In the past few months, we've looked at the Rottweiler's historical jobs of cattle drover and cart dog. Now let's take a brief look at another role for which they are historically known: police dog.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Rottweiler had fallen on hard times. Laws had made it illegal to drive cattle along public roads, bringing an end to the days of the drover dog. Likewise, dog carts had fallen out of favor as the donkey became more popular. Finding itself unemployed, the Rottweiler was in serious danger of becoming extinct.
In fact, according to legend, in 1905, only one Rottweiler bitch could even be found in the town of Rottweil. It's a misconception to think that she was the only Rottie in existence at the time. But she was the only one in the breed's historic hometown, which is like saying that there was only one Red Sox fan left in Boston. Truly a sorry state of affairs.
Luckily, small pockets of the breed existed in other areas. In it's heyday, the butcher dogs of Germany had such an excellent reputation as working dogs that they were sought after by people outside of the Rottweil area. Also, the 19th and 20th century saw the birth of dog shows, and a new type of dog fancier who worked to preserve dog breeds not because of a breed's usefulness, but because of a love for that breed.
However, what ultimately saved the breed was a trait that dates back to its ancestors who crossed the Alps with the Romans, its protective instinct. Those Roman dogs were charged not only with herding the army's cattle, but also protecting those cattle from predators and raiders. That trait was passed down through the centuries, where the dogs were charged not only with driving cattle, but also protecting the money once the cattle were sold. And at the turn of the last century, when all of their traditional jobs had died, most of the few surviving members of the breed earned their keep as guard dogs.
At the turn of the 20th century, German law enforcement began to become very interested in using dogs for police work. It formed the German Police Dog Association to identify breeds that would excel in that type of training. It didn't take very long at all for the Rottweilers to come to their attention.
According to one legend, the breed first came into notice when an off-duty policeman in Hamburg was out walking with his pet dog, which happened to be a Rottie. He came upon a bar where fourteen or so drunken men were having a knock down, drag out brawl. Immediately, the policeman went into action, with the help of his "partner". The Rottweiler's weight alone was enough to knock several of the men to the ground. Within moments, the brawl was over and its participants were heading for the hills as fast as their drunken legs could stagger.
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