ROTTWEILERS AND CHILDREN: SEPARATING THE FACT FROM FICTION AND TELLING IT LIKE IT IS....................
**Disclaimer: This article contains the personal opinions and views of the author, Retha Crafford, and is in no way meant to be interpreted as veterninary advice, behavioural advice OR as an advertisement. The opinion is that of the author only, as a responsible and ethical breeder of Rottweilers. The information below is published to provide insight into the process of purchasing a Rottweiler, and what is required in the author’s opinion in order to provide a Rottweiler with an ideal home. The author has no intention of discouraging people to acquire highly pedigreed and stable temperamented Rottweilers – but is simply placing the needs of the Rottweiler as a breed on the table and within the public domain for the protection and benefit of the breed. What is stated below is the author: Retha Crafford’s; personal advice and opinion on homing a Rottweiler, and the relationship of the Rottweiler with children. All opinion is based on her commitment to the breed, her extensive experience as a breeder and the continued survival of the Rottweiler in it’s traditional and ADRK stated role**
As a Rottweiler breeder, one of the first questions I am asked by any potential ‘new’ owner, is the following: “If I get a Rottweiler, will it bite my child/children?”
My first thought is usually, “A Jack Russell, a poodle, a Ridgeback, a labradoodle, a Yorkie or a spaniel MIGHT also bite your child/children; depending on the circumstances and the individual dog and children involved.......”
Somewhere in the world at this very moment there are thousands of Rottweilers being trained, cuddled, played with and adored by their human families of all ages, children included.
Elsewhere in the world at this very moment there are thousands of Rottweilers chained up or banished to back yards whilst the ‘children’ of the family pull the Rottweiler’s ears, hit it with sticks or smack it in the face; with no adult supervision. It is in this ‘elsewhere’ in the world scenario, that a child will inevitably be bitten within the next few hours.
As a responsible breeder interested only in the betterment, improvement and welfare of the Rottweiler, I feel obliged to write this article in the interests of the Rottweiler cause.
Rottweilers are in fact extremely fond of children, and the series of books by Alexandra Day titled ‘Good Dog Carl’; about a little boy and his Rottweiler certainly reflect the Rottweiler in his true light; that of being a wonderful companion for a child – IN THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES and with the correct ADULT supervision and guidance.
(Good Dog Carl – Alexandra Day)
The 90’s played a huge role in the demonising of the Rottweiler, due to a huge increase in the popularity of the breed, and the rise of unscrupulous and negligent breeders (otherwise known as ‘GREEDERS’). An increase in the sheer numbers of Rottweilers (many poorly bred with weak and out of standard temperament) quite obviously led to a rise in Rottweiler reported ‘bite incidents’. This led to the usual wave of hysteria, and myth making that continues to linger to this day.
That said, the answer to the question, “will my children be safe around a Rottweiler” is not as simple OR clear cut as what one would think – it is not a YES or NO answer. What has always concerned me, as a Code of Ethics breeder; is that the perception of Rottweilers as ‘baby biting/face ripping’ human blood loving machines, IS STILL very much alive in the domain of public opinion.
In the information piece that follows, I am going to try and answer the question re: Rottweilers and Children as clearly and concisely as possible. I will debunk the fact from the fiction, and will also be incredibly honest in terms of the ‘type’ of home a Rottweiler should ideally be placed in. This is especially true when it comes to Rottweilers bred from seriously strong and well documented German working lines.
To open this information piece; this image perfectly reflects the content to follow:
It is important to start at the beginning, and describe exactly what the Rottweiler Breed Standard says in terms of Rottweiler temperament and behaviour:
The ADRK (Algemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler Klub) whilst German in origin and statutory nature, is also the organization responsible for maintaining, setting and revising the Breed standard of the Rottweiler internationally. They always have been, and continue to be the ‘protectors’ of the Rottweiler breed. The ADRK breed standard describes the Rottweiler’s temperament as:
“Behaviour / Temperament
Good natured, placid in basic disposition and fond of children, very devoted, obedient, biddable and eager to work. His appearance is natural and rustic, his behaviour self assured, steady and fearless. He reacts to his surroundings with great alertness.”
This describes an adult Rottweiler that has been well bred, well socialised, raised correctly and is of sound breed temperament. PLEASE NOTE: ‘fond of children’ features very clearly in the ADRK standard.
Contrary to what many people think, desired Rottweiler behaviour and temperament DOES NOT and WILL NEVER include: random and indiscriminate acts of aggression; acts of viciousness or fearfulness and skittishness. These are not traits contained in the breed standard and are entirely undesirable.
It is for this reason that it is ESSENTIAL that any potential Rottweiler buyer thoroughly research breeders before committing to a purchase. Only breeders who are registered with KUSA and who can support their claims of ethical breeding via previous litters and successes should be approached. When purchasing a Rottweiler; good /breed standard temperament should be the most important item on the list of desirables.
Cheaper is most definitely not better when purchasing a Rottweiler, as the value of a balanced, progeny proven and genetically thrown “sound and stable breed standard temperament” does not carry a price tag.
BUYING A ROTTWEILER FROM A REPUTABLE, RESPECTED, REGISTERED AND ETHICAL BREEDER:
- A reputable and ethical breeder will always be able to clarify or attest to the following regarding temperament:
- The breeder will have monitored the various puppies’ temperaments and will be in a position to advise buyers as to which puppy is best suited to your specific circumstances and home. Puppy Aptitude testing is also done by the breeder (herself/himself/qualified 3rd party) at 49 days, and this assists with placement.
- The breeder will be able to give you an accurate and documented history into the bloodlines of the pup, and will be able to refer back to generations of the pup’s ancestors in order to highlight “hard” working dog lines – These pups will require experienced homes and handlers with plans to participate in a dog sport (IPO etc)
- The breeder will be able to discuss the temperament of both the sire and dam – and where logistically possible, pup buyers will be able to view both sire and dam within their environment. *Personal note: In my case, buyers are invited into my home and are able to view our entire farm, breeding facilities, paddocks and runs, along with the Rottweilers on the property. In fact buyers are introduced to not only the sire and dam of the pup they are purchasing, but are also introduced to each and every male and female Rottweiler in the Craffenheim kennel.*
- The breeder will be registered with KUSA and the Rottweiler Breed Council.
- The breeder will be able to provide references from owners of pups from previous litters, and will often have dogs represented in other breeding kennels.
- The breeder will be prepared to answer your questions and any concerns you may have raised, as well as be available for ongoing support.
Once you have found a suitable breeder, the first step in ensuring a well bred dog of sound temperament has been covered. This is the single most important factor when answering any questions as to whether Rottweilers are good with children.
ROTTWEILERS AND CHILDREN – UNDERSTANDING YOUR ROTTWEILER’S PERSONALITY:
- The typical well bred Rottweiler will be calm and confident without being ‘pushy’. Aloof towards strangers; yet not fearful or aggressive – he will typically stand back and take a ‘wait and see’ approach towards strange people and new situations.
- Fiercely loyal towards his family, he will quite literally offer up his life if he feels one of his humans is being threatened. This makes him both friend and protector to his family – INCLUDING (and in some cases, most ESPECIALLY) the children.
- As a result of their natural drives and inherent breed characteristics; carefully protected and guarded by the ADRK over the centuries through careful breeding ;( quite literally) the Rottweiler’s instinct to protect and WORK is strong. This means that he has drives that need to be satisfied and correctly channelled by doing the following:
- Early and extensive socialisation
- Fair, consistent and firm training
- Giving the Rottweiler a job to do
- It is CRUCIAL to mention at this point, that pups from extremely strong working lines will in all probability NOT make the ideal family pet if you are looking for a companion dog only. These highly intelligent and genetically mapped working dogs are often ‘TOO MUCH DOG’ for some people – and inexperience in dealing with extremely high drive working dogs, can be overwhelming – and is also often the reason many young Rottweilers are re-homed or handed over to welfare organisations. All puppy buyers NEED to do their research regarding breeding combinations, and ask the breeder about the genetics involved. An experienced Rottweiler handler with children will be able to manage a ‘hard core’ working Rottweiler and integrate it into the family successfully.
- Inexperienced Rottweiler owners (First time owners) will in all probability find the task at hand too demanding and frustrating at times – unless they invest in some outside help with regard to training and understanding working dogs – Please be SURE to use the services of trainers who have extensive and documented experience with working dog breeds – as someone who only deals with Bassets and Bostons will be of little help to you.
EARLY SOCIALISATION AND SUPERVISION:
- The most important task any new Rottweiler owner has is the effective and extensive socialisation of the young Rottweiler pup. Once the series of inoculations is complete, it is time to work: HARD. Puppy classes are a good starting point where the pup will be exposed to a variety of people, situations and real life simulations. The pup will also get to interact with children, as many attend these classes. Your own children should attend these classes with you where possible, so that they are involved with the pup’s training from Day 1.
- For Rottie pup owners who don’t have children – it is essential that your dog still gets to ‘meet’ a few ‘little people’ and interact with them. I have heard of ‘childless’ Rottie owners taking pups to school rugby games, children’s parks and even standing outside of school gates in order to introduce their dogs to children and the noises and actions children make.
- In terms of your own children, it is essential that from the day the pup arrives home, certain boundaries are set. There should be rules for the pup (who will learn with positive reinforcement over time) and rules for the children. It is essential that children respect the pup’s personal space, as well as the pup’s physical and mental health. Very rarely is there a problem with a Rottweiler and a child if an experienced and mature adult manages and controls the integration process. Supervision at all times is essential – Children (young children) should never be left alone with dogs – not Just Rottweilers – ANY breed of dog. It is usually in these instances where an adult is not present to ‘identify and ward off the trigger’ that a child is bitten (all breeds). When Rottweilers are raised with children, in a correct and well managed manner – a special bond is formed that will last for the duration of the dog’s life.
- Young pups with their needle sharp teeth DO BITE – often, and HARD. This is not an act of aggression and many times it is incorrectly labelled as “aggression”. The pup is learning and bite inhibition is part of what the adult in the family (with the FULL buy in from all family members) has to teach. Children also need to be told not to flap hands, feet and arms in the pups face – as this will stimulate the pup into a bout of puppy biting. Children should be discouraged from rough housing, playing ‘tug of war’ and becoming overly rambunctious whilst interacting with the young pup.
- When your children have friends over, and things become overly loud, rowdy and perhaps a little too ‘busy’ i.e. running around in large groups etc – some Rottweilers with a herding instinct might automatically start to push and lean on the children while barking, running in circles and even nipping. IF your Rottweiler DOES show such signs – it is kinder to both children and dog to remove the dog from where the ‘chaos’ is taking place; thereby avoiding any issues.
- Formal obedience training becomes essential from 6 months of age – however, obedience training should be taking place in the home each and every day (Basic). Your children will have to be involved with this, and the ENTIRE family has to be on board and committed to the process. If there is inconsistency or a difference of opinions – the Rottweiler will simply take charge himself. Being supremely intelligent, the Rottweiler is extremely biddable and will do whatever you need him to do, as long as he understands what that IS. If you do not allow your Rottweiler to climb on the couch, but your children do – problem.
- If you allow your children to physically ‘assault’ the Rottweiler – yet you apply positive reinforcement methods – problem.
- If you are unable to cater to the physical and mental stimulation requirements of a dog like the Rottweiler – problem. He will find his ‘own job to do’ and make his own decisions about how he treats various people – your children included. If you allow him to share your life, within boundaries of course (BUT: those boundaries must be clear to the dog – he will not automatically know they exist)
- If you DO NOT allow the Rottweiler to form part of your family and leave him alienated in a back yard 24/7 – problem.
**It is important to add that children in GENERAL should be educated about never approaching and petting ANY strange dog – regardless of breed and where the dog is. Never allow your children to rush up to a dog out walking with its owner/walking on the beach or walking past your home on a lead.
There are many reasons that certain dogs will NOT enjoy this – and could react. If you see a dog with a yellow ribbon/bandana around its neck – keep your children away full stop – because the owner of this dog is STATING, via an international ‘Yellow’ campaign, that their dog MUST NOT BE APPROACHED**
MUTUAL RESPECT BETWEEN CHILD AND ROTTWEILER:
- Contrary to popular belief, a Rottweiler will obey 8 year olds commands just as readily as commands from an adult IF the dog respects the child, and knows that the child is ‘higher up’ in the rankings. If the child remains calm and assertive without resorting to teasing/harassing/physically harming the dog; yet shows that he/she is in control (regardless of age) the Rottweiler will respect this.
- Remember: the child will treat the Rottweiler in the manner the ADULTS allow. The responsibility for a strong foundation and bond between Rottweiler and child rests FIRMLY on the shoulders of the adults and OLDER children within the home. Younger children and the young Rottweiler will learn from those who ‘call the shots’ – the adults. Rottweilers do well when there are clear and defined rules, boundaries and ‘jobs’ – whereas chaos, confusion, blurred lines and unclear boundaries simply encourage Rottweilers to appoint themselves as ‘Commanders in Chief’.
- Respecting the personal space of a Rottweiler is essential. In the same way the Rottweiler must be trained to respect the personal space of his humans, so must the humans (especially children) be taught to return the favour. The place a dog sleeps and eats is ‘his’ space and everyone in the home should understand and respect that.
SPAYING AND NEUTERING:
- If you have no intention of breeding with your dog/bitch (and unless you are a registered breeder intent on IMPROVING the breed – you shouldn’t even be thinking of breeding at all) spaying and neutering can rid the dog of hormonal behaviour issues – BUT: spaying/neutering is NOT a cure for behavioural problems. There is also strong (and in some cases rather overwhelming) emerging evidence that spaying and neutering a dog/bitch too early can play a rather large role in skeletal problems, ACL tears (knee) and a variety of cancers. There will be an article from Craffenheim Rottweilers on the ‘spay and neuter’ debate in the weeks to come as this issue has no middle ground – there are two firm camps on either side.
TOLERATION LEVELS AND HYPER STIMULATION:
- Please always be aware that your Rottweiler might be comfortable with certain behaviours your children display in your home, because he has been exposed to them, and he recognises the children as his ‘humans’. Even Rottweilers with the most stable temperaments in the world have the potential to react DIFFERENTLY when other children behave in exactly the same way YOUR children behave. For example: Your Rottweiler might happily tolerate your children playing ‘catch’ or rough housing with each other on the lawn. If another child – who is a stranger to the Rottweiler – attempts to do the same thing, your Rottweiler might not tolerate it, and in fact react to what he perceives to be a threat to his ‘children humans’.
- If ANY dog (not only Rottweilers) becomes super stimulated and aroused – there is always a possibility that the dog might react while in this heightened state of arousal. Be it children on bicycles riding around your back yard or a group of your son’s friends skateboarding in the house – dogs can become stimulated to the point that they breach the ‘thresh hold’.
- It is important for every dog owner (not just Rottweiler owners) to know their dog’s triggers. If your dog is reactive in certain instances, you are the person who should control and manage the situation. If ignored, the consequences could be dire.
- NEVER allow your children, or their friends to tease, torment, antagonise and harass a Rottweiler. Pulling on ears, hanging on to tails, sticking fingers in mouths and hitting noses and that sort of action, is more than likely going to bring about a defensive reaction from ANY dog. If someone pulled my ears or smacked my nose – I would slap them down and lash out at them in a heartbeat – a dog is no different. Why people expect dogs to simply stand back and take abuse, when they as a human know for a FACT that they wouldn’t is a question that haunts breeders and dog lovers the world over- daily.
- Rottweilers (and in fact all breeds of dog) DO NOT HAVE TO LIKE everyone they meet (in the same way humans don’t like every person they meet). If a Rottweiler shows any signs of discomfort in meeting a person, remove the dog from the situation. Guests in your home should also be told to never just approach a dog and pat it – this is ESPECIALLY relevant to young guests (children). Greeting a dog by patting it on its head or trying to hug it can lead to an undesirable reaction.
- Always be aware that when a group of children are in your home, your Rottweiler on hearing ‘screams of joy’ MIGHT think that your child is being attacked – and will make a decision to ‘step in and protect’ your child (his human) from the perceived threat.
- Always remove the dog from ANY situation which might make your dog feel uncomfortable – it really is as simple as that.
IS YOUR HOME THE RIGHT HOME FOR A ROTTWEILER?
- The Rottweiler is a breed that requires a huge investment from the owner – this investment includes time, money, dedication and a willingness to see the Rottweiler develop into a stable, reliable and good ambassador for the breed.
- Training and socialisation are both commitments that have to be made for the duration of the dog’s life – not just the first 6 months of it.
- Consistency, stability, routine and commitment have to be key words in your dictionary as a Rottweiler owner.
- You need to be in a physical condition to handle a powerful and physically strong dog, who will not hesitate to ‘throw his weight’ around if he is allowed to appoint himself ‘commander in chief’ of the home.
- The entire family has to ‘buy in’ to the entire process of acquiring, training and providing for the physical and mental needs of the Rottweiler (Too many individual buyers want a Rottweiler, when the rest of the family would prefer a Labrador. If this is the case, as a responsible breeder committed to preserving the Rottweiler, my advice to you would then be; rather acquire a Labrador)
- You need to be able to supervise; monitor and micro manage the relationship between your Rottweiler and your children. You need to provide BOTH parties with the leadership and guidance (and sometimes the discipline) they need in order to cohabitate in a peaceful and joyous fashion.
- Commitment is everything – and it’s a lifelong one.
- You need to be able to stimulate your Rottweiler accordingly, especially if he comes from strong working lines. Dog sport, Formal Obedience, Tracking, Carting and agility are all activities that could be looked at to provide your dog with the mental and physical stimulation he needs. If you do not have the time required to provide for the needs of your Rottweiler – perhaps another breed of dog is more suitable for you. The fact of the matter is: Rottweilers require a lot of attention, stimulation and appropriate mental and physical exercise.
MALE OR FEMALE ROTTWEILER? WILL A FEMALE BE SAFER AROUND CHILDREN BECAUSE OF HER MOTHERING INSTINCT?
- Contrary to perceptions out there, there are many female Rottweilers with inherently strong genetic drives and characteristics. First time owners will probably do better with a female – BUT: whether male or female – the commitment, the rules and the HARD WORK required is exactly the same.
- Do not think that purchasing a female relieves you from all the necessary commitment, training and dedication.
So yes, a Rottweiler/child relationship can be as special as a child’s relationship with ANY other breed. However, there are a few ‘only ifs’ involved if this is to be the case.
An under socialised Rottweiler, who is kept simply as a ‘guard dog’ in your backyard with zero attention, training, socialisation and affection; has the potential to cause you problems.
When in doubt, or concerned about your Rottweilers temperament (when the dog is already in your home), always contact your breeder and/or a professional who is experienced in dealing with working dogs.
Rottweilers ARE and always will be, first and foremost: working dogs (but yes – they DO make super 50kg lap dogs when well socialised, happy and stable)