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Rottweilers are deeply loving and loyal with their families, so why do they so frequently have a bad reputation?
If you have a Rottweiler or you have ever handled one in public, you’ve probably noticed that people tend to give you and the dog a wide berth.
But why do Rottweilers have a bad reputation? Rottweilers typically have very stable temperaments and are no more likely to show aggression than any other breed provided they are handled and socialized properly. The Rottweiler is a brave, powerful dog and most are willing to put their lives in danger to defend their families. This, along with their physical appearance, is likely behind the bad reputation.
Rottweilers are brave, loyal dogs that will defend their family if necessary, but rarely respond aggressively in inappropriate situations when they are raised and handled correctly.
Here’s what you need to know about why Rottweilers may have a bad reputation and what you can do to work against it for your dog.
Black Dog Syndrome
Black Dog Syndrome is the tendency of people to have more negative feelings towards black dogs regardless of the fact that they may be just like a dog of another color in every other way. This syndrome is noticed significantly at animal shelters, where black dogs are often less likely to be adopted than dogs of other colors.
It may be even harder for Rottweilers, thanks to the black and tan coloration. Many people find this kind of coloration to be intimidating. In fact, that may be precisely why Rottweilers have maintained this coloration throughout history.
As Roman war dogs, Rottweilers were an intimidating force charging in packs across the battlefield. Later, when Rottweilers became German military and police dogs, the black and tan coloration created a unified appearance almost like a military uniform. This effect may have been more likely to intimidate the enemy.
Whatever the reason, whether it is the predominantly black coloration or the tan markings, a Rottweiler’s coloration seems to intimidate many people, and likely is at least partially behind the bad reputation.
Rottweilers often weigh over 100 lbs. They have a large head and massive jaws which deliver a greater bite force than most other breeds, including Pitbulls and German Shepherds.
It is quite clear from the Rottweiler’s appearance that this is a very powerful dog. The muscles, large jaws, and forward-facing eyes all work together to deliver a decidedly intimidating appearance.
The Rottweiler looks like a dog that you would not want to get into a confrontation with, which can cause people to fear them. When people tend to be afraid of a dog, it is much more likely that it will have a bad reputation with the public.
Rottweilers have held many jobs throughout history, but one of the most essential has always been as a guard dog. Rottweilers guard their people, property, and livestock. Historically, they have guarded carts that they dragged to market or herds of livestock that they were driving, even when their handler was otherwise occupied.
These deep guarding instincts still exist in most Rottweilers today. It is perfectly normal for Rottweilers to bark, growl, and generally show aggression when a stranger approaches their home or family.
Well-trained, socialized, and handled Rottweilers are not put into situations where they may be triggered to show aggression inappropriately, but people who do not understand the breed’s instincts sometimes fail to respond appropriately when guarding instincts develop. Many irresponsible people have used Rottweilers as junkyard guardians or frightening backyard defenders without proper training or engaging the dog.
Rottweilers are utterly devoted to their families and need to be close to them and given direction and structure if they are to develop into happy, healthy, dogs. When Rottweilers aren’t socialized and raised properly, their guarding instincts may turn into inappropriate aggression.
When the public interacts with Rottweilers that have been improperly raised and handled, they may be more likely to be dealing with a seriously aggressive dog than another breed would be likely to become, leading to a bad reputation for all Rottweilers, even those that are raised and handled correctly.
Among the many jobs that Rottweilers have served over time has been as herding dogs. Herding instincts come from prey drive. If a Rottweiler’s developing prey drive is not properly trained and channeled, it may come out in inappropriate ways.
Inappropriate prey drive and even herding instincts can cause Rottweilers to behave aggressively towards livestock, other pets, or even children. Rottweilers that are not socialized with a wide variety of people including children and other dogs when they are young may be more likely to respond with inappropriate prey drive when they get older.
Dogs that don’t learn bite inhibition as puppies may be more likely to use their powerful jaws to inflict serious damage, even the very first time that they respond to a situation with aggression.
Prey drive requires training and knowledgeable handling in any breed, but in a dog with powerful instincts and physique like the Rottweiler, it is even more important that this instinct be managed properly. When it isn’t, it is likely to lead to behaviors that have a high probability of giving the Rottweiler a bad reputation.
Bold, Brave Personality
Rottweilers are intense, brave dogs that are not designed to back down from a fight. From the time that a Rottweiler is a very young puppy, they may challenge their owners. A knowledgeable Rottweiler owner knows how to turn periods of challenge into constructive training opportunities.
However, inexperienced owners may not recognize the importance of responding appropriately to challenges from a Rottweiler in puppyhood. When Rottweilers begin challenging their owners more persistently in adolescence, insecure or inexperienced owners may not know what to do.
This is frequently the age when Rottweilers are rehomed or when they get into trouble. Without direction, a Rottweiler’s boldness and bravery can cause them to get into all sorts of mischief, including incidents of aggression with the owner, the owner’s family, or strangers.
The Rottweiler is not a breed that should develop without direction and be allowed to follow their own instincts and be left to their own devices. Without the proper guidance throughout puppyhood, some of this breed’s most admirable traits can get it into a lot of trouble.
Breed Specific Legislation
This is a bit of a chicken or egg situation but breed-specific legislation has hurt many of the bully breeds that we love- including Rottweilers.
The ASPCA defines breed-specific legislation as “the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals.”
Dozens of countries and cities around the world have banned Rottweilers, along with dozens of other breeds, based on skewed and often incorrect data.
Sadly, breed-specific legislation doesn’t work very well and the American Veterinary Medical Association has a great explanation as to why these policies just aren’t effective. The short version is that any dog can bite and as we’ve said hundreds of times breed alone doesn’t make a bully (or a biter).
But how does this impact the reputation of Rottweilers?
By making an entire breed illegal, people who aren’t familiar with Rottweilers will immediately perceive Rottweilers and other banned breeds as dangerous and aggressive.
Sadly, this can often attract the wrong kind of dog owners to the breed since they’re specifically interested in a dangerous and “illegal” breed.
I think you can see where this is going, but these less than ideal dog owners only perpetuate the image of dangerous Rottweilers and the cycle continues.
Pop Culture Portrayal
If you look at Rotties on the big screen you won’t see many dogs that look like the cuddle bugs I know.
Instead, you’ll most often see Rotties portrayed as aggressive, fierce, and dangerous. I wouldn’t say that the media is what caused a Rottie’s bad reputation but they do double down on everything that makes these dogs intimidating while minimizing their more affectionate qualities.
If you’ve never met a Rottie, but only seen them on television, you probably aren’t going to have a positive image of these powerful pups.
How to Work Against a Rottweiler’s Negative Reputation
If you are a responsible Rottweiler owner with a good understanding of the breed and you are doing everything you can to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog that is a benefit to the community, what can you do to work against the breed’s bad reputation?
Some owners may think that what the public thinks is their own problem and not worry about it, but having the public react poorly to your dog can have bad consequences for your dog. If the public tends to perceive your Rottweiler negatively, they may be more likely to react fearfully when they interact with or are even around your dog.
Even mild indications of fearfulness can be communicated to your dog, teaching them that the world is a place full of fearful, worried people. A dog that is consistently feared may grow into a dog that believes the world is unsafe.
For this reason, it may be well worth the effort to work against negative perceptions against your dog, as ill-founded as they may be. It may seem unfair, but the truth is that everyone who takes the leash of a Rottweiler immediately becomes an ambassador for the breed.
It is your responsibility to raise your dog to be happy and well-socialized. To do that, you may need to do some things to work against their bad reputation.:
- Train a cute greeting ritual. It’s hard to feel frightened of a dog that offers you their paw or rolls over for a belly rub. By training your Rottweiler to perform a sweet greeting ritual, you can reduce fear that the public may have of your dog while simultaneously training your dog an appropriate response to the situation that doesn’t involve aggression.
- Dress them in a disarming way. Whether you want to go all the way and put your Rottweiler in adorable costumes or you just want to choose bright and fun colored harnesses and collars, dressing your Rottweiler in a way that reduces negative perceptions can do a lot. Avoid leather, chain, and anything else that may be associated with aggression.
- Keep control at all times. As much as you may think that you know how your Rottweiler will respond in any given situation, this is a breed with their own ideas about things. Your Rottweiler’s behavior will keep changing until they are fully mature at around three or four years old, and many continue to experience changes throughout life.
Rottweilers Aren’t Bad Dogs
Rottweilers are not bad dogs, and they don’t deserve a bad reputation. This unique breed does have some special personality, physical, and instinctual attributes that can contribute to a negative reputation when the dogs are not raised and handled properly, so it’s up to every Rottweiler owner to raise and handle their dog to be a good ambassador for the breed.