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Rottweilers in Dutch KC ‘experiment’
KC of the Netherlands measures effects of genetics on temperament

Rottweilers breeders and owners in the UK have slammed an experiment overseen by the Dutch Kennel Club which aims to seek out the breeds’s ‘aggressive gene’.

The Rottweiler’s much maligned character is once again under the spotlight following the breeding scheme, which was designed to measure the effects of genetics on temperament. The Kennel Club of the Netherlands set up a system to try and ensure dogs with poor temperaments could not be bred from in a scheme which has caused much controversy and concern.
Joanne van der Borg, of Wageningen University which carried out the scheme said: “The dogs born into this programme are much better behaved. There is a strong genetic element to aggression and it is possible that this is being bred out.”

The Dutch Kennel Club introduced the breeding programme in 2001, two years after a rottweiler killed a woman. A succession of dog attacks had already led to a ban on some breeds in the country, such as pit bull terriers.


Under the scheme, Rottweilers have to pass what is known as a ‘docility’ test to measure how fast they turn nasty. Any dogs that fail are refused pedigree certificates and owners are asked not to breed from them. The system has created two distinct rottweiler populations in Holland, with 7,000 dogs that have passed the test and a similar number that have failed.

In the study Borg asked more than 800 rottweiler owners about their pets’ behaviour. The results showed that about 16% of the non-pedigree dogs were aggressive to strangers while just 7% of the pedigree group were. Such changes after only eight years imply that it should be possible to keep reducing aggression further.

In a paper to be published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, Borg writes: “It is concluded there is a positive effect on the prevalence of fear and aggression in the Dutch population of pedigree rottweilers.”

Many breeders, however, blame any attack by a rottweiler on bad training.

Many UK websites have been bombarded with messages in support of the breed, with the main message being blame the owners, not the breed. One message read: ‘I have had Rottweilers for the past 12 years. They are one of the most loving and caring breeds of dog. Despite what the press say they are not a vicious breed. Yes, there are some idiots out there who treat their dogs horribly and thus raise a vicious dog, but this is true of any breed. If you mistreat a poodle you can still turn them into a fairly vicious dog! I would have happily left my baby/friends/family or whoever with any of my rottweilers’.

Unlike the UK, the Netherlands has recently overturned its breed specific legislation - which makes certain dogs ‘illegal’ but is widely recognised as a flawed ideology - in favour of owner education initiatives and other alternative schemes.