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Many dog breeds have gotten a bad reputation over the years for being dangerous. Rottweilers are among them — as a large working breed, they’re often thought of as aggressive. But are they really?
Here’s a deep dive into aggression in Rottweilers!
Breed alone is not a reliable predictor of a dog's behavior or likelihood of aggression. Dogs of all breeds, sizes, and backgrounds have the potential to exhibit aggressive behavior if they are not properly trained, socialized, or cared for by responsible owners. Proper training, early socialization, appropriate handling, and responsible ownership are crucial in promoting a well-behaved and safe canine companion, regardless of breed.
Rottweilers were originally bred in the town of Rottweil, Germany, and were primarily used for various tasks related to herding and guarding livestock. Their exact origin dates back to the Roman Empire, where they were utilized as working dogs in different capacities.
The main historical purpose of Rottweilers was cattle driving. They were employed to accompany and protect livestock as they were driven to market. Rottweilers would herd the cattle and guard them against threats such as predators or thieves.
In addition to their herding and guarding duties, Rottweilers were often employed in other roles. They were used as drover dogs to pull carts loaded with butchered meat, earning them the nickname "Rottweil Butcher's Dog." Rottweilers also served as draft dogs, pulling heavy loads for their owners.
Over time, as industrialization and modernization changed the agricultural landscape, the need for working herding and draft dogs diminished. However, Rottweilers' strong working abilities and protective instincts led to their adaptation into other roles, including police and military work.
Working dogs, which are bred and trained for specific tasks and jobs, may have a higher likelihood of dog reactivity compared to other more low energy breeds.
Many working dog breeds, such as herding and guardian breeds, have been selectively bred for their protective instincts. These instincts are an essential part of their job protecting livestock, property, or their humans! This protective nature can sometimes translate into reactivity towards other dogs or people in our modern society.
Working dogs are also often bred for their high energy levels, stamina, and intense drive to perform their specific tasks. While this drive is beneficial for their work, it can also manifest as increased arousal or excitement when encountering other day-to-day stimuli. This heightened arousal can contribute to reactive behaviors.
It’s important to note that reactivity does not automatically equal aggression. We always recommend getting in touch with a reputable trainer if you’re worried about your dog’s behaviors — they’ll be able to help you interpret your individual pet’s behavior.
Dog bite statistics can be influenced by various factors, including the popularity of certain breeds, media coverage, and reporting biases. Popular breeds may have higher numbers of reported bites simply because there are more dogs of those breeds present in the population. Additionally, media attention often focuses on incidents involving specific breeds, leading to an impression that certain breeds are more prone to aggression, when in fact, it may not be the case.
Any dog, regardless of breed or size, has the potential to bite if put in a situation where they feel threatened. While some dogs may be more prone to aggression or have a higher likelihood of biting based on their genetics, temperament, or past experiences (more on those factors in the next section) it’s important to understand that all dogs have the capacity to bite if they feel the need to defend themselves.
In general, larger dogs have the potential to cause more severe physical damage with their bites compared to smaller dogs. This is one reason many large dog breeds are automatically considered more aggressive than their littler counterparts — many nips from toy breeds go unreported.
Regardless of a dog's size, all dog bites should be taken seriously and treated promptly. Proper training and socialization are key in reducing the risk of dog bites and promoting safe interactions between people and pets!
Aggression can be caused by many different factors. Dogs who growl, lunge, and bite are often motivated by fear and self-preservation rather than intent to do harm to others.
Like we mentioned above, certain dog breeds have been selectively bred for specific traits, including guarding instincts, territoriality, or protectiveness. These breed-specific characteristics may increase the likelihood of displaying aggression in certain situations.
Beyond breed stereotypes, some studies suggest that certain aggressive behaviors can be inherited. The specific genetic mechanisms underlying aggression are not yet fully understood, but looking at a puppy’s direct ancestors might be a better way to predict their future temperament than relying on breed estimates alone.
Understanding the potential genetic predisposition for aggression in certain breeds or individual dogs can help inform responsible breeding practices, early intervention, and appropriate training and management strategies. But it’s important to assess each dog on an individual basis and consider their unique personality, experiences, and environment when addressing behavioral concerns.
Epigenetic factors can influence gene expression and behavior. Environmental factors, such as early life experiences, stress, and socialization, can impact the expression of certain genes and potentially contribute to aggressive behavior.
Socialization is the process of exposing dogs to different stimuli, experiences, and interactions in a positive and controlled manner during their critical developmental period, which is typically between 3 and 16 weeks of age.
A lack of socialization can contribute to aggression in dogs by limiting their exposure to a variety of social situations — which can result in fear, anxiety, and inappropriate responses when faced with unfamiliar people, animals, or environments.
When a dog is experiencing physical discomfort or pain, it can impact their behavior and increase the likelihood of displaying aggression. Dogs, like humans, may become irritable, defensive, or reactive when they are in pain or suffering from certain medical conditions.
Preventing aggression in dogs involves a proactive and multifaceted approach that focuses on proper care, socialization, and training. Sometimes it’s not possible to prevent all instances of aggression — it is not all in how you raise them, and some variables in our dogs’ lives are out of our control — but we can do a lot to stack the deck in our favor.
Part of taking care of yourself while training your reactive or aggressive dog? Remembering that you don’t have to do it all alone. The right support network can make a world of difference as you navigate your pet’s behavior problems and create a life you both enjoy!
Consider reaching out to:
Identifying the root cause of aggression in dogs can be a complex process that requires careful observation, evaluation, and, in some cases, professional guidance.
Before assuming that behavior is solely responsible for aggression, it is important to rule out any potential medical causes or pain that may be contributing to the behavior. A thorough veterinary examination can help identify underlying health issues that could be influencing the dog's behavior.
Carefully observe the dog's behavior and identify specific triggers or situations that lead to aggression. Document the circumstances surrounding each aggressive episode, including the context, environment, and people or animals involved. This can help identify patterns and potential triggers.
Management is an important part of helping your reactive or aggressive dog. The more frequently your pet practices their undesirable behaviors in a heightened emotional state, the deeper they ingrain those habits. It’s important to prevent as many reactions as possible so your training can be successful!
Each dog, owner, and situation is different — and the animal training world is constantly evolving!
As long as your chosen aggression treatment plan is recommended by a humane trainer you trust and prioritizes your dog’s positive emotions, it could help them (and you) live a better life.
There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.
This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
Rayanne Craven CPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT, FDM, FFCP
Professional Dog Trainer - Tenacious Dog Training
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