While many people, even some that are very familiar with the modern Rottweiler, know this dog to be a very protective, loving and devoted guardian, few would guess the breed's very ancient roots. Originally the Rottweiler was bred from the oldest of the European Mastiffs, descended from the early Molosser dogs that were used for fighting and hunting by the Romans and other fighting forces.
In ancient times an army, particularly a large and very organized army, literally brought their own meat sources with them on their lengthy marches. The early Roman herding dogs, which were large, stocky and very independent dogs, were used to bring the herds of cattle and sheep with the invading armies. As the Romans moved through different areas, these working dogs bred with other Mastiff and Molosser types of dogs and mixed breed farm dogs that were in the area. No one, at least at this early stage, was breeding for a specific type of dog, however the most hardy, hard working and intelligent dogs survived to breed, creating a sort of self-selection.
One area where the Roman army traveled and camped was in the Warttemberg region of southwest Germany. Originally this area was a Duchy with the Roman Empire, and became a central stopping area for the soldiers. Cattle and livestock farming became the major focus in order to provide much needed fresh supplies to the soldiers. One of the smaller towns, outside of the capital of Stuttgart was the town of Rottweil. This town became the home of the ancient Rottweiler breed, and also provided the name for this hard working breed of dog. By about 260 AD the Rottweiler, although not recognized as such at the time, was a true breed local to the Neckar River area of Germany.
The original herding dogs of Rottweil were not all consistently alike in appearance, and there were no distinctive colorations although a great many where black with tan markings. These dogs were used for almost everything imaginable from protecting the livestock to helping farmers move the cattle and sheep through the fields. In addition they were also seen as outstanding guardians of the farmhouses and property, as a natural extension of their role as a protector to the herds.
Early uses of the Rottweiler also included being used as pack animals, loaded with wood, farm produce and other manufactured goods to travel to and from the town markets. Some Rottweilers were trained as cart dogs, used to pull surprisingly large carts again loaded with produce for market. Historically the Rottweiler was often associated with butchers, used to pull the large carts full of meat to the market. The dogs also wore a heavy pouch around their neck where the butcher kept his money, safe from any thief that may try to pick a pocket or try to steal the income. In the mid part of the 1800's the railway began to play a much more important and central role in both moving livestock and transporting produce and goods, and the demand for working Rottweilers dropped off dramatically. Since they were such a large bodied, heavy dog they were not typically seen as pets and city dogs, resulting in a very noticeable decline in the number. It is reported that in 1900 when breeders, attempting to establish the Rottweiler as a breed, returned to Rottweil for foundation stock, there was only one breeding female left within the town.
Several other dogs were found on isolated farms around the region and were brought into breeding programs. By 1907 a group of Rottweiler owners, mostly living in the Stuttgart area formed a group known as the Deutscher Rottweiler-Klub or DRK. This club had about 500 dogs registered, and had the mission to maintain and enhance the working talents of the breed with very little emphasis on the physical attributes and appearance as a standard. Another group, also formed in 1907, was know as the Saddeutscher Rottweiler-Klub and they had about 3000 dogs registered, with more of an emphasis on standardizing the appearance with the breed. In 1921 the two main groups and several smaller local clubs and groups came together to become the Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiller Klub - e.V (ADRK), which still exists today and manages the German stud book for the breed.
The demand for military and police dogs increased in the lead up to World War l. The size, protective instincts and the natural loyalty of the Rottweiler made it a natural choice for all types of military and police work. In 1910 the Rottweiler became only the fourth breed recognized by the German Police Dog Association because of is outstanding performance in the very challenging Schutzhund trials required of all dogs entering police service.
Throughout World Wars l and ll, Rottweilers played an important role for the Germany military. They were used as messengers, scouts and guard dogs, and became well known to the Allied soldiers. In 1931 the first Rottweilers were registered with the American Kennel Club and they were also shown at the famous Crufts Dog Show in Britain in 1936. Despite the backlash against anything German at that time, the Rottweiler, with its calm, reliable yet trustworthy temperament and personality became a popular breed.
Rottweilers, because of their large size and Molosser type appearance, unfortunately became the target of many horrible individuals that engage in dog fighting and breeding aggressive dogs. This is not the true temperament of the Rottweiler, and reputable breeders have managed to largely eliminate any of this aggression from their respective breeding lines. The Rottweiler continues to be a very popular dog in the United States as well as around the world. In the early 1990's the Rottweiler held the place as the most popular dog in AKC registrations, however with smaller dogs becoming increasingly more common this wonderful larger breed has dropped down to number 14 in popularity as of 2008.
More commonly used as a companion and guard dog, the Rottweiler still has natural herding instincts and abilities and is often used as a flock protector or herd protector on farms and ranches today. In addition they continue to be used by police and military groups as well as search and rescue organization around the world.