Rottweiler History: Ancient Times to Modern Day

by | Dec 11, 2019 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

If you have a Rottweiler in your family, you know that few dogs are as affectionate, loyal and protective. It’s no wonder, then, that they’ve long been bred over centuries as a favourite breed for a variety of intensive and family-friendly reasons.

Over the years, the Rottweiler’s history has moulded its character and reputation as a devoted, good-natured, and alert working dog. Let’s take a look at the history of the Rottweiler, from Roman times to modern day.

Where do Rottweilers orginate from?

Rottweilers are believed to be one of history’s oldest dog breeds, originating during Roman times. Soldiers in the Roman Legion would use Rottweilers as cattle herding dogs and for protection. While marching over the Alps to conquer new lands and establish colonies used for agriculture and trade, soldiers would need a lot of food to sustain them. Rottweilers were the perfect dog to herd cattle. They were rugged, obedient and worked hard to aid the Roman Legion. 

The Butcher’s Dog of Rottweil, Germany

Roman soldiers reached Germania (modern day Germany), and founded a town now called Rottweil in AD 73. The town gets its name from the red-tiled (“rote wil”) roofs of the ancient roman structures in the area, unearthed and documented hundreds of years later.

Rottweilers get their name from Rottweil. It’s often said that cattle herders in the area would tie their money pouches around their Rottweiler’s neck to keep it safe. 

It was in Rottweil that the dogs became historically known as the Rottweiler Metzgerhund, or “butcher’s dogs”. For hundreds of years, Rottweilers were used for guarding and herding cattle, as well as pulling carts laden with meat and other products to markets.

The Rottweiler Supporting Cattle Trade

Rottweilers became crucial to commerce in the region, helping with all areas of the cattle trade long after the Romans had gone. Their smart, calm and strong characteristics made them the perfect working dogs of the time.

The Town of Rottweil, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. (Image CC BY-SA 4.0 by Zollernalb)

The Rottweiler’s Historical Decline in the Industrial Revolution

But their working role in trade was not so strongly cemented at this time in Rottweiler history. The industrial revolution brought with it advancements in trade, manufacturing and transport – an unstable environment for a working dog.

New developments in Europe during the industrial revolution led to the ever-increasing use of railroads for trade. As you can imagine, railways and roads meant quicker transport options and less work for Rottweilers. Transporting cattle via train offered many advantages. It was far safer and faster than using Rottweilers!

Less work meant less demand, and so Rottweiler numbers began to dwindle. By the late nineteenth century, very few Rottweilers remained.

The decline is perhaps best represented by the example of a dog show in Germany in 1882, during which only one Rottweiler was displayed. What made the matter worse, though, was the fact that the dog was described during the show as a “poor example of the breed”.

A Rottweiler Resurgance During Wartime (WW1 & WW2)

But a positive change away from poor form and low numbers began at the dawn of the twentieth century.

World War I was fast approaching, and police needed a robust new breed. They discovered that the Rottweiler displayed all the traits they were looking for in a police dog, and Rottweilers were offically recognised as a police dog in Europe in 1910.

Their long-preceding reputation as good working dogs led Rottweilers to playing active roles throughout both World War I and II – not only as police dogs, but as trained guard dogs, rescue dogs, ambulance dogs, military dogs, messenger dogs and even one of the first guide dogs for blind people.

Cementing a Modern Breed: Formation of Rottweiler Clubs

Coinciding with the Rottweiler’s rise to popularity in the early twentieth century was the formation of several Rottweiler clubs, the first of which formed in Germany. Early clubs that emerged included the Deutscher Rottweiler-Klub (DRK) and the International Rottweiler Club (IRK). Different opinions on what characteristics should be encouraged eventually resolved with an amalgamation of the clubs. They formed one of the most influential groups in modern day Rottweiler history: the Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler-Klub e.V. (ADRK).

The ADRK has been involved in supervising Rottweiler breeding history for over 90 years, focusing first and foremost on the health of the breed. 

Throughout the history of the Rottweiler, they have always been a working dog. They have proved themselves able to adapt to new challenges, adept at anything from herding to guiding and guarding. They’re also excellent companion pets.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (World Canine Organisation), representing canine clubs the world over, sums up the goal of Rottweiler breeders as follows:

Rottweiler breeders aim at a dog of abundant strength, black coated with clearly defined rich tan markings, whose powerful appearance does not lack nobility and which is exceptionally well suited to being a companion, service, rescue and working dog. (

Rottweilers have not changed much in appearance and characteristics from their early Roman origins to canines we know and love today. They’re still strong, smart dogs, with broad chests and distinctive rust-coloured markings.

Their eagerness to help and devoted disposition make them perfectly suited to owners willing to nurture their naturally alert yet even-tempered personalities.

Rottweiler: Breed Overview

    • Breed Group: Working
    • Origin: Germany
    • Life Expectancy: 8-10 years
    • Height: Male: 61–69 cm, Female: 56–63 cm 
    • Weight: Male: 50–60 kg, Female: 35–48 kg 
    • Colours: Black, Tan, Mahogany
    • Litter size‎: 8-12