The German Shepherd Dog Or The Rottweiler: Which Breed Is A Better Fit For Your Family?

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.

Onwards…

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.

26 Comments
  1. Great article, appreciate your insights on dog breeds.
    We have a 5 year old German Shepherd, AKC but not sure about German/American. He is very loyal and attentive and does a wonderful job of keeping the bears and varmits from the chickens but not good at all about barking at the two legged strangers.
    Do you have any book suggestions for training a prepper dog?

    • Not all German shepherd dogs (GSDs) are suitable for personal protection. Yours does not sound like he is one. A good GSD should have plenty of suspicion in him. That means barking at strangers (people). I have 20+ years experience breeding and training GSDs for schutzhund and police work. My experience is the opposite of the author’s: there are very few good Rottweilers out there. And most cannot do suitable protection work.

      I would say 1 in 20 rottweilers is suitable for good honest personal protection. That means more than a deep bark, but a dog that will engage an aggressive attacker with a good firm full mouth grip (bite). If you get a GSD from working lines better than 70 % can do the work. And the GSD will out work any rottweiler. The rottweiler is a big heavy dog that does not have the endurance of a GSD. It cannot run faster or jump higher. The GSD is a better tracking dog too. If you want a fat drooling dog that has a deep bark, get a “rock wilder.” If you want the most versatile dog in the world, spend at least $1000 – $1500 for a good working line German Shepherd pup from a reputable breeder.

      • Gino:

        I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but it is incorrect. A GSD with good genetics should not bark at strangers. In fact, part of the BH test (the pre-requisite to earning the Schutzhund I) requires a group of strangers to walk up to the dog and handler and the dog must remain calm and not bark.

        Schutzhund was developed as a breeding tool to evaluate which dogs within the GSD breed should be bred. Spooky dogs (suspicious or nervous) are disqualified.

        As for the Rottweiler: The reference was made in the context of bite work. As far as a total working dog, it’s hard to beat the Malinois. But now we’re getting into a “What’s better: 9mm or 45″ type of argument.

        I should also point out that your reference to, “full mouth bite” is specific to the sport of Schutzhund. Ring sport, Mondio, KNPV, etc… it’s not so important, just like leg bites are not important in Schutzhund.

        • Dear sir, i want to get an information from you.. I am a lecturer and live in a village and do farming, now for the fist time i want to keep a dog in my house, i am not aware of different types of dog trainigs. Would you please tell me which dog breed will be best for me.. Rottweiler or GSD or Labrador

  2. I’m a dyed in the wool GSD fan! I just got my 5th GSD pup (sch3 dad & sch2 mom), he’s 7wks old and 16lbs – gonna be a big boy.
    My family has always had Shepherds, so I’m prejudiced to say the least.
    It really doesn’t matter on the breed, what does matter is the time and effort you spend with your dog and their training. You can get great bloodlines and still get a horrible dog, just by poor training.
    My best friend and his brothers always had Rotty’s – his were great, well behaved dogs while his brothers’ dogs were complete nightmares, again it all comes down to training.
    30+ years ago I moved to the back country of the N. Rocky mountains. I spent all my time training my GSD while living and working in the remotest areas of Montana and Idaho, and turned out an exemplary Mtn dog, one that was trained to hand signals and to be a hard core mountain working dog, I still miss him terribly.
    I highly recommend these 3 books (that I used) for training my dogs:
    1) Expert Obedience Training for Dogs, Fourth Edition

    2) The Koehler Method of Dog Training

    3) Schutzhund: Theory and Training Methods (Howell reference books)

    I don’t know if they are still in print [editor: links added. Thanks.] but they helped me turn out winning dogs that were the best companions a man could ever hope to have; gentle, loving and loyal and extremely fierce when the need arose.

    Again it’s not really the dog it’s the trainer and the effort you’re willing to put in to get a great dog worthy of your life together.

  3. German Shepherd owners often breed for different characteristics. Some German Shepherd breeding revolves around creating litters having the desired conformation, movement and coat. Others may prefer dogs with agility, athleticism and work capability. Health, intelligence and temperament are additional factors that breeders take into consideration.

  4. I have a 2 year old female gsd akc…she is very very suspicious of people…she also hates young children less then 7 years old. She has not snapped at one just growls and walks away. We do enjoy a really close relationship. She is 70 lbs black and brown not sure on American blood line or not. I was wondering if it would be worth training her for a personal protection dog for my wife and daughter… She is attached to me so I wasn’t sure if she would defend them… Or if she was to old.

  5. Gino, you are (yet another) example of a GSD owner manifesting their insecurities in the presence of a dog (rottweiler) that you know, deep down inside, is more awesome on its day than a GSD. Stronger, more impressive in their appearance, cleverer (they work things out and/or choose not to obey v slavish/robotic obedience of the GSD), and a far better guard dog too. The only reason GSD’s are used for police work, etc, ahead of Rotts is NOT an intelligence issue, but simply because GSD’s are more malleable. However, a trained Rott kicks the butt of a GSD in terms of intimidation and guard work.

    I don’t know where you get your info on tracking abilitied from – it is well known the Rott is a better tracker. And the Rott can do more than a GSD generally, eg pull carts. They were also specifically bred to protect humans (heard of the butchers of Rottweil tying money bags around their necks?), unlike the GSD.

    People like you wish there was no such dog as the Rottweiler so you could claim yours is the best. Sorry, you can’t. Nothing against GSD’s, I respect them, but could never love them (unlike Rotts).

    Lastly, this article was balanced and fair. Your disparaging response was unjustifed and inappropriate. Just ’cause someone touched your precious idol. Deal with it. Truth hurts.

    • Timothy, you are responding with the same insecurities you claim Gino has – the only difference is that your bias lies with Rotts. The bottom line is this – If Rotts were better they would be used more with regard to real service work. But hey, I agree – Rotts are great if you just want to intimidate…..

  6. I stumbled across this site because I was wondering about the strongest attributes of the dogs were and upon seeing one person predominantly defending GSD and one for Rotties I thought I’d stand up for the mixes between the two(understanding even mixes of the two breeds can be different from each other). I own a Rottie cross Shepherd, and he is rather protective of me even if it’s someone he knows. His previous owner(he was 1y/o when we got him) used to get drunk and throw parties and beat bundy(the dog) up when he wouldn’t do “tricks”. When we first got him he was terrified of men and would just hide in the corner when the men entered the yard(the ones that live in our house) but he adores women. For example a friend of mine who bundy had know for a while picked me up and put me on his shoulder and I unintentionally yelped; bundy came racing from the opposite side of the yard and jumped on my friends back so he had to put me down or he would have fallen. There was no barking; I don’t even remember any growling, but as soon as I was free he came over to me to check I was ok, with a concerned look on his cutesy face. But our next door neighbour, who comes over regularly when the men are home, can’t even walk past our fence without being barked at by bundy and our bitch, karma(pointerxmastifxwolfhound); when I’m home alone. No one is allowed in if I’m alone, especially if they’re intoxicated. I’ve seen bundy nearly clear the fence(fence height being 150cm) in full fight mode(teeth bared etc) just because a antenna man walked too close to the fence when I was standing close to it. Bundy is a big softie with me though, I can lay all over him and he won’t even blink; just lay there and try and lick my face if my face is close to his. He has more of the rottie build and coat but with a Shepard tail. He is fine with children and little dogs because he generally runs away from them so he won’t step on them. He can be a little bit of an attention whore in that he’ll push Karma out of the way so he can get all the pats ha ha. He is perfectly fine with our cat(black persianxburmese), he’ll sniff her to make sure she’s ok and where she’s been but will generally leave her be and she sometimes will sleep next to him. He is definitely on the larger side considering the breeds in him; when he stands on his back paws he can reach about 180cm tall. I have also never heard him bark unless it is to prevent someone from entering the yard. I was sick with the flu recently and I went downstairs to check on the washing, and normally he’ll just wait at the top of the stairs for me, but he basically stalked me through the whole process and didn’t leave my side. When I went to the door to check on him later that day because he usually sits in the way of the door, he was downstairs watching someone walk up the road and I accidentally coughed and he bolted upstairs to make sure I was ok. Both my dogs are trained by myself and the other members of the house and both respond to whistling, clicks and language. Bundy isn’t too keen on male dogs and karma isn’t too keen on female dogs though. He accidentally nipped me once because I was patting him really gently and he must have thought it was a bug and turned around to bite the spot, nipping me in the process(no abrasions, punctures or blood); he then freaked out and spent the next hour licking my fingers to make sure I was ok. In short he is a good dog and where before he would hide when you tried to give him food; he now sits next to you in hopes of scoring part of whatever you’re eating. To anyone who may be considering a GSD or a Rottie, if you can find a well natured cross why not give it a shot? They’ll most likely be a great dog with positive attributes of both, but will need training and daily walking(as they all do, and at least weekly walking; though the more you walk them the happier they’ll be).

  7. Hey Sobert.. Nice article. quite confusing too! :P

    On a serious note, this unfortunate rape incident that happened to one of your friends.. I am very sorry to know that.. and surprised cos GSDs are actually quite aggressive with people messing with their owners. But then the dogs must not have been able to tell the difference between a friendly hug and a real intentional attack. Could that be the case with Rotts as well? Can they get equally confused and not do anything?

    I have owned GSDs twice and they are great dogs. However, I really don’t have any idea about Rotts. I have heard it from many people who have been working with Rotts (one of them vets) that they are just too aggressive, uncontrollable and dangerous. Actually, there even was an incident in which a Rott killed his owner while he was jumping the wall of his home as he lost keys. That sounds really strange.

    I am, by no means, a hater. Just that I’d like to know more about Rotts, their behaviour, etc.. I dunno much about them.

    When I took my boxer pup to a vet, there was a Rott there too. Looked really muscular and intimidating. He was on a thick chain and was fierce! The vet told us to wait at a distance and not come near where the Rott was, until he is gone.

    I have read the points about GSD being more friendlier (I have seen some fierce GSDs that seemingly came straight from hell) and agile too! Can outpace a Rott. A Rott, on the other hand is stronger.

    If we just talk generally, then which is a good (protection + family( dog, all other factors like training, treatment by owner, etc remaining the same for both breeds? Seems to be GSD but I want some unbiased views here. I am gonna go for a dog and am getting confused between GSDs, Rotts, Pitbulls, Boxers.

    • All dogs need training if they’re going to be used for personal protection or home security– regardless of the breed. All things considered, the Rottweiler is a superior choice for your average pet owner. It’s typically a lower energy dog and they’re easier to get to do the bite work, hands down. See my book, “Dogs For Preppers” on Amazon.com to learn more.

  8. Great one!

    Thanks for the broad descriptions about those two breeds. I had a german shepherd back when i was a kid, and he was a great dog! converted to “Terrier” class after he died and still considering to get another big dog..

    I’ve been thinking to get a big black one, once i almost get a rottie, but now i changed my mind to get a solid black german shepherd.. due more familiar in nature (had one in experience)…

    im a bit scared with rotties (LOL) their big muscles are NOT for me.. (im asian) hahaha..

    one question if you dont mind to answer, what the diferrences between the solid blacks and the standard german shepherds (in behaviour, temper, etc)

    Cheers :)

  9. Unbelievable how dog talk always turns personal !!!

    Both breeds are great and both can be trained to do what you want them to. Just remember
    they are dogs for heaven’s sake not extensions to your egos.

    It is so sad and funny how the same dog enthusiasts who criticize the abuse of the Pitbull
    breed fiasco handling, engage in the same nonsense bravado with other dog breeds. Intimidation,
    bite size, strength and all that nonsense.

    One last note. Your article, thought tilted to Rotts was objective and I respect your experience.
    The ‘ rape story’ was however poor taste and worse judgement, It’s a shame you had to bring it
    up in defense or in criticism of any dog breed.

  10. I breed gsd back in the 70s I got out of it. I now have white gsd and he is just as smart and easy to train other gsd. People should not judge white gsd until you have one.

    • The problem with the Whites is that they’re breeding for one trait: Hair color. There is a reason you never see White GSDs winning in Schutzhund, a sport designed for the GSD. If you like your pet, then great. Nothing wrong with that. But the breed experts have determined that white is a fault.

  11. I really like this article. I picked that you have a lot of experience going by what you wrote. I however have a question: I am looking forward to owning a dog or 2 and am considering the rottie. I have read about them in several places and hope to know more about them. Are they easily trained by a beginner in training dogs like me? We have owned alsatians, a dobberman, and crossbreeds before but they were not properly trained.
    I’m looking forward to having a good family dog, intelligent, with good guarding ability. WHICH DO YOU RECOMMEND SIR.

    • Yes, they are easy to train assuming two conditions:
      1. If you adopt a puppy, you get one from a quality breeder and both parent dogs have stable nerves and are very social. You’ll want to see BOTH parents. They should be approachable and social. Any nonsense about them “being protective” and thus not letting you pet them, and you should walk away. If the owner is there, the dog should be social.

      2. You employ intelligent training techniques. We’ve trained (literally) hundreds of Rottweilers using the same techniques as described in this book:
      http://access.dogproblems.com/sl.cfm

    • It’s a Ford or Chevy kind of thing. You need to pick the breed that fits best into your lifestyle. If you buy a quality dog from a good breeder, either is a good choice, depending on what you’re looking for.

  12. I am looking to buy a GSD puppy. I am having a heck of a time finding a breeder that I can trust. Does anyone have any recommendations for a breeder that raises good temperament GSD for home and show? I live in the Pacific NW. Thanks!

  13. I’m a bit astounded by the shepherd story. I admit I assumed with certain breeds known to have protective instinct that they would protect and didn’t need training. My mastiff mix (guessing he’s mixed with pit, am unsure. Boxer? Was told great dane, this is inaccurate) is extremely protective and has been overly willing to bite, if anything. I had to go to a trainer because he lunged and was centimeters away from getting a jogger that startled me. He’s a quiet dog and means business, so it’s all body language- no show, no barking, just movement.

    My rescued rott was fear aggressive and I suspect inbred, so she’s not a fair example of the breed.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling. I was struck by your post and considering it when it’s time to look at another dog.

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