I don’t know where this idea came from, but there is profound misunderstanding about what rottweilers are.
Rottweilers are sometimes referred to as Metzgerhund, which means “butcher’s dog,” and someone decided that this meant the same thing as the English “butcher’s dog.” In Medieval and early modern England, butcher’s dogs, which became the bulldogs, baited cattle before slaughter. When the dogs were released upon bulls, many people would show up to watch the spectacle. These events eventually became the bull-baiting contests that were quite popular throughout England.
However, that is not the function of a rottweiler. Rottweilers are not closely related to bulldogs at all. A few years ago, researchers at UCLA released a study on dog origins, which posited a close relationship between domestic dogs and Middle Eastern wolves. Because the researchers looked a large sample of DNA from each dog, they were able to draw a phylogenetic wheel of domestic dogs.
Rottweilers don’t fit with any of the mastiffs, bullmastiffs, or bulldogs. Instead, they share a common ancestry with the Great Dane, the Bernese mountain dog, and the St. Bernard.
Only two Swiss mountain dog breeds were sampled for the study, the Bernese and the St. Bernard. I bet if the researchers had included the Greater Swiss, the Entlebucher, and the Appenzeller, I think we would find these breeds were even closer to the Rottweiler than the Great Dane.
If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. If you look at where Rottweil is on the map, it is not that far from Switzerland. It actually joined the Swiss Confederacy in the fifteenth century, and there was extensive trade between Switzerland and Rottweil for many centuries.
The origins of the rottweiler actually lie with the Swiss mountain dogs that would be used to drive cattle into the butcher shops.
The dogs were not baiters. They were herders and guards.
So when you see someone lumping rottweilers with members of the bulldog, mastiff, and bull and terrier dogs, this person simply hasn’t the foggiest clue about the proper classification of dogs.
I also think it is past time to drop the term “Molosser” to describe dogs that have big, broad heads. It assumes all these breeds are related, but they clearly aren’t. Never mind that the history behind that term is either misinterpreted or the result of wild speculation.
A rottweiler is a droving dog, a farm dog, and a guard. The bulldog and mastiff family have their origins in the big game hunting dogs of Western Europe, which were later used on domestic stock.
I know this discussion of breed classification may seem a bit trivial, but there are real world issues involved here.
Some people promote the mythology of a monophyletic Molosser family of dogs because it romantically connects their boxers and French bulldogs to the war dogs of Rome or the mountain dogs of Tibet. Others use it to conflate bogus statistics about dog attacks. The former better realize that the latter are a clear and present danger when it comes to BSL.
So it might be wise for everyone to correctly classify dogs based upon actual science and a more careful reading of history.
The monophyly of Molossers has simply been discredited.
So stop using the term!
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