The exact ancestry of the Rottweiler is not well known. Most historians believe that this breed descends from drover dogs used by the Romans to move livestock many centuries ago. How the Rottie transitioned from a herding dog to the animal so well-known today is probably attributable to the Roman’s desire to conquer all of Europe. Vast armies were needed for this effort, and they had to bring their food sources on the hoof, as they were without the benefit of refrigeration. Herds and flocks required management by dogs of great strength and stamina that were also capable of guarding the soldiers and stock at night. The Roman drover dogs were perfectly suited to these tasks.
Sometime around 700 A.D., a local ruler ordered that a Christian church be built on the site of ancient Roman baths in southwestern Germany. During the excavation, red tiles from Roman villas were discovered, and the site was named “das Rote Wil,” meaning “the red tile”. This site is now called “Rottweil.” It developed into a cultural trade center and hub, and was extensively fortified in the 12th century, which attracted even more commerce. Many cattlemen and butchers settled there, and they needed dogs to help them in their trades. These Roman drover dogs and their descendants worked cattle and drove them to market until well into the 19th century and became known as the Rottweiler Metzgerhund, or the Butcher’s Dog.
With the onset of the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, cattle-driving by drover dogs became replaced by the railroad, causing a drastic decline in the need for and numbers of the Rottweiler. Not much was written about the breed until 1901, when a combined Rottweiler and Leonberger club was formed. The club created a written standard for the Rottie, addressing both physical type and temperament. During the first part of the 20th century, Rottweilers gained popularity as police dogs. The breed also was used by the German army during the first World War. A number of different breed clubs were founded in Germany after the war, with duplication, dissention and confusion. Eventually, in 1921, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub (ADRK) was formed. It published its first studbook in 1924 and remains active to this date.
The American Kennel Club admitted the Rottweiler into its Stud Book in 1931. The official standard for the breed was approved in 1935, and the first Rottweiler earned an AKC conformation championship title in 1948. The American Rottweiler Club was formed in 1971 and is the parent club of the breed in the United States. The Kennel Club (England) recognized the breed in 1966.
The average life span of the Rottweiler is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, cranial cruciate ligament injury, bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), cancer, elbow and hip dysplasia, epilepsy, congenital deafness, entropion, distichiasis, medial canthal pocket syndrome, iris cysts, progressive retinal atrophy, subaortic stenosis, follicular lipidosis, mucocutaneous hypopigmentation (on the lips and nose), parvoviral infection, eosinophilic gastroenteritis, enteritis and enterocolitis, hypothyroidism, osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), paneosteitis and von Willebrand disease.