Do you want to know if going fetch with your Rottweiler is a good form of active play? Are you worried that playing fetch won’t excite your Rottweiler as much as other forms of exercise do?
In short, while Rottweilers can definitely be taught and trained to play fetch, they are not naturally inclined to play fetch, and it won’t be the type of physical activity that they are most skilled at doing.
This article will discuss the physical and behavioral reasons why Rottweilers aren’t naturally good at playing fetch, plus it will describe methods you can use to teach your Rottweiler to learn to play fetch.
Rottweilers Aren’t Naturally Inclined to Play Fetch
Many Rottweiler owners have experienced tossing their dog a ball, only for the pooch to simply stare at the toy instead of retrieving it. What gives?
The short answer is that Rottweilers were initially bred more for cattle herding and for pulling work, such as hauling carts for their owners, than they were for any kind of retrieval work. This is why Rottweilers are so strong and bulky, versus a lighter and more agile breed of dog.
Thanks to their breeding, fetching and retrieving don’t come to Rottweilers as naturally as those skills do for other breeds. However, what they lack in natural retrieval skills, Rottweilers make up for in intelligence and dedication, so they are quite trainable.
In all of this, remember the caveat that each individual dog is different even from other dogs in its own breed. While the average Rottweiler won’t be good at fetch, your particular Rottweiler may have a unique disposition for it.
Likewise, most Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers are obviously highly skilled at fetching, but every once and a while, you’ll come across a Lab that doesn’t quite get retrieving the way that its fellow dogs do.
Why Rottweilers Struggle to Play Fetch
According to the New York Times, Rottweilers were first primarily bred for a farm or butcher setting, where they earned their keep by warding off potential cow-eating predators and then hauling meat on a cart into the local market.
With that background in mind, it only makes sense that Rottweilers are big and tough, with impressively massive builds that lead to up to 132 pounds on the scale. Nowadays, this impressive physicality is often put to use in police or search and rescue contexts.
Every benefit brings with it potential drawbacks, and Rottweilers are no exception. Since they are so massive, Rottweilers have a hard time running at high speeds or for long periods of time, and they are not as agile as lighter dogs who can dart around and catch flying objects with greater ease.
A less obvious factor for Rottweilers’ difficulty with playing fetch is their brachycephalic nose structure. That’s a fancy way of saying that their noses are naturally short, putting them in the same category as bulldogs, boxers, pit bulls, and pugs.
Shorter noses mean both a harder time breathing—which inhibits cardio activity—and shorter mouths—which means Rottweilers have less mouth real estate they can use to catch small, fast-moving objects like tennis balls or frisbees.
Fetching Isn’t in a Rottweiler’s Nature
Other than the physical factors, Rottweilers have a tough time playing fetch because their strength- and herding-focused breeding did not involve being taught retrieval skills.
Dog breeds that have been given hundreds of years to hone their retrieving skills for hunting, tracking, and similar roles have a huge advantage over Rottweilers, who were rarely if ever expected to do any kind of retrieval work on the farm.
Apart from the agility and quick reflexes required for serving as a hunting dog, retrievers and similar breeds have also been taught to carry objects with a so-called “soft mouth,” inhibiting their bite so that they can return the duck, rabbit, or another hunting prize back to their master relatively undamaged.
By contrast, Rottweilers have a “hard mouth” and are notorious for using their formidable strength to destroy chewable objects. The same strength that Rottweilers once used for snapping at cow heels can easily be applied to a fetch toy. Even a good Rottweiler may be just as likely to set about destroying a fetch ball as he is to bring it back to you!
Guard Dogs and Playing Fetch
Even after all of this time, there is still at least one more obstacle to consider when playing fetch with your Rottweiler. Even if your dog decides to chase after the ball, finds it, and picks up it without tearing it apart, he still may not be inclined to bring it back your way.
All dogs naturally want to hold onto any objects that they have in their mouths, whether it’s food, a squeaky toy, or a dead animal. It took hundreds of years for hunting breeds to learn to bring back such objects for their masters without making a fuss.
Without the benefit of that specific aspect of breeding, Rottweilers are liable to display the same sort of possessiveness that makes them good guard dogs.
When it comes to playing fetch, that plays out with your dog having a hard time letting you have whatever toy or stick you wanted him to fetch for you. He may not let go when you try to take the object from him, and he may even run off with it if he really wants to keep it away from you.
Should You Train a Rottweiler to Play Fetch?
Despite all of these genetic and behavioral obstacles, Rottweilers can actually be trained to overcome their lack of aptitude for retrieval work. With some training and consistency, you can get your Rottweiler into the habit of playing fetch!
In his 1994 book, The Intelligence of Dogs, canine psychology professor Stanley Coren ranked Rottweilers as the ninth-smartest dog breed, with intelligence being defined in terms of trainability, consistency in obedience, problem-solving, and ability to perform the jobs its breed was intended for.
Thus, Rottweilers are smart enough to learn new tricks and adapt to unique or difficult circumstances, making them very versatile dogs. On top of their intelligence, Rottweilers also have a high drive—akin to what we would call in humans “motivation”—so they can focus on even difficult tasks for long stretches of time.
What all of this means is that even though Rottweilers aren’t predisposed to be great at fetching, they can be trained by a willing master.
The benefits of playing fetch with Rottweilers include aiding their heart health and producing mental stimulation. Doing any kind of cardiovascular work will strengthen your Rottweiler’s heart, which he’ll need thanks to the trouble his heart already has in supporting such a naturally large body. And teaching your Rottweiler to do challenging things will help keep his mind agile and activated even as he ages.
How to Train Your Rottweiler
To start off with, you’ll need to find a suitable toy to engage your Rottweiler with. Whatever toy you pick needs to be made of durable plastic or rubber and should be small enough that your Rottweiler can bite it with his proportionate smallmouth, yet not so small that he could have a medical emergency by choking on it.
Once you’ve secured the perfect toy, take your Rottweiler out to your backyard or some other fenced-in locale. One place that should be a red flag, at least at the start of the training process, is the dog park, because dealing with other dogs may be too distracting for your pet while he is learning something so new to him.
Your Rottweiler will need to know three separate commands in order to play fetch successfully: “Get it”/”Fetch,” “Come”/”Here,” and “Drop It.” In order to solidify each of these commands into your Rottweiler’s mind, use methods of positive reinforcement, including demonstrating the desired action and heaping praises, pats, and treats on your dog for listening.
After you’re certain your Rottweiler has all three of these commands down pat, you need to train him how to put the steps together into one sequence. Throw your ball a few feet away and command your dog to “Get it.” Praise him if he collects the ball, then command him to “Come,” directing him to carry the ball in his mouth if needed.
Whenever he drops the ball, command him to pick it up again. Resist the urge to pick the ball back up yourself! Once your Rottweiler is able to pick up the ball and carry it over to you without dropping it, command him to “Drop it” directly in front of you and shower him with praises and a treat once he does so.
You’ll need to repeat this three-part sequence many, many times in order to teach your Rottweiler what playing fetch looks like. Have patience with your pooch, and make sure the training sessions are short enough that he doesn’t get tuckered out or frustrated.
Don’t be discouraged if your Rottweiler doesn’t pick up on playing fetch easily. Remember that retrieving doesn’t come naturally to him, either physically or behaviorally, and be persistent with the three-step training process. With enough time and hard work, your Rottweiler will be able to play fetch!