The theories about the origins of the Rottweiler are many and varied. If one is to trace the history of the breed given the available literature that has been published one could not come to a definitive decision as to the exact origins of this breed.
Most cynologists share the view of the German, Strebel, that the Rottweiler is one of the breeds originating from the Roman Empire. In ancient times the main task of these dogs was to hold together and drive forward the herds of cattle that the cattle dealers and butchers were driving on foot at the time.
The dog that accompanied the eleventh legion that was to conquer the area we now know as Rottweil in AD74 would not be recognizable as the breed we know today.
Roman legions used different dogs for different purposes. The large molossian dogs were primarily used to guard the camps; cattle dogs to drive cattle which accompanied the legions. The ancestors of the cattle dogs may well have been ancient breeds of dogs, a mixture of Tibetan Mastiffs ,other large dogs of the same type and the molossian dog. Of these , interestingly enough, the Tibetan mastiffs were used in their country of origin to hunt wild boars
Cattle dogs obviously followed the Roman legions regularly, driving the cattle which was needed to feed the troops . With Roman expeditions, the dogs traversed the alps to the north, to that was then the Germanic province.
Cattle dogs remained in the vicinity of major Roman military routes and later developed into local breeds.
In today’s Switzerland, the old province of Helvetia , the military route passed the St Gothard pass and in the North split into several routes. One of these went to the north east toward the Lake Boden to Appenzell. The cattle dogs in this region in to what is today know as the Appenzeller Sennenhund.
The Western Route across the Furka Pass went through Haslital up the river Aar to Bern and further north to Emmental , to the region from where today’s Bernese Entelbuchian Mountain Dogs originate.
Further north, beyond the canton of Aargau , through the Schaffhausen and Donausingen , the route continued to the town of Rottweil, the home of the Rottweiler.
When the Swiss Sennendogs are compared with the Rottweiler, it is easy to find the similarities. They resemble each other to such an extent that a common origin can not be ruled out. The fourth Sennen breed, the Greater Swiss Shepherd dog, also comes from the same dogs. Cattle dogs were portrayed in art 300 to 400 years ago.
The Flemish painter Peter Paul Reubens (1577-1640), in his painting “Wolf and the Fox Hunt” , shows a dog with obvious Rottweiler characteristics biting a wolf in the back. The print of Peter Paul Reubens painting was scanned from a copy of an ADRK magazine cover given to me in 1990, see top of page.
In the past cattle dogs were born as a result of not only accidental but also planned mating between breed s of different origin. The existence of dogs was determined by their suitability and usefulness for the purpose for which they were needed. People needed working dogs, and improved their working qualities which were their only objective in breeding. Climatic conditions and the local terrain also long eliminated poorer dogs from breeding, a factor which has also influenced the development of pure breeds.
People who kept cattle dogs wanted their dogs to show willingness to work. They also had to have stamina, sturdiness and strength. The dogs had to be able to adjust to bleak and in many respects, poor living conditions. They had to be hard and tenacious to succeed in their work, driving and protecting herds of cattle. These were the dogs that forced the most ferocious bull in the right direction, frightened the most hardened bandit with their strength and fury as they defended their master and cattle, without giving an inch.
Already the Romans demanded good working qualities from their dogs, and the same requirements later determined the right of cattle dogs to live and breed. After the Roman cattle dogs crossed the Alps, they mixed with Northern Strains. The resulting out-crossing of strains did not caused any damage because the functions of cattle dogs had become more versatile. The breeds bred for specific, narrowly defined duties included the Saupecker” A pig Chaser” and the Bullenbiser ” Bull Biter”. The later is one of the fore runners of the Boxer.
The cross breeding of different breeds created an excellent breed in the region of the Lake Boden and the Main . It combined the best temperamental and physical qualities of the Roman Cattle Dogs , the local herding dogs, and the broad-chinned British and Dutch Bullenbeissers.
Romans used very large and strong dogs to guard the back gates of their camps in remote and outlying areas. Today the offspring of these camp dogs probably include the Italian Mastiff, The Neapolitan Mastiff. The Rottweiler has inherited some of it’s fearlessness and large size from these dogs. The great variation in the size of the Rottweiler can be explained by the mixed background of the breed. Oversized Rottweilers are not rare even today.
A versatile dog was quickly developed out of this mixture of breeds, to become inseparable companion and helper to butchers and cattle dealers. The dogs main function was to drive and protect herds of cattle, and to protect and defend the property of it’s master. The dog cam e to be known as the Butchers Dog, Metzgerhund , after it’s master.
A steady , very strong and reliable dog was required . The butchers dog had these qualities furthermore, as full blooded guard dogs, they were able to protect their master and property on long trading trips from home. There are reports that the masters could tie their purses to their dogs collars and this was the safest place for them to keep their money from robbers and bandits. It was not unusual that these useful high quality dogs were sought from eager buyers from abroad. In foreign countries their excellent qualities bought credit to their origin, their breeding and their home.
They were often called simply The Rottweil Dogs after their hometown also known as Area Flaviae by the Romans.
Rottweilers were not used only to drive herd and protect cattle but also as draught dogs. It was a usual sight to see a Rottweiler pulling carts of butchers, bakers, milkmen and country traders
It is known whether too much was demanded on the draught dogs or whether they were treated cruelly but the use of draught dogs was forbidden in Central Europe. The ban still exists in some countries. In the Nordic countries and the Arctic regions in general, draught work has always been accepted practice. The prevailing view is that dogs in fact like draught work and no one has thought of forbidding it.
The transportation of cattle was gradually taken over by the railways and cattle driving by dogs was forbidden. Donkeys replaced dogs as draught animals. Consequently lost it’s usefulness as two of it’s earlier functions were taken away.
The breed no longer has any great importance. It’s population and geographical area of influence decreased considerably in 1905 , the city of Rottweil has only had one single Rottweiler bitch left. The steep decrease in the breed did not lucky for us, lead to it’s extinction. The breeds temperament and character attracted new faithful friends in all professional and social classes beyond the original cattle dealers.
The Rottweilers long association and co – co-operation with man has molded the breed in conformation as well as temperament. It’s good traits were simply strengthened when modern cynology took over. The Rottweiler was by that time an individual breed of it’s own characteristics with the German writer Countess Agar von Hagen , accurately described as she wrote “This sturdy helper is loyal, full of good humor, it is kind to children, it makes a definite distinction between service and non service. In private life the dangerous defender become a gentle lamb. Its wise eyes which, can gaze with terrorizing effect, can , to a friend, show a sincere and reliable trustworthy expression. The Rottweiler is not elegant. It is confidently happy with a deep mind, strength is it’s nobility”
New functions were found for the Rottweiler to demonstrate it’s abilities based on its physical qualities, adaptable nature, and natural intelligence.
When dogs were first introduced to Police duties in 1901 , the Rottweiler was soon included. After all the Rottweiler was never anything but man’s helper. It’s temperament was molded and refined by work. The nobility of it’s character was especially reflected by it’s loyalty and reliability, diligence and intelligence combined with courage in the face of danger.
A Rottweiler was first shown at a dog show in in Heilbronn in 1882. The German , Hell, reported that the dog showing then met modern requirements only to a lesser degree.
In 1905 the Rottweiler was selected as a “fine dog of unusual breed and irreproachable character” to be presented to the President of a dog show, organized by the Association of the Friends of Dogs in Heidelberg, Germany.
Through the stages of development, described here, the Rottweiler finally became a recognized breed among the modern breeds of pure bred dogs. Today’s cynology defines what was earlier left to coincidence and nature, its objective is to breed and enhance its sensibility. Let this be the guideline and ultimate objectives of breeders in all countries.