Rottweiler | Complete Breed Characteristics Guide

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Rottweiler close up

If you are considering a Rottweiler as your next family pet, you will own one of the ten most popular dog breeds.

However, you most likely already thought about the potential challenges of having such an intense dog in your home.

Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ve put together this one-page guide for Rottweiler owners. Read on to learn more about this top 10 breed and what you can expect from living with these massive dogs. Here’s all the information you need to ensure a successful friendship!

1- Brief Introduction

Rotties are working dogs from Germany. They herded cattle in small towns and later graduated to the police and military.

One of the most recognizable breeds, Rotts can become wonderful family dogs with proper leadership and training. Their best qualities are loyalty, affection, and strength.

The following breed information gives you some tools to anticipate how to address a Rottweiler’s health concerns, training idiosyncrasies, and relationships with neighbors, friends, and family members.

2- About the Rottweiler

The Rottweiler, also called a Rottie or Rott, is a large molosser dog of the working group.

The breed has gained tremendous popularity as a family companion and guard dog.

The only acceptable color is black with deep brown, rust, or mahogany points similar to the Doberman on the front of the chest, near the eyes, and on the cheeks and feet.

Rottweiler's face

A Rottie’s head is distinct, broader than it is long with wide-set medium-sized almond eyes and medium triangular ears that hang close to the cheekbones.

Males are larger and more muscular than females. Rotties are slightly longer than they are tall at a ratio of 10:9 and have a broad chest and a thick, powerful neck.

The tail is long, rope-like, and curves upward. However, the US standard calls for docking the Rottie’s tail to almost nothing when the pup is two days old. Germany no longer allows tail bobbing.

Rottweilers have an alert, steady, and confident bearing with a springy trot and bounding run. They move with boldness and intensity. Shyness and timidity are unacceptable character flaws you rarely see in a Rottie, but viciousness is also intolerable.

  • AKC – Working group
  • UKC – Livestock guardian
  • IFC – Pinschers, Schnauzer, Swiss Mountain, and cattle dog sand Molossian
  • CKC Canada) – Working dog

3- Remarkable History of the Rottweiler

The Rottweiler is a German breed whose name comes from the town of Rottweil.

However, Rottweilers’ ancestors have an illustrious history that began long before the black-and-tan drover dogs of Germany.

Consensus agrees that the Molossus dog, which originated in Greece and Albania, likely gave rise to many Mastiff-type dogs. Popular stories tout how ancient tribes trained the Molossians for military combat.

However, historians have found other forms and uses of the Molossus dog, including livestock guarding and coursing.

Sheepherding dogs still belonged to a large, formidable race while coursers were lighter and fleeter of foot.

Whether a different type of the old war combatants or a distinctive race altogether, the livestock guardian Molosser dogs likely gave rise to Rottweilers.

Romans obtained possession of these dogs and used them to drive their cattle across the Alps into Germany in 74 AD.

A rottweiler and a small dog

The dogs protected not only livestock but also their owners.

Germans seized the opportunity to develop the Rottweiler further once they ran the Roman legions out of town about 200 AD.

Although some interbreeding had likely already occurred, the Germans bred the abandoned Roman dogs with native canids to enhance performance.

They achieved a dog proficient at guarding property and driving livestock, mostly cattle, to sales.

Their large size also encouraged their use as draught animals, and they would haul carts of butchered meat to market.

They soon became the Rottweil Butcher’s Dog or the Rottweiler Metzgerhund.

So great was the dog’s guarding instinct that merchants would tie purses of money around its neck.

Rottweilers declined in numbers and quality when railroads arrived in the 1850s and eliminated the need for drover dogs.

Luckily, the breed proved versatile, and the military recognized its potential at the start of World War I.

Already performing on the police force, Rotties would serve as draft animals, search and rescue workers, messengers, and guard dogs during the war effort.

Germany drew up a breed standard for the Rottweiler in 1901, and the breed has deviated little from it in the subsequent decades.

Similar to the German Shepherd and other breeds, there was a pull between factions that wanted a working dog and those who focused more on conformation and show ring performance.

The year 1921 saw the groups unite and form the mother registry for the breed, Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub or the General German Rottweiler Club.

The Rottie first arrived in the United States in the late 1920s, brought over by a German immigrant.

Contrary to many other breeds, the Rottweiler received recognition by the AKC in 1931 before showing in the UK in 1936.

The UKC did not recognize the Rottie until 1950 after World War II, and it’s when the breed’s popularity took off, with the large working dog reaching No. 2 in the US by 1992.

Rottweiler with a branch in the mouth

4- Interesting Facts About This Furry Friend

  • Rotties have a strong herding instinct and can herd sheep as well as cattle.
  • This breed will challenge the dominant animal to control a herd of cattle, even if it means using their bodies.
  • Rottweilers reigned as the second most popular dog breed in the US from 1992 through 1997.
  • A little-known fact about tail docking is people thought it strengthened a dog’s back and prevented rabies. Rottweilers also needed protective tail docking to avoid tail injury during their work.

5- How adaptable is your friend?

Rotties are intelligent and can adapt appropriately to a wide variety of situations.

Their proficiency as herding dogs requires decision-making skills and an element of cooperation with humans.

As guard dogs, they must learn discernment and how to use appropriate force.

However, their large and imposing size and demeanor limit their adaptability to small or crowded places.

+ Good for novice owners – No

Size, power, and intelligence make the breed a challenge to train or control.

Rotties are formidable and will try to intimidate and assert their will over owners who are unsure or inexperienced.

First-time owners can consider a professional trainer but should use one that trains them to work with their dogs.

Sending your Rottie away to a trainer does not guarantee you will be able to establish leadership when he returns.

+ Adapts well to apartment living – No

Rottweilers are not suitable for apartment living due to their size alone.

More important, the breed is a working dog with high activity levels.

rottweiler in an apartment

+ Sensitivity level – Moderately high

A Rottie develops strong attachments to her family and can even display separation anxiety and destructive behavior if she has to stay alone for long periods.

Moreover, her intelligence makes it paramount that you give her attention to fulfill her mental and emotional needs.

+ Tolerates being alone – No

Your pet developed originally as a loyal protector of herds, people, and property.

Ancient dogs worked closely with their humans.

Your Rottie will not appreciate you leaving him alone for long periods, especially with nothing meaningful to do.

He could develop extremely destructive behaviors such as chewing, pacing, and excessive barking.

+ Tolerates cold weather – Yes

Rottweilers do not mind cold weather, especially if working. Their double coats keep them warm and relatively dry in snowy conditions.

They are large and do not lose heat readily.

You should not leave your dog outside for extended periods in temperatures approaching 20 degrees Fahrenheit or when it is windy or rainy.

+ Tolerates hot weather – Somewhat

Hot and humid conditions are often more dangerous for large dogs than frigid temperatures.

Rotties can suffer heat exhaustion and heat stroke if temperatures reach 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, especially if the humidity is also high.

rottweiler in a garden

Moreover, if you don’t acclimate your dog to exercising outside in the heat or leave her without supervision, her high energy can cause overheating.

While Rottweilers are not avid swimmers, you can place wading pools and sprinklers to help keep your dog cool in the summer.

Provide shade and plenty of fresh drinking water.

When heat and humidity are extreme, bring your furry friend indoors and plan on exercising ger during cooler dawn or evening hours.

6- Friendliness of the Rottweiler

+ Affectionate with Family – Yes

One of the reasons Rotties make such good guard dogs is they are affectionate and loyal to their families.

Unlike some other working breeds, Rottweilers love to be petted and often seek displays of affection through cuddling, playing, sitting in close contact, or trying to charm you.

+ Kid-friendly – With familiar yes

Rottweilers do better with children the more exposure they have when they are pups.

Expect your dog to react to children the same she would to unfamiliar adults.

Unsocialized Rotties may display aggression around kids who do not have proper manners around dogs. Kids can stimulate a Rottie’s predatory or herding instincts.

Finally, Rottweilers tend to be protective of children who are family members.

Be cautious about allowing your dog to play with a mixed group of kids where she could misinterpret excitement or intervene in a childhood dispute.

You should never leave any dog unintended with a small child, especially a large one.

Miscommunications or disagreements can quickly escalate between your pet and a young one.

Moreover, Rotties play rough and are quite physical. Dogs without manners may nip, but the more significant concern may be the breed’s herding style of bumping with their vast chests and shoulders.

+ Friendly with other pets? – No

Rotties can get along with other pets with early socialization.

Without exposure, the tendencies of the breed do not support large-scale trust with other dogs and animals.

two rottweilers with another dog

Many Rotties can be aggressive towards other dogs, especially of the same sex.

While other herding dogs have long histories of working in tandem with multiple canids, Rottweilers worked more independently.

They also share in common with the herding group a natural suspicion of strange animals and people.

Moreover, Rottweilers always had a guarding role against groups who might bring their dogs to help rustle cattle.

Another problematic issue Rottweilers have is a varying predatory instinct against cats and smaller animals.

Some Rotts befriend particular cats while others try to kill all of them.

Moreover, a Rottweiler’s size and bold temperament make it potentially dangerous to small dogs, especially those with a Napoleon complex.

You must judge each Rottie’s potential to get along with other animals based on your dog’s behavior, disposition, level of socialization, and obedience.

+ Friendly towards strangers – Not initially

Another blanket statement about a breed that can exhibit a range of attitudes, most Rotties will not be especially warm to strangers.

You should expect polite aloofness in a well-trained and socialized Rott.

Rottweiler licking the hand of a person

Those without sufficient socialization or with improper training methods may be overly aggressive.

If a stranger walks onto your property without your presence, your Rottie will likely be hostile and may very well attack the intruder.

Be aware this may play out even if your Rottweiler would otherwise see the trespasser as a friend in your company.

Having said all that, Rottweilers who are not on guard will assess all visitors before reaction.

Barking and growling should cease based on your lead.

Unlike some guard dogs, Rotties are amenable to getting to know people and making friends.

The more you socialize your dog and do not encourage guard-type instincts, the more likely your pet will be to warm to your guests over time.

7- Health and grooming needs

+ Amount of shedding – Moderate

Rotties are moderate shedders. They shed continuously year-round with slightly heavier hair loss for a brief period in the fall and spring.

What happens at these times? The Rottweiler sheds her undercoat to grow a new one more appropriate for the coming season change.

Do not worry, as their undercoat’s change is nowhere near as dramatic as an Akita’s or German Shepherd’s.

+ Drooling potential – Moderate

Despite their relatively large heads, the AKC calls for Rotties to have tight lips. These dogs have a low tendency to drool.

Some males possess large floppy jowls and flews and will subsequently have a higher tendency to drool.

+ General Health – Fair

Rottweilers live for eight to ten years. Considering they do not mature until they are two years old, this is an exceedingly short lifespan.

Nevertheless, most live a healthy and productive life if you acquire yours from a reputable breeder, keep her from gaining excess weight, closely monitor feeding, and ensure she gets plenty of exercise.

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) – the Dreaded Bloat

Bloat is a troubling and life-threatening problem prevalent in large- or giant-breed dogs with a deep chest.

rottweiler laid down

The disease process begins when the stomach swells three or more times its standard size from a gas or fluid build-up.

Usually, a significant gas pocket causes the stomach to rotate from 45 to 180 degrees.

Since it is connected by blood vessels to the spleen, the stomach can carry the blood-filled organ.

Rotation causes compromise of the blood vessels, and severe torsions will result in tissue death and electrolyte disturbances, which in turn cause detrimental effects to cardiac rhythm.

Affected dogs many times require decompression and emergency surgery.

Rottweilers are a vulnerable breed, and you should take precautions to prevent bloat.

  • Do not place your dog’s food or water in an elevated position; All dishes and food should be at floor level, so your pet must lower his head to eat.
  • Avoid large solitary meals.
  • Do not allow your dog access to a bag of dog food or any other bulk feed items.
  • Your dog should not eat a big meal then immediately exercise.
  • If your pet bolts his food, address it with tools – You can add large objects to your dog’s dish or implement food puzzles; Discuss with your vet.

Hip Dysplasia

The potential for hip problems in your Rottie probably does not surprise you.

Hip dysplasia has both genetic and environmental causes. You can diminish the hereditary factors by going through a reputable breeder when obtaining a puppy.

rottweiler on the sand

Conscientious breeders certify the hips of breeding individuals and allow you to see at least the mother on the premises or may have a detailed record of parents and pedigree available to you.

Too much nutrition through overfeeding and inappropriate vitamin supplementation can exacerbate hip growth abnormalities.

Puppy foods that encourage rapid growth are recipes for worsening bone abnormalities in large-breed puppies.

Many commercial dog food manufacturers have specialized diets for big puppies like Rotties.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is similar to hip dysplasia but occurs in a more complex joint.

The incidence of elbow problems has increased, perhaps because of a heightened focus on eliminating hip issues.

Heart Disease

Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the area where blood leaves the heart.

Dilatative cardiomyopathy is a condition that leads to cardiac enlargement and eventually heart failure. Both diseases are hereditary.


Large-breed dogs are at increased risk for osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, which may have genetic factors.

Your Rottie, in particular, has five times the likelihood of developing osteosarcoma compared to other breeds.

Its increased incidence in individuals spayed or neutered at an early age complicates the matter further.

Osteosarcoma can affect any bone, but in Rotties, it usually shows up in the front leg and spreads rapidly to the lungs.

+ Potential for weight gain – Moderate

Rottweilers do not become overweight as quickly as a Labrador or Cocker Spaniel, but you need to watch your dog’s eating habits.

Rottweiler on the snow

Considering they require so much exercise, a sedentary lifestyle makes them more susceptible to becoming overweight.

Overweight Rotties show increased skeletal and joint problems.

+ Easy to groom – Yes

Brush your Rottie at least twice weekly.

+ Size – Medium-large to large

Rotties are usually large dogs with a significant size difference between the genders.

Male can be 24 to 27 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh 110 to over 130 pounds.

Females are about two inches shorter and weigh 77 to over 100 pounds.

+Trainability – High

You must be self-assured and able to establish respect early for your Rottie to follow your direction readily.

Their cleverness means they learn commands quickly. Once you show leadership, Rotties are obedient and responsive.

They quickly pick up new tricks and duties and excel at Shutzhunde and obedience trials.

+ Easy to train – Yes, with a knowledgeable handler

Rotties are easy to train because they have an excellent work ethic and a willingness to learn.

However, they will shut down if their handler shows uncertainty, issues conflicting commands, or tries to use physical force or other abuse.

+ Intelligence – High

According to the renowned canine psychologist Stanley Coren, Rottweilers are among the top ten most intelligent dogs.

They have exceptional working obedience and understanding of commands but can also solve problems and think independently.

+ Prey drive

Behaviorists often refer to herding instinct as a modified prey drive.

Rottweilers have an above-average predatory drive, which, combined with their size, makes most of them untrustworthy around cats, small dogs, birds, and pocket pets.

+ Tendency to bark or howl – Low

rottweilers face

Among guard dogs, Rotties are quiet. You will likely not see the vigorous posturing more typical of Dobermans and German Shepherds.

Your Rottweiler will probably bark a couple of times or issue a low growl to announce a trespasser or something suspicious.

It is not unusual for a Rottie, however, to investigate silently and refrain from any vocalization.

One reason owning a Rottie requires additional vigilance on your part is that many of them are not good alarmists.

+ Potential for mouthiness – High as puppies and adolescents

Like most dogs, Rotties must learn bite inhibition through their littermates, mother, and eventually, you.

They can be mouthy well into adolescence, and by then, their jaws are powerful and their grip quite uncomfortable.

Most Rotts with proper training are not mouthy as adults, but a few will try to herd children by biting their ankles or calves.

8- Physical needs

+ Intensity – High

Typical of a guard and working dog, Rotties display high intensity. They are alert and ready to spring into action with little encouragement.

Adding to these qualities is their single-minded drive and purpose when they commit to an action.

Their intensity and intelligence are what make them suitable for so many jobs and activities.

  • Police
  • Military
  • Guide dogs for the blind
  • Physical assistance dogs
  • Guard
  • Search and rescue
  • Agility
  • Herding trials
  • Shutzhund

+ Energy level – Moderate to high

A healthy Rottweiler usually has high energy levels.

Some are lazy, especially if you do not keep them fit, but most Rotties like an active lifestyle.

rottweiler running

+ Exercise needs – High

Your Rottweiler is a working dog and will require a considerable time commitment from you to meet her activity needs.

According to the American Kennel Club, your Rottie should get two hours of exercise every day.

As you might guess, a two-hour walk around the neighborhood will not cut it.

You will need to intersperse intellectual challenges in the form of advanced training or interactive games or puzzles.

When your dog is young, you will also need to add socialization to the exercise regimen.

And you will have to make sure a large portion of your sessions involve strenuous body movement such as running.

Playing fetch or engaging in training for agility or Shutzhunde are excellent ways to engage your dog’s mind and body.

+ Potential for Playfulness – Variable, high

Rottweilers, as imposing as they are, usually have a clownish side.

At home, they are often willing to ham it up for love and attention. A few Rotties are more serious.

9- Size of the breed

The Rottie is a large and imposing dog with a muscular build and tremendous power.

True to the Molosser type, they have a large, broad chest, relatively big head, and large muscular legs.

10- Temperament

Many people mistakenly believe that guard dogs are automatically aggressive.

A good guard dog is not aggressive; dogs guard property or living beings like their families or a flock of sheep.

guarding puppy

The essential qualities of a guard dog are natural protectiveness and the confidence to face impending threats.

Most dogs will bluster but back down when pressured.

Many of the most aggressive dogs are reacting from extreme fear and not any sense of protectiveness.

Protectiveness and guarding instinct are very breed-dependent. When dog owners do not know how to train a guard dog, they often inadvertently make their Rotties dangerously aggressive.

Experts frequently argue that dogs that already possess a guarding instinct need zero training in protectiveness and extra education in social skills.

Socialization helps dogs like Rotties be much more discriminating in what they perceive as a threat.

One more consideration in your quest to be a Rott owner is specific breed litigation that targets most guard dogs as well as Pit Bulls and other Bully breeds. Rottweilers are on many lists, from home insurance refusals to dangerous dogs to locale and renter bans.

Interestingly, Rotties outperform most breeds on a standardized evaluation by the American Temperament Test Society, Inc.

Almost 85% of Rotties out of over 6,000 as of 2017 passed a test judging protectiveness and reactions to various stimuli they might encounter on a walk and in pressure scenarios.

Results emphasize the importance of training and socialization in bringing up a good Rottweiler because, by nature, they are stable and unreactive dogs.


Rottweiler with a kid

If your Rottie grew up with your children, he will be a delightful companion for kids he gets to know.

You must educate your Rottie on unacceptable behaviors with children such as roughhousing, herding them by nipping or pushing, and jumping up.

Make sure children know how to behave appropriately to avoid provoking aggressive behavior from your dog.

Children naturally have certain behavioral traits that are offensive to many dogs.

  • Staring
  • Poking
  • Hitting
  • Teasing
  • Running and screaming – Resembles prey behavior
  • Leaning over dog
  • Hugging
  • Trying to ride the dog like a pony.

Rottweilers are a take-charge breed and may have a little less patience than other dogs for perceived challenges that are just everyday body language for kids.

Other Dogs

Well-trained Rottweilers learn to play well with other dogs, especially those of their size and energy level. After all, Rotties are playful dogs.

rottweiler with another dog

Like people, Rotties may not be immediately warm to unfamiliar animals.

Some individuals exhibit dog aggression, especially with other dogs of the same sex.

Male Rotts tend to be more aggressive than females. Fixed animals are usually less aggressive than unneutered dogs.

With the continually changing available information, you need to discuss the appropriate time to spay or neuter your pet with your veterinarian.

He or she will help you weigh possible behavioral benefits against potential health ramifications.

You should not allow your Rottie unsupervised playdates with small dogs.

A Rottie may not know her strength, does not comprehend size differentials most of the time, and can cause catastrophic injuries over a minor disagreement.

Another hazard is allowing your Rottweiler to play with a group of dogs where small dogs are present, like at a dog park.

The “pack” can quickly turn that little Pomeranian into a squeaky toy.

11- Health

Unfortunately, Rottweilers suffer more than their fair share of severe health problems.

  • Elbow dysplasia – High
  • Hip dysplasia – High
  • Heart disease – High
  • Knee – Moderate >> Patella low, anterior cruciate ligament moderate to high
  • GDV – High potential risk, preventable
  • Obesity – Moderate
  • Osteosarcoma – High
  • Hypothyroidism (Low thyroid production) – Moderate
  • Eyelid abnormalities (Entropion – eyelids roll inward, Ectropion – eyelids droop)- Moderately low
  • Anterior cruciate ligament rupture (Comparable to ACL knee injuries in human athletes) – Neutered and overweight Rotties at greater risk
collage of rottweilers

12- Grooming is easy

You should brush your Rottie daily or every other day with a curry or pinhead brush.

This grooming routine will spread oils throughout your dog’s coat, ensuring a healthy gleam, and remove loose hairs to decrease shedding.

Do not neglect her face. You can use a towel or cloth to wipe the muzzle and glews where the lips hang down.

Frequent brushing also stimulates circulation and allows you to examine your dog’s skin.

You should check your dog’s ears at least biweekly for signs of infection.

If your Rottie is active, you may not have to clip her nails very often.

Otherwise, you will have to perform a nail trim every six to eight weeks.

Dogs can be touchy about their feet, so accustom your Rott to having her feet handled at a young age.

13- How to feed your Rottweiler

Your Rottie should eat 2100 to 2500 calories per day, approximately 20 calories per pound.

Active dogs need more than couch potatoes do, of course. Depending on the quality of the food, you could be feeding seven to ten cups every day.

A premium dog food with a high-quality animal protein source as the first ingredient is an excellent choice for Rotties.

Some lovers of the breed propose a homemade or raw diet that includes a whole chicken, lamb, and red meat on various days of the week.

Make sure to keep in close contact with your veterinarian concerning homemade recipes, so you include appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals.

rottweiler puppy with toy in the mouth

Puppies get about a cup and a half of food for every 10 pounds of body weight.

Pups over eight weeks old also should eat three times a day, a practice you should consider implementing for your adult dog as well.

Because of their size and chest depth, Rotties are at risk for GDV or gastric dilatation and volvulus.

Large meals can increase danger through excessive gas production.


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Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society