Are Rottweilers Bully Breeds? The Real Story


Rottweiler face

On the list of bully breeds are dogs like American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, Bull Mastiffs, English Mastiffs, Cane Corso Italianos, and Neapolitan Mastiffs.

If you were to picture these dogs all lined up next to each other, then a Rottweiler added to the end of the row would not look out of place. But are Rottweilers actually a bully breed, and what does this really mean?

Rottweilers are considered to be a bully breed. They are descended from the Ancient Roman Mastiffs known as Molossers. It is this heritage that determines a bully breed from a non-bully breed, not any behavioral trait. However, most bully breeds do have similar behavioral profiles; they are protective, confident, and loyal.

While Rottweilers are considered to be a bully breed, this list does not refer to personality or temperament but rather to ancestry, even though there are common traits shared by the bully breeds because of this common ancestry.

What Is A Bully Breed?

A bully breed is a breed of dogs that can trace its heritage all the way back to the ancient Roman Mastiffs that were known as Molossers.

Where Did The Term Bully Breeds Come From?

The term bully breed was not given to these dogs because they were bullies. The name most likely comes from the time when these types of dogs were used for blood sports like baiting bulls.

This was a terrible occupation, but you must remember that it was people who were responsible for training the dogs to bait the bulls.

In the Rottweilers’ case, they would more naturally have herded and protected the bulls instead of hurting or taunting them.

But why? The answer to this lies in the Rottweilers’ history.

The History Of The Rottweiler Breed

Rottweilers, as we know them today, have certain characteristics that make them ideal for a number of purposes.

They are companion dogs, family dogs, personal protection dogs, guard dogs, police dogs, search and rescue dogs, service dogs, and so much more.

But how did Rottweilers get these characteristics?

Well, they were selectively bred into the Rottweiler bloodline to make them ideal for their original purpose. This purpose was cattle droving or livestock herding.

Related: Are Rottweilers Good Farm Dogs?

If you trace the Rottweilers’ history (before the 1800s and the industrial revolution), you will see that they were named for the town of Rottweil in Germany, where they were cattle drovers.

Specifically, they were used to move the livestock from the farms to the market.

They served both herding and protecting roles. But this is still not where Rottweilers originated.

Before they were known as the Butcher’s Dog of Rottweil, Rottweilers were cattle drovers for the Ancient Romans, looking after the herds that fed the legions as they roamed the European continent conquering cities and people groups.

Here we find the link to the Roman Mastiffs or Molossers. Thus, Rottweilers are a bully breed.

Why Does Being A Bully Breed Give Rottweilers A Bad Reputation?

Rottweiler in the sun

Remember the line-up we spoke about at the beginning of this article?

Well, a lot of people would say that this is a pretty scary and dangerous group of dogs. Why?

Even though the term bully breed is not given to a breed of dogs because of behavioral characteristics, the shared history of these dogs does mean that they also share certain physical features and behavioral traits.

These features and traits, along with how the dogs have been misused and abused in the past, are what lead uninformed people to assume that they are dangerous.

Falsely Accused: Rottweilers Look Scary

Rottweilers are not small and fluffy dogs. Their intense gaze, sheer size, and highly muscular bodies can be intimating.

A negative response to the sight of a Rottweiler is also the product of the misconception that they are dangerous.

So, it’s a bit of a chicken-egg situation in terms of what came first.

The thing is that their physical characteristics were bed into them because they served a purpose for the Rottweiler’s original occupation.

A small and delicate dog is not going to have very much success in moving a herd of massive cows. They would also be more likely to sustain serious injury if they were bumped or kicked by one of the cows.

Small dogs would also not provide effective protection from cattle thieves or predators.

Falsely Accused: Rottweilers Are Physically Capable Of Causing Significant Damage

Just because Rottweilers are capable of following through with any threat that they issue does not mean that they go around issuing threats as part of their nature, nor does it mean that they will follow through.

Again, to serve their original and current functions, including their roles as personal protection dogs, a Rottweiler’s physical capabilities are actually desirable traits; it’s what makes them appropriate for these roles.

Falsely Accused: Rottweilers Are Vicious Fighting Dogs

Have Rottweilers been used in dog fights?

Yes, they have. However, the key is in the question: they have been used.

Blood sports are a stain on human history, a genuinely terrible demonstration of the depravity of which our race is capable.

Perhaps the most tragic thing is the fact that we cannot say that blood sports are only a part of our past.

Although it is illegal now, people still use dogs to fight and kill other dogs and animals.

Humans train these dogs for fighting, often abusing them to the point where aggression becomes the dog’s only response.

Sometimes it’s not even just the training. Individual dogs can have aggressive personalities.

Responsible breeders do not breed with these dogs, but some people purposefully breed aggressive dogs to other aggressive dogs in an attempt to create ‘good fighting dogs’.  

Rottweilers are unfortunate enough to possess the characteristics that can be twisted to suit a fighting dog.

People hear stories about these Rottweilers attacking and killing other animals and being so aggressive as to be impossible to rehabilitate when rescued.

This adds to the fear and misconception surrounding these dogs.

Are Rottweilers An Aggressive Breed?

Rottweiler showing teeth

Any dog has the potential to be aggressive. Certain desirable characteristics or combinations of desirable characteristics may turn into aggression if the dog is not socialized and trained properly.

Rottweilers possess characteristics that can become problematic if not managed properly, but you can’t say that they are an aggressive breed.

Rottweilers are instinctively protective and confident dogs. This means that their natural response is to defend those who they perceive as part of their pack, but they will go on the offensive and follow through if necessary.

There are two things that the owner of a Rottweiler should do in order to prevent any possible misbehavior in their dogs (these apply to all dogs, not just Rotties).

These are proper socialization and training.

Let’s now take a closer look at these crucial elements of Rottweiler ownership.

Socialization Minimizes The Chance Of A Rottweiler Becoming Aggressive

When a Rottweiler is a puppy, it should be exposed to all sorts of situations, animals, people, and sensory stimulation.

When a Rottweiler knows how to handle loud noises, large crowds, different people, and other animals, they become well-adjusted animals.

If they are not exposed to these things, they never become normalized to the Rottweiler, and your dog will respond defensively or offensively to every new experience.

For example, Rottweilers who are aggressive towards other dogs are most probably those that were never allowed to interact with other dogs when they were growing up. This makes all new dogs seem like potential threats.

Additionally, if your Rottweiler has never had a chance to learn dog manners, then other, well-socialized dogs will call them out, so to speak, which your dog can take in bad part.

Training Minimizes The Chance Of A Rottweiler Becoming Aggressive

Training allows you to teach your Rottweiler about which behaviors are acceptable and which are unacceptable.

Training also establishes a good understanding of who is in charge. Rottweilers can take advantage of submissive owners.

If you do not take the role of pack leader, your Rottweiler will. This can lead to possessive and territorial behaviors that are inappropriate and result in aggression.  

Final Thoughts

Rottweilers are descendants of the ancient Roman Mastiffs, Molossers, an ancestry that they share with Bull Terrier and Mastiff breeds.

These Molosser-derived breeds are collectively called bully breeds.

Bully breeds are so named because they used to be forced to bait bulls as part of certain blood sports. The name does not refer to any proclivity for bullying other animals and people.

Rottweilers can be aggressive dogs, but it’s not a genetic trait.

Their protective instincts, territorialism, and confidence can become problematic if they are not well socialized and trained.  

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds and a variety of other large and medium breed dogs for over 20 years now - Rottweilers, Dobermans, Pit Bull Terriers - just to name a few. Myself, along with my team of highly experienced canine professionals, strive to bring you the best and most useful information to help you raise your dog the right way. Read my story here.

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