21 June 2009

In praise of Rotties

Rottweillers sometimes come in for a bad press. As someone who lived with one for ten years I can say that any reputation they might have in the tabloid press for being savage or unreliable is thoroughly undeserved. A more placid and even tempered dog it would be hard to find.

The origin of the breed goes back to Roman times; they are largely derived from, and similar in appearance to, a kind of bristle-coated dog the Romans used primarily for herding. As such, it is one of the oldest of herding breeds.

In the absence of refrigeration and suitable food preservation techniques, when in AD 74 they invaded Germany the Romans were obliged to feed the legions with meat on the hoof, and so they brought their droving dogs with them on the long route over the Alps via the St. Gothard Pass, and into the Württemburg region. The breed became established, with admixture from mastiff-like dogs from England and the Netherlands, particularly around the market town now known as Rottweil, so named because when in about AD 700 the locals constructed a church on the site of an old Roman villa, they turned up some red tiles (rote Wile) in the course of the excavation.

They have exceptional ability as droving and stock protection dogs, but from the 19th century when railways became the main means of moving livestock their numbers declined, and they were mainly used as draught animals undertaking deliveries for small farms. Interest in the breed revived in the lead up to the First World War, when they were used as police dogs.

Two Rottweiler clubs with different objectives were established in Germany in 1907; they subsequently amalgamated. In 1935 the breed was officially recognised by the American Kennel Club, and by the 1990s it had become the number one breed being registered with that Club.

Rottweilers are very powerful dogs with well-developed herding and guarding instincts. As working dogs they are very intelligent, trainable, obedient, and eager to work (gain approval). As dogs that are bred to work around animals they are very calm and self confident, and hence very reliable with children. Any potentially dangerous behaviour is attributable to irresponsible ownership, abuse, neglect or lack of training. As with any powerful breed, it is important that they be cared for, treated well and trained sufficiently to respond reliably to voice commands at all times.

Jacq the Dog entered our lives as a small furry slug with legs so short that he could climb the stairs in our house only with difficulty. By the time he was twelve months old he weighed in at 68kg (don’t take any notice of literature that tells you that a typical male weighs 50kg, it isn’t so). I calculated that during the course of his first year his body weight increased by 150 grams per day.

Unfortunately the breed is not a long lived one and Jacq died at just a few months over ten years old.

And here are a few photos of Jacq the Dog:

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