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Rottweiler vs. German Shepherd: Breed Differences & Similarities

Have you been thinking about adding a new canine companion to your family but can't choose between the Rottweiler and German Shepherd? Though both breeds do well in families, it's good to consider the things that make them different.

Kelly Wilson

Last Updated: May 16, 2021 | 10 min read

German Shepherd vs Rottweiler

Whether you’re looking for a family pet or a dog to protect your business, you may have considered adopting a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd Dog. Both of these large dogs can intimidate people and animals. But don’t be fooled by their athletic build or the myths surrounding these canines.

Although they’re strong and powerful dogs, they can melt into mush when you pet them. They can also be your kids’ best friends. They’ll protect your family and work hard to please you if you raise them properly. If you’re in love with the working dog breed, you might have trouble choosing between these two dogs because they have similar characteristics. They also make a popular crossbreed.

Do you want to know what it’s really like to own a Rottweiler vs. German Shepherd? Keep reading to learn more about these outstanding purebreds. Many of our readers have strong things to say about each breed and how they have impacted their families for the better.

Breed Comparison

Rottweiler

  • Height 22-27 Inches
  • Weight 80-135 Pounds
  • Temperament Loyal, Loving, Confident Guardian
  • Energy Average
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 9-10 Years
  • Price $1,500 and Up

German Shepherd

  • Height 22-26 Inches
  • Weight 50-90 Pounds
  • Temperament Confident, Courageous, Smart
  • Energy High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 12-14 Years
  • Price $1,000 and Up

Breed History

Looking at a dog’s history is an important part of the ‘will this pup fit into my life?’ research. Although the history of both breeds is not interlinked in any way, they are similar. Shepherds and Rottweilers have also acted as service dogs over the years. And both were some of the first dogs to assist blind people.

Rottweiler

Black and Rust Dogs Standing Next to Each Other
At one point, Rottweilers were almost instinct, but now they’re among the most popular breeds in the US.

One of the first things you should understand about these dogs is they love to work. Rottweilers come from a Roman lineage. These dogs were used to maintain the herds that fed the armies as they moved around the continent.

As they bred with local dogs, farmers began using the strong canines to drive their cattle to the marketplace. Rottweilers protected the butcher’s offerings and pulled carts to deliver the meat. They are named after the town of Rottweil, where they were used extensively.

Once clients purchased the meat, it is said they would put the money in purses strapped to the dogs’ necks for safekeeping. For this reason, the Rottweiler has been called “the butcher dog of Rottweil.”

By the time of the industrial revolution, cars and trains moved market supplies, so dogs were no longer needed. However, in the early 20th century, people bred these canines for their looks, personalities, and attractive qualities. Even though Rottweilers continued to be used as police and service dogs, they weren’t as active in the military as some other breeds.

German Shepherd

Three Dogs Sitting on a Beach
German Shepherds make great police or military dogs, as well as family companions.

German Shepherds have had plenty of military experience, even though they’re traditionally herding dogs. In the 18th century, a military man named Captain Max von Stephanitz sought to create the perfect herding dog. Using all of the best herding dogs from each northern and central district in Germany, the breed was created.

Although he made a great herding dog, his characteristics made him the perfect candidate for the police academy. Off he went, studied hard, and excelled with flying colors. Ever since then, he has been one of the most popular police K9s around the world.

Like the Rottweiler, the Shepherd’s popularity suffered a little from anti-German sentiment after the Word Wars. So much, that he was renamed the Alsatian in many parts of the world and still goes by this name today. As the breed has grown over the years, they have developed into two more distinct breeding lines, depending on your geographic location.

Appearance

Long-Haired and Short-Haired Dogs Sitting Outdoors
Rotties tend to be larger, stockier, and more square than German Shepherds.

Rottweilers are bigger than German Shepherds. The average Rottie male is between 110 and 135 pounds. Females are smaller and range from 75 to 110 pounds. Male German Shepherds are closer to 65 to 90 pounds. Females generally range from 50 to 70 pounds. However, size shouldn’t be your only deciding factor. A gentle Rottweiler can seem smaller than a rambunctious German Shepherd.

It isn’t just their sheer size difference that makes them easy to tell apart. The Rottie is a square and stocky pooch, who is well noted for his intimidating looks. He has a big, square head, which is in proportion to his body. German SHepherds are longer and more athletic, which has made him more successful in the world of policing.

All Rotties have a short to medium-length double coat, and it is thick, dense, and shiny, and soft in texture. German Shepherds have the option of four coat types, short, medium, and long, all with an undercoat. The fourth option is a long coat without an undercoat.

Rotties tend to sport the traditional black and tan coat with the traditional Rottie markings. Compared to the Shepherd, who sports a wider range of colors, including black and tan, blue, black, and white.

Temperament

Two Happy Dogs Sitting on a Bridge
Though both breeds are known to be intimidating, they can actually be quite loving and affectionate with their families.

These breeds have distinct differences. Both breeds are typically not recommended for first-time owners. German Shepherds are working dogs and require a lot more exercise than other breeds. When they aren’t exercised properly, they can become destructive.

Rottweilers, on the other hand, were bred as guardians and protectors. They may not require as much exercise, but they can be dominant dogs and quite stubborn when they are being trained. Let’s look at some of the differences in a bit more detail.

They’re both self-assured dogs that will quickly designate themselves as the leader without firm guidance. You can’t let them walk all over you, because if you do, they could become destructive and dangerous. They need a confident leader who will spend time with them. Each breed was bred over the years for different purposes, so you need to give them jobs they were bred for to maintain their true nature.

Both types of dogs can be aloof and easygoing. They can also snuggle in your lap if you let them. But for the most part, both breeds are confident and courageous. They tend to be rather fearless unless they’ve been neglected or mistreated, in which case they may become shy, anxious, or snappish.

Many Rottweilers are known for being goofy and lovable at home with the family. German Shepherds are playful but a bit less silly. Both dogs can be extremely good with children, and many families swear each breed as being the best they’ve ever owned.

As Guardian Breeds

Both breeds have territorial and protective instincts, which can work for you if you want to protect your home and family. Like any dog, these canines can be taught to attack. Some people worry that Rottweilers are likely to turn on their owners. If your dog is raised and treated properly, it’s not expected to do that. Dogs of various breeds have turned on their owners; it’s not a breed-specific problem.

Because of these territorial and protective instincts, neither dog is particularly friendly with strangers. They have to warm up to someone new before they understand the individual is not a threat. Socializing these dogs adequately by bringing them around strangers from an early age can prevent antisocial behavior and can keep them friendly.

Exercise

Two Dogs Running in Sand
German Shepherds require more daily exercise than Rottweilers.

Whether you have a Rottie or a Shepherd, you have to know what it means to own a working dog. Both of these dogs have a lot of energy. While exercise is important for all dogs, it’s even more crucial to the happiness of both of these dog breeds. Rotties should get at least one hour of exercise per day. They enjoy long walks if you have the time.

If you think that’s a lot, consider the American Kennel Club recommends German Shepherds get at least two hours of exercise per day. Families who don’t have time to give much attention to a dog might consider getting a Rottie instead of a Shepherd. To keep your German Shepherd active and entertained, test a variety of different dog toys and see which ones work best for your pup.

When you’re not actively exercising with your dog, make sure it has plenty of mental stimulation. Wild dogs spend about 80% of their time looking for food. You can set up the same kind of routine with your dog. If you don’t give these dogs something to keep them busy, they’ll come up with their own entertainment, which often involves digging in the yard or tearing up your carpets.

Training

Dogs in Obedience School
Both breeds are highly trainable and do well as law enforcement or military dogs.

Rottweiler owners should commit to training their dogs correctly. Because these animals are so large and muscular, they can overpower you more easily than a smaller German Shepherd. Still, Shepherds are powerful dogs.

If you own either of these breeds, consistency is key with their training. If you become sloppy, your dog won’t know what to expect. When you give dogs structure, you help control their environment. You should learn to walk them properly. They’re both just as likely to bound after a squirrel on your afternoon stroll.

Rottweilers may be more food motivated of the two breeds. In fact, Rottweilers are considered to be greedy dogs. You can use treats to motivate your dog’s behavior while keeping its belly full.

On the other hand, German Shepherds are more likely to be motivated by play and praise. Therefore, your training sessions should probably include commands followed by a good game of fetch. Both dogs are highly trainable, which is why they’re often used in search-and-rescue missions, as therapy dogs, and in police work. Overall, German Shepherds are the easiest to train out of the two breeds because they are typically more eager to please.

A Rottweiler is probably more likely to look for a loophole in your rules, though. Therefore, you have to be strict with your training. Never let misbehavior slide, or your Rottie will learn how to manipulate you.

When it comes to following commands, the German Shepherd tends to be quicker to learn. Once you teach them to do something, they’ll be steadfast. Still, every animal is different. Dog breeds don’t always predetermine their personalities.

Health

Mature Dogs in Lions Position
The German Shepherd will typically have a longer lifespan of the two breeds.

Both breeds are relatively healthy dogs. Still, they both have their fair share of health concerns. The Rottie has an expected lifespan of 9 to 10 years, and the German Shepherd enjoys a few more years at 12 to 14. This is primarily down to the Rottie being a large to a giant-sized dog breed, as they tend to have shorter lifespans.

The main concerns that affect the Rottie are hip and elbow dysplasia. This occurs when the bone and the socket do not sit correctly. Not only does it cause discomfort and pain mobility issues, but it can also require surgery further down the line.

The Rottie is also at risk of cardiac concerns, mainly cardiomyopathy and subaortic stenosis. This is why it is important to keep his heart healthy with regular exercise. Finally, progressive retinal atrophy is another condition to watch for.

The German Shepherd is also prone to hip and elbow dysplasia. Shepherds are amongst the most affected breeds of hip dysplasia. You can help to keep your German Shepherd’s hips and joints in top shape by using glucosamine supplements and making sure they have a soft but firm dog bed to rest on.

German Shepherd breeders should only breed dogs with good hip scores and should try to breed out the sloping back where possible. Another concern for the Shepherd is degenerative myelopathy, which is a progressive spinal disease that occurs from eight years onward.

Nutrition

Puppies Eating From Dog Bowls
A proper diet is crucial for such large and active dogs.

The Rottie eats slightly more of the two breeds, which is expected given his size. But it isn’t by all that much! The Rottie usually eats around four to five cups of kibble a day, depending on their size. German shepherds typically eat between 2.5 to 3.5 cups of high-quality kibble per day, also depending on their size, gender and growth needs.

All dogs are different, and it may vary depending on your dog’s size, age, energy levels, and brand of food. Always feed both of these guys high-quality kibbles designed for large breed dogs.

For potentially dominant dog breeds such as these guys, it’s important to make them work for their food rather than giving it to them for free. Instead of just putting the food dish down, try training your dog and offering the food as a treat. You may think this is exhausting, but both breeds are bound to love the regimen. Even if you just ask for a paw, a little discipline goes a long way.

Grooming

Dogs Getting Brushed by Humans
Both breeds shed a good bit, so frequent brushing is required to keep their fur from getting matted.

Both dog breeds have different grooming regimes, particularly if your German Shepherd is long-haired. They all have double coats that shed throughout the year and more so during the shedding seasons. The shedding of longer-haired Shepherds will be much more obvious than his shorter-coated brothers and the Rottie.

Short-haired German Shepherds and Rottweilers have similar grooming needs in that they need brushing a few times a week. During the shedding seasons, this should be upped to every other day or daily. Longer-coated Shepherds will need brushing most days and every day during the shedding season. This is because their hair will gather more dust and dirt and is at more risk of tangling.

They both need bathing just as much as one another, approximately once every 8 to 12 weeks. This will keep them both looking (and smelling!) their best. The Rottie might need his nails trimming more often than the Shepherd as he isn’t as active. Generally, everything else is the same when it comes to their grooming.

Always be sure to use doggy products on both of these guys to avoid skin irritations and other reactions. It’s important to get your pooch used to his grooming regime as a pup because both dogs could be a handful if they refuse to be groomed.

Puppy Prices

Cute Puppies Peering Over an Edge
Of the two, Rotties tend to be a bit more expensive on average.

The price of a Rottie pup from a reputable breeder usually starts at around $1,500 compared to a German Shepherd who starts at around $1,000. Why the difference? The Shepherd is more popular, meaning there are more breeders, which affects the supply and demand depending on where you live. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find expensive German Shepherd pups. Puppies from champion breeding lines can fetch well over $5,000.

You also need to think about the ongoing costs of owning both breeds. Although there isn’t a huge difference, the cost of a Rottie over his lifetime will likely be more than a Shepherd due to their size.

Rotties are large to giant-sized dogs, and bigger products usually come with a higher price tag, including beds, crates, harnesses, toys, etc. Plus, his food bill is higher too. But remember, the Shepherd is likely to outlive the Rottie by a few years, so it might not be all that different.

Final Thoughts

If you want a big family pet that will be loyal to the end, both dog breeds can be perfect. These dogs aren’t ideal for a small home or an area without a large yard unless you’re planning to take them for several long walks a day. But if you have space, you may find a fulfilling relationship between you and your intelligent, fearless pooch.

Both dogs naturally protect their territory, making them both excellent guard dogs. But these breeds are gentle enough that they’ll usually cuddle with you when they’re not on alert. As long as you give your pet what it needs, lots of exercise, training, chances to play, and mental stimulation, it should reward you with loving companionship.

Leave a Comment

15 Comments

Cindy Davies

August 9, 2019 at 8:59 pm

I fell in love with the Rottweiler breed after studying up on them and I currently own two Rottweilers I absolutely love and understand the Rottweiler reading your article about German Shepherds having similar traits as Rottweilers I have learned to love the German Shepherd too.

M Quiros

August 20, 2019 at 11:32 am

We got our first ever Rottweiler about a year ago. “Harry” has then been an indispensable member of our family. He is not the aggressive uncontrollable monster that’s usually portrayed on TV. In fact he is an adorable, sweet, well behaved clown. However, he has also shown no hesitation and no fear when it comes time for protection if he perceives a threat. Super smart, easily trained and consistent. You can 100% anticipate what he’s going to do.

He has bonded beyond believe with my wife to the point that I can’t even play with her a little bit without him letting out a bark or two. After having experience with many other breeds including GS, labs, heelers and shepherds at this point in time, best dog I’ve ever owned.

Kelly Wilson (Author)

August 20, 2019 at 3:26 pm

Thanks for commenting and sharing your story! We love Rotties too! Our Mastiffs are the same way, big goofy clowns.

Iyke, C. O.

September 4, 2019 at 7:13 pm

That's very good piece, explaining the root comparisons and advantages. I had GS that suddenly died, yesterday night. He was 3 years. Very caring and protective. He was bleeding through the nose while we were out. My little son called and inform us his sudden health condition of bleeding. We told him to give him Vitamin K and apply ice on the head and lie him on his bed. Which he did. But later the dog gave up and left the family crying and mourning him. When we came back in the evening, he was weak.

A nurse fixed drip on him but no result. He died. May his gentle Soul rest in perfect peace and blossom of God Almighty. Till we meet again. Please is it better to pick Rottie as a puppy or adult. Somebody want me to pick his 10 months old Rottie. Pls I need your help. I want a dog urgently. Thank you!

Kelly Wilson (Author)

September 5, 2019 at 2:00 am

Hi Iyke - Very sorry to hear that your pup crossed the Rainbow Bridge. That's a difficult time for everyone and our prayers are with you.

As far as getting a Rottie as a puppy or adult, each has advantages. We adopted one of our dogs as a puppy, but two others were rescues, and both were about 10 months old. The rescues are amazing dogs and we got so skip the puppy biting periods, which was great! With that being said, you'll also inherit some bad habits like we did, that we had to correct like jumping up on people and begging for food. We always encourage you to adopt and not shop! Hope this helps!

Edward

October 7, 2019 at 5:01 am

We recently found a beautiful rottie walking about in the street and got her... We reported to the police for anyone looking for her but no one came and we decided to look after her... We are in love with her just as we love our jack russell. The rottie is still a puppy and in very good health. Thanks for the information as we were scared keeping a monster.

Kelly Wilson (Author)

October 7, 2019 at 3:13 pm

Sounds like you got a great dog Edward - Rotties can be incredibly loyal and friendly dogs!

Kimberly Gomez

April 8, 2020 at 2:05 am

I have had both and they were and are the best. Only problem is my German Shepherd is getting older and we have decided to get him a baby sister. What to get a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd? Thank you for all the information You hit the nail on the head about my German Shepherd!

Kelly Wilson (Author)

April 8, 2020 at 3:44 pm

Hi Kimberly! I think either breed is fine. The only question will be matching energy levels. When we adopted our Mastiff puppy (female) and had our older lab (also female) they didn't get a long right away. Partially because the energy level of our Lab was low, and the energy level of our Lab was high. It took us adopting an Alpha male dog to bring balance to the pack and keep the younger puppy entertained away from the older Lab.

The older lab still maintained pack leader status in most situations, which made it balance out nicely. If your older GSD is submissive, you may be just fine bringing in a new puppy, no matter the breed. Good Luck!

Michael

August 21, 2020 at 2:40 am

I have owned GSD'S for many years and always found them to be an honest dog as I am sure Rottweilers are if trained properly, however Rotties tend to attract a certain type of owner that being in some cases is a problem because the temperament of the owner is either two weak or too aggressive, similarly owners of GSD'S can also be a problem as they can be smart and arrogant, (not smart in an intelligent way) also because a well trained GSD is a real joy to own some owners under estimate just how much training is required to create that joy. Weak minded people will purchase a smart dog thinking that makes them also knowledgeable and smart quite often the opposite is true.

Both these dogs in the right hands are fantastic dogs in the wrong hands they can be a disaster for the dog and owner. In the hands of an owner who thinks his/her dog is exactly the same as their child will destroy every effort put in by a good breeder to ensure good temperament in the breed. People need to understand themselves and decide if they have the discipline to own a dog like these, as the owners temperament, to be honest is more important than that of the dogs as the dog is and should simply be an extension of the owner. Good owner good dog.

Kelly Wilson (Author)

August 21, 2020 at 2:52 pm

Thanks for the comment, Michael! Very insightful and we agree!

Bill Evans

March 28, 2021 at 11:28 pm

I have had German shepherds over the years even competed in the sport of shutzand with them. After losing our last German Shepherd to cancer we went about 8 or 10 years without having a dog in the house. When we decided to bring a dog into our home we decided that we would do a rescue looked around and came upon a Rottweiler shelter and took a liking to the breed.

Got a female who was one month shy of 4 years old brought her home and it was tough at first. We had to have a leash on her to go outside, otherwise, she was gone. We had to be really careful with any treats or toys with her she was ready to snap at you to take them away from you or not let you get them.

Thought that she had something that was worth the effort though. It took about 2 years before she trusted and adopted us ..now we have had her for about three and a half years I can take a raw bone away from her, look at it, and give it back to her. I can take her outside off-leash no matter where I go I turn around and she is there.

She has turned out to be the sweetest nicest dog that we have ever had in our home. Now, if anyone comes near the house even an animal outside in the yard a deer or whatever we definitely know it's there. She is very very alert and appears to be very protective.

Kelly Wilson (Author)

March 30, 2021 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for stopping by to comment, Bill! Sounds like an amazing dog you have, and glad to hear from someone else that's owned both breeds!

Jeff

May 26, 2021 at 2:04 am

I have raised and lived with 3 great German Shepherds and 1 female Rotty. They all lived for 12-13 years . The Rotty Sarah was the sweetest, most intelligent dog I have ever known. I never had to punish her!! She seemed to known what I was thinking!! Lost her at 12.5 years 3 mos. ago. Miss her badly!!!

Kelly Wilson (Author)

May 27, 2021 at 8:26 pm

Sorry for your loss, Jeff. Hopefully, you'll be able to overcome the loss and adopt a new pup for your family in the future. Appreciate your comment!