Rottweilers -- on one hand, you have a friendly breed that is portrayed in children's books such as "Good Dog Carl," while on the other hand, you have a dangerous Cujo that is banned in several towns. Child-book material or horror movie character? It all boils down to individuality.
The size of a dog plays a big role when it comes to assessing how dangerous that dog can be. Of course, a small "wiener" dog is less likely to inflict serious damage when compared to a dog breed weighing more than 100 pounds. The Rottweiler belongs to the molosser category, which encompasses solidly built dogs, generally quite large in size. Equipped with a large head and wide jaw, this breed has an impressive crushing force when it comes to biting. Fortunately, Rottweilers seem not to be aware of this, but in the wrong hands, these powerful dogs can be almost as dangerous as a loaded gun.
Fortunately, for the most part Rottweilers are not the snarling, slobbering, dangerous beasts as the media sometimes portrays them. If you look at the breed standard, Rottweilers are good-natured, placid dogs who are fond of children, devoted, obedient, biddable and eager to work, according to ADRK, the General German Rottweiler Club of Germany. The American Kennel Club breed standard calls for a "calm, confident and courageous dog with a self-assured aloofness," whereas the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom makes an unambiguous statement about the correct temperament of this breed, which should be "good natured, not nervous, aggressive or vicious."
Clearly, this breed is not designed to be dangerous, and aggressive tendencies should not be an inherent or intended trait. Rottweilers were bred to herd cattle, accompany Roman troops and sometimes guard livestock and other possessions. They also were often used to pull carts to crowded meat markets. If the dog was truly aggressive, nervous and vicious it would have not been able to accomplish so many tasks alongside with humans. Contrary to popular belief, Rottweilers were never meant to be bred to be fighting dogs with killer instincts.
The Rottweiler is a versatile breed that has been used for a variety of tasks, but killing people and eating them for lunch was not among them. Rottweilers are used today as proud police dogs, herding dogs, service dogs and therapy dogs. However, because this breed has a past of being used to protect livestock and property, it tends to be territorial. The guardian role is often taken by this breed seriously, so it is important to socialize your Rottie and teach him to accept the presence of strangers. The self-assured aloofness of this breed is not to be confused with aggression; it simply means Rottweilers may not warm up to everyone as quickly as the average golden retriever. Ideally, the wait-and-see attitude of a Rottweiler should make him respond quietly to influences in his environment before taking action.
Determining if a breed is dangerous requires several considerations. Bite statistics categorized by dog breed may look like a reliable source of information, but they do not take into account the environment in which the dog was raised, the circumstances surrounding the bite or the type of bite. A better insight on the breed's ability to cope with humans and the environment may be obtained by looking at individual temperament breed scores collected by the American Temperament Test Society. As of the latest testing, out of 5,545 Rottweilers tested, a good 4,652 passed while 893 failed. This gives the Rottweiler breed a score of 83.9 percent, which is an above average score considering that the total of dogs tested averaged a score of 82.8 percent. Considering that border collies scored 81.3 percent, Chihuahuas scored 68.3 percent and boxers scored 83.4 percent, overall, the Rottweiler's score is not bad at all.
With sound temperaments, a history as working dogs and reassuring statistics you may feel as if this breed is relatively safe; however, it is very wrong to assume so. While it is true many Rottweilers do not have a mean bone in them, it is also true that, as in any other dog breed, there may be bad apples in any batch. This may be due to genetics and upbringing. As with other breeds, a Rottweiler should never be left unattended with a child. Because this breed may be intolerant of other dogs, especially of the same sex, it is best to play it safe and avoid unsupervised interactions; some Rottweilers may even see smaller dogs as a tempting dessert.
Gentle giants or vicious brutes? As in people, it all boils down to genetics and individual experiences. A good way to up the chances for owning a good-tempered Rottweiler is to purchase puppies from reputable breeders who test the temperament of their breeding stock. Once in a loving home, it is then up to the owner to provide loads of socialization and training. With this breed, consistent rules, socialization and training are a life-long commitment, which is one of the many reasons why this breed is not for everyone.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.