Posts Tagged ‘Rottweiler’

undocked rottweiler

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.

dog breed



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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I must make a little confession here.

Remember that  “black leopard” I wrote about several weeks ago?

I was pulling your leg.

It was actually the neighbors’ Rottweiler.


I don’t know her name, but she’s old arthritic.

I should note that big black cat sightings are actually large black domestic dogs.

In the US, the most popular breed is the Labrador retriever, which very often solid black in color.

Unlike a Rottweiler, it usually has a tail, so it’s much easier to confuse with a leopard with melanism.


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One of the most interesting things about trying to classify different dogs in terms of their ancestry and relationship to other extant breeds is how much cultural prejudices come into play.

I can’t think of a better example than the Rottweiler.

In North America, Rottweilers are “tough guy dogs.” In the 1990’s, they were the second most popular breed in terms of AKC registrations.  And there were plenty of nasty Rottweilers running about attacking people– even though uncontrollable aggression is actually a major fault in this breed.

If you were to ask they average North American what the Rottweiler’s closest relatives are, I’m sure you’d get someone saying that they are definitely related to “pit bulls.”   Others might say boxers.

Still others– who are bit more informed– would say Dobermanns. Of course, this is kind of right. Dobermanns are thought to have a tiny bit of Rottweiler ancestry.

But that doesn’t mean that the Rottweiler is most closely related to the Dobermann.

If Dobermanns have just at bit of Rottweiler ancestry, the bulk of their ancestry is actually non-Rottweiler.

Furthermore, classifying Dobermanns is very difficult.  As a modern breed with a wide variety of ancestors, it is virtually impossible to get them to fit into any sort of grouping of related breeds. Some claim that they are molossers, but others claim they are the biggest of all pinschers.

So let’s leave the Dobermann out of our analysis, and look at what the genetic literature says about the ancestry of Rottweilers.

Rottweilers were included in the 48,000 SNP study that revealed that dogs were most closely related to Middle Eastern wolves.

It also looked at dog breed relationships, and the results were a bit surprising. Retrievers and Newfoundland were closely related, but they didn’t fit with the other gun dog breeds. They fit with what might be called a “mountain dog clade” that includes the St. Bernard, the Great Dane, and the Bernese mountain dog.

And according to this study, the closest relative of the Rottweiler is the Great Dane.

It is also closely related to two Swiss “mountain dogs”:  the Bernese mountain dog and the St. Bernard.

The relationship with the Great Dane suggests that the ancestral German boarhound was drawn out of the common working “mastiff” of Europe.

Throughout Europe, there were always mastiff-type dogs hauling carts. The ancestral type of this sort of dog would have probably looked like a trekhond or “Belgian mastiff.”  These dogs varied greatly in appearance, but even in Belgium, some looked more like Great Danes and others like Rottweilers or Swiss mountain dogs.

My guess is that if the Rottweiler’s genetic material were compared to the other Swiss mountain dogs– of which there are four breeds– the Rottweiler would fit nicely in that family of dogs.

Two of these mountain dogs (Sennenhund) were primarily used as cattle-herding dogs, which was one of the original functions of the Rottweiler. These two dogs are smaller than the Rottweiler, but they originated in areas of Switzerland that are adjacent to Germany.

Furthermore, Rotweil was actually part of the Swiss Confederacy. It was never accepted into the full nation of Switzerland, but the city remained closely linked to Switzerland, which lies just to the south.

My guess is that trade between Rottweil and Switzerland meant that the Sennenhund-type of dog would eventually become established in Rottweil. The dogs may have driven herds of  Swiss cattle into the slaughterhouses of Rottweil.

Rottweilers became associated with the butcher shops of their hometown, for the butchers needed dogs that could herd cattle.

Yes, I mean herd. Rottweilers are herding dogs. They are actually a well-known droving breed.

This differs very much from boxers and dogs of the bulldog family. These dogs may have started out as herders, but as time progressed, their main function was to grip and bait cattle.

And you’ll note on that phylogenetic tree that the bulldog and English mastiff family is very different from this mountain dog clade.

This should tell us that mastiff-type dogs have been derived from different stocks and at different times. The old claim that they all descend from the Tibetan mastiff has yet to be proved and is very unlikely.

People need to be careful when trying to classify dog breeds. There is actually quite a bit of convergent evolution through artificial selection in dogs, which is why we have rose-eared greyhounds having virtually no common ancestry with tazi/Saluki/Afghan hound family. Dachshunds are not closely related to terriers from the British Isles, even though they have a similar function.

If one didn’t know Rottweil’s history, it would be easy to make the claim that Rottweilers were German pit bulls or giant black and tan boxers.

They are actually derived from the working mastiff-dogs of that region.

They are not in the bulldog family.




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Stolen from Pai on Facebook.

Vitiligo is a condition in which the melanocytes in the skin and fur are unable to produce pigment. There are several reasons for this condition, including viral infections and autoimmune disorders.

This is definitely not the same as the blue doberman, which is caused by it being a black and tan dog that is homozygous for dilution (d/d).


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These are powerful dogs, but they don’t look as exaggerated as they are today.

Ch. Duke of Surrey

Ch. Florentius

These are not entirely different from the St. Bernards that played Beethoven:


It should be noted that the original St. Bernards were short-haired dogs. The long-hairs were developed from crossing with Newfoundlands (or so the story goes). St. Bernards are related to the tricolored Swiss Mountain dogs, and Ch. Florentius looks a lot like a Greater Swiss Mountain dog, except for his coloration.

The German city of Rottweil has had a close history with Switzerland. It was actually part of the Swiss Confederation from 1463 to 1803, and the black-and-tan herding dogs from that region are derived from these tricolored Swiss dogs. The Rottweiler is more closely related to the St. Bernard than it is to the other breeds of German molosser, the Great Dane (Deutsche Dogge or “German mastiff”) and the boxer.

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