History and Origin of the Rottweiler
by Cheri Ruzich

Donnerberg Rottweilers Planet

Rottweiler History

Wolf and Fox Hunt, ca. 1615-21,
Peter Paul Rubens and Workshop,
(Flemish, 1577-1640).

The Origin of the Rottweiler is not a documented record. Actual history and reasonable supposition indicate that the Rottweiler is descended from one of the drover dogs indigenous to ancient Rome. This drover dog has been described by various accredited sources to have been of the Mastiff type, with great intelligence, rugged, dependable, willing to work and with a strong guarding instinct. The ancient Romans used three different kinds of sheep or cattle dogs, viz, the Moloses, the wolf-like sheepdog and the short haired herding dog; the latter is the ancestor of the Rottweiler and was almost identical in appearance to the Rottweiler of today.

Rottweiler History

(Close up of the Rottweiler type dog in the picture above.)

The transition from Roman herding dogs to the dog we know today as the Rottweiler can be attributed to the Roman Emperors and their quest to conquer Europe.

Very large armies were required for these expeditions and the logistics of feeding that number of men became a major consideration. No means of refrigeration existed, which meant that meat for the soldiers accompanied the troops “on the hoof“. Understandably, the services of a dog capable of keeping the herd intact during the long marches were needed. The above-described “Mastiff type“ was admirably suited to this task, and to shoulder the additional responsibility of guarding the supply dumps at night. The dog best suited to these duties was a short haired herding dog, i.e. the ancestor of the Rottweiler. He was also used as a warrior from time to time in battle. It is also said that the Emperor Nero kept a number of these dogs as guards against intruders.

Without a doubt these short haired herding dogs were competent dogs bred with a purpose in mind, as according to history the Romans were very able dog breeders, a fact which is corroborated by recent excavations.

In the spring of AD 74, campaigns of the Roman Army varied in scope but the one concerning us took its route across the Alps ending in what is now southern Germany. The quartermasters of the Roman Eleventh Legion laid out a temporary camp on the banks of a river in the south of Germania. In a short time it grew into a base camp. From here a network of roads was built which made it possible to open up the newly conquered territory and defend it by rapid troop movements. From this crossing point of important connecting roads the district rapidly gained in significance.

The settlement which grew up here was called ‘ Arae Flaviae‘, the city with altars in honor of the imperial Flavian dynasty. It had natural advantages of climate, soil and central location. As a consequence, it was designated an Imperial Roman City, acquiring the attendant grandeur of all such Roman cities. Arae Flaviae became the capitol of a new province. Villas were built which were equipped with all the luxury which this period knew.

There is much evidence pointing to the vital role of the fearless Roman drover dog on that trek from Rome to the banks of the Neckar River. All along the way, the short haired herding dogs left their descendants. Following the north-east route towards Lake Constance you will find a sheep dog called Appenzeller Sennenhund in the region around Appenzell, and following the more westerly route over the St. Gotthard and the Furka Pass through Haslital you arrive at Bern and Emmental, where the Berner Sennenhund and the Entlebucher Sennenhund belong. Both routes lead to Wurttemberg in southern Germany, which is the home of the Rottweiler.

Although the preferences of the inhabitants of the various regions, as well as different kinds of work required from the dogs, have favored or suppressed certain characteristics, it is obvious that these breeds have the same origin, not only in appearance but also to a large extent in the character. Intelligence, devotion, courage, vigilance and zest for work is a common trait, and they are all particularly well-suited for herding.

The Romans conquered Wurttemberg in the first century A.D. In AD 260, the Alemanni took possession, having driven the Romans out, and laid waste the city. Around the year 700 the ruler of this area had a Christian church built on the foundations of the old Roman bath house. Around this church a new settlement quickly developed. Like many old Roman sites, this one got the name ‘Wil‘ (from villa). To distinguish this ‘Wil‘ from others, it was called ‘Rot Wil‘ from the red color of the roof tiles and bricks. From ‘the Roman villa with the red walls and roofs‘ evolved the present name, Rottweil.

Rottweil Rottweiler History

(The town of Rottweil after which Rottweilers were named.)

One of the most important towns of Wurttemberg is and was the town of Rottweil, which is situated on a hill on the left bank of the River Neckar. Rottweil is in the middle of a large agricultural area, and owing to the favorable geographical situation, the town became an important market town already in Roman times, particularly in respect of cattle and corn, and for centuries buyers and sellers flocked to Rottweil from all over central Europe to attend the market.

Rottweil Rottweiler History

(Another photo of the town of Rottweil showing the red tile roofs.)

Most of the work in driving the cattle to and from the market had to be carried out by herding and guard dogs. Without dogs it would have been almost impossible to drive the large herds of cattle and pigs the very considerable distances across well nigh impassable countryside.

The butchers and cattle dealers, who in increasing numbers settled in Rottweil, found the Roman herding dog ideal for their purpose. In this way a trade in purposely bred working dogs began in Rottweil and it followed that this sideline interested the cattle dealers in particular.

In honor of the good qualities of the breed the dogs that came from Rottweil were called Rottweilers. Later on this name was used to denote descendants of the Roman herding dog in Southern Germany generally, and the breed has been called Rottweiler ever since.

Eventually a regular competition developed amongst butchers and cattle dealers as to who owned the best dogs and a particularly good Rottweiler would fetch a very high price. The Rottweiler was first and foremost used for herding cattle and pigs, although it was also used for herding sheep. It was an arduous task for the dogs to drive the animals and to keep them together at the same time. A strong dog with staying power, which at the same time had the energy and courage to impose his own will on obstinate cattle, full of self-will and physical strength, the Rottweiler knew how to cope. He pushed the cattle and bit the hocks of the rebellious ones until they obeyed. Even so, the Rottweiler was so restrained that he did not unnecessarily disturb the cattle. The herds traveled from Hungary and France to Rottweil; the buyers and their dogs drove their newly acquired property far into the surrounding territories.

Driving a herd of cattle and keeping them together calls for a dog which is quiet, reliable and not too light. The qualities of these dogs quickly became known and the foreigners bought them too. This drover‘s dog was called the ‘Rottweiler Metzgerhund‘ (Rottweil butcher‘s dog). He was employed not only for driving cattle, but was also very useful for pulling the carts of farmers, butchers, bakers and pedlars.

Rottweiler History

Apart from this, the Rottweiler was an incorruptible guard dog and thus the owner‘s best protector on long journeys in a time when robbery and murder was the rule rather than the exception and it was, therefore, particularly dangerous to travel with valuables. For this reason it was also customary for cattle dealers to tie their money bags to the collar of the Rottweiler, and few were the highwaymen who dared challenge the strong, courageous Rottweilers.

Rottweiler History

However, last century there was a real danger that the Rottweiler would disappear in spite of his eminent qualities, because to help the newly built railways, a ban was placed on the driving of cattle by means of dogs. This had, of course, been the main task of the Rottweiler, and the breed was neglected, so that these dogs which for centuries had done their duty with zest, courage and energy, were almost totally forgotten.

After the donkey had taken the place of this draught dog and the driving of cattle with dogs had been forbidden by law, there was no longer any work for the Rottweiler. Numbers declined sharply, and in 1905 there was only one Rottweiler female left in Rottweil.

Fortunately, not everyone forgot a true friend and a good workmate and because of his good qualities of character, he had found a circle of adherents outside the butchers‘ frontiers, and through this the extinction of the breed was prevented.

Butchers and a few farmers kept some dogs, partly out of love for the breed and partly probably also to have a reliable protector of house and home, and when in the beginning of this century it was found that the Rottweiler was particularly well suited as a police dog, it helped the revival of the Rottweiler, and he is now recognized everywhere as a devoted and courageous working dog with an unparalleled self-confidence.

Rottweiler History

When one considers which breeds have contributed to the formation of the Rottweiler, it becomes clear that until the beginning of the present century the distinction between the various breeds was extremely imprecise. Different observers could well classify the same dog under different breeds.

In the period when the breeders and admirers of the Rottweiler were coming together in Germany, the appearance of dogs of this breed showed many variations in size, type of hair, skull formation and color of coat. The black and brown Rottweiler as we know him already existed, but also the all-brown with a brown nose, the blue with a slate-grey nose, the reddish tan with a black mask, the tan with a black mask, the coffee-colored with red markings, the all-red, the striped with tan markings, and the wolf-grey with black head and black and tan markings.

Rottweiler Wolf Coat, Rottweiler History

(Rottweiler type dog with a wolf coat.)

In 1899 the animal painter Kull established the International Club for Leonberger and Rottweiler Dogs in an attempt to unite the encouragement of interest in both great breeds. This organization had little significance and soon faded out.

In 1907 the German Rottweiler Club (DRK) was set up in Heidelberg, and in April of that year in the same place, the Southern German Rottweiler Club (SDRK) formed. The SDRK merged into a Rottweiler association called the International Rottweiler Club (IRK).

Not only the DRK and the IRK kept breed books; the SDRK also did so up to 1924. In addition, Rottweilers were entered into the ‘Deutsche Hunde Stammbuch‘.

In August of 1921, discussion between representatives of the DRK and the IRK were brought to a successful conclusion; in the matter of the breed standard, and the ‘Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub‘ (ADRK) was established. The ADRK published its first stud book in 1924.

It is believed that Rottweilers were first imported into the United States sometime in the 1920‘s. In 1931 the first Rottweiler appeared in the American Kennel Club‘s (AKC) stud book. In 1992, at the peak of the popularity of the Rottweiler in the United States, the AKC registered over 70,000 Rottweilers making the Rottweiler the second most popular breed in the United States. Since then the Rottweiler's popularity has dropped considerably.


“The Complete Rottweiler“, by Muriel Freeman
“Rottweiler“, by H. Bresson
“Know Your Rottweiler“, by D. Chardet
“The Proper Care of Rottweilers“, by Joan R. Klem & Susan C. Rademacher
“The Book of the Rottweiler“, by Anna Katherine Nicholas

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Cheri Ruzich
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(530) 695-1469 or (530) 415-8241

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