If you’re bringing home a new Rottweiler pal, you’re likely invested in knowing how to help your pup safely navigate the world and become a well-rounded canine companion.
In this guide, we’ll delve into how to train your Rottweiler using ethical, science-based methods that strengthen your relationship and prioritize the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of your dog.
Read on to learn more.
History of the Rottweiler and Myth-Busting
Part of the mastiff family, the origin of the Rottweiler likely dates back to around 100 AD, when the Roman Empire was spreading throughout Europe. Historians believe Rottweilers emerged from the Roman legion near Rottweil, Germany. Originally, soldiers and farmers primarily used this strong breed for livestock guarding and herding. Their use as guard dogs continued through the ages, broadening the protection of people and places. In 1931, the American Kennel Club officially recognized this ancient dog as a formal breed.
Misconceptions and Exploitation of the Rottweiler
Due to their power, size, and breed history, the Rottweiler is often on the receiving end of harmful stereotypes and terrible assertions about how they need to be trained. Throughout the centuries, cruel individuals have exploited their strength and devotion to use them as fighting dogs, and attack dogs, and to force them to live in unacceptable conditions as guard dogs, such as chaining them up in junk yards.
You may hear baseless claims about needing to use harsh methods to train Rottweilers since they are a powerful breed. You may hear that they are naturally unsafe around other animals or children. These claims aren’t based on science but on fear and exploitation. Trainers who use unethical tools, such as shock and prong collars, love to fear-monger about powerful dog breeds. They can receive more clients if they convince unknowing people that their Rottweiler needs a heavy hand.
What is true is that the Rottweiler is a strong breed, so it’s especially important to properly, lovingly, and supportively train and socialize them using ethical, dog-centered methods. Below, we’ll talk about some of the best ways to achieve this.
1. How to Train Your Rottweiler: Establish a Secure Attachment Bond
Studies have proven that dogs benefit from forming secure attachment bonds with their primary caregivers. A secure attachment bond supports an individual in feeling safe, secure, and confident in the world around them. This is especially important to develop as an individual grows. For your Rottweiler, it’s important to show them that you are a person they can turn to if they feel uncertain or anxious as they navigate the world. This is not the same as forming hyper or anxious attachments. By being a secure base for your pup, they will be able to more confidently explore their world.
The following is an example of developing this type of secure, confidence-building bond: In this scenario, you just adopted a 10-week-old Rottweiler puppy from the shelter. The pup is a bit fearful and shy, as she didn’t have a great start to life. You’ll need to help her feel safe and secure to help her develop as a well-rounded individual. One way to achieve this is to gently begin introducing her to the world without being forceful.
Through building a secure attachment bond, you explore the world together. This can look like sitting on a park bench together and socially processing a new environment. If she appears interested in checking out a new scent in the park, for example, you can go together. But, if she begins to feel unsure of the new environment, and wants to return with you to the safety of the bench, you’ll want to allow this.
By not forcing her to explore beyond what she is comfortable with, you are teaching your pup that she can safely process the world with you and that you will be there for her if she feels unsure. This will allow her confidence to grow because she isn’t being thrown into new situations over her head.
How to Train Your Rottweiler: Supporting, Not Stunting
You might be thinking, “Well, she needs to go out and experience the world, and coddling her won’t help her get over her fears”. But here’s the thing- you’re not stunting or coddling your puppy by going at her pace. You’re doing just the opposite. The fewer bad experiences she has, the more confident your pup will become. And the less fearful she is and the more positive social experiences she has, the less your rottie will feel the need to defend herself or flee from situations.
Remember, you won’t always stay on the park bench. By setting up a secure, safe place for her to socially process alongside you, you’re setting the foundations for a pup who knows she is safe to explore the world without being constantly overwhelmed. So, as her confidence and curiosity grow without roadblocks caused by daily fearful experiences, your Rottweiler is much more likely to process her environment without feeling defensive. This is especially important for strong breeds who have the potential to do some damage when feeling threatened or afraid.
Comfort Your Rottie
The key is to actively set up scenarios that allow your pup to explore her world without feeling overwhelmed. As long as you continue to do this, you should make progress. This also means comforting your dog when she is scared! You may have heard the advice that you shouldn’t comfort your scared pup because it will “reinforce her fear”.
This is not how reinforcement occurs, and you aren’t going to make your dog feel more afraid by comforting her. Instead, you can show her that you are there for her and that she doesn’t need to deal with her fears alone. This is hugely important because dogs are more likely to show fear and aggression if they don’t have a secure attachment bond with their primary caregiver(s). In scientific terms, dogs that are left to deal with fear on their own are far more at risk of developing what behaviorists call a “negative cognitive bias”. With a negative cognitive bias mindset, your dog is more likely to be primed to feel suspicious, fearful, threatened, and defensive in new or potentially stressful environments.
2. How to Train Your Rottweiler: Prioritize Socialization
The early socialization period for dogs happens during ages 3-12 weeks. At this time, the dog’s brain is primed for learning and processing new experiences. The brain prioritizes curiosity and building new neural connections. This is one of the most important times to introduce your Rottweiler to new experiences.
However, you may have adopted your rottie past this age range. You can still follow the same method of socialization, but the process may take longer and your dog may have had months or years of negative experiences that can complicate the process.
For folks who are adopting a Rottweiler (or any breed) with a known or suspected history of abuse, neglect, or other negative experiences, it’s always an excellent idea to connect with a qualified, force-free behaviorist to aid you in your journey. Setting up a relationship with a certified fear-free vet clinic is also a great plan. Especially for dogs with known or suspected histories of trauma, it’s critical to support them in feeling as safe and secure as possible as they navigate the world around them. And remember, by establishing yourself as a secure base of support, you will help tremendously in this process.
Socialization for Rottweiler Puppies
If you are adopting a Rottweiler puppy, your socialization process will likely be a bit smoother. Remember, developing a secure attachment bond will help tremendously as you socialize your puppy. During the early socialization period, it’s important to prioritize introducing your pup to a new sound, smell, taste, sight, social interaction, and tactile experience every day. But, go at her pace! These new experiences don’t need to be huge events. They can be as simple as introducing your pup to the sound of a toilet flushing or a vacuum cleaner turning on. Pairing these new experiences with snuggles, play, and high-value treats will help her form positive associations.
When introducing your Rottweiler puppy to a novel social interaction, it’s crucial to not force the interaction. Your puppy might be interested and excited to meet a new dog or person. She might want to trot right up and say hello!
Or, she may appear a bit nervous and reserved. If the latter is the case, you’ll only make her feel worse by handing her off to a new person or pushing her into the personal space of a new dog. Instead, you can allow her to socially process this new interaction from a distance. Remember the park bench? It’s like that. You can find a comfy spot to sit and let her scent the air for a while, and visually and auditorily process this new social environment at a distance where she feels comfortable. Then, you can slowly move towards the novel stimulus as she gains confidence.
3. How to Train Your Rottweiler: Form Positive Associations instead of Negative Associations
Tragically, Rottweilers are one of those dog breeds that are most at risk of enduring harmful training methods and tools. The use of shock collars, prong or choke collars, and other means of verbal and physical punishment are justified because of the breed’s size and strength. However, a large body of evidence proves that these types of training tools and methods can create and escalate defensiveness, fear-related aggression, and redirected aggression. They can also cause physical, emotional, and mental harm to your dog.
The less safe your dog feels, the more likely they are to develop a negative cognitive biased mindset and to, understandably, feel like they need to defend themselves. They may feel too afraid to fight back against the wielder of cruel training methods. In this case, the trainer has achieved behavioral suppression. Behavioral suppression does just what it sounds like- it suppresses behavior without actually facilitating growth and transformation.
Example of Harmful Training Methods that Form Negative Associations
As an example, a trainer may shock a dog when they bark at the delivery person. That trainer may tell the caregiver to do so as well. So, in shocking the dog every time they bark at the delivery person, you might stop your dog from barking by punishing the dog for suppressing this communication.
However, you’ve also very likely taught the dog to fear the delivery person. In your dog’s mind, the delivery person now equals a painful or startling experience. Delivery person=shock. Delivery person=pain. Your Rottweiler may have been barking at the mailperson to begin with because they felt threatened or afraid of their approach to the house. Well, now, they feel acutely more afraid or threatened when the person approaches, because their approach signals a shock. Behavioral suppression does not often last because the dog still feels the underlying emotion, often more strongly after being suppressed.
Often, the behavior will eventually resurface and it may be worse than before. Because of the shocks, what started as defensive barking towards the mailperson may turn into redirected aggression against someone near the door when the mailperson arrives. Redirected aggression occurs when the dog can’t reach the source of its fear or anxiety. Or, if your dog is accidentally let out, it could result in a bite against the delivery person.
Example of an Ethical Training Method that Forms Positive Associations
By using positive reinforcement and association conditioning, you can help your pup feel more secure and happy in their world. You can also use positive reinforcement to teach cues and reinforce desired behaviors. Rottweilers respond to these ethical methods of training and association-forming just as well as any other breed of dog. As described above, it’s a safer option that better encourages the development of a well-rounded, laid-back, and confident Rottie.
Let’s take the previous example of the Rottweiler barking at the approaching delivery person. This time, instead of shocking the pup to suppress their communication, you use positive reinforcement and conditioning to achieve two things: 1. help your Rottie feel safe when the delivery person arrives, and 2. teach your pup what you’d like them to do when the someone approaches the house.
Form Positive Associations
If you notice that your Rottweiler appears threatened, fearful, or otherwise uncomfortable by the approaching mailperson, you’ll want to show them that the mailperson is the best person in the whole world! This means that the very moment your dog notices someone approaching before they start barking, you’ll want to rapidly deliver small pieces of high-value food. If your dog is too stressed by the approaching person to want to eat, you’ll need to take a step back in the process. This may mean moving further away from the door. You may also simply need to use higher-value food. Or, you can have someone your dog knows and trusts approach the door, and allow your pup to watch them through a window.
As the person approaches, deliver lots of tiny pieces of cheese. Additionally, the second your dog notices the person, say “Thank you!” in a cheerful voice, signaling that you acknowledge what your dog is noticing, are aware of the arrival, and are not concerned. As your dog becomes accustomed to the concept of a familiar person approaching means of high-value treats, you can try again with the delivery driver. In the meantime, if you know when the mailperson is showing up, try to reduce the exposure of your dog to the trigger by putting them in a different room with a happy distraction, such as cheese-stuffed kong.
The ultimate goal of this association building is to encourage the understanding that the delivery person is the magical cheese person. They are the absolute best because every time they show up your Rottweiler gets scrumptious treats and lots of praise. Once your pup is feeling safe about the arrival of the mail person, you can then move on to showing your dog what you’d like them to do when someone approaches the door.
How to Train Your Rottweiler: Positive Reinforcement
This is where the use of positive reinforcement comes into the picture. Using positive reinforcement, or R+, you’ll use treats, toys, and play to increase the repetition of a desired behavior. You’ll want to teach this cue using small, digestible steps that your pup can understand. So, in the instance of barking at the door, once your pup feels safe about the arrival of the delivery person, you can teach them a desirable, reliable behavior to perform. This could be lying down on a comfy mat or going to get a toy from a toy basket. If your dog loves toys, the latter option could be excellent as your pup can’t effectively bark and hold a toy at the same time.
It’s crucial to understand, however, that the reinforcement must be truly rewarding to your dog, not just what you’d imagine is rewarding. So try out different treats, toys, and play styles to figure out what your dog finds truly rewarding.
4. Use Species and Breed-Appropriate Enrichment
Finally, it’s vitally important to provide species and breed-appropriate enrichment for your Rottweiler to thrive and learn. For the domesticated dog, species-appropriate enrichment includes food enrichment, companionship, scent-based enrichment, toy enrichment, and freestyle play. Rottweilers are known to enjoy playing tug-of-war and other toy-related games. To help their brain feel content and primed to learn, it’s a good idea to allow free play with toys and games of their choice. Dog-led play increases their autonomy, which improves mental well-being and the capacity to learn and process their world.
Additionally, make sure to balance providing high-energy activities with plenty of rest and downtime. Too much intensity can lead to a wired-up pup who has a difficult time settling down. Low-energy enrichment for your Rottie can include providing snuffle mats and frozen broth in kongs for them to lick, ideally in their dog bed or another restful environment.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © bogdanhoda/Shutterstock.com
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