The origin of the breed in Germany
It is believed that the Rottweiler (pronounced Rott-vile-er) has developed from Roman cattle dogs which had accompanied the herds following in the wake of the Roman armies through Switzerland and into Southern Germany. In the years 73 or 74 AD the 11th Legion of the Roman Empire laid out a camp on the bank of the river Neckar in the Wurtemberg area of Germany.
Many years later, the area grew into a little town whose small villas had roofs made of red tiles and the area became known as ‘das Rote Wil’ – the red roof tiles gave it the first half of its name ‘rot, while its origin as a Roman city gave it ‘wil’ for villa. Therefore, the city of red-roofed Roman villas evolved into the name ‘Rottweil’.
During the Middle Ages the Rottweiler was used for bear hunting and subsequently as a cattle dog. In that role the dog had to guard the herd at night, prevent any cattle from straying and drive the herd long distances by day. The need to control cattle, including dangerous bulls, meant that the dogs were bred to be strong and sturdy, similar to the breed we know today.
At that time there were many breeds endemic to the regions around Rottweil. These would probably have been the Sennenhunds, the breeds which would include the Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Appenzeller and Entlebucher. These local dogs would probably have interbred with the dogs brought by the Romans and the Rottweiler’s similarity to these breeds is very evident, although the Rottweiler should carry no white on its chest.
In 1899 the International Club for Leonbergers and Rottweiler Dogs was formed in Germany and the first breed standard for the Rottweiler was produced by this club in 1901. The Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub [ADRK] followed on and was formed in August 1921. The ADRK is the governing body of Rottweilers in Germany and their motto still remains: “Rottweiler breeding is working dog breeding”.
[Logo reproduced with kind permission of the ADRK]
With the coming of the railways in the 19th century, cattle herding was forbidden by law and the Rottweiler was then without an occupation. He became used as a draught dog by butchers, and even today when he is no longer used for pulling these little carts, his name continues to be linked with that of the butcher. He became known as Rottweil Butcher’s Dog and later this was shortened to Rottweiler. The butcher used the larger dogs for pulling carts and the smaller ones for herding and driving cattle. After the driving of cattle was forbidden the Rottweiler population declined sharply and in 1905 there was only one bitch to be found in the whole of Rottweil.
[Source acknowledgement: b/w photo above with cow and butcher: Clara Hurley, Powderhorn Press from translated version of The Rottweiler in Word and Picture published by ADRK in 1926]
A club was formed in Germany in 1907 devoted to safeguarding the purity and well being of the breed; organising the keeping of breeding records, to fix the standard of the breed, and to preserve its working qualities. Planned breeding was started and efforts to improve the external appearance carried out with much care and thought.
[The winner of the Breeder Group – ‘vom Kohlerwald’ at the Dortmund Winners Show June 1932]
Today Rottweilers are used in Germany by the Police, Customs and Army; in Denmark mainly for Police duties; in Switzerland by the Customs and in Norway some are used for mountain rescue work; their exceptional noses and hardiness making them very suitable. They are also used as border guards, their disposition to work silently being invaluable for such work.
The development of the Rottweiler in the UK
The first Rottweiler was imported into the UK in 1936 by Mrs Phil (Thelma) Gray of the Rozavel kennels. This bitch was called Rozavel Diana von der Amalienburg SchH I born in May 1934 but she was not successfully bred from. Mrs. Gray continued to import more dogs, but due to the outbreak of World War II in 1939 they were sent over to Ireland for safe-keeping. After the war, attempts were made to find them and return them to England but they had vanished without trace.
The first post-war Rottweilers were imported by Captain F. Roy Smith of the Royal Veterinary Corps in March 1953. They were Ajax von Fuhrenkamp and Berny von Weyher [right]. However, this breeding pair was unsuccessful in producing a litter.
After a time, many more Rottweilers were imported from Europe and a breeding pattern was gradually established. The Rottweiler was first registered by the Kennel Club as a breed in its own right in 1965 although in 1936 the breed was listed by the Kennel Club as “Any Other Breed or Variety of British, Colonial or Foreign Dog Not Classified” !!
Yearly registrations have risen steadily from about 48 in 1966 to 6,575 in 2006. The Rottweiler had been little known to the general public until 1989, when the yearly registration hit a frighteningly high figure of 10,341. The breed hit the headlines in the newspapers, suffering the most appalling persecution from the public and media alike. Thankfully today, the registrations are much much lower and the breed is once more acceptable to the public.