Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Something happened the other day that not only reminded me of a particularly strong trait in Rottweilers but also made me thankful for that same trait, protectiveness.  When I taught classes on canine behavior and handling, I categorized canine behaviors into three instinctive categories: pack, predatory, and fear.  I counted the innate protective behavior drives under the pack category and labeled them as protection of pack members and of territory.  These behaviors are rooted in the time when a pack of wild dogs or wolves needed both territory and healthy pack members in order to survive.  The need to protect these elements was very real.  Now, through selective breeding, certain instinctive behaviors have been suppressed or enhanced in many breeds.  For Rottweilers, that protective instinct was enhanced given their duties of protecting livestock and, later, as military and law enforcement K-9’s.  What I love about Rottweilers is that, with proper training and socialization, they have a wait and see attitude when it comes to potential threats, but once they perceive someone to be a threat they are all in and will stop at nothing to protect those they love. 
Griz (back) and Belle on guard duty
I’ve had several Rottweilers who exhibited high levels of this behavior, and the most commonly protective were females, interestingly enough.  Belle came to me protection trained, so it really was no surprise that she had this drive within her. Given that all my dogs are rescues, however, I’m rarely privy to their past training or breeding.  Carly is one such example. Having come to me through Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue (BSRR) after being pulled from a high kill shelter in California, Carly arrived with a lot of baggage.  One thing I was sure of, though, was that she had a high protection drive.  This was proved true just the other day at my mom’s house.  On occasion I leave my dogs with my mom when I can’t be home to let them out.  This is great for me as I don’t have to worry about them being cared for while I work or travel.  It also gives me comfort knowing that when people come to their house, there might or might not be two Rottweilers present.  Given that my folks live out of town I like knowing that the dogs are there, but the question of whether they will act protectively or not is always in the back of my mind.  My mom has often wondered the very same.  Well, mom got her answer the other day. 

Now, both Bradum and Carly are very vocal when people come to the house, whether my house or my parents’, and they make sure anyone approaching is aware that there are two large dogs present.  Once the door is opened, both are typically all wiggles at the joyful expectation of a visitor.  Bradum usually runs off to retrieve his rope to play tug, and Carly sniffs the guest before antagonizing Bradum so they can show off for the guest. Not this time.  My stepdad was out in the backyard when the dogs went ballistic at the den window as a large man approached the house.   Mom, always keeping the screen door locked, opened the main door at the sound of the doorbell. The man was over six feet tall, wearing baggy clothes, and had a rag and bottle of window cleaner that he was supposedly trying to sell.  Now, the moment the door was opened, Carly went from the standard warning barks to full on, ‘I’m going to rip you to shreds’ behavior.  Bradum, the gentle soul that he is, stood behind mom, not sure what to do.  Mom tried to get Carly to settle down by giving her the ‘Phooey’ command, which means ‘don’t do that’, but unlike normal situations, Carly ignored my mom and only intensified her behavior. As Carly repeatedly showed the man her teeth with every bark, mom lowered the glass of the screen door a bit and heard the man’s somewhat nervous sales pitch, all accompanied by Carly’s barks and growls.  Mom told the man they weren’t interested, and the man looked relieved at the rejection as he turned to leave. 

When I picked up the dogs later that day, my mom shared about the incident, and I immediately asked if they let the man in. She said they hadn’t because she didn’t feel comfortable given how Carly was acting. I praised both my mom and Carly at that point, confirming to my mom that she should trust the dogs.  If they trigger on someone then there is a reason. I’ve worked hard to socialize Carly, and anyone that knows us understands that even though she came to me with major issues, she has become a very stable, intelligent companion.  With the exception of being hyper-protective of the car, she is typically great when people visit, the worst being a few barks if she doesn’t know the guest.  As a result, I know that if she triggered to that extent then there had to have been a reason.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in working with dogs for all these years is that you trust your dog; they sense things through smell and body language that we can’t detect.  Mom learned that lesson and said she now knows that if there was ever a problem, Carly would protect her.  For me that is a very comforting thought, especially after having shared the story with a friend in law enforcement. He told me that they were having a problem with similar scams where the “salespeople” targeted the elderly and would force their way into the home with the intent of theft of prescription medicines among other items. My friend, also a Rottweiler owner, said that Carly had good instincts. I have to agree.

Carly and Bradum, my current guardians.
This incident reminded me of other examples of Rottweilers playing the role of guardians.  One such occurrence involved me having to convince a woman to surrender her two Rottweilers after she was in jail for multiple DUI convictions. Succeeding in that, I arranged for a foster home in Livingston, Montana to which I could take the two dogs, both of whom were rather aggressive.  When they arrived, it was found that both dogs had logging chains around their necks and once removed, the dogs’ behavior improved markedly. The dogs settled into their temporary home, but after a few weeks there the woman who was fostering them experienced a scary incident.  She woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of screams and growls.  As she turned on the lights, she saw her drunk ex-husband being attacked by the older Rottweiler.  The man, who had a restraining order against him, had broken into her house and was making his way to her bedroom when the older Rottweiler attacked him.  The moment the light came on, both dog and man froze, and the dog looked back at the woman as if she was looking for direction.  The woman, realizing what was going on, cried out, “Well don’t stop, keep biting him!”

The dog, as if trained its entire life for this single purpose, knew exactly what she was supposed to do, and reattached herself to the man’s leg as the woman called the police.  The man tried to flee but was arrested, and the dog was given a lot of praise and treats for preventing what could have been a terrible situation.

Another instance of Rottweiler guardians happened a few years after I started BSRR. Years of owning and working with Rottweilers caused me to develop a knack for spotting a Rottie from a great distance.  I don’t know what it is, but something about a Rottweiler would grab my focus.  This, I learned, was not abnormal for an owner of a Rottweiler, but rather one of the side effects of this wonderful breed.

It was with this talent that I picked up the habit of remembering where I saw every Rottweiler -- what house it was at, or what vehicle it was in.  One place, in particular, happened to be along the interstate west of Bozeman.  Just past the small town of Manhattan, on the south side of I-90, sat a nice two-story house.  The place was well kept, and I assumed one of the occupants was a truck driver as I had seen semi-trucks parked there on occasion.  Yet, it was not the trucks that drew my attention each time I drove by.  Often there were two Rottweilers patrolling the property.  There was no fence around the house, and the frontage road was rarely traveled, as it dead-ends at a farm field only a few miles past the house.  I never saw the dogs outside of their property, and both looked to be in good condition and well cared for.  Though I have never met these dogs and certainly didn’t know their names, they taught me much about the breed during my brief observations as I drove by at seventy-five miles per hour. 

Oftentimes, the two Rotties would be laying on the east side of the house.  Their large black bodies sprawled out in the sun, caring nothing about the cars passing by.  One time I drove by and could see a lady standing in the doorway talking to another woman or girl (I couldn’t tell the age) who was sitting on the front lawn.  It all looked straightforward enough until I realized that the lady sitting down was reclined against a Rottweiler that was sound asleep behind her.  The scene was a snapshot of one of the gentler and less publicized aspects of this versatile breed. 

On another occasion I was blessed with a similar snapshot into these two dogs’ lives. It was a nice summer day, and I was heading east on the interstate after visiting a friend in a town about ten miles west of there.  A little less than a half mile from the house, in the back yard, I noticed a small child flying up into the air and then back down. Similarly, another small child would fly up into the air and fall down again.  I wondered what the heck was going on.  As I got closer I saw that two young kids were jumping up and down on a trampoline, having fun as kids should.  I looked for the dogs, as my truck was almost at the house, but I couldn’t see them.  I strained to find the dogs, all the while keeping my truck on the road.  Driving past the house, I looked to the back side and finally spotted them.   On a small grass covered mound, just to the side of the trampoline, were the black and tan canines.  Both were lying down in the pose of the Sphinx: bodies straight and alert but heads high and focused.  Their gazes were fixated on the children.  At that moment I realized those two kids were likely the safest children in the county --their guardians were there.  Who would dare approach the children and try to inflict harm? 

I drove on, glancing in my rearview mirror until I could see them no longer.  It was that image, the fleeting glimpse of those kids and their protectors, that defined what Rottweilers are, at least to me anyway.  They are our friends and companions, clowns and entertainers, confidants and helpers.  But above all else, they are our guardians.  The guardians of not only our family and homes, but also of our hearts. 
My girl, Mickey, was always on duty as a guardian

The guardian instincts of dogs were a key part of the character, Stranger, in my novel, Stranger’s Dance. To order a copy, click here or go to my website at

For information about Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, go to

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