Why Do Rottweilers Attack Small Dogs?

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Why Do Rottweilers Attack Small Dogs

There isn’t anything much more frightening than a Rottweiler charging towards a little dog. Obviously, it’s not something that anyone wants but it does happen more often than Rottweiler parents or small dog owners would like to think. 

But why does it happen?

Why do Rottweilers attack small dogs? In the vast majority of cases when a Rottweiler attacks a small dog, particularly if a Rottweiler attacks a small dog but does not typically attack large dogs, the cause of the behavior is prey drive. In some cases, the Rottweiler may be acting out of dog-reactivity. 

Rottweilers can experience strong prey drive and they can also be bold and willing to take on a fight, both of which may result in the Rottweiler attacking a small dog.

Here’s what you need to know about prey drive, as well as some of the other reasons that Rottweilers may attack small dogs, so that you can be prepared whether there’s  a Rottweiler or a small dog in your life. 

Understanding Prey Drive

It can be very shocking the first time your Rottweiler shows prey drive, particularly if they are acting out against an animal that you do not think of as prey, such as a small dog. It can be tempting to think that your dog is now a bad dog or that they are vicious or unpredictable, but none of these are fair assessments of your dog’s behavior. 

After all, breed doesn’t make a bully and we can’t blame a dog for giving into their instincts. 

Prey drive can be extremely powerful and difficult for your dog to resist. Prey drive has served Rottweilers for centuries and it shouldn’t be a surprise to see it come out in your pet. It is essential that every Rottweiler owner takes time to understand prey drive, whether or not their dog has displayed it. 

Many Rottweilers don’t begin displaying strong instinctual urges like an intense prey drive until they’re around two or three years old. It may seem very sudden and unexpected to you when your Rottweiler begins showing prey drive related behaviors, but it may be a very natural time for your dog to begin to develop these behaviors.

Why do Dogs Experience Prey Drive?

Prey drive is one of the most essential instincts in any dog. It is what causes dogs to enjoy chasing after balls and vigorously shaking stuffed toys. 

In the ancient past, prey drive kept dogs alive when they were wolves hunting for survival. As dogs began to live with people, prey drive helped them to aid hunters in the pursuit of all kinds of game. 

As time as going on, prey drive has developed into a wide range of different behaviors. Prey drive gives terriers the courage to go into the ground after an angry badger. It enables hound dogs to run through the woods for hours or sometimes even days, following a scent. 

Many people are surprised to learn that prey drive behaviors may not be obviously related to pursuing prey. A modified prey drive instinct is what gives herding dogs the instinct to follow, chase, and control, but not attack livestock. It’s also what gives retrieving dogs the necessary focus and even obsession on game birds to find them, point them out, and bring them back to the hunter without damaging them in any way. 

Prey drive is present in some way in every dog. Even the tiniest and most fru-fru of toy breeds will vigorously chase toys and some will even chase animals they perceive as prey like squirrels and mice.

Why Would a Rottweiler Perceive Another Dog as Prey?

It makes sense that your Rottweiler may show aggression towards prey animals like birds or small mammals or even animals they may have herded in the past, such as livestock, but why would your Rottweiler think a small dog is prey?

As you can see by the diversity of ways in which prey drive comes out in domestic dogs, this is not a clean-cut instinct with obvious behavioral consequences. A Rottweiler can be triggered to experience prey drive any time it sees something running, making high pitch noises, or in any other way acting the way a prey animal might. 

This is why a Rottweiler that has gotten along well with a small dog in enclosed settings or on walks may suddenly show unexpected aggression when the dogs are allowed to run loose together. When the Rottweiler sees the small dog sprinting across the dog park, they can suddenly feel the urge to chase and catch, unrelated to play or normal dog relations.

Rottweilers that haven’t been exposed to little dogs are much more likely to perceive them as prey, but any Rottweiler could express the behavior. That’s why it’s so important to socialize all dogs, not just Rottweilers, as early as possible. 

Do Rottweilers Usually Hurt Little Dogs When They Attack Them? 

Seeing a Rottweiler go after a little dog is absolutely terrifying for everybody involved, particularly the little dog. Sometimes Rottweilers cause a significant amount of damage in a serious attack the very first time they are exposed to a little dog. 

Other times, Rottweilers may make a lot of noise and chase the dog down, but not actually cause any damage. A Rottweiler that causes severe damage or even death to a small dog and a Rottweiler that does not hurt a little dog at all may be acting out of the same instincts. Here are a few components that may go into what happens when a Rottweiler attacks a little dog:

Early Socialization and Bite Inhibition

If you’ve ever watched a litter of puppies play, whether they are Rottweiler or any other breed, you may have noticed that they spend most of the time fighting one another. This process of constant fighting, followed by occasional yelps when sharp puppy teeth do damage, continuously teaches puppies how powerful their bite is and what it takes to cause harm. 

Since puppies tend to stop feeling like playing when they are hurt by another puppy’s teeth, puppies learn to control their bites so that the game can go on. As puppies get older, they continue to play these bite games and learn ongoing bite inhibition from other dogs and from their human family. 

The development of good bite inhibition is why it is so essential that your Rottweiler be well socialized with people and other dogs from the time they are young. 

Behaviorists believe that there are critical periods when it is more important for your dog to interact with other dogs of all kinds of sizes and shapes and be allowed to play with them so as to develop solid bite inhibition and self-control with their mouth around other dogs. 

It is also important that you teach your Rottweiler puppy bite inhibition by responding appropriately when they nip at you without robbing them of opportunities to do so or punishing them so harshly that they are afraid to mouth at you at all. 

Dogs that have developed good bite inhibition are much less likely to seriously hurt another dog in an attack, whether they are driven by prey drive or any other instinct 

Do They Know The Dog or Other Small Dogs?

A Rottweiler that chases down a playmate aggressively, only to be met with their usual friends’ fear and indignation, is much less likely to continue on to seriously harm the dog than a Rottweiler who is meeting another dog for the first time. 

Rottweilers that have met many small dogs are much less likely to inflict serious damage than are Rottweilers who have only known one or two small dogs. The degree of familiarity that your Rottweiler has with a small dog will directly affect the severity of the attack, in many cases. 

Rottweilers that attack small dogs that they know viciously may be more likely to be acting out of a social disagreement than from prey drive, although these lines can also cross at times.

How the People Respond

An attack triggered by prey drive can be stopped from continuing into a serious attack by rapid response from the owners. If you are able to quickly get to your Rottweiler, and respond by shouting loudly to interrupt them, the chances are much better that they will be separated without significant harm being done.

The owner is the one most likely to be able to convince their Rottweiler to stop an attack, so it is always the responsibility of the Rottweiler owner to act quickly, even if it means that they may put themselves in harm’s way. Always remember that it is your responsibility to anticipate and respond appropriately to your dog’s instincts.

Nature is powerful but so is nurture and it’s critical that as a Rottweiler parent you understand your dog and the degree of their prey drive.   

Why Might a Rottweiler Attack a Small Dog, Other than Prey Drive?

Prey drive isn’t the only reason that a Rottweiler may choose to attack a small dog. Dogs don’t always seem to see size in the same way as we do. While we certainly are aware of the vast difference between a Rottweiler and a small breed dog, the differences aren’t as clear to either dog. 

Small breed dogs may assert themselves to a Rottweiler, causing the Rottweiler to respond aggressively as well. Many people fail to recognize the smaller dog’s part in a disagreement or even notice when a small dog shows aggression.

It is essential that you always take the behavior of every dog in the situation seriously, even if they seem so small as to be insignificant. It’s not fair to allow a small dog to behave rudely to a Rottweiler and then label the Rottweiler aggressive for responding in kind. 

Can a Rottweiler be Trained Not to Behave Aggressively Towards Small Dogs?

Of course! But if your Rottweiler has consistently shown aggression towards small dogs, you may have a long road to travel to change the behavior. If your Rottweiler has seriously harmed a small dog, you should seek out the help of an animal behaviorist or certified trainer before progressing with training. 

Rottweilers are extremely powerful dogs that can do an incredible amount of damage to a small dog in a very short amount of time. It is not fair to put community dogs at risk if you know your Rottweiler to be aggressive.

Additionally, Rottweilers already have a bad rap, however undeserved, and it’s important to try and do our best to shift the perspective on this breed.

How to Train Your Rottweiler to Resist Prey Drive

Rottweilers were bred to be herding dogs, as well as police and military dogs. They have an extraordinary capacity for self-control when trained properly. You may not be able to entirely overcome your Rottweiler’s instinct to want to chase small dogs, but you are very likely to be able to train them to resist the urge. 

A Rottweiler that still wants to chase small dogs but is resisting the urge to do so may not be safe in a home with a small dog or off-leash at a dog park, but you are much more likely to have control of them on a walk or if a small dog runs up to you unexpectedly.

The trick to training your dog to show self-control around animals that they may perceive as prey, including small dogs, is to desensitize them to the related triggers. Running, yelping, and just being present are all triggers, depending on your dog. 

  • With your dog securely leashed and under your control, gradually expose them to closer and closer situations with small dogs, keeping them just under their stress threshold at all times. Your Rottweiler should be paying attention, but not acting out or actively trying to get to the small dog. 
  • Continuously reward your Rottweiler with high-value treats when they look at you and show a relaxed attitude in the presence of a small dog. 
  • Over time, you’ll find that small dogs can be closer and closer or perform more and more prey-like behavior without your Rottweiler responding aggressively. 

Below is a great video that walks you through this process. Even though this trainer is describing the less common prey drive directed towards a vehicle, the idea is still the same.

Try Channeling Prey Drive

Another technique worth considering if your dog is showing prey drive towards small dogs is giving them an opportunity to show prey drive in a more appropriate manner. 

Training your dog to herd livestock, track, or compete in activities that mimic a hunt, such as lure coursing, could all be great ways to let them express their prey drive in a way that is constructive. These experiences can help your Rottweiler to redirect the urge to chase onto appropriate items such as toys. 

How to Protect Your Small Dog From a Rottweiler Attack

If your little dog has been attacked by a Rottweiler or if you know a Rottweiler that you believe may behave aggressively towards your small dog, you may find yourself afraid to take your little dog for a walk, much less bring them to a dog park. 

A powerful breed dog like a Rottweiler in pursuit of your little dog can be a very dangerous situation. But realize that not every Rottweiler should be considered dangerous. 

One of the precautions you can take is to carry a dog deterrent spray made of citronella. One of the better brands is PetSafe and you can pick up a can on Amazon by clicking here

The good thing about citronella is that it will deter aggressive pets but won’t hurt them. While the priority would be to protect your small pup you also don’t want to hurt someone’s pet even if they are acting very inappropriately. You also don’t want to deal with any legal repercussions that may result. 

Closing Thoughts

It is always scary and sometimes very dangerous when a Rottweiler attacks a small dog. Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents are all-too-common, due to under socialization and a failure to understand prey drive instincts and related behaviors. 

It’s also important to remember that prey drive is a normal dog behavior but just like many canine behaviors if it’s not properly mitigated and redirected it can end up causing problems. 

If you have a Rottweiler, it’s important to understand prey drive and look for any indications that your dog may be beginning to experience prey drive before a resulting attack. With proper bite inhibition training and socialization and provided you have control over your Rottweiler in all situations, you can prevent an attack from occurring.