Rottweiler vs Labrador: Multipurpose Cattle Dog vs Cold Water Retriever

If you had to choose between a Rottweiler vs Labrador, which would you pick? Which do you think would be better?

You surely would take your lifestyle into account and decide if a protective working dog or a gundog would better fit the bill. Perhaps you could have both.

In either case, you are dealing with two breeds that have similar needs but are quite different in looks and temperament.

A Rottweiler vs Labrador is a large or giant black and brown working dog of the Mastiff family and most closely related to the Great Dane. Labrador Retrievers, by contrast, are medium-large sporting dogs related to Newfoundlands and new-age British Retrievers (Flat-Coated and Curly Coated).

The Rottweiler is an ancient dog from Rome recruited to herd cattle and guard precious goods at the market. Labradors were more recent additions from Newfoundland, developed in England to retrieve waterfowl.

Although at first glance they look similar, their original purpose and backgrounds have ensured that Rotties and Labs are vastly different in personality, appearance, and capacity as family pets.

Background

Rottweilers are German but come from ancient Roman times

Rottie’s ancestors were fighting as war dogs alongside their warrior masters over 2,300 years ago.

Lighter dogs emerged and were used as livestock guardian dogs. Rottweiler forefathers possibly arose from these LGDs but were used as drover dogs (herding livestock from behind).

The Roman legions took these dogs with them to help guard and push their cattle along as they traveled over the Alps into Germany. When Germany eventually drove out the Roman invaders around 100 AD, the dogs stayed and self-propagated among the local strays.

The dogs with the best combination of guarding and driving skills were bred, and the result was a versatile worker that could herd cattle, cart meat to market, and guard merchants’ purses.

The railroad threatened the Rottie with extinction in the 1850s. Again, interested parties selected dogs with the best conformation and working qualities and produced indispensable police and military assets.

Germany formulated a breed standard in 1901 under the International Club of Leonbergers and Rottweiler Dogs.

The first Rottweiler came to North America in the late-1920s, and the breed received AKC recognition in 1931. Although Rotties retain their operational versatility and drive, many are valued pets.

Labradors are Canadian with a large English influence

The Labrador was originally developed around the 1830s in Newfoundland from a medium-sized landrace dog, St. John’s Water dog, also known as the Lesser Newfoundland.

These indigenous dogs likely resulted from canids brought over and left behind by Portuguese and English fishers in the 1500s.

The Labrador’s name was more to distinguish it from the larger Newfoundland, also bred from St. John’s Water Dog, than to designate its place of origin.

Labradors eventually made the trek with fish traders from Newfoundland back to England where hunters crossed them with British retrievers.

The result was a phenomenal retriever that could work in frigid water. Modern Labradors of the 2000s can all trace their heritage to British lines.

The Labrador Retriever came back to the US in its present form in the early 1910s and entered the AKC in 1917. It had joined the United Kennel Club already in 1903.

Appearance

Rotties and Labs differ from each other in several important ways when you look at them.

Size

Rottweiler females are 22 to 25 inches tall at the shoulders, and males stand at 24 to 27 inches. Labradors are slightly shorter, with females and males having a shoulder height of 22 to 24 inches.

A Rottie’s weight illustrates why it is classified as a large or a giant-sized dog. Rottweilers weigh 75 to 130 pounds with males usually maturing over 90 pounds. Labs, on the other hand, weigh 55 to 80 pounds. Males of both breeds are significantly denser and more muscular than females.

Head

Many breeds can be identified by their profiles alone. A Rottweiler and a Labrador Retriever have rather similar heads.

Show lines of Labs, especially, will resemble Rotties with a blockhead and slightly shortened muzzle.

Working Labs have more of a triangular head with a broadness between the ears, a wide face, and a more slender and longer muzzle.

Labradors lack the prominent cheekbones of Rottweilers. Both breeds have medium-sized almond-shaped eyes set wide apart. Rottweilers’ eyes are deep-set as opposed to Labs.

The Lab’s ears are also set lower than a Rottie’s. Both dogs have medium-sized hanging ears that approximate the shape of a triangle and hang near the face.

Rottweilers have broader jaws than Labs, so their muzzle appears shorter. They also have a more pronounced stop. Labradors make up for a more gradual slope from the eyes to the bridge of the snout with a more prominent brow.

Neck and Topline

The Rottweiler and Labrador Retriever have almost the same neck. Each dog’s neck should be moderately long and well-arched into the head.

A Rottie’s neck supports the weight of its head and the power of its shoulders while the Lab’s is designed to carry game birds. Neither dog has excessive skin or any throatiness.

The topline of both breeds is level, and the strength of the back is evident. Labradors exhibit more flexibility in the loins and more overall athleticism. A Rottie’s loins are short and muscular, allowing them more balance than you would expect for a dog this size.

Chest

Both dogs should be wide and deep in the chest. While Rottweilers are relatively deeper in the ribs and broader in the chest than Labradors, neither dog should approach the wide stance of Bulldogs.

The Rottweiler and Labradors have a slight abdominal tuck-up from the sternum to the hips. Rottweilers are a little more pronounced than Labs, as some Retrievers have no uptuck at all.

Forelimbs and Hindquarters

Rottweilers and Labradors are athletic, and their forelimbs should be able to swing freely. Some of this is accomplished by a chest that is not too wide and some by the well laidback shoulders.

The legs are straight in both breeds and visibly strong. Rotties should be heavy in the bone while Labs should be medium in substance.

As is true of any athletic dog, the hindquarters are the driving force for movement with moderate angulation and balance with the front end. Rotties appear more powerful with a springy gait and ground-covering strides. Labradors are effortless and smooth.

Both dogs have “cat feet” with compact, well-arched toes. Labradors often have additional webbing on their paws, although it is not written into the AKC standard.

Tail

Rottweilers have a long tail that follows the natural slope of the croup and curves in a sickle almost over the back. The lower half occasionally has light feathering. Most Rotties have docked tails in the US. Their tail will only be one or two vertebrae in length from the rump.

Labradors have an “otter tail” that is characteristic of the breed. This means it is rather short and very thick at the base and narrows slightly towards the tip. Field Labs may have a longer tail.

Coat

A Rottweiler has a coat of medium length with underfur typically only covering the neck and thighs.

Interestingly, the fur is longest on the rump and backs of the hind legs (breeches), although there is also thicker hair down the back of the neck. Some Rotties may have wavy hair, but it is a fault.

A Rottweiler’s outer coat is coarse while the under layer as it exists is soft and woolly.

The Labrador Retriever is a double-coated breed although the quality of its fur is much different than a German Shepherd or an Akita. Labs have a short, dense outer coat that is slightly oily to repel water. The undercoat is soft, dense, and weather-resistant.

Labs have brief periods of heavy shedding in the spring and fall. Both breeds shed moderately all year.

Colors

Rottweiler vs Labrador coloring is similar in that the accepted standard is very strict.

Rottweilers have the agouti gene that produces brown points. In this breed, it translates as three variants with points or markings in specific places (chin, cheeks, above eyes, under the tail, front of the chest, varying lengths of the legs).

  • Black & tan
  • Black & rust
  • Black & mahogany

Some dogs have excess black with an absence of some of their brown markings. Solid black Rotties are rare, with a low probability of such dogs being purebred. Other rare and disqualifying colors are blue (dilution gene) & brown and red (browning gene suppresses black) & brown.

Labradors can be black, brown, or yellow. Brown or chocolate Labs showed up before yellow ones with the first recorded liver-colored pup born in 1892. Yellow Labradors appeared seven years later.

Labs are one of the few breeds in which a black coat is caused by a dominant gene. If a Labrador has one black gene in its coding for coat color, it will be black.

Animals and people typically have two genes for every feature, one inherited from each parent. Recessive traits only show up if a dominant gene is not present. In reference to Labs, the gene to designate the color black is “B,” capitalized to indicate dominance.

The assumption was that Labradors were all “BB” until a brown puppy showed up. Then experts knew there was a recessive brown gene in the pool, designated “b.” Since up until that point, Labs were black, they had to be carriers of the brown gene. The parents of that brown pup had to have a genetic make-up of “Bb.”

If you eyeball it, you can see that Bb x Bb would give you the possibility of a “bb” combination, which is a brown dog.

As in other dogs, the brown gene is a recessive trait that suppresses eumelanin or dark pigmentation. Such dogs have a liver-colored nose, eye rims, and pads as well as light-colored eyes.

Brown Labradors are formally called chocolate and usually have light brown eyes.

Yellow Labs, like white German Shepherds and the Great Pyrenees, have a masking gene. Masking is also recessive. If two of these genes are present, they will prevent the normal expression of coat colors. The designation is “e.”

“E” is dominant and does not mask the genes for coat colors. Black and chocolate labs are “EE” or “Ee” with the latter being carriers for the masking gene.

Dogs must be “ee” to be yellow, indicating that the black or brown genetic color has been masked. Like Golden Retrievers, masking is partial, leading to a yellow or blonde color rather than white.

The rare color in Labs is silver, but the suspicion is that most of these dogs may be mixed with Weimaraners. The other possibility is a dilute chocolate lab, which is called lilac or Isabella in other breeds.

These yellow lab puppies will likely darken with age. Note the yellow-reddish shading on the ears.

You can see the same phenomenon in the GSD where some color bleeds through the fur in localized areas. Look how much orange shows around this Shepherd’s ears.

Regional and other variants exist

Owners often make a distinction between German or European and American Rottweilers. However, the differences are more subtle than the American and German Doberman.

German Rotties appear stockier with a thicker neck and broader muzzle than the American Rottweiler.

The two variations differ very little in size. Despite the American Rottweiler’s sleeker and more athletic appearance, it is far more likely to be the German Rott that has had health screenings and temperamental testing as well as passed performance requirements.

Contrary to any sources that say otherwise, the AKC does not accept colors outside the German Rottweiler standard.

A final difference is that German Rottweilers do not have docked tails; judges in Germany penalize show dogs with shortened tails.

Although the English and American breed standards are different, there is no official separation except in the sporting world. In those cases, there are two classic types of Labs.

  • Field or trial – sometimes erroneously called an American Lab; there are field and show categories of Labs in both the US and Europe; dogs either compete for titles (field trials) or are scored on ability (hunt tests); these dogs are leggier than show dogs with a relatively slender head and longer more tapered muzzle
  • Show – judge conformation in the exhibition ring among other dogs of a breed or group

These dogs are perfect examples of the classic similarities and differences between Rottweilers and Labs. The Rottie is taller and heavier than the Lab with the standard black base and mahogany points or markings. Note the Labrador’s “otter tail.”

Personality

As you would guess by their backgrounds and even their groupings within the registries, Rotties and Labs have vastly different personalities.

Rottweilers are naturally wary of strangers. In stark contrast, most Labs do not know a stranger. Rotties make excellent guard dogs even without training.

Although Rottweilers have a reputation for aggression, their make-up is more in line with a calm and watchful dog that assesses a situation before reacting. Each dog is unique, with some never warming up to people outside the family circle and others making meaningful friendships with visitors over time.

Regardless, unprovoked aggression is not a trait of a well-socialized Rottie. On the other hand, they are highly territorial and protective. They will attack “friends” who venture onto their property when the owner is not home.

Labradors commonly display a seeming lack of loyalty, happy to go home with the next friendly face. Their loud barks of greeting make them great alarm dogs. Labs are outgoing, active, eager to please, and unflappable.

They get along with other pets if they are part of the family and love to play with fellow dogs. They are popular at dog parks and on hiking trails.

Rottweilers are loyal, bold, and intimidating. They sometimes display same-gender aggression towards other dogs and can be unpredictable around small pets. Their presence is still felt in the police force.

Labs usually love children, although young dogs can be too rambunctious for toddlers.

Rotties enjoy children they are familiar with but are too large and powerful for kids under eight years old. Some Rottweilers are more docile and playful than others.

Health

A Rottweiler usually lives eight to ten years while a Labrador’s life expectancy is closer to ten to twelve years. Rotties and Labs share many health issues.

  • Hip or elbow dysplasia (both)
  • OCD (Rottie) – cartilage growth abnormality and inflammation in puppies; the shoulder is a common sight as well as the ankle in Rotties
  • Entropion (both) – eyelids roll inward
  • Ectropion (Rottie) – lower eyelid droops outward
  • Exercise-induced collapse (Lab)
  • Moist dermatitis or hot spots (Lab)
  • Lipoma (Lab) – fatty skin tumor; some can be quite large, and others are invasive
  • Obesity (both)
  • cancer (both) – a bone cancer in Rotties, lymphoma in Labs
  • Bloat (both) – stomach becomes dilated and twists
  • Hypothyroidism (both) – low thyroid hormone levels
  • Laryngeal paralysis (Lab) – larynx or voice box affected; affected dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke
  • Heart disease (both) – tricuspid valve (between upper and lower right chambers) in Labs and subaortic (narrowing of major blood vessel from heart) in Rotties
  • Ear infections (Labs)

Care

Whether you acquire a Rottweiler or Labrador Retriever, its care requirements are similar.

  • Exercise – 90 to 120 minutes per day
  • Feeding – 27 to 31 calories per pound per day of high-quality meat-based diet; carbs are optional and should consist of veggies and low-sugar fruits (berries); feed multiple daily meals for both breeds
  • Brush two to three times weekly
  • Nail trim every four to eight weeks
  • Check ears for signs of infection every few days
  • Training – both breeds are in the top 10 most intelligent dogs; Rotties need strong leadership, and Labs need a variety
  • Socialization – start young; without it, Rotties display unprovoked aggression, Labs are fearful and may become dog aggressive

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