Labs and Rottweilers are both high energy breeds that need plenty of exercise and thorough training. If you are not sure which breed will suit your family best, then the most important factor for you is going to be temperament. Differences in coat, color and size are likely to be a lesser consideration.
I’m not going to give you detailed comparisons of Rottweiler vs Labrador color, size and weight. We will look at the differences in power between these breeds, but you already know what they look like!
What I am going to do is give you my honest opinion, as to which breed is likely to be the best fit for you and your family. And plenty of information on which to base your decision.
Differences And Considerations
As a breeder and trainer of Labradors I know the breed well but I have also, from time to time, shared my home with a Rottweiler and it’s a breed that I like and respect. To decide which breed will suit you best, you need to think about what you hope to gain, when you bring a dog into your life..
It’s not unusual for people to buy a Labrador, for example, as a kind of all purpose pet/hunting companion/family guard dog. And for those people to be disappointed to discover that their Lab has an open house policy when it comes to screening visitors. In other words, everyone is welcome.
This is unlikely to be a problem with a Rottweiler whose guarding instincts are usually well developed. It really all depends on what you want from a dog.
What Do You Want From A Dog?
Few dogs fulfil every role that dogs are traditionally known for. These roles include
And for the vast majority of people, the last of those: companionship, is going to be the primary role of their dog.
The second role that many people have in mind when they are looking for a dog, is that of a guard dog. They want to feel safe and protected in their homes.
And this is where problems can sometimes arise. Because guarding instinct can be difficult to ‘turn off’ and because the dogs that make the best companions, often lack those instincts. We’ll look at that a bit more closely in a moment.
Rottweiler Vs Labrador As Guard Dogs
The Rottweiler wins this game hands down. Very few Labradors will guard your home or your person with the same courage and tenacity as a Rottweiler.
Many Labs will not guard it at all, and most of those that will, are easily distracted by an intruder bearing food, or overcome by an intruder who is armed and unafraid of dogs. A Rottweiler is a very different prospect.
Labradors and Rottweilers As Herding Dogs
Historically, the ancestors of the Rottweiler were used to herd and guard livestock*. However, the modern Rottweiler is not usually considered the best choice when it comes to herding. Nowadays we have various pastoral breeds such as the Border Collie that are better suited to that purpose.
Likewise, Labradors are not suited to herding, though both breeds will be useful around a farm or homestead and can be trained to carry out simple tasks that will assist you. Keeping watch over an open gateway for example.
Labradors Vs Rottweilers As Hunting Dogs
Both Labs and Rottweilers are smart dogs that are capable of finding and flushing live game animals. And both can be taught to retrieve. But hunting and retrieving is where Labradors really come into their own.
The popularity of the Labrador Retriever as service and therapy dogs is in good part due to the skills bred into them that make Labs such good hunting companions. Including their willingness to co-operate with a human companion, and ability to learn to follow instructions at a distance. And generations of breeding Labs as hunting companions has created a dog that excels at finding and retrieving shot game.
So if hunting is important to you, this is a role best suited to the Labrador.
Lab Vs Rottweiler As Companions
Labradors and Rottweilers are both popular companion dogs and they have some attributes in common.
Both need a couple of hours of exercise each day. This doesn’t have to be all through walking, if you have space at home you can give a dog a great work out with retrieving games. And two or more dogs that play together on a daily basis will also get quite a bit of exercise through that activity. But in general, you need to be thinking of around two hours of your time, that’s an hour or so each morning and evening, spent exercising your dog.
Both breeds have short, easy care coats. Both breed shed, they are not hypoallergenic, and so won’t suit people that are allergic to dogs.
But the attribute that matters above all others in a dog that is going to share a place in the heart of your family, is temperament. And while both are loyal and affectionate, quick to learn, and relatively easy to train, in other respects their temperaments are very different.
Labrador Vs Rottweiler – differences in temperament
The Labrador’s easy going, open friendliness is legend. I have to say that not every Lab lives up to this reputation. There are Labs that are nervous or reactive, and this kind of nervousness can lead to aggression.
However, on balance, you stand a good chance of getting a friendly dog if you buy a Lab puppy and socialize it appropriately
Rottweilers have strong guarding instincts and tend to be wary of strangers and quick to be defensive of the resources they value. Which may include members of your family, your property and sometimes individual items within it.
If you are nervous about intruders and feel vulnerable inside your home or when you are out and about, a fearless and potentially aggressive companion may seem like a great idea. But managing a large, powerful and potentially angry dog can be challenging.
Will Socializing Fix That?
So, you may have heard that fear of strangers and aggression are caused by lack of socialization. And that if you socialize your Rottweiler thoroughly you won’t have any problems in that respect.
At one time it was believed that friendliness and general good temperament in dogs was all about genetics. Over the last few decades the importance of socialization in creating friendly dogs has become more widely understood and adopted. To the point where there is currently, in some doggy circles, almost a denial of the role in genetics in determining the temperament of our dogs.
My own view is that genetics is maybe a little less important than our ancestors thought, but a lot more important than mainstream opinion is currently acknowledging.
So while complete lack of socialization may cause problems in Labrador puppies, sloppy or not very thorough socialization is less likely to be an issue than in breeds that are naturally less friendly and outgoing.
More importantly, in those naturally less outgoing breeds, there is a limit to what even the most thorough socialization can achieve.
In other words, you can’t turn your Rottweiler into a Lab by simply putting more effort into socializing them. And let’s face it, none of this would matter so much if Rottweilers were smaller! But they are not.
Rottweiler vs Labrador Size
The average Rottweiler is a large, well built dog, with heavier bone and more muscle than a Lab. There’s a fairly wide range of average of course, and while Labs can be quite large dogs, there is no comparison with the size and strength of a Rottweiler.
The average adult lab is a medium to large dog weighing around seventy pounds and standing around twenty-two inches tall at the shoulder. An adult male Rottweiler is likely to top the scales at over a hundred pounds. Rotties are taller too and can reach over twenty-five inches at the shoulder.
These are very powerful dogs. And when that power is combined with aggression, reactivity, or impulsiveness, it raises questions about control and safety. And we’ll look at those in a moment. Let’s just quickly touch on health and lifespan.
Health and Longevity of the Lab Vs Rottweiler
Like most purebred dogs, Rotties and Labs are prone to a range of different diseases. Some of these can be screened for and if you are buying a puppy from either breed, its important to buy from a breeder that thoroughly health checks their breeding stock. The latest test requirements for each breed can be found on the American Kennel Club website.
Lifespan of both breeds is around a decade though some individuals with live much longer than this.
So, there really is not a lot to choose between these dogs when it comes to health. But what about the impact of these dogs on the health and safety of those around them?
Safety around Labs and Rottweilers
The most common hazard I see with large dogs is lunging and pulling. If a dog weighing over a hundred pounds suddenly charges forwards, it can easily pull the human on the other end of the leash off their feet.
So if you own a large dog, training them to walk nicely on a leash is a top priority. This can be a much harder task if the dog is reactive or aggressive. Not to mention the risk to others if you lose control of the dog.
The other risk around a powerful dog, and the one that tends to hit the headlines, is the potential for aggression. One of the problems in keeping a guard dog, is that it can be difficult for dogs to discriminate between bona fide visitors and unwanted intruders. Sadly, another problem is that sometimes aggressive dogs direct this aggression towards family members. From 2005 to 2017 sixteen percent of all dog bite fatalities involved a babysitter, grandparent or relative watching a child or looking after the dog.
Many people get bitten by dogs each year, especially children who struggle to accurately judge when a dog does not want their attention.
In 2023 75% of all dog bites were accounted for by just three breeds, Pitbulls, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds. And between 2005 and 2019 Rottweilers were responsible for just under ten percent of all fatal attacks on humans by dogs. Second only to Pit Bull Terriers. Labradors were responsible for two percent of fatalities despite being a more numerous breed.
Now of course, most Rottweilers live peacefully with their families and never bite anyone. But it must be acknowledged that the potential for serious injury exists. And that this risk is far lower in the Labrador Retriever.
For this reason alone, I would urge you to consider very carefully whether you are knowledgeable or experienced enough to ensure the safety of your family and the wider public once you are responsible for an adult Rottweiler. Even if you are ready for that responsibility, is it worth it? Or would you and your family really be better off with a Lab.
Labrador Or Rottweiler? How To Choose
If you are looking primarily for a companion dog, or a hunting companion, the Labrador is almost certainly your best choice.
If you want a dog that will protect you and protect your property, then a Rottweiler is more likely to fulfil that role. But remember that you will be responsible for ensuring that your dog is under control and not a risk to the general public, to your family, or to innocent visitors to your home.
Training a protection dog is a specialist skill and you’ll need an experienced protection dog trainer to advise you and teach you how to manage your dog more safely. Even then there are no guarantees and while we do sometimes know what triggers a dog attack, in many cases we do not.
Rottweilers are amazing dogs, beautiful, intelligent and fearless. But they are also a specialist breed that in my view, the vast majority of people don’t need and probably should not have.
Obviously, we all have our preferences, and my preference for a family dog is the Labrador Retriever. But I’m happy to hear from those who disagree and well as those who don’t! Whatever breed you choose, enjoy your dog, train them well, and don’t forget to leave a comment!
- *American Kennel Club Rottweiler information
- Dog Bite Statistics 2005-2017 (downloadable report)
- Top Twenty Dog Bite Statistics For 2023
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website