How Smart Are Rottweilers? Everything We Know about their Intelligence

Written by Courtney Wennerstrom
Published: August 4, 2023
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All of us who live with dogs invest significant energy wondering how they think and feel. We carefully read the nuances of their body language – decoding the distinctness of each bark or howl, gauging the angle of their inquisitive head tilts, and interpreting their various expressions – all with a deep understanding that they are constantly communicating with us. Because we love them so fervently, we can’t help but be curious about our dogs’ emotional and cognitive abilities. Many of us even imagine what they might say if they could talk.

Understandably, if you’re a Rottweiler aficionado – particularly if you live with one – you have likely pondered how smart your Rottweiler really is. As it turns out, you are in excellent company! That’s because Rottweilers are literally everywhere. Often called Rotties for short, these impressively robust canines are wildly beloved in the United States. In fact, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), they even charmed their way into 7th place on the list of the most popular dog breeds of 2022.

But is their prominence really surprising – especially considering how majestic and proud they are? Measuring a monumental 24 to 27 inches at the shoulder for males (and slightly shorter for females), these regal beauties weigh between 80 to 135 pounds and are famous for their loyalty and protective nature. With dense, shiny coats, signature tan markings, well-developed muzzles, floppy pendant-shaped ears, dark brown eyes, and winning personalities, Rottweilers are stunning to gaze upon and even better to pet and snuggle.

But what is going through their minds on any given day? Because of their popularity, there are a lot of pet parents out there asking the same question: how smart are Rottweilers, exactly? And how do we know?

Rottweiler dog

Rottweilers are one of the oldest and smartest herding breeds. They are also ancient – with a history dating back to the Roman Empire where they herded and protected livestock.

©TrapezaStudio/Shutterstock.com

Rotties are the Ninth Most Intelligent Breed

Let’s begin with the good news. As it turns out, Rottweilers are super savvy and sharp. This probably just confirms what you already suspected. But who decides how astute a dog is and how? For some context, Stanley Coren, PhD – a professor and acclaimed author – set the world on fire with a groundbreaking study on the subject. An expert on the neuropsychology of dogs, Coren famously quantified canine intelligence in his 1994 book, The Intelligence of Dogs: Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions. Republished in 2006, his book ranks Rotties as the ninth most intelligent breed overall.

In his opus, Coren outlines three key dimensions of canine intelligence: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience intelligence. The first one pertains to a dog’s proficiency at doing the tasks humans have bred them to do, including herding, pointing, fetching, guarding, or offering companionship (in other words, how adept are they at following the very instincts we have instilled in them).

The second evaluates a dog’s knack for independent problem-solving (how quickly can they modify their behavior or try something new to get a desired result). And the last involves a dog’s capacity to learn from – and interact with – people. Together, these tests – while not without limitations – can assess how dogs process the world, overcome obstacles, learn, obey, and communicate.

To create a hierarchy of canine cognition, Coren’s methodology involved soliciting evaluations from obedience trial judges who were affiliated with the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs. By collecting approximately 199 responses, his survey gained insight from roughly 50 percent of the judges who were then active in North America. Remarkably, there was notable consensus among all of these experts regarding their experiences with how specific breeds consistently demonstrate working and obedience intelligence. Unsurprisingly, border collies – being canine geniuses – always earn top honors, as do poodles, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Doberman pinschers, and yes, Rottweilers, too. In essence, smart dogs reliably follow orders, comprehend commands, complete difficult tasks, and so forth.

Rottweiler carrying big tree limb in mouth

According to Stanley Coren’s work on canine intelligence, Rottweilers rank as the ninth overall smartest breed.

©Mariya Kuzema/Shutterstock.com

An Ancient Working Heritage Worth Preserving

It’s fun to consider how long Rottweilers have had to perfect their intelligence. Having originated in Rottweil, Germany, they were initially bred during the Roman Empire to herd livestock, especially cattle. Their brute strength also made it easy for them to pull extremely heavy carts with butchered meats to market. As another interesting fact, their full name is Rottweiler Metzgerhund, or Butchers’ dogs, in German.

Even today – especially because Rottweilers are so incredibly smart – they still need something productive to do. While many currently work as K9 police officers, as therapy dogs, or in search and rescue, the majority of Rotties today live in homes with very little demands on their time. Leisure in this case is not necessarily a good thing – particularly when it’s 24/7. After all, working breeds desire to be active and engaged. Otherwise, they can all-too-easily become bored, depressed, or destructive.

Monotony and dull environments are nightmares for bright, vivacious canines. Working dogs crave stimulation and challenges. So keeping your Rotties entertained and well-exercised is as important for their sanity as well as yours! Making the world a fun place for your dog to explore and thrive in is called enrichment. And it doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. DIY toys, interactive puzzles, outdoor adventures, and positive reinforcement training will all help to keep your Rotties happy, healthy, and as close to their ancient heritage as possible. And they will love you even more for it.

Four rottweiler puppies running

Rottweilers are working dogs and therefore require both mental and physical stimulation, exercise, and lots of affection and attention.

©Rita_Kochmarjova/Shutterstock.com

The photo featured at the top of this post is © cynoclub/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Courtney Wennerstrom is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on pet wellness and the human-animal bond. As an animal welfare professional, Courtney has been writing and researching about animals for over a decade and holds an PhD (ABD) in English from Indiana University, Bloomington, where she taught for 15 years. A resident of Colorado, Courtney loves to hike, travel, and read. She finds inspiration from her rescued huskies, Sasha and Saint, and her beloved rescued cat, Mojo.

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