers were originally bred to work and live alongside butchers, protecting the cows and then hauling their meat from the farm into town to the market.
As such, they are big, heavy dogs, bred to be big enough to intimidate and move a full-grown cow. They are also powerful dogs bred to pull extremely heavy carts for long distances.
This makes them heavy. Up to 130 pounds in some of the larger males.
All of that weight makes them slow runners who have a difficult time keeping up with a bouncing ball. It also makes them tire out faster since they have to run with all of those big, bulky shoulder muscles.
They also have short brachycephalic noses. You find these short noses on dogs like Bulldogs, boxers, and, yes, Rottweilers. These short mouths make it harder for them to grab small, fast-moving objects than dolichocephalic dog breeds, or dogs with longer heads and mouths like hounds, shepherds, and retrievers.
These short noses also make it more difficult for the Rottweiler to breathe, so they will get winded faster doing lots of short sprints while playing fetch or doing retrieval work. They may be able to play fetch, but they won’t be able to for very long.
My final point applies if you were thinking about playing fetch or doing retrieval work with your Rottie in the water. Rottweilers are big dogs who are not necessarily good swimmers even if they do enjoy a good splash in the water.
They may be averse to going into the water to chase after whatever it is you want them to retrieve, or they may quickly grow tired of swimming because it’s so difficult for them.
An exhausted Rottweiler out in the water is an incredibly dangerous thing indeed, so if you are going to play fetch with your Rottweiler, it is best to stick to dry land.
They Have No Instincts For It
Like I mentioned earlier, Rottweilers were bred for very specific non-retriever work.
People often underestimate just how complicated retrieving work is. The dogs that are the best at it have been bred for hundreds of years if not longer, to excel at all of the many things that go into retrieving.
Most average Rottie owners want to throw a ball or another small object for their Rottie to retrieve.
While all dogs are different, and some Rottweilers are in situations that make them more inclined to chase, Rottweilers as a breed have no history of chasing small game.
A history of chasing small game is one of the things that make the best retrievers so good at chasing after small balls bouncing through a field of tall grass or finding a frisbee floating out in the water.
A Rottweiler may chase after a close-by, fast-moving ball, but they may not pick it up if they catch it.
If a Rottweiler does pick up what you have thrown or what you wanted to bring back to you, there is another trait that makes them more likely to destroy it and bring it to you.
Rottweilers have what’s known as “hard mouths,” as opposed to the “soft mouths” that retrievers have.
The distinction is behavioral, not physical. It has nothing to do with how hard or soft a dog’s mouth is actually.
Soft-mouth dogs are less likely to chomp when they bite. These dogs have been bred to bite and hold delicate little things in their mouths, like ducks and other birds that hunters bred to retrievers to retrieve. They do not chomp down or crush the bird in any way, which is a difficult thing for a dog to resist the urge to do.
If a dog hasn’t been bred to hold things in its mouth, like a retriever, they likely do not have the instinct to hold it and bring it back to you.
Rottweilers have hard mouths. This means that, when they bite, they bite down hard and are prone to biting and chewing. They love to rip things apart, and they have the hard bite strength developed for nipping at the heels of cows.
All of this to say, you are likely going to go through a lot of balls and frisbees trying to teach your Rottweiler how to play fetch. It’s just not what they were bred to do, and you’d be better off giving them a chew toy than a frisbee. It’s also why they aren’t a top contender when it comes to finding a hunting dog.
Assuming that the Rottweiler has chased after the ball, found the ball, and picked up the ball without destroying it, they still probably won’t bring it to you. Why would they?
Getting a dog to bring an object, especially a desirable one like a toy, treat, or dead or dying bird back to you is incredibly hard. Owners typically rely heavily on retrieving breeds’ natural instincts to do most of the work of getting the dog interested in bringing the object back to them.
Rottweilers are prone to possessive, territorial behavior. I love Rottweilers and this isn’t some scathing take on their personalities but is rather a simple fact about this big, powerful breed.
They were, in fact, bred to protect their families and their property. They have a deep sense of ownership and want to protect what is “theirs,” which is part of what makes them such great guard dogs.
It also means that they’re prone to possessiveness. If they get the toy, they are not likely to bring it back to you and will instead run off to chew it, bury it, or generally keep it away from you.
If they do bring it back, you will probably find yourself reaching for it only for them to quickly told their heads and walk away from you, leaving you to chase after them. What fun!
Can I Teach A Rottweiler How To Retrieve?
Yes, Rottweilers can learn to retrieve because they are smart, versatile dogs with a high drive that keeps them interested and a strong desire to please their owners. They may get tired more quickly than other dogs and may never be consistent, but you can definitely play fetch and retrieval games with your Rottweiler.
Rottweilers are incredibly smart dogs and canine psychologist Stanely Coren ranks them as the 9th smartest breed.
This is in part due to the fact that Rottweilers, while generally bred to do one or two very specific tasks, became a ubiquitous all-around working dog for many Europeans.
This versatility meant that they often had to switch from one task to another, learn complicated high-stakes tasks, and work closely alongside people to figure out solutions to problems and do what the person wanted from them.
This has made the Rottweiler that we know today a versatile dog that can just as easily be a big couch potato as they can be a fearsome police dog.
They were very hard-working dogs back in the day, so today they still are able to maintain high drive all day long. So long as they are not too hot and don’t get too winded, the Rottweiler has the ability to maintain focus on work for long periods of time.
This means, even if your Rottweiler is not a very good fetcher or retriever at first, you can work with them to get them better.
Not only all of this, but retrieval work is extremely good for Rottweilers.
Rottweilers are big dogs who are prone to heart problems. It just takes a lot of work for their poor hearts to support those big bulky bodies of theirs.
Retrieval work of all kinds gets your Rottweiler running, walking, and thinking. All of these things are good for their heart and brain and can help maintain healthy minds and bodies for their whole lives.
How Do I Teach My Rottweiler To Retrieve?
Pick Your Equipment
First, pick what you want them to retrieve. Start with something simple but something that will keep your Rottie interested.
You want it to be small enough for them to easily carry it in their mouth but not so small that it’s a choking hazard or will be too difficult for them to see.
If they have a favorite toy that is a suitable option, great. It should be made of plastic or rubber, not cloth, so it doesn’t get disgusting when you play with it outside.
Rubber balls of the appropriate size are a good choice. Ones that bounce are better so that you can keep your Rottweiler interested in between throws by bouncing it up and down or tossing it in the air.
It can be tempting to use tennis balls, but it has been proven that tennis balls are bad for a dog’s teeth. Instead, you can check out our list of the best balls for Rottweilers to find the perfect one for your pup.
Find A Good Location
Find a place that is fenced-in and gives you enough room for your Rottweiler to run around and get a few good bounds in.
In the beginning, it won’t need to be a very large space. You are going to work up to more space. So start small, and pick a place that has very few distractions.
You won’t be able to teach your Rottweiler how to fetch or retrieve if there are lots of other dogs around, so no dog parks at the beginning.
Teach Them Get It, Come, and Drop It
These are three basic commands that are essential if you are going to teach your Rottie to retrieve for you.
Your Rottie will probably be pretty interested, at least at the beginning of your training sessions, with chasing after the ball or whatever it is that you have thrown for them. It’s picking it up, bringing it to you, and giving it to you that will be difficult.
It’s best to go into retrieval training with these three tricks already in the bag. Your Rottie may already know one or all of these tricks, so I won’t waste your time getting into the weeds with it.
If you need to teach your Rottie, pick up a training clicker (this is my personal favorite) and check out these videos for how to teach your dog to get it, come, and drop it.
Put It All Together
Start with the object in your hand and your Rottie sitting, focused on you just a few feet away. Make sure that you are being very positive and excited so that you have your Rottweiler’s tension and you are engaged and that they are engaging with you.
Toss the ball just a few feet away at the beginning. When you toss the ball, tell your Rottweiler to get it. If they pick it up, give them lots and lots of praise and tell them to come to you. Encourage them to hold the ball in their mouth while they come to you.
If they drop the ball, tell them to get it again. You don’t want to pick the ball up yourself, you want them to do this themselves.
When they bring the ball back to you, tell them to drop it. If they do, give them their favorite treat and lots of praise and positive rewards.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
You’re going to need to do this a lot for the three separate steps to become one “game” for your Rottweiler. You can gradually build up the distance you are throwing the ball but make sure you keep on giving them lots of treats and rewards. This may be a slow-going process at first.
Use A Designated Toy
Making a designated toy that you only use for training them to retrieve or fetch can make it an extra exciting opportunity for your Rottweiler.
If it is a high-value toy, which it should be if you were trying to train them how to chase after it, you should exclusively use it for fetch training.
Not only will this keep them excited, but doing the initial training with the same object removes any sort of changes to the process that could confuse your Rottweiler.
You don’t want to mix up the toy too early on or you may confuse them and lose progress.
Keep It Short
Remember that your Rottweiler is not prone to being a great retrieving dog, and all this running is hard for them.
Make sure they have access to fresh water for the entire time that you are training and let them take breaks as often as needed.
Keep a close eye on them to make sure they are not breathing too quickly or heavily. Rottweilers can get heatstroke in just a matter of minutes so it is up to you to monitor them as you work with them.
Training sessions should be limited to not more than about 15 minutes, but you’re the best judge of how much your dog can exercise, not me. Just keep a close eye on them.
Stick To The Rules
Do not fall into the trap of picking up the ball yourself. People who are trying to teach their dog to fetch or to retrieve so often find themselves walking around their yard picking up an object and throwing it, only to go walk and pick it up again.
The fun, easy part of the game is running after the object. Bringing it back and giving it to you as the part that requires discipline. If you do it, and you are just teaching your Rottweiler that they do not have to do the hard part, they can just do the fun part.
Be consistent and set clear expectations that you stick to.
Keep It Fun
Your Rottweiler will need you to get excited in order for them to get excited. Learning and exercise can be very challenging and stressful if it’s not done in the right environment.
When it is done with lots of treats, play, fun, and praise from their favorite person, learning to fetch and retrieve can be an excellent way to bond and burn off energy.
It is going to take a while for your Rottweiler to be even a decent retriever, so don’t let yourself lose patience. It’s supposed to be fun for both of you, so if you aren’t having fun, call it a day and try again later.
Mix It Up
Once you and your Rottweiler are retrieving the same ball over and over for a good amount of distance, now is the time to mix up your routine.
First, try changing from the same toy you have been to a new one. These are durable, fun toys that are used to train dogs for field trials that are a fun next step.
Gradually try to wean them off of treats to make it about the fun of getting the ball or the object and playing with you.
You can try taking them to a park, but don’t be surprised if a dog park distracts a new fetcher from their ball.
By changing the environment and the object, you are shifting from training mode to practice mode. Mixing it up once they get the rules down will help them solidify this new game and internalize it forever.
Even if you do everything right and you and your Rottweiler can play fetch for hours, do not let the neighbor’s border collie make you feel small.
Rottweilers are not ever going to be excellent retrievers. Even a novice, puppy Golden Retriever will probably have more retriever drive than a trained, adult Rottweiler.
The simple fact that they are so big may mean that they can only retrieve one or two times before they are too tired and need to take a long break.
Consider playing a game with your Rottweiler that is more in line with what they are good at. Rottweilers love to tug, so maybe pick up a rope and spend some time trying to pull it away from them (I bet you lose!)
Rottweilers are excellent dogs and they can be very good retrievers, but if you are looking for a dog that can play fetch with you all day long, a Rottweiler is not the best choice.