Rottweilers descend from the Molossus, a mastiff-type dog. Their ancestors marched to Germany with the Romans, driving the cattle that sustained them as they conquered the known world. As the army traveled, the big dogs mated with dogs that were native to the areas they passed through and laid the foundation for new breeds.
One of the areas through which they passed was southern Germany, where the Romans set up colonies to take advantage of climate and soil, which were suitable for agriculture. They built villas roofed with red tile. More than 600 years later, as they were building a new church, inhabitants of the town excavated the site of the ancient Roman baths and uncovered one of the red-tiled villas. The discovery inspired a new name for the town: das Rote Wil (the red tile).
Over the centuries, Rottweilers flourished as a market area for cattle, the German equivalent of a Texas cowtown, and the descendants of the Roman Molossus dogs drove the cattle to town for butchering. To keep their money safe from thieves after selling their livestock, the cattlemen put their filled purses around their Rottweiler’s neck when they returned home. Butchers in the area also used the dogs to pull carts loaded with meat.
Eventually, rail transport replaced cattle drives. The Rottweiler nearly became extinct. At a dog show in Heilbronn, Germany, in 1882, only one nondescript Rottweiler was exhibited. That situation began to change in 1901, when the Rottweiler and Leonberger Club was founded and the first Rottweiler breed standard was written. The description of the Rottweiler’s appearance and character has changed little since then.
Rottweilers began to be used in police work, for which they were well suited. Several Rottweiler breed clubs were formed over the years, but the one with staying power was the Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub (ADRK), founded in 1921. The ADRK survived World War II and has continued to promote good breeding programs in Germany and throughout the world. It’s dedicated to preserving the working ability of the Rottweiler.
It’s thought that the first Rottweiler came to the U.S. with a German emigrant in the late 1920s. The first litter was whelped in 1930, and the first dog registered by the American Kennel Club was Stina v Felsenmeer in 1931.
After World War II, the breed started becoming more popular. At that time, it was primarily known as an excellent obedience dog. The height of the Rottweiler’s popularity was in the mid-1990s when more than 100,000 were registered with the American Kennel Club.
Being popular isn’t necessarily a good thing when you’re a dog. It’s not unusual for irresponsible breeders and puppy mills to try to cash in on the popularity of a breed and start producing puppies without regard for health and temperament problems. This is what happened to the Rottweiler breed until bad publicity and the demand for them decreased.