Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Whether Rottweilers are territorial dogs is something prospective owners may be wondering about. Perhaps you are attracted to the Rottweiler breed and wonder whether they will make good watchdogs for your property, or maybe you already own one and wonder when/if territorial behavior will start to kick in.
A good starting point when determining whether a dog breed is territorial is looking at the breed's history and what tasks it was selectively bred for.
A Look Back in History
Rottweilers are believed to have descended from the Molossus, a now extinct, mastiff-type dog. The ancestors of the Rottweiler breed were utilized by the Romans, who employed these tough-looking dogs with strong guarding instincts as drover dogs.
Such dogs played an important role in driving cattle along with the Roman troops on foot as the cattle sustained them. During the day, these dogs helped herd cattle, while at night, they would keep watch over them.
On their way to Germany, these drover dogs bred with the local native dogs which laid the foundation for several new breeds. Among these breeds were Rottweilers.
Rottweilers, therefore, originated in Southern Germany, where they were used to drive cattle to markets for butchering. After making sales, it was custom for owners of Rottweilers to place their filled purses around their Rottweiler's neck to keep it safe from any potential thieves. Later on, Rottweilers were used to pull carts for butchers.
Unfortunately, as things became more industrialized, Rottweilers were no longer much in demand as rail transport replaced the need for driving cattle. At this point, the Rottweiler breed almost became extinct.
Luckily though, in 1901, the Rottweiler and Leonberger Club was founded and the first Rottweiler breed standard was written. The Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub (ADRK) instead was founded in 1921.
Rottweilers were then used as German police dogs in the early 1900s (along with German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and Airedale terriers), and have served in the military as messenger dogs, ambulance dogs, draught dogs and guard dogs during both World War I and II.
A Look at Dog Territorial Behavior
Territorial behavior in dogs is described as dogs defending what they perceive as their "turf" basically, their established territory. In most cases, territorial dogs engage in a variety of behaviors that are meant to send perceived intruders away (dogs, people or other animals).
These distance-increasing behaviors may include the following: pacing by the property lines, fence running, urine marking, barking, growling, lunging and even attacking. Territorial behavior in dogs is mostly exhibited in the home, yard, car and possibly other places where the dog is frequently walked or confined.
While territorial behavior may appear in dogs who have a need to protect their perceived territory, just as they would do with protecting a highly-valued resource, this behavior can also have a fear-component at play which acts as a learned behavior that helps drive intruders that make them uncomfortable away.
This latter type of behavior is often seen in poorly socialized dogs with a history of being confined in small areas or being tied up to a dog house, points out Linda P. Case in the book:" The Dog: Its Behavior, Nutrition, and Health."
At what age should a dog owner expect a dog to become territorial? Unlike fear aggression, which often pops up at an early age, territorial behavior is not expected to show up at least until a dog is 6 months of age or older, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lore I. Haug.
Are Rottweilers Territorial Dogs?
A dog breed's standard is a model, basically, a point of reference meant to cover the desirable qualities of a specific breed. Such standards are devised by dog breed associations or breed clubs.
On top of specifying specific parameters in regards to the appearance and movement of the dog, the breed standard also covers the ideal temperament for the breed.
Rottweilers are described by the American Kennel Club as a "calm, confident and courageous dog with a self-assured aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. "
On top of this, Rottweilers are described as self-confident animals responding quietly and with a wait-and-see attitude to influences in their environment.
The desire to protect home and family is instinctive, and along with this breed's intelligence and willingness to work, Rottweilers are particularly suitable as companions, guardians and general all-purpose dogs.
Many dog breeds have an instinctive drive to protect their properties and Rottweilers are one of them. With a history as livestock guardians, Rottweilers are expected to have calm alertness and therefore will always be aware of their surroundings.
Rottweilers though shouldn't threaten or attack your guests. At the same time though, they shouldn't be lacking a normal protective response.
In an ideal situation, Rottweilers should display a "wait and see" approach, evaluating whether there is truly any threat. They basically should "think before they act."
If a Rottweiler feels threatened by something in his surroundings, he should resort to alarm barking meant to send the intruder away and to get the dog owner's attention.
Of course, we must also consider individual variabilities. Every Rottweiler can be different. One owner may end up with a Rottweiler who is reasonably protective and territorial, whereas another may end up with a Rottweiler who will display problematic behaviors.
Exceptions to the Rule
It goes without saying that there are many Rottweilers who bark viciously at guests and will growl and lunge at intruders with deep rage in their eyes. Such Rottweilers surely have an aggressive side, but the good news is that, with professional help, you can influence them and point them in the right direction.
Obviously, this is best done before Rottweilers shows such intense displays. Many of these territorial aggressive Rottweilers have become this way because they were bred and socialized poorly by unethical breeders or they were left to their own devices by their owners, who may sometimes encourage the behavior, either purposely or inadvertently.
An innocent behavior such as pointing at the door or fence line when somebody is in the property and telling a Rottweiler in an excited tone of voice, something along the lines of "go check that out!" can, in some cases, exploit a natural tendency into a major problem.
If you mistreat a Rottweiler or teach him to be mean and aggressive, or if you encourage a behavior, you, therefore, may be asking for trouble. And lots of it, considering how this breed is black-listed and perceived negatively by the public.
However, the good news, is that, if you take the time to instill trust and teach your Rottweiler with gentle guidance and consistency, he can become something totally opposite if you intervene early.
My Experience With My Rottweilers
Some time back, I was asked whether my Rottweilers ever prevented me from being robbed or broken into my home. Here is my answer.
My answer is that I think the presence of my two Rottweilers in the house has certainly deterred criminals sort of like a police patrol that roams the streets of a city.
They do not have to wear the uniform; they were born with the black and brown garment that seems intimidating to those who do not know them.
They give a defiant look to whoever approaches, without the need to bark, and the message is clear: "Who's there? You can't enter here without permission." Many Rottweilers take this "wait and see approach" to basically look and analyze the situation before reacting.
Then they turn their gaze to me. If I recognize the person and welcome them in, then they turn into affectionate dogs that wag their tail and even go to join the gatherings. If I stay away, then they keep their eyes on the person and keep an eye on him until he goes away.
If I am not present, then they take matters into their own hands by barking both to let me know of the presence of an intruder and to inform the intruder that he is not welcome at least until I decide.
I have limited these occasions though and always made sure to be always outside in the yard with my Rotties. With time, they have learned to be under good voice control even when FedEx or UPS comes to deliver a package.
Tackling Territorial Behavior
In an ideal situation, your Rottweiler will take a calm, wait-and-see approach when people approach your property. He should be responsive to you and accepting of your guests. This can take time and practice to train if you have a Rottweiler that reacts too intensely to visitors, guests or the mailman or pizza delivery guy.
As a responsible Rottweiler owner and ambassador for the breed, it is your responsibility to ensure people around your Rottweiler are kept safe and that your Rottweiler is responsive to your directions.
Training your Rottweiler to go to his mat when guests come over can turn helpful. If your Rottweiler is too over threshold to follow your guidance, you may need to keep him in a separated area such as in a crate or behind a Rottweiler-proof gate until he is more responsive.
These are several more strategies to reduce territorial behaviors in dogs. It goes without saying though, that if your Rottweiler acts aggressively towards well-meaning people approaching your home, you should consult with a dog trainer/dog behavior professional using force-free training and behavior modification so as to play it safe and for its correct implementation.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli