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AKC Structure vs. European RottweilerType

a perspective by Steve Wolfson

After spending many years on the AKC dog show circuit, learning and having fun an unusual feeling came over me. I became a bit disenchanted with that venue. I felt there wasn't enough feed back and learning for me; I wanted more than parading my dog around the ring, up and back, down and around. Coincidentally, at that same time a small band of Rottweiler enthusiasts had gotten together to form a new club which was based on the European style of showing their dogs.

This new style wasn't really new, but here in the US it was a welcome alternative and caught on with tremendous popularity. The first show which I had attended touting this new style was the Berksiana Rottweiler Club back in 1990. It was a super show which included two German ADRK Judges, 300 entries, ring size able to accommodate a specialty of this importance and much exuberance. This seemed to me a more precise way of judging my Rottweiler, and why not? The judges were from Germany, the homeland of the Rottweiler. Who could be more knowledgeable than they?

Now it is July, 2001, eleven years later, and my thinking has evolved! When attending shows both AKC and European (see notation below) venues, I now place the most emphasis on the judge, including the style by which he/she administers their expertise, rather than only viewing the exhibits people bring. For me, the most important person at the show is the judge. This is the one we entrust our dogs to. Expecting and paying for an expert opinion on the quality, or the lack of in our breeding program is why we are there.

(Note: the term German shows is a misnomer. More correctly it is a European style of showing and judging not particular to Germany, or invented by the Germans, but used widely through out all of Europe.)

Every judge, no matter AKC or European, brings a personal style of judging and preference in breed type, to the ring. The style or accents, where the judge places his/her emphasis on judging the exhibits is of major importance. For example:

  1. Does the judge look for type in their placements?

  2. Is the judge only a head hunter?

  3. Is movement the only important element?

  4. How much importance is placed on the down and back?

  5. What is the judge's background, what is their original breed? These are some of the critical points which will determine the outcome of the placements.


AKC Emphasis on Structure / European Emphasis on Type

AKC Structure

Aside from the obvious difference in judging styles, i.e.: providing a written critique of the exhibit in the European show, the AKC / British style of judging has a fundamental difference. The goals are the same in each venue, picking the best specimens, however the AKC style of adjudicating the exhibits places emphasis in a different area than the European show.

A great preference in AKC is placed on soundness of structure demonstrated through canine gait. The reasoning for this is, and to me no argument here, if the dog moves correctly it is reasonable to assume the dog has soundness of structure. If an all around judge is uncertain of what is correct breed tyke he/she merely has to select the best gaiting dog as a demonstration of quality. We see this at every AKC show all the time. Unfortunately this is sometimes taken to extremes by certain judges.

Many, judges will award ribbons to a dog/bitch simply on the fact that it was the best gaiting dog, no matter the dog had poor, or mediocre breed type. It moved reasonably well, it receives the points. At the all breed show some judges will move dogs up and back to ascertain which is the cleanest moving to a point of absurdity. At one event I comically observed a judge move each exhibit up and back, once for his initial inspection, then again after that inspection, then two more times after making his placements. It was a dizzying spectacle and became boring to say the least. Suddenly the judge pointed to the dog which was the poorest mover and gave it the nod. Why all this copious action when the final outcome had nothing to do with his request for the best demonstration of canine gait?

I attended a Colonial Rottweiler Club Specialty years ago and the judge adjudicating males was an experienced pro with a background in Dobermans. (note: many Doberman judges receive Rottweiler assignments. Why? Perhaps the thinking is Rottweilers and Dobermans have attributes in common, in actuality they have very little. This premise is erroneous and consequently should not be the only determining consideration when picking judges with Doberman backgrounds). I'm not sure he was all that interested in breed type (perhaps he was not sure what correct type was) since he made each handler with their exhibit move up and back two and even three times. Possibly his preference was on clean, coming and going, trying to select the Rottweiler which moved up and back correctly? Perhaps he was looking for the best Rottweiler with exemplary reach and drive demonstrated in side gait? His eventual pick was an example of bias towards selecting dogs with the best canine gait. The winner's dog, which became Best of Breed, demonstrated excellent side gait, strong reach and drive, all good construction traits, yet from a Rottweiler specialty point of view, in my opinion had mediocre breed type.

I have often heard an expression at AKC shows and from other knowledgeable people at a specialty, the judge looks for side gait on his/her placements and at all breed shows the best up and back movement. This leaves me with more questions to ask, such as: Why would side gait be more important at a specialty show and less important at an all breed show, and where did this expression come from? I'm not sure of its origin, but I have seen it come to fruition.

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(WCR's Atlas vd Tal at 14 months, a prime example of why we use the best males from Europe)



Since a judge cannot measure the actual angulations of the rear, the actual lay back of shoulder on a live specimen in the ring, only a reasonable assumption about it's correctness of structure can be deduced simply by observing a dog move around the ring.

Many judges place a great deal of emphasis on the up and back movement and it is mutually agreed a good amount of information can be assessed about a dog's structure this way. Consequently we can ascertain a very close approximation of the correctness of the front and rear assembly. In his book the Dynamics of Canine Gait (1) Leon Hollenbeck states going away and coming back will immediately bring to the forefront the tracking tendencies and the manner of gait exhibited by the specimen and as these traits are directly related to overall make up, such as structure, proportion, character, etc., it is then up to the judge to decide whether these characteristics are those desired and to gauge them accordingly. Muscular control at elbows, blades, stifles, and hocks will be evident, and so will vertical columns of support. Here too in the approach will be very visible evidence of desirable or undesirable feet, as necessary for the dog as for

Even though the up and back examination reveals certain details about structure, other important factors are not. Where can further information about the structure of the dog be overtly examined?, through side gait.


We can tell more about the structure of the dog through observing side gait than any other movement. Here is where the imbalances and problems become exposed. The lack of good angulations, problems with top line, neck set, hocks, feet etc. are revealed through side gait. At specialty shows side gait is emphasized and for good reason: the rings are much, much larger than the smaller shows, therefore problems with structure become more apparent. Additionally any encumbrances to reach and drive will also be highlighted if there are inequities in structure. Many judges feel more comfortable evaluating a dog's soundness of structure through this method and may even conclude most of their decisions about placement based solely how the dog propels itself through side gait. This is reasonable.

Unfortunately a key element is most often missing on evaluating an exhibit's worthiness for a ribbon in the AKC and that is correct breed type.


The European emphasis on breed type places a different spin on the style of showing dogs than that of the AKC. Not that soundness of structure and gait are not important in the determination of a dog's worthiness, but to the Europeans, the elements of the dog's breed type must be abundantly evident first.

When attending this style of show you can see major differences in the type of dogs which are exhibited. Breed type faults which are tolerated and sometimes rewarded in the AKC show ring such as pink gums, light eyes, straw markings, and wetness of skin, are frowned upon and penalized greatly in this venue of showing. One trait in particular which is handled completely different in European showing is that of eye color. Light color of eyes such as 3b or lighter would certainly put you at the end of the line, possibly excused!

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(Why breed to European Rotts? This is why and at 6 weeks, this female blows away any AKC bred male )

WCR's Note: Mr. Wolfson is very correct, to many faults are overlooked in AKC, including up to 2 missing teeth vs European which all teeth must be accounted for, otherwise deemed unbreedable and disqualified from showing.



Having a judge verbally critique a dog and sign their name to it puts the judge in a more demanding role than that of the AKC. Not only does this require the judge to know and understand the fine details of the breed, but the critique can be used later for reference and holds the judge accountable for what comments they have made about the exhibit.

After the dog is evaluated by critique, the judge must determine a rating for the dog from unsatisfactory to excellent (ratings of U unsatisfactory - V excellent) according to the amount of faults the dog possesses, or conversely how close it comes to the perfection of the standard.

This process of critiquing a dog is not an easy task. A judge must serve an apprenticeship, be schooled in the methodology and most importantly must have a thorough understanding of the breed both in character and type. Interestingly, this process can reveal insights about the judge on a personal level. Simply by following the verbiage by which the judge uses to describe each exhibit, it exposes ones who know the breed and the ones who don't know the breed. It is also a learning experience for all who attend the show, especially for the breeders and owners of the exhibits since they are the ones who can profit the most from a critique.


Besides in depth knowledge of the breed concerning type, a judge must also be familiar with the true character of the Rottweiler. In addition to the assessment of the dog's structure and type, the judge is required to comment on the demeanor of the dog in the critique. We will often hear a judge saying such things as friendly and alert, sociable, not friendly, too aggressive, shy, etc. These notations go on the critique and if a dog is too shy, too aggressive or belligerent, it should and will be purged from the ring.

We can also observe the character of the dog from its Willingness to Perform during the gaiting segment of the show. It is essential the dogs be able to gait under the pressure of competition for two reasons:

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(WCR is HUGELY committed to keeping the bred as it was intended, these 6 week old pups prove that and more)

To determine the working character of the dog, (one must never under emphasize it is a working dog), a judge must evaluate eagerness to work. This is ascertained by the exuberance which the exhibit shows or lads of it under the competitive pressures of the show ring. Many a dog that looked good standing still, fell far from the mark when it was seen being pushed and cajoled around the ring by the owner/handler.

WCR's Note: The opposite holds true in AKC, a dog that expresses a very strong drive is seen as a dog with aggression, therefore is deemed as such. Whereas, a dog that is lethargic in the ring is acceptable, this is a plain fact.

Secondly, the opposite of this is the belligerent dog who only wants to fight with the other exhibits which is certainly not correct either. Working dog temperament demands a dog that is amiable and will run because it enjoys, freely, what the owner wishes it to do.

During prolonged exertion while running many laps around the ring, energy reserves dwindle, the dog (and handler) must reach down from within and maintain focus (much the same way an athlete will do when he/she is faced with stress). Not all dogs are capable of doing this consequently the judge can assess its Rottweiler character. The lazy dog will slow down and refuse to endure; the spirited dog will push on.


The structure of the dog is determined best, by prolonged gaiting. Requiring a to dog gait only once around the ring we will see obvious problems which most likely were noted during the critique segment. To determine a hidden structural problem not apparent while the dog gaited in the up and back or side gait, one must observe the dog while it has expended greater amounts of energy.

Underlying faults and fine imbalances become obvious when it has traversed the ring 8 to 15 times! Hidden problems with joints, tendons or muscles will be brought to the surface when the dog is pushed to exert itself. The correctly built dog, overtly or covertly, will show no signs of problems even though it endured sustained running time.

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(When it comes to type, temperament and keeping the Rottweiler true to its origins and qualities, European breeding's reign supreme as this 6 week old male proves easily)


I have spent many years in both venues competing and have wrangled with this problem over and over. Conclusively I don't think one is better than the other. Yet, more precisely, are different. Each style is to be respected on its approach for the evaluation of a dog's worthiness. Some exhibitors choose not to cross the line but stay in the arena they feel more comfortable with. Others have successfully crossed over to switch back and forth enjoying the different styles. This allows them to gain a wider perspective and profit from both.

I would like to see a hybridization of the two styles combining the best from each. To me, one is somewhat empty without the other. I have seen many AKC Rottweilers become champions which fit just minimally into the standard. Why this occurs is due primarily to the factors which I have previously stated. Judges are not combining the dog's breed type merits along with its ability to gait around the ring. This approach has gotten the breed into trouble since we now see serious type faults that were not abundant only 10 years ago. Along with this problem we have all-rounder judges adjudicating nationals and regional's which should not be allowed to do this. Not that they are without knowledge, but they see the breed through limited perspective in that they will never know the fine details which the breed was developed.

On the other view, some breeder specialists from foreign countries see the Rottweiler also with myopic vision, but with a different spin. They know breed type well, but somehow overlook balance and structure in the dog for sake of breed type. Faults which would not be passed over in the AKC ring such as cow hocks, slight easty westy, high in the rear, medium reach and drive, are forgiven simply because the dog had above average breed type. They often will penalize a good, typey dog which demonstrates reach and drive on the fact it has a 3a eye color! (2 See chart below)

WCR's Note: Simple fact, only the correct Type should win, not a fault ridden Rott that moves well.

for sale rottweiler

A very young male from West Coast Rottweilers. Strong head, correct ears, black eyes, tight mouth, beautiful markings. A REAL Rottweiler

I have attended and ring stewarded many of this type of show and conversed with judges. Frequently the judge has already made their mind up as to the merit of the dog after the critique has been made. Curiously I would ask them Perhaps you will change your mind when you see the dog gait around the ring, their reply is, I've already seen what I needed to know. Some will not changed their minds yet others have taken a second look.

At this time I don't see how to combine these two differing style of shows so that we could reap the best of both worlds. One possibility is to have the winners at a specialty receive a critique from the judge. I do know that many in the AKC venue have taken notice of their European counterparts' different style of show.

Possible suggestions to improve the AKC style of showing and heighten awareness of Breed Type:

1. Demand from judges a better knowledge of breed type through judges' education groups and seminars

2. Withhold entries on judges which ignore the breed type traits we hold important.

3. Demand from your local clubs, judges which are knowledgeable on breed type and correct Rottweiler gait

Possible suggestions to improve the European style of showing and heighten awareness of structure and correct Rottweiler gait:

1. Demand from judges a better knowledge of correct Rottweiler gait and soundness of structure

2. Withhold entries on judges which ignore gait and pick them standing still

3. Demand from your local clubs judges which are knowledgeable on breed type and correct Rottweiler gait


1. Leon Hollenbeck the Dynamics of Canine Gait Denlinger publishing 1981

2. Eye color:

1 a - 1 b the most preferred and darkest

2a - 2b medium dark, slightly lighter but still within acceptably dark

3a at the border line of acceptability

3b too light

4a - 4b bird of prey eye color, unacceptable

5 - 6 scary

"West Coast Rottweilers is HEAVILY COMMITTED to the preservation of the Rottweiler as it was intended. Using only the finest males in the world to our outstanding females, we will settle for nothing less than to exceed the Standards of the breed; we have proven that over and over." -Bob Flynn/West Coast Rottweilers

Steve Wolfson sits on the board of the American Rottweiler Club (ARC) and is actively judging, lecturing and writing articles on Rottweilers

The above comments are solely that of WCR/Bob Flynn

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