The Rottweiler is one of the most recognizable breeds with his large head, solidly muscled body and distinctively handsome black-and-tan markings. Known for intelligence, strength and loyalty, the Rottweiler's fans seem to fall into two camps: Those who consider their dogs to be large but gentle love bugs, and those who wish their dogs to be anything but. News stories of killer Rotties in the hands of inexperienced or less-than-savory owners turned many people off the "bad to the bone" dogs, but the reputable breeders are picking up the pieces and restoring the reputation of the breed. A word to the wise: Don't underestimate this dog's power and protectiveness.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Rottweiler is a big dog and can weigh up to a hefty 195 pounds, most of it muscle. Bred for generations to use his protective instincts and independent judgment when his family or territory is threatened, this is one tough customer. It's no surprise that these dogs are used in police work. They're often the target of laws aimed at controlling or banning dangerous dogs, and some insurance companies won't sell homeowners' policies to anyone who owns a Rottweiler.

Even so, it is entirely possible to find a gentle, family-friendly Rottweiler. American show lines in particular often produce a softer-natured dog, and Rottweilers from many different backgrounds can be quiet, calm and easy-going. But all Rottweilers need structured, consistent training from an early age as well as focused socialization around children, strangers and other pets if they're to be well-adjusted members of the family and well-mannered when taken out in public.

Even the gentlest, best-behaved Rottweiler can put children, the elderly, smaller adults, and anyone who is unsteady on his feet at risk. That's because their heritage as cattle herders has made them into "bumpers" -- and the nicest Rottie's idea of a playful nudge might have a much greater impact.

The Rottweiler's coat sheds moderately and requires little grooming. They put on weight easily and need large amounts of daily exercise to keep their minds and bodies in shape. They also thrive when they have work to do, whether it's obedience competition, competitive protection work, agility, carting, therapy dog work or herding. In fact, the Rottweiler can do nearly anything asked of him, and if you don't ask, he'll probably find something to do on his own -- which may involve consuming your sofa or digging a hole for that swimming pool you always wanted in the backyard.

Health Issues Common to Rottweilers

Rottweilers are one of the breeds most affected by hip dysplasia, a genetic deformity where the head of the femur doesn't fit properly into the hip socket. This condition is extremely painful, and often requires hip replacement surgery costing thousands of dollars to correct. Even with the surgery, the dog is likely to develop arthritis as he ages.

Rottweilers can develop progressive retinal atrophy (PRA),cataracts, eyelid deformities and other vision and eye problems. Owners should have their dogs' eyes examined each year by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Rottweilers can develop heart problems including sub-aortic stenosis(SAS), a narrowing of the aorta that carries blood away from the heart. This usually shows up first as a slight heart murmur, but murmurs can often occur in puppies that have no heart problems as adults. SAS can lead to sudden death, even at a young age, so have your dog's heart checked at least once a year, and investigate any murmurs thoroughly.

There are some diseases that affect the Rottweiler for which there are no screening tests. These include epilepsy, allergies, chronic diarrhea and a fairly high rate of cancer. And while early neutering is common and popular for many dogs, studies have shown that bone cancer is more common in Rotties altered before adulthood.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Rottweiler before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia High $1,500-$6,000
Osteochondrosis of the Ankle/Spine High $2,000-$4,000
Entropion High $300-$1,500
Sub-Aortic Stenosis High $500-$1500
Elbow Dysplasia High $1,500-$4,000
Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder High $2,000-$4,000

8 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Rottweiler Puppy

Don't ever buy a Rottweiler puppy from unethical breeders such as pet stores or Internet retailers who know virtually nothing about the breed and its genetic and temperament challenges. These people can often be identified by a tendency to advertise the extreme: Super large Rotties or exceptionally "game," which is a code word for a dog who's determined to win any fight he gets into.

Protect yourself and your dog by finding a breeder who is a member in good standing of the American Rottweiler Club and who has agreed to abide by its list of mandatory practices, which includes screening all dogs being bred for genetic diseases, selling only with a written contract and guaranteeing a home for any dog they breed if the owner becomes unable to keep him.

Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog. The ARC has guidelines on how to interview and select a Rottweiler breeder and any breeder who can't provide you with this documentation, or who tells you these health problems don't happen in her lines or aren't "really" a concern, is either dishonest or completely ignorant about Rottweilers.

Ask your breeder to see the results of genetic screening tests. The American Rottweiler Club requires its member breeders to screen all breeding dogs for hip dysplasia. The clearance should be from either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip). ARC also requires breeders to have OFA clearance on breeding dogs' elbows, as those joints can also be dysplastic. Additionally, breeders must have their dogs' eyes cleared each year by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). Finally, OFA clearance of the parents' cardiac health is required.

Look for a breeder who will do even more than the required minimum testing. Certification by the American Temperament Test Society (ATT), OFA clearance of the parents' thyroids, and certification that the parents are free of inherited bleeding disorders like Von Willebrand's Disease are all signs of a truly dedicated breeder.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Rottweilers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, Rotties can live 10 years or longer, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Rottweiler to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about monitoring your dog for joint problems as well as heart and vision diseases.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Rottweilers

Pet insurance for Rottweilers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Rottweilers are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance offers full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Rottweilers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Rottweiler is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.