Black Rottweiler: Elusive Rare Color or Nonexistent Myth?
Is there such a creature as a black Rottweiler? You might think, “Yeah, sure. Rotties are black with brown.”
But do solid black Rottweilers exist? If so, are they purebred?
A black Rottweiler is theoretically possible. It requires a particular genetic makeup that would be very difficult to achieve in the Rottweiler breed. The vast majority of purebred Rotties will be black with brown in a specified pattern, fitting with the standard of major registries.
Interestingly, the trait of black and tan markings is already a nondominant pattern that Rottweiler cultivators selected for generations. It makes it even more unlikely that solid black exists naturally in the Rottweiler.
To understand what hurdles you would have to clear to get a black Rottie, it is crucial to cover the role of breed standard and genetics in coat color, the history of the Rottweiler, and possible shortcuts breeders might take to satisfy consumer demand.
AKC Breed Standard for Rottweiler Colors
According to the AKC, Rottweilers only exist in black and various shades of brown. Moreover, the brown must adhere to a restricted pattern as points above the eyes and on the front of the chest, pencil lines on the toes, and markings on the muzzle on either side of the nose, both cheeks, under the tail, and down the legs.
The complete absence of markings, or a solid black dog, is grounds for dismissal from a Rottweiler conformation show. There is also not a code to register any dogs that are alternative colors.
- Black & tan
- Black & mahogany
- Black & rust
Major registries put forth a set of traits that everyone knows as the breed standard. Breed standards can vary from one country to the next and allow much more leeway for working dogs as opposed to showing animals.
They tell enthusiasts, breeders, owners, and showgoers what physical traits are acceptable in a particular kind of dog.
As you intuitively know, the closer a dog resembles this set of standards, the better it will perform in shows. Show champions hopefully go on to produce more puppies like themselves.
Puppies that are further from the breed standard perform poorly before judges. However, experienced breeders know how their pups will do in the show ring within a couple of weeks and usually sell so-called “pet quality” dogs to the public.
Often, seasoned professionals attach neuter and spay contracts to puppies that are not “show quality.”
They do not breed colors that the AKC or another registry does not “prefer” or will summarily dismiss (i.e., white German Shepherds). Therefore, the AKC or German breed standard for colors plays such a vital role in the Rottweiler.
The AKC says all Rottweilers must be black with a pattern of various shades of brown. You may say, “This does not mean other colors cannot exist.”
That is a valid point, but the AKC makes allowances for other colors in breeds where they exist. French Bulldogs, for example, have a long list of nonstandard colors.
Essentially, the AKC says nonstandard colors in Rotties are genetic anomalies or the result of adding unpure bloodlines.
If a breeder cannot even register an “off-color” Rottweiler such as black, they will go out of their way not to produce one.
However, from a genetic standpoint, they are probably hard-pressed to ever breed a solid black dog in the first place.
Basic Genetics you Should Know for Rottweiler Color
As complex as canine coat colors are, scientists have discovered that relatively few genes are responsible for most of them.
Certain coat color phenomena do not exist in the Rottie.
We will not cover the specific genes of several color groups that are outside the basic agouti line that applies to Rottweilers.
- Dominant black – Exists in certain breeds like the Labrador, but not breeds like the GSD or Rottie
- Merle – Marbling of black and white or red and white is a gene of very few breeds
- Harlequin – White with black irregular spots or patches; Prominent in the Great Dane breed
- White spotting – Leads to piebald (30% or more white), Irish white spotting (Boston Terrier), and other patterns with large white areas mixed with another color
- Extreme spotting like in Dalmatians, ticking, and roan
- KIT – Piebald gene specific to GSD
- Graying – Gives some dogs a silver, gray, or bluish appearance; A gene that causes hairs to turn gray or white; not the same as blue
- Partial albinism – Thought to exist in Dobermans and possibly Rottweilers that can have white fur and blue, pink-rimmed eyes; Albinism is not confirmed yet in canines
Agouti Series – the Coat Color Genes that Matter in Rotties
The agouti genes series determines the coat color of most breeds. However, these genes in certain breeds can be influenced by outside loci (gene locations). The ones of note are “K” and “E.”
Alleles (genes) at “K” express dominant black, brindle, or fawn. Fawn is a misnomer because “y” at “K” more accurately depicts the entire agouti series. The letters would exist as superscripts attached to “K.”
- “B” – Represses the expression of agouti genes; Dominant black that exists in certain breeds
- “br” – Recessive to dominant black but dominant over agouti expression; Causes black stripes or brindling over phaeomelanin coloring (red, yellow, fawn); Tan-pointed dogs can show brindling on their points; Not seen in Rottie or Dobie
- “y” – Allows normal expression of agouti color series; Recessive to brindle and dominant black
The “E” locale also determines whether a dog can express agouti features. A dog with one or two dominant “E” genes will express all features, including tan points, normally. Such dogs are “Ee” or “EE.”
Two recessive genes at “E,” designated as “ee,” cannot express eumelanin and will appear as solid yellow or reddish dogs. This color is exceedingly rare in Rotties if it exists at all in the breed.
An “m” designation on either of the “E” loci indicates a facial mask, which is a dominant feature. Dogs that are “ee” cannot have a facial mask.
Facial masks exist in Rottweilers, but they are rare and not as flashy in the show ring as maskless dogs. A facial mask will obscure some or all the tan points on the dog’s cheeks and muzzle but will not disqualify her from showing.
Experts believe that in some tan-pointed dogs, the mask extends throughout the body, giving the animal an almost solid black appearance.
However, these dogs have rust markings, albeit nearly invisible, on some or all their traditional points. The phenomenon is not as common in Rottweilers as some bi-color dogs such as the German Shepherd.
There are four parts of the agouti series, expressed as a superscript on “A.” For example, the tan point agouti gene is a lower case “t” superscript attached to the main letter “A.”
“Y” – Clear sable (Solid red or red with white piebald, not to be confused with recessive red)/Shaded sable (Intermingled red and black areas, not demarcated like a tan-pointed dog)/Tipped sable – Red with black-tipped hairs or black overlay)/Fawn (varying shades of a lion-like yellow, tan, or golden, many dogs have a facial mask); “Y” is dominant to other agouti colors; Does not exist in Rottie
“W” – Wild Color or Wolf Grey; Dominant over recessive black and the tan-pointed; Banded hairs with shades similar to the wolf; Redder shades resemble shaded sables but the pattern is closer to tan-pointed dogs; Dilute phaeomelanin (red-based pigment family) gives the dog a silver or white-pointed appearance; Spectacles are common: Nonexistent in Rotties
“t” – Tan-pointed; encompasses saddled dogs where tan points expand or black recedes and “traditional point” dogs like the Doberman, Rottie, and Beauceron; For some breeds, tan-pointed is one color variation
“b” – Recessive solid black dog; Very rare in dogs
As you might ascertain on your own, most breeds do not have all four of the agouti series color patterns.
Rottie genetic anomalies exist, but they are not black.
Vitiligo is a disease that causes white patches on the Rottweiler that can affect localized or generalized areas. Rottweilers, along with Dobermans and Belgian Tervurens, are overrepresented breeds.
Vitiligo is a hereditary disorder whereby the body’s immune system destroys cells responsible for producing pigment.
A Rottweiler with Vitiligo is still a registerable black tan-pointed dog but should not be bred for obvious reasons.
This dog has very focal points of vitiligo. Many affected dogs will have a whitehead or white hairs distributed through their entire coat. No matter the degree of abnormality, all Rotties with vitiligo is still clearly tan-pointed.
What about dilutions?
It was not possible to 100% rule out dilutions in purebred Rotties. However, the existence of dilution genes in Rottweilers seems to be extraordinarily rare at best. This contrasts with Dobermans.
A few potential patterns can result from coat dilutions. Dilutions always affect the areas of the coat that ordinarily would be black.
- Blue and brown – Black part of the coat is charcoal to bluish while the rust points are normal or a little washed out; A dilution gene mutes but does not completely suppress the black coloration; The locus is “D” and a blue dog is “dd;” A “Dd” gene pattern is still a black dog
- Liver and brown – The tan points are normal, but eumelanin is suppressed, creating a rich brown or chocolate color in its place; Locus is “B” and a liver dog must be “bb”
- Isabella – Dilution of a liver dog; Has grayish reddish color; In some dogs looks to have a hint of lilac or lavender; Affects both “B” and “D” loci and affected dogs will be “bbdd”
History of Rottweiler Colors
Most historians believe that Rottweilers descended from the livestock guardian branch of ancient Molossus dogs. These dogs were apricot, brindle, or yellowish-brown.
This is easily reflected in modern Molossers or Mastiff-types which tend to be tan, fawn, red, or brindle.
Molossers are typically neither tan-pointed nor solid black. The notable exceptions are the Cane Corso and the Rottweiler.
Cane Corsos are the only modern Molossers that are commonly solid black unless you include the Great Dane, which many classify as a sighthound.
Ancient Rottweilers were brindle, yellow & tan, red & tan, fawn, or black & tan. Fawn and brindle were the most common colors and were a part of the original breed standard.
It is unclear when black & tan went from a rare color to the only acceptable variation and when the others disappeared. Nevertheless, solid black was not part of Rottie’s color repertoire.
Tan-pointed Rottweilers were likely the norm by the time Germany formulated a standard in 1901.
As of 1921, the ADRK (Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler-Klub E.V.) calls for black dogs with deep mahogany stereotypical markings.
This working dog, which would typically come from German lines, shows the deep mahogany points on a black base color.
How to attain a black Rottie
As you can see, black Rottweilers are all but impossible to produce naturally through genetics.
Dominant black Rotties do not exist, supported by the prevalence of the recessive tan-pointed color in the breed. Any Rottweiler that had a dominant black gene would be black. We do not see those kinds of numbers of black Rotties running around.
The recessive black gene seems to be exclusive to a few herding breeds and others such as the Pug and French Bulldog. Some breeds exhibit both the recessive and dominant forms of black coat colors.
Many black herding dogs are the result of carriers among tan-pointed individuals. Recessive black seems to be absent in Rotties and Dobies, and we stumbled across zero confirmed representatives.
So, the question arises, “How do breeders come up with so-called rare solid black Rottweilers?” Experts believe black Rottweilers result from black Labrador crosses. Another viable candidate that would maintain much of the general look of the Rottweiler is the Cane Corso.
Other crosses like the German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, or Giant Schnauzer would be difficult to pass off as purebred Rotties. You might question a breeder if you saw a puppy with blue eyes, a wiry coat, upright ears, a narrow head, or white markings.
Your best chance at a solid black Rottie is one with extended masking. This phenomenon is not very common and is likely going to still produce a dog with barely visible but present rust markings.
This Rottweiler-Cane Corso is the closest we found to a “black Rottweiler.” It is a mix, and you can see the challenges of breeding out the black and tan of the Rott’s coloration.
This dog seems to have a brindling effect which could just be residual brown points on the hindquarters.
A black Labrador Rottweiler cross is a common way to go but look how difficult it is to obtain the appropriate look combined with a solid black color.
This dog’s head is completely wrong for a Rottweiler. However, you would probably not be able to tell that in an eight-week-old puppy that an unethical breeder duped you into buying.