Any time you talk about dog breeds, two things become immediately apparent: First, everybody thinks they’re a dog expert. Apparently, owning a dog makes you an expert. And second: There is not one perfect dog breed despite what breed enthusiasts would have you believe. It all depends on what traits you’re looking for in a dog. This article will compare the pro’s and con’s of both the German Shepherd Dog and the Rottweiler… two breeds I’ve had extensive experience with both as an owner and in a working dog context.
Keep in mind that a good dog is a good dog, it doesn’t matter what breed. I’ve owned two dog training companies in two different states, so I’ve worked with a lot of different dogs. And I’ve owned quite a few dog, personally. The best dog I’ve ever owned was a mixed breed, so I’m definitely not a breed snob.
That being said: When a client would ask me to find them a dog with certain characteristics, I’d almost always look for a purebred dog that would meet their requirements, because there is predictability with purebred dogs. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a bet you can place with greater odds than choosing a mixed breed dog.
I’ve personally owned six Rottweilers over the years and four German Shepherd Dogs. And I have worked with (literally) hundreds from each breed.
So, how does the German Shepherd dog compare to the Rottweiler?
I wrote in my book, “Dogs For Preppers” that the German Shepherd Dog is really three distinct breeds:
- The American bloodline dogs
- The German Show bloodline dogs.
- The German Working Bloodline dogs.
My advice is to stay away from the American bloodline German Shepherd dogs, altogether. These dogs have been bred exclusively for the show ring (where they are pranced around and judged solely on their movement and appearance) and with absolutely no criteria for the dog’s temperament or character other than allowing a judge to walk up and pet the dog. Which is a shame, considering what Captain Max Von Stephanitz had in mind when he created the breed. If you’re not familiar with German Shepherd bloodlines, a big tip-off is usually that the American bloodlines are a much thinner, skinnier dog with an overly sloping back (which causes all sorts of joint and hip problems). ** Note: Just because a GSD is bred in America does not mean that he is necessarily from American bloodlines. Breeders import dogs from Europe and then breed from those lines instead of the “American” bloodlines.
The German Show bloodline dogs are best suited for most American families. These dogs are bred to have both working ability and physical beauty. You’ll (usually) know you’re looking at a German Show bloodline dog because these are the big beautiful dogs with plush coats that look absolutely majestic like the one’s in the photo, above. In order for these dogs to be bred in Germany, they must pass a Shutzhund test. Shutzhund is a working dog test that combines protection, obedience, tracking and agility. In contrast, the American bloodline dogs are required to pass no such test. That being said, the German show bloodline dogs are not a good choice for anybody looking for a pure working dog. They do make excellent home and family dogs, though.
The German Working bloodline dogs (including working bloodlines from other European countries) are dogs that are bred almost exclusively with the goal of producing working dogs for either police, military or sport dog applications. Now, as a prepper your first inclination will be to say, “I want one of those!” But I caution you to think carefully before adopting such a dog. These dogs have a super-high energy level and will not be content to lie around your backyard while you’re at work. They’re also very dominant dogs that require a firm leader. If you’re looking for a GSD to let your kids romp around the park with, this is probably not the type of dog for you. Of course, there are exceptions but as a general rule: These are extreme dogs that do not make good house pets.
We occasionally see dogs where the mother is from German show bloodlines and the father is from German working bloodlines. Avoid these dogs, if possible. They’re difficult to work with and typically do not have the high drive of a full working bloodline dog nor the calm temperament of the German show bloodline dogs. So, you’re stuck with the worst traits of both.
The Rottweiler hasn’t suffered from quite the divergence of bloodlines as the German Shepherd dog. With the Rottweiler, you basically have: Working bloodlines and show bloodlines. The show bloodlines (typically) still retain much more of the traits the breed was developed for and if you select one that has sound nerves and good drive (food drive and ball drive) then you will have a dog that you should be able to do personal protection training with, if you choose.
An anecdote: I have a friend named Jenny. Jenny (not her real name) owned two large German Shepherd dogs because she had a stalker. One evening, the stalker broke into her house and raped her while the two German Shepherds lied on the floor in conflict, not knowing what to do. (True story.)
After that experience, she switched to Rottweilers because they tend to have less bite inhibition while under stress. She also got involved in personal protection training.
Now, lest you think I’m trying to down-talk the German Shepherd dog as a breed, I’m not. All dogs that are used as anything more than a deterrent should have protection training. It’s the same with martial arts training for people: You’re only as good as your training. But the reason I bring up this example is that when I had my first dog training company, we offered personal protection training. While certainly not scientific, nine out of every ten Rottweilers that clients brought to us had the right genetics to do bite work, whereas only one of every nine or ten German Shepherd dogs had the right genetics. Like I said: Hardly scientific, but if you are closing your eyes and picking a dog, your chances of finding one that will be naturally protective are much greater with the Rottweiler breed than with the German Shepherd breed, I suspect because the show and working bloodlines of the Rottweiler are still much closer than they are for the German Shepherd dog. ** Everyone of these clients was convinced that their dog would protect them when threatened. Without training, very few dogs did, because dogs don’t have the logic or reason to know the difference between somebody giving you a hug and somebody trying to give you a bear-hug.
In light of my experience, does this mean you shouldn’t buy a German Shepherd dog if you’ve got your heart set on the breed? No, of course not. The German Shepherd dog is a great breed. It just means you have to be more careful and selective when finding a breeder.
Some random comparisons between the two breeds:
German Shepherds typically live longer than Rottweilers.
Rottweilers typically have fewer health problems.
The German Shepherd dog is a more athletic dog. If you’re a jogger, this breed would be a better choice.
The Rottweiler suffers more in warm weather climates due to their shorter muzzle.
The German Shepherd dog sheds much more than the Rottweiler.
The Rottweiler still sheds a lot.
The German Shepherd dog is a much more whiney, vocal breed.
The Rottweiler is one of the most quiet working dog breeds. It’s said that for every ten times a German Shepherd barks it is equal to every one time a Rottweiler barks. In my experience, it really depends on the individual dog but as a generalization I’ve found this to be true.
Temperament-wise, the German Shepherd dog will typically have a softer temperament than the Rottweiler. This is why they’re so popular around the world as a working dog breed: They’re easier and less dominant, so for new handlers they can be a better fit.
If buying an adult male German Shepherd dog, make sure that over-angulation does not cause him to urinate on his front legs. The dog’s body should be long enough so that if he does squat (yes, even male dogs squat from time to time) he doesn’t urinate on his front legs.
If buying an adult Rottweiler, adopt one that does not slobber excessively. Depending on the individual dog’s muzzle, many breeds (the Rottweiler in particular) have an overly square jaw. Some of these dogs slobber excessively. Some do not. Find one that does not.
The German Shepherd dogs, in general, have a tendency to pace in the house whereas the Rottweiler is a much more lazy dog.
The German Shepherd will have a tendency to be more aloof with strangers, whereas the Rottwieler– while territorial– will want to climb into the lap of a stranger, once properly introduced.
Many people find all black dogs to be intimidating for some reason. I’m not sure if this is more prevalent among certain cultures or not. Obviously, the Rottweiler will be a natural favorite in this category, but you can find all black German Shepherd dogs too, and they are still considered “correct” as far as breed standards are concerned.
Avoid all-white German Shepherds, “Shiloh Shepherds” and “King Shepherds”. The top German Shepherd dog bloodlines have been studied and bred for over a hundred years by thousands of people around the world who’ve been diligently working to improve the breed. These others are simply marketing attempts to sell a ‘better’ dog. They fall far short.
Avoid the temptation to buy a Rottweiler that is a giant: The bigger the dog, the more health problems you will encounter. Big dogs have big health issues. The Rottweiler as a breed is large enough. There is no benefit to having a giant, whereas there are many negatives.
If you haven’t guessed yet, I am partial to the Rottweiler. But then, I enjoy taking naps in the afternoon and the Rottweiler’s temperament is a better fit with my family’s activity level.
If you have further thoughts or questions, feel free to leave a comment below.