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Rottweilers can make amazing family pets, but like any dog, they occasionally require discipline in order to ensure good behavior and their safety as well as that of the people and other dogs around them.
Unfortunately, Rottweilers have gotten an unfair and unfounded reputation of being aggressive and vicious, although these characteristics are often the result of training – or a lack thereof. With proper training and discipline, Rotties thrive and their goofy, lovable personalities can shine.
So, how should you discipline a Rottweiler?
The best way to discipline your Rottweiler is to firmly and immediately tell him no, and then ignore him. Your Rottweiler likely craves your love above all else, so withholding your attention will send a clear message that you won’t tolerate bad behavior. Conversely, reward good behavior right away – positive reinforcement is highly effective!
We’re going to cover exactly how to do this and why dominance doesn’t need to be part of your training vocabulary.
Let’s get started!
There’s No Need to Establish Dominance
While it used to be the norm for dog training to involve a human establishing dominance over a dog, this has since been debunked as a less-than-ideal training method. It’s based on the incorrect assumption that dogs purposely misbehave in an effort to establish their dominance over a human.
The original thought process there was that since wolves establish hierarchies within packs and dogs are descended from wolves, so a human could establish himself as the “alpha” over his pet dog.
In fact, it has since been discovered that wolf pack hierarchies are largely dictated by family structure (parent wolves are the natural leaders and offspring the natural followers) rather than by a fighting or a display of strength. As a result, the term ‘alpha’ is no longer used in the context of wild wolf pack hierarchies and therefore isn’t particularly apt to describe dog/human relationships either.
All of this to say, Rottweilers and dogs in general are unlikely to try to assert dominance over humans or even other dogs, and any attempt for a human to establish dominance over a dog will generally have little to no effect on eliminating unwanted behaviors.
Understand Why Your Rottweiler is Misbehaving
We’ve established that it’s doubtful that your Rottweiler’s misbehavior is related to a scheme for dominance, so why is he engaging in these pesky behaviors?
Well, he probably just doesn’t know any better yet!
Your Rottie may not be able to make a connection between, for example, him chewing the coffee table leg while you’re at work and your frustration at him when you arrive home hours after the deed has been done.
His misbehavior might be a result of his natural instincts, fear, boredom, the pleasure of the action (who doesn’t love a good table leg chew honestly), or just the fact that he doesn’t know that you would prefer for him not to do certain things.
Rottweilers are extremely smart, ranking ninth in overall intelligence among all 197 AKC-recognized dog breeds. Their high ranking is based on extensive research by Stanley Coren, a neuropsychological researcher who focuses on dog intelligence. Rottweilers’ prodigious brainpower means that they can learn quickly and obey commands speedily.
However, on the flip side of the brainiac token, Rotties require a lot of mental and physical exercise and they are happiest when they have a stimulating job to do. A lack of stimulation can leave your Rottweiler bored, increasing the chances that he will assign himself a task that you may find undesirable, like dismantling that coffee table. Idle paws are the devil’s playthings, as they say.
The good news is that with some patience and dedication, you can train your Rottweiler to understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior – in a way that’s fun and positive for both of you!
How To Discipline a Rottweiler
As the American Kennel Club points out, Rottweilers are extremely eager to please, earning a 5 out of 5 for trainability.
They love to be around people and hate to be ignored or isolated, which leads us to our number one tip for disciplining a Rottweiler…
Ignore Them For Bad Behavior
If your Rottweiler does something you don’t like (i.e. jumping, barking, etc.), firmly tell him “no” and then turn your back to him and don’t pay him any attention. Since Rotties hate to be ignored, this will be sufficient discipline for most behavioral infractions. Once your dog has calmed down, stopped the unwanted behavior, and moved on to something else, re-engage with him and reward him with your attention.
In order for this form of discipline to work, you and anyone who interacts with your dog must ignore bad behavior every single time. Otherwise, your Rottweiler may continue to try to use the behavior to get what he wants, remembering that it works every once in a while.
Even a negative reaction to bad behavior can just register as attention to your Rottweiler. So, even though your first instinct when he jumps up on you might be to push him away and give him a stern talking to, it’s best to simply prevent him from doing it again by turning your back and moving away from him.
Then when he approaches you calmly and keeps all four on the floor, reward him with love and attention.
That last step is a prime example of positive reinforcement, which is an excellent tactic for training Rottweilers. Remember, they want nothing more than to please you, and rewarding good behavior allows your dog to build his confidence and know exactly what you expect from him.
Positive reinforcement can be given with food, treats, toys, petting, or verbal praise. Be mindful of giving too many treats though, as your Rottie might gain weight. As an alternative for treats, reward him with a few pieces of kibble.
Reward or Discipline Your Rottweiler Immediately
Like all dogs, Rottweilers require immediate feedback in order to understand the reason for a reward or discipline. Going back to our earlier example of your Rottweiler chewing up your coffee table while you are at work – by the time you arrive home hours later, it’s too late for discipline. He may greet you at the door with perfect manners, and if you discipline him then, he will likely be confused as to why his current good behavior is being punished.
Instead, it’s crucial to reward or discipline your dog immediately for good or bad behavior so that he can make the connection.
As such, training your Rottweiler will initially require a lot of time together so you can supervise him and catch him in the act, whether it’s good or bad. During times when you aren’t able to be with him, set him up for success by eliminating access to anything you don’t want him to mess with and providing him with toys and activities to keep him occupied. Whenever possible, tire him out beforehand with a long walk, jog, or play session.
Tips For Training Good Behavior
Since Rottweilers are so smart, they can progress quickly through training. Maximize the effectiveness of your training sessions with these tips:
Start Training As Soon As Possible
While it is in fact possible to teach an old dog new tricks, it’s much easier to start ‘em young. As you can see in this video, early training and exposure to potentially scary objects can be extremely helpful for you and your Rottie long-term:
Keep Training Sessions Short
Especially if you are training a puppy, short but frequent training sessions will be key. 15 minutes of training at a time is usually a good place to start – it’s long enough to be effective but short enough that your Rottweiler won’t lose focus or become bored with the repetition. However, don’t force the issue with a set-in-stone training schedule.
It’s important to note here that yelling at or hitting a Rottweiler (or any dog) is not only cruel, but it’s also ineffective. Punishment of this nature will instill fear in a dog, which can render further training very difficult or even pointless.
If you feel yourself becoming frustrated or notice that your dog doesn’t seem to be enjoying a training session anymore, cut it short and try again another day. Training should always be fun and stimulating, not stressful or scary.
Socialize Your Rottweiler
Who better to help teach your Rottweiler to be a good dog than another good dog?!
Early and often exposure to other dogs helps your Rottweiler see that they aren’t threats, allows him to practice his social skills, and may aid in his training in a ‘Rottie see, Rottie do’ sense.
In the same vein, early and often exposure to other humans is equally important for a well-rounded dog. Much like for human kids, polite interactions can be taught and encouraged. If your Rottie gets used to the positive experience of meeting strangers (both canine and human) as a puppy, he is much less likely to react poorly in meet-and-greet scenarios throughout the rest of his life.
Additionally, it’s important to regularly practice commands in the presence of other dogs and new people, to ensure that your Rottie will be able to focus despite distractions. While some breeds may be a better socialization companion than others, the most important part is making sure it happens early and often!
Don’t Encourage Aggressive Play or Behavior
Let’s be real – Rottweilers are big, strong dogs with big, strong jaws. Aggressive play like roughhousing or wrestling that might be cute and fun with a 20-pound Rottie puppy may not be so adorable a year or two later with your fully grown, 100-pound dog. They are working dogs with a strong guarding instinct, and if encouraged to do so, can become quite aggressive.
Fortunately, there are many other games and activities that are non-aggressive and still fun for you and your Rottie, like tug-o-war, fetch, hide and seek, hiking, swimming, and so forth. A convenient side effect of frequent constructive play is that your Rottweiler will be happy, healthy, and well-loved, meaning he is much less likely to develop into an aggressive or badly behaved dog!
You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it’s true – consistency is key. Conduct training sessions regularly with your Rottie, and be consistent with discipline and rewards. Introduce new commands or activities on a regular basis to keep him engaged in training and prevent boredom.
How To Deal With Aggression in Rottweilers
Rotties also scored 5 out of 5 on the AKC’s vigilance and protectiveness scale, which can occasionally manifest as something like aggression against strangers or ‘intruders’ who present a real or perceived threat to a Rottie’s family.
This natural instinct makes sense, considering the various roles that Rottweilers have played throughout their history – they’ve served as cattle-herding dogs helping ranchers move livestock to the market while protecting humans and cows alike from threats along the way, police dogs, guide dogs for the blind, search and rescue dogs, guard dogs, and generally as strong working dogs.
Unfortunately, bad actors have been historically drawn to the Rottweiler’s large stature and strong jaws, breeding and training them specifically to be aggressive and intimidating. As a result, Rottweilers are often placed on “most aggressive dog breed” lists, despite most individual Rottweilers being calm, lovable family dogs.
This is why if you choose to purchase a Rottweiler, it’s important to do so only from a reputable breeder who isn’t breeding for characteristics like huge muscles and aggression, and then train your Rottie appropriately. If you’re adopting, you’ll want to make sure you understand your Rottie’s history as much as possible.
However, nurture doesn’t always triumph over nature, and you may end up with a Rottie who displays aggressive tendencies despite your best efforts at discipline and training. In that case, here are some steps to take:
Observe and Identify Aggression Triggers
Make a list of triggers that cause your Rottie to demonstrate aggression. There are several different types of aggression to watch for, so it’s important to identify all triggers.
Limit Exposure To Triggers
Once you’ve identified triggers for your dog, limit his exposure to them for the short-term. This will help reduce stress and allow you to tackle triggers one at a time in a controlled manner.
Reward Passive Behavior
Now it’s time to reintroduce a trigger.
The same positive reinforcement and discipline principles we discussed earlier apply here, but you’ll also remove your Rottie from the vicinity of the stimulus in combination with withholding attention.
For example, if your dog displays aggression towards unknown dogs, slowly approach another leashed dog and praise your dog for as long as he remains passive. As soon as he starts to show aggression towards the other dog, stop praising him and calmly but immediately lead him away from the other dog. When he returns to a passive demeanor, reward him with a treat and praise. Slowly increase the trigger exposure until he learns to remain passive the whole time.
If at any point you become worried for your safety or that of your dog, other people, or other dogs, it’s time to call in professional help. Especially if you adopted your Rottweiler as an adult dog, he may have deep-seated aggression issues or past traumas that can be beyond the scope of an inexperienced trainer.
With these simple techniques for training, disciplining, and rewarding a Rottweiler, you and your dog can develop a strong relationship that facilitates good behavior, easy communication, and most importantly, lots of fun!