Are Rottweilers dangerous? Here is a question every single rottweiler owner has been faced with at least once, by people who only know them as the scary, snarling guard dogs in movies and TV shows. Though this doesn’t mean they are aggressive, in fact they can be just as friendly as any other dog.
Read on below for a quick look and better understanding of rottweilers, their tendencies towards and away from aggression, how training makes a difference, and their behaviour around children.
First of all: what kinds of dogs are Rottweilers?
Short answer: they are large, usually extremely intelligent dogs, and just as friendly and/or aggressive as any other breed of dog.
Naturally, that’s not an answer that covers all bases. The longer answer requires us to go into some detail about rottweilers as a breed, and their personalities.
Rottweilers are a German origin breed, that have been popular since the early 1900 as police dogs, military dogs, and for guarding and protection. They are extremely active and alert working dogs, have a baseline peaceful disposition but are blitz-quick to react, which reinforces the effect of early training on their lifelong behaviour.
In the 1970s, the comparatively high number of rottweiler bite reports nudged the authorities to classify them as ‘dangerous’ or ‘high-risk’ dogs. As with pitbulls, these labels were unwarranted but quickly cemented their place in public perception, when coupled with the dogs’ large presence in the police force and in the military. A lot of countries nowadays make it necessary to have rottweilers registered with permits, even when being raised as pets.
But much like with pitbulls, the perception of rottweilers as ‘dangerous’ comes from their imposing size and rather brutish features. Typically, adult rottweilers are large-sized dogs, averaging 45-50 kg in weight and about 60-70 cm high at shoulder. They have square, stocky shoulders, wide hips, and a high carriage.
Their snouts are broad and noses are wide-set, with a broad, flattened skull. They are almost always black in colour, with brown markings over the eyebrows, nose, tail, chest, and paws. Some lines are lighter than the others, but they are most commonly a dark dog.
This is another reason why rottweilers often inspire fear. Their size and their alert, responsive behaviour inspires a lot of fear in onlookers. Also, they are undoubtedly fierce and brutal, when angered or allowed to fight or attack. They attack low to the ground and take on much larger dogs with success, because of their tenacity and the sheer power backing their aggression.
Surely a description like that would be enough to scare anyone who has seen a rottweiler attack. But again, as we will discuss further, a lot of rottweilers’ behaviour is training and owner dependent. And just like with pitbulls, who were originally trained as children’s nannies and not fighting dogs, rottweilers have a playful and peaceful disposition – till the point of aggression is passed.
Are Rottweiler Attacks Inevitable?
Short answer: no. And the long answer tells you why.
Rottweilers are working dogs. Despite their reputation as fierce, killer dogs, a lot of rottweilers’ behaviour depends on their owners.
Rottweilers are inherently used to a lot of running, and staying alert for the larger part of the day. Because they were originally bred as cattle dogs, they are aggressive and territorial, and extremely quick to react towards perceived offenders.
For a working police dog, this behaviour is centered around their handler. But in a family setting, this behaviour can be directed against strangers or visitors who the dog perceives as a threat to the family or property. This can also mean that the dog reacts aggressively against a family member, when he is comfortable or bonded with only one family member, and not familiar with the others.
Rottweilers are very, very protective in nature. But they are also very domineering. The dog’s owner has to establish himself or herself as the dog’s ‘alpha’ or pack owner right from the beginning, if he wants the dog to follow his commands. And this is not a one-time thing. Because of their nature, they tend to challenge their owner’s alpha status, when they perceive weakness. So, this is something every new rottweiler owner should bear in mind- to be the dog’s pack leader, and not the other way around.
Rottweiler attacks are often the result of a perceived ‘threat’. This can mean a burglar, but can just as easily be a neighbour’s child who’s in your yard to retrieve his ball. And here is where it can get deadly.
In recent years, rottweilers have acquired a nasty reputation with children. The reasons for this may be the many ugly cases where the child was attacked by a known or unknown dog. But the ‘why’ behind this is important.
Rottweilers are extremely strong and muscular. So, when a rottweiler reacts unbridled to a perceived threat, he puts the force of this muscle behind this attack. This can lead to a medium adult practically mauling a full adult human. When dogs are left to attack, fatalities are not uncommon. So naturally, children do not have a chance.
Rottweilers are highly prone to mood swings as well. The entire onus of a dog’s behaviour rests on his training. A well trained rottweiler will stand guard unchallenged throughout the night, or even babysit, when he has been taught to understand that the children and family are family, part of his pack. A poorly trained rottweiler… can well turn on his own owner.
Most Dangerous Rottweiler Attacks In Recent Times
On March 22, 2019, a one-year old boy was mauled to death in his grandparents’ yard by a neighbors’ two rottweilers, in Fresno county, California. The dogs were well-known in the neighbourhood to frequently dig out of their kennel, and had been reported to the authorities multiple times over the last eight years.
On December 10, 2018, a 7-year-old and a 9 year old were attacked by four rottweilers, while walking to their home in Marietta, Georgia. The children’s grandmother ran to save them and was killed by the dogs. Arriving police shot the dogs to stop them and killed three. The fourth was also later euthanized.
On May 5, 2018, a three month old baby girl was killed in her home in Sherman Oaks, California, by the family’s rottweiler, in the moment that her grandmother left to the other room to fetch her bottle. The other two-family dogs didn’t attack, but the rottweiler did.
Rottweilers are good killers. They are strong, large, efficient, and tenacious. They are also very impulsive – which makes for an often-unreliable combination. Their aggression against children ends fatally almost invariably, but adults don’t always fare better. Since 1978, there have been 113 fatalities because of rottweilers recorded in the US alone; 80 of these were children of 8 years or less. And nothing except ample exercise and incessant training can work this behaviour out of their personality.
But it is not just children who need to be careful around rottweilers.
Are Rottweilers Aggressive?
Despite children receiving the brunt of rottweiler fatalities, adults are more often on the receiving end. Unless corrected at an early age, rottweilers try repeatedly to assert themselves with disobedience, testing the owner’s rules, and unprovoked aggression. This behaviour can quickly devolve into all-out aggression.
The kind of reports mentioning fatalities because of rottweilers would lead one to think that this is a dog that will invariably kill. But this is not the case. How many of these are dogs that were left untrained and to their own devices? So many rottweiler attacks were a result of owners who left the dogs to roam free, and they went around neighbourhoods unsupervised.
Or had no fences, which to a territorial dog, means he has a huge area to defend. Or were shackled in kennels, which means that this massive dog, full of energy, was left to sit in one place, losing his sanity. Or, as with so many attacks on children, were dogs who were never trained to be around children at all, and had no recognition of the child as the owner’s at all?
Bear in mind, these are dogs with a protective instinct, not a maternal instinct. Popular children’s books in the early 90s showed rottweilers as big, happy, goofy doofs who just lolled around with children, like big fluffy dogs. How many children were attacked because children approached these dogs without warning or supervision?
They are very high spirited dogs, and only ample amounts of exercise can get them to trainable levels of energy. It’s not just running, too. Rottweilers need a lot of exercise. They need planned circuits and often puzzle type dog toys, to challenge their intelligence. They do display problem-solving behaviour to a certain degree.
A rottweiler is a dog with stores of physical and mental energy. They thrive off of their owner’s attention, and resent any distraction from it. A child, or another dog, or a spouse who was not in the scene before, may all be regarded with jealousy by a dog who was used to being his owner’s constant companion.
This is behaviour that is also reinforced by being left alone at home while the owner is at work. A rottweiler cannot be left alone to his own means for such extended hours. This is a dog who, already under the best of circumstances, may decide that all the socks in your house are now his and will fight you tooth and nail for them (literally, if you have bad luck).
Rottweilers are not dogs you can leave unsupervised to sit at home for your return. They are impulsive and temperamental enough without such behaviour aggressors in the mix.
Are Rottweilers Good With Kids?
At best, rottweilers can be described as being tolerating of children. The videos you see on the internet of dogs allowing toddlers to crawl all over them, or allowing children to pull their ears or dress them up- these are very, very unlikely to be allowed by a rottweiler.
No dog’s patience should be tested, of course, but rottweilers are much, much likelier than say, a Golden Retriever, to retaliate immediately with a snap. And this can often take a chunk out.
Ideally, rottweilers should never be left unsupervised with children. This is because it’s not always a matter of training. Dogs who have been abused in previous homes can be traumatised from their past and suffer from PTSD, which has been shown to occur in dogs. Breeding also plays a big role; dogs that are purebred and/or have been repeatedly inbred can be massively unstable in their behaviour. They also grow easier to aggravate with age, which matters a lot, in a family setting.
Rottweilers do not make good service dogs, as a rule. They are not recommended for old people as well, because in both cases, they may perceive illness (such as a stroke or epileptic attack) or frailty, as an opportunity to attack and assert their dominance. It may also be unintended; they are very strong dogs and don’t know their own strength.
Clearly, that’s a lot of things to consider when deciding to adopt a rottweiler. However, they are incredibly intelligent, staunchly loyal, very loving, strong, sturdy, and active, and are often irreplaceable working dogs. But like any other dogs, without adequate training, rottweilers are dangerous – even when a little more so than other breeds
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