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Sleek, athletic, and incredibly loyal, Doberman pinschers are some of the best guard dogs in the world. But don’t let their reputations fool you.
Originally bred in Germany as a protector and companion for a tax collector, the Doberman pinscher has since been seen as a working dog everywhere from junkyards to private homes to municipal police forces. And while they’re still one of the most popular guard dogs in the world, Dobermans have also become known as loyal, loving family pets.
Dobermans (or “Dobies,” as they’re affectionately called by lovers of the breed) are intelligent, active, and adaptable dogs who are happiest when they’re with their family units. They can be extremely versatile pets, able to adapt to a wide variety of living situations and family sizes.
There’s no mistaking a Doberman pinscher for anything else. Slender, athletic, and powerful, a Dobie’s silhouette is one of the most recognizable in the world.
A large dog breed, Dobies stand more than 2 feet tall, with female Dobermans usually topping out around 26 inches and male pups closer to 28 inches. They pack a lot of muscle onto those frames, giving them a slender but deceptively heavy build: Males can reach around 100 pounds, though most Dobies are somewhere between 55–90 pounds.
Befitting their backgrounds in security and law enforcement, Dobies always look like they’re in uniform with their black, red, blue, or fawn coats. Their lean bodies are almost always solid in color, with splashes of brown over their eyes and on their muzzles, feet, and legs. Their eyes are dark and piercing.
At birth, a Doberman’s ears are relaxed and their tails can naturally grow to about 12 inches in length. However, a Doberman traditionally has his tail docked and ears cropped. Proponents argue ear cropping helps him detect sound and that docking his tail prevents it from getting broken or damaged while he works. However, both of these practices are controversial: As the American Veterinary Medical Association says, they are typically done for cosmetic reasons and have no proven health benefits. They can also be painful for the pup! In fact, several countries have outlawed cosmetic docking, including Australia, the U.K., and several countries in Europe.
Dobermans are highly intelligent, deeply loyal, and courageous canines. Because of his history as a guard dog, he requires a patient owner who will dedicate themselves to his learning.
According to the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, this is not a breed for everyone and any potential owner should do their research before bringing home any dog. Dobies need consistency in their schedule and thrive when offered lots of attention and positive reinforcement training from their family. It’s important to begin training and socializing your Doberman when he’s still a puppy.
“This applies to all breeds really, but basic obedience is excellent to start with,” says Michelle Beck, DVM, CCRT, CVA-Veterinarian, with the Backlund Animal Clinic in Omaha, Neb. “Dobermans are more likely to be protective, so [you need to make] sure that they are socialized to other dogs and other people.”
Because of the deep bond they feel for their family, Doberman pinschers are commonly referred to as “Velcro dogs,” and will want to stick by your side. Therefore, they can develop separation anxiety if left alone for too long. Preparing and planning is crucial in preventing separation anxiety. This includes spending ample time helping your Dobie be comfortable while alone at home, and creating safe spaces in your house where your dog can rest and relax when you leave for the day.
“Kennel training is so important, especially with puppies,” Beck says. “The kennel is not a place for punishment; it’s for security. Work with them to see it as a safe spot. Build up that familiarity to the kennel so they don’t get upset when you walk away.” Not all dogs enjoy being left in a kennel, though, and no dog should be left in a kennel for more than four hours at a time—and this very active breed is no exception. If you do decide a kennel will be beneficial to your Dobie, make sure it fits them properly, ensuring they stay comfy.
In a perfect world, your Doberman will have a fenced-in backyard to play and exercise in. However, what they want most is to be around their families, so Dobies can adapt to apartment life as well.
But take note: These dogs aren’t couch potatoes, and they’re going to need daily mental and physical enrichment. A good run or a vigorous game of fetch combined with a neighborhood hike, sniffari (a walk with lots of chances to stop and sniff), or other stimulating activities are required to keep him happy—and prevent any grumpy downstairs neighbors from hearing him jump around all day. He’ll also be more than happy to participate in training classes, agility, nose work, or flyball competitions as well. If their physical and mental needs aren’t met, Dobies can gain weight relatively quickly, which can lead to health concerns, and they can also experience stress and anxiety.
Dobermans can do well with other dogs and even cats if they’re socialized properly and introduced at a young age. This breed would do best in a home without small children, according to the DPCA. Because of their size and energetic personality, Dobies can accidentally knock down any kiddos, and can be startled by kids’ loud noises.
A perk of Dobermans: They were bred specifically to be low-maintenance fur-wise. Thankfully for their owners, this means their short coats will require very little management from you. Give them a brushing once a week or so, and bathe them as needed, depending on how they smell and what they get into. Otherwise, basic teeth, nail, and ear care should be all a Doberman needs.
A Doberman pinscher needs to flex his muscles and keep his paws moving, so his owners should make sure they can keep up with his exercise regimen. If he has too much pent-up energy, he can suddenly be overcome with the urge to run and fall victim to zoomies—which makes having access to a fenced space super important. Take him on daily walks or runs, weekend hikes, or just schedule some regular playtime in the yard.
Again, consistent training is important for Doberman puppies. The DPCA recommends working with a professional behaviorist or a professional trainer who has experience with Dobermans. But because these dogs are so smart and enjoy learning, they can be quick to learn tricks and how to sit, stay, and come when called.
The average Doberman lifespan is 10–12 years, and, as with all dog breeds, there are certain health issues you’ll need to keep an eye out for. Hip dysplasia is one of the most common issues Dobies deal with, according to the DPCA, but you should have their heart and thyroids checked regularly as well. Another common concern for Dobermans is bloat, a gastrointestinal issue that can occur at any point in a dog’s lifetime and carries about a 50 percent mortality rate. Doberman pinscher owners should educate themselves on the symptoms of bloat and talk to their veterinarian about ways to help prevent it.
“Von Willebrand’s disease can also be a problem,” Beck says. “I see a number of Dobermans, especially as they get older, who will have issues with blood clotting.”
Before bringing home a Dobie, the breeder should complete all the health testing recommended by the OFA. If you’re adopting a Doberman, request all health information that’s available.
Though the official story is a little murky, the most commonly accepted origin of the Doberman pinscher begins in the 1880s with Louis Dobermann, a tax collector and breeder from Apolda, Germany. Dobermann wanted to create a new breed that would serve especially well as guard dogs, according to the DPCA.
Dobermann began mixing together different dog breeds into a cocktail of strength, stamina, and intelligence. The DPCA says there’s no record of exactly which breeds Dobermann used, but it’s “generally accepted as fact” that two German breeds played a major role: the now-extinct old German shepherd (not to be confused with an elderly modern-day German shepherd) and the German pinscher. These two dogs are also thought to be the ancestors of the Rottweiler and the Weimaraner.
Upon his death in 1894, Germany named the breed he created Dobermann-pinscher in his honor, but formally dropped the “pinscher” in the 1940s because, as the German word for “terrier,” it was deemed to no longer be representative of the breed, according to the DPCA. Other countries followed suit thereafter, and now North America is the only place where the dog is referred to as “Doberman pinscher,” with the rest of the world referring to the breed simply as “Dobermann.”
Dobermans have a long history throughout the first half of the 20th century as military and police dogs. Today, almost all of the jobs once held by Dobermans have been usurped by German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, or Dutch shepherds. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1908, and is still one of the most popular breeds in the U.S.
- The United States Marine Corps adopted the Doberman as their official war dog in World War II, and the breed served extensively in both the European and Pacific theaters of operation. One such Dobie, Cappie, saved the lives of 250 marines by alerting them to the presence of Japanese troops on the island of Guam. Another war dog, Kurt, became the first of 25 K-9 casualties on Guam in July 1944. All 25 are buried at the War Dog Memorial at Naval Station Guam.
- Dobermans have won best in show at the Westminster Dog Show four times since their recognition by the AKC in 1908, including back-to-back wins by Ch. Rancho Dobe’s Storm in 1952-53.
- Dobermans have made several notable appearances in film and TV, including Zues and Apollo, the pair of Dobies owned by the titular “Magnum P.I.”, as well as Alpha in the Pixar film Up, and Diablo (voiced by Edward James Olmos) in Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
- Despite the name and apparent similarities, the miniature pinscher is not a mini Doberman pinscher—the two breeds actually aren’t related at all.
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