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Throughout history, Rottweilers have been relied upon to herd cattle, guard property, protect people, and even be family companions. Despite their history and skill-set of being great working dogs, many people report the Rottweiler breed as one they would consider unfriendly or potentially dangerous. Despite their appearance and stereotypes, this breed is known by owners and those familiar with them as lovable, sometimes goofy, cuddlers.
If you're worried about your Rottweiler being or becoming aggressive based on its pedigree alone, then you should know that dog breeds commonly associated with aggressiveness - Pit Bulls, Dobermans, and German Shepherds - are not inherently so. Many canine behavioral researchers and experts agree that an aggressive dog became that way solely through negative life experiences, lack of training, and/or isolation. It's safe, in fact helpful, for you to set these fears aside. The key to raising and owning a non-aggressive dog is to socialize them as puppies and give them plenty of love, attention, and training as adults. The more boundaries and rules you can set for your Rottweiler, the less likely it will be that he exhibits aggressive behavior.
Training a Rottweiler puppy to not be aggressive simply calls for you to accept the time, effort, and responsibility it will take to properly socialize them. Puppies who are not properly socialized may grow into reactive, aggressive, perpetually anxious, and unhappy adult dogs. Because our domesticated pals are still animals, they work with a small set of skills when it comes to perceiving threats around them, and so an unfamiliar sound or people they do not know could cause an adverse reaction derived from fear. This can easily lead to growling, snarling, barking, and possibly even biting.
In addition to basic socialization or desensitization methods, you will also need what is called 'counter-conditioning', which reroutes how a dog thinks about and reacts to different things in the world. These training methods can take anywhere from just a few months to a full year, so it may take some time to see results. However, with enough time and patience, and by starting as early as possible, you can prevent your Rottweiler from developing aggressive habits.
Before you begin to train, you may want to invest in a few tools to assist in your training method. This can include items such as:
- A harness
- High-reward treats
- A clicker
- Patience and faith
The Socialization Method
Teach simple commands
The easiest way to cultivate a relationship and feed it is to learn together by way of teaching your Rottweiler some simple commands, such as 'Sit' and 'Stay'. An added bonus is that these two tricks will show up time and again while preventing or rerouting aggressive behavior.
Ask for participation
Once you get a consistent response to 'Sit' or 'Stay', ask for this behavior around distractions. This could mean in front of an audience, or it could just mean randomly requesting the command from him when he least expects it. With distractions present, be it people, a twittering squirrel, or zooming cars, you're now asking for learned behavior in a more challenging environment.
Bringing your pup along with you while running daily errands is part of socialization. Furthermore, this gives him the opportunity to discover the joys of car rides.
While on these walks, your Rottie will come across people of all sizes, shapes, colors, other dogs and animals, and loud noises. All of these experiences are necessary for your dog to get used to. Exposure to the world is the most efficient preventative measure against aggressive behavior.
Facilitate one-on-one meetings
Chaperone a doggy date with the help of a friend or family member that owns an older, more mild-mannered dog. This is best done at a distance at first and can be worked up to playtime, depending on the severity of the dog or puppy's fear or aggression against other dogs. For safety, an older, non-socialized dog should be kept on the leash and not feel restrained. Once it is obvious the dogs get along, the leash can come off for free play.
Explore the world
Whenever possible, whether by foot or in a vehicle, take your pet with you. The more differing environments they experience, the better off they will be.
Keep yourself in check
Dogs can sense tension when leashed and sense our gripping or tightening of a leash, which are signals to them to be on alert. A dog on alert is more likely to experience a potentially aggressive reaction to whatever is around them, so maintaining a stress-free hold on that leash is important.
The Positive Association Method
Introduce your dog to training
In a space that they are comfortable and not easily distracted, gain your Rottie's attention. With your clicker in hand and bag of treats within reach, click the clicker. Directly after clicking, give your dog a treat. Do this 10-15 times, clicking, immediately treating, and repeating. You can also use this time to introduce him to his harness by introducing it slowly.
At a place of your choosing, in an environment your Rott is already familiar with, find a means to expose your dog to the stimuli at a distance. Every time your dog looks at the stimuli, treat your Rottweiler extensively, clicking, treating, and repeating.
Use treats as a tool
Immediately stop treating your Rottie when the stimuli disappears. This teaches him that the reason why he was getting so many yummy treats was because that stimuli was present. Eventually, he'll come to desire the presence of that stimuli which is the key to positive association.
An important distinction between positive association and desensitization is that your Rottweiler is being treated no matter what. That means, even if he's still exhibiting aggression, at least in the beginning of the process, he is still receiving treats.
Keep decreasing the distance of the stimuli each and every time your dog behaves well in order to slowly acclimate to the presence of the frightening object or person.
Repeat the trial run as many times as you can. Rottweilers are an intelligent breed and it's likely that with these tactics, he could become less aggressive towards his stimuli within as little as a few months. Never test your Rott's vulnerability because one negative experience with his stimuli could set him back in a major way.
Try new things
Within the first few months of this counter-conditioning process, you should try to take your Rottie on as many walks outside the home, and even neighborhood, as possible. If you're willing to put in the work on a consistent basis, your dog will overcome his aggressive tendencies.
The Desensitization Method
Acknowledge your Rottie's enemy
On your next walk around the block, really try to focus on what exactly is causing them to misbehave. What may seem commonplace to us could be seen as a threat to your pet. Take a week or two to make notes of these slight differences in environments to really pinpoint what it is that sets your Rott on a barking spree.
Introduce the enemy
Take appropriate measures to desensitize your Rottie to his stimuli. Introduce him to whatever bothers him at a slow pace. Use a clicker to mark good non-aggressive behavior and reward him. Always practice caution with your Rottweiler during meetings with other dogs and make sure everyone involved is on board.
Slowly and consistently introduce these stimuli to your dog, increasing its difficulty or severity in small increments each time. As always, with desensitization, baby steps are of the utmost importance.
Know your dog's pace
If ever you feel your dog taking steps back in his journey to non-aggression, slow down. Stop and reassess. Whatever it takes for your Rottie to successfully become a well-adjusted pet should be your top concern and objective.
Reward good behavior
You should be rewarding good behavior. Most dogs enjoy treats, whereas others may not be food-motivated. Find out what makes him go 'Oh, wow! Now this is a reward!' and shower him with it whenever he encounters his stimuli without exhibiting aggression.
By Candice Littleton
Published: 06/15/2018, edited: 01/08/2021