Doberman Pinscher: From Playful Puppy to Devoted Dog
Sit, Dobie! :)
If you're looking for information on the breed of dog known as the Doberman Pinscher, or Dobie for short, you've come to the right place! Allow me to explain myself before we get started. I began this page because before I got my own Doberman pup, I had to do a lot of research and I struggled to get a good sense of what owning a Dobie would be like. The purpose of this webpage is to share my personal experience as the caretaker of one awesome Dobie, a female who will turn three years old October 2007 named Marilyn (pictures are finally here - near the bottom!). I am not a breeder nor a professional dog trainer, so please keep that in mind. I only want to provide you with my perspective on this breed of dog as I know them from my own experience.
Two Dobies at the Park
What Attracted Me to Dobermans
I still remember the very first encounter I ever had with a Doberman Pinscher. It took place in rural East Texas and I was around seven years old. My uncle had taken me out to visit a relative and it turned out that the relative was not home - however, their Doberman was. This massive dog stood chained up in the front yard on a very long chain and barked at us quite ferociously. After my uncle yelled at him to shut up, we proceeded to look at the various other animals that this relative kept around his home. The dog didn't continue to bark at us since he knew my uncle, but he kept a very strict eye on us the entire visit. I'd come to learn later that Dobermans tend to watch over every member of the family, not just humans, but that was my very first encounter with a Doberman. Frankly, it scared the living daylights out of me!
I wouldn't meet another Doberman personally until nearly ten years later. Her name was Underfoot because she was constantly, well, underfoot! She was a four year old black and tan Dobie who'd lost a leg after being struck by a car. Surprisingly, this didn't slow her down one bit and she easily kept up with her other canine pals. Not only did she manage well physically, she had one of the sweetest dispositions I'd ever encountered in a dog.
Ironically, these two experiences stayed with me and when I began researching "the ideal dog for me" back in 2004 the Doberman kept re-surfacing. I'd had experience with a variety of dogs by this point in my life. I'd owned small dogs - a Yorkshire Terrier/Poodle cross and a Miniature Dachshund. I'd raised a Rottweiler and a Pitbull/Rottweiler cross, too, and enjoyed those experiences. I'd learned how to handle a large breed dog with an assertive temperament and now I wanted a dog that could be my constant companion. I did a lot of reading and called several breeders of various breeds before I firmly decided on the Doberman Pinscher as my dog breed of choice.
The things that stood out to me about Dobies were that they were strong, agile dogs with a high intelligence. Because my disability requires me to use a wheelchair, I found those traits to be helpful. I wanted a dog that was loyal and with their long history as both police and military dogs, the courageous Doberman certainly fit the bill. I also wanted a dog that could be gentle and closely attached to its family. When I read that Dobermans had been successfully employed for not only therapy dog, but assistance dog work for the disabled, too, I knew this was the breed I'd always wanted. Afterall, who wouldn't want a dog often referred to as "velcro dogs" because they stick so closely to you?
We'll touch on the reality of raising a "velcro dog" after I share a bit about the history of the Doberman breed. Before we get to that section, though, let's cover what I worried about in regards to being responsible for a Doberman Pinscher of my own.
What I Worried About
As I mentioned earlier I'd already raised both a Rottweiler (female) and a Pitbull/Rottweiler mix (male) by the time I ever got a Doberman. Both of those dogs were strong-willed (stubborn!), physically powerful and high energy animals. They also came with social stigmas. It shocked me to learn that many people have a knee-jerk negative response to breeds sometimes considered to be aggressive. In fact several people I encountered while out and about with my dogs had no problem critizing their heritage or making insulting speculations about their personalities. Remarks such as "that's probably a mean dog!" or "I bet he's a cat killer!" were less common that you might imagine. Even the small town veterinarian we used at the time distrusted both these breeds. Ironically my dogs loved cats, kids and just about everyone else but the nasty remarks still bothered me. I worried this might end up being the case with Dobermans, too.
Another issue I feared might sour my relationship with my dog was snappishness. I'd heard people say that dogs such as German Shepherd and Dobermans tend to be snappy and reactive. That would make it difficult for me to trust my own dog and no one wants a dog they don't feel they can trust. I needed a dog I could entrust my life to, so this made me quite nervous.
Other than this, my only other worries were about health issues with purebred dogs and the price of actually bringing a puppy home with me. Now that we've covered a bit of my history with Dobermans, let's take a look at the history of the breed itself.
History of the Doberman Pinscher
As is the nature of history, the details on the precise beginnings of the Doberman Pinscher breed are sometimes disputed and not exact. What I'm offering you is something of a round-up of information I've pulled from various sources and filtered down to what makes logical sense to me.
In the beginning (around 1890 or so) there was Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a German fellow. Mister Dobermann worked as a tax collector and his work required him to travel through dangerous areas carrying money around. It probably also meant he regularly encountered people who weren't all that thrilled to see him since he was there to collect their tax money. He also worked as a night watchman, from what I understand. In both professions he took dogs out with him. On top of both these jobs he apparently also did some work with the dog pound of that day so he had access to a wide variety of dogs from which to found his ideal breed. He sought to create an intelligent, loyal dog that was both physically intimidating and ferocious when need be.
Some people believe Dobermann and those who carried on his legacy used primarily German Shepherds in the gene pool. Others say German Shorthaired Pointers, Manchester Terriers and Beaucerons or Great Danes were used. While all of these are certainly possibilities, I'd say that the best bets are the three breeds of dog that make the most sense to me: Weimaraner, Rottweiler and Greyhound. Many people uphold this theory and after owning a Doberman myself, it seems the most likely combination to me.
As the breed progressed it came to be used heavily in police and military work. During World War II and Vietnam, Dobermans were used on troop patrols and also (due to their ability to move silently) to search out and kill enemy snipers. As a matter of fact, 25 dogs donated by Americans to the United States Marine Corps served and died in the Battle of Guam during World War II. There is a memorial in Guam in honor of their service.
Today, many Dobermans still serve alongside police officers and military personnel.
Breed Standard Today
Since it's the largest club of its kind, I'll be basing my 'breed standard' information off what the American Kennel Club holds to be a proper Doberman Pinscher. If you are from a country other than United States you might want to check with a local dog club to find out if the standards are different for your area.
As in many breeds, the sizes of the dogs can vary depending on what bloodline they come from. Also, in the case of Dobermans, the females are generally smaller while the males are larger. The typical height (measured at the shoulders of the dog - called withers) varies between 24 and 28 inches typically. Females weigh in at around 60 to 85 pounds, while males weigh between 75 and 100 pounds. My dog, Marilyn, weighs around 90 pounds but her mother weighed only 65 pounds. Her father weighed 100 pounds.
The coat of the Doberman is one of my favorite features. They have short, stiff hair that covers their entire body. While they don't have a thick undercoat like a Rottweiler, they do shed, though not quite as much in my experience. Their coat is sleek and shiny when they're healthy and to me it feels rather luxurious. When it comes to coat colors, many people are surprised to learn that Dobermans have a variety of colors they come in. There's the standard black and tan, of course and the "tan" will vary from a light golden shade in some dogs to a rich, deep mahogany in others. Once again, the dog's lineage will come into play here. Besides black and tan, the Dobie comes in "red" which is a chocolate brown or red color overall with lighter markings in the same places of the tan on the black and tan variety. They come in "blue" which is a steel grey or blue shade with lighter tan markings. There's also a shade known as Isabella (or more commonly, fawn) which is a blonde or honey color. Marilyn's mother was fawn while her father was black and tan. The litter of thirteen puppies were primarily black and tan with a few red ones, as well. It was quite a little rodeo of puppies, let me tell you!
The physique of the Doberman should be agile, but sturdy. This dog has a broad chest and square, muscular frame even while it appears slender from afar. The gait of a Doberman is quite recognizable. They tend to "prance" like a deer or horse would when in a happy mood around their family and stalk like a panther when they sense something serious afoot. They don't just run, Dobies gallop - it's an impressive site! In short, the dog should be built like an athlete, have a spring in his or her step and capable of moving with high dexterity once past the puppy phase.
Ears and tails of Dobies are a contest area. Some people prefer the ears cropped (cut) and erect and the tails docked (cut), also. Many people do not know that Doberman puppies are born with quite long tails that curve back over their bodies. It's common practice to dock the pups' tails a few days after birth so most people do not have a choice because the breeder of the litter decides whether or not the tails are cropped. Some argue that the tail is cropped only for appearances whereas other people will tell you that the tail is cropped so that the dog doesn't end up getting it smashed in a door or have some other accident later in life. My dog's tail is docked, but her ears were not cropped. Ear cropping takes place between the puppy's seventh and ninth week of life and after that they have to have their ears held erect so that they grow correctly. I'd been in favor of this because I liked the look, but our veterinarian informed us that it actually causes the puppies pain - which I did not know. We opted not to crop Marilyn's ears and I believe it's helped her appear more friendly to the general public.
I cannot speak for the temperament of each and every Doberman, but I will give you an overall idea of what you can expect. Dobermans are highly alert and extremely energetic dogs. They love activity and exercise, so it's important to keep this in mind if you're seriously considering taking on the responsibility of owning one yourself. They can be reserved around strangers (more especially the males, in my observation), but rarely act hostile unless you encourage them to - which *I* discourage you from doing! You never, ever need to promote aggression in a Doberman. They are perfectly capable of defending you if need be, but their strength lies in the fact that they generally do not seek out confrontation with humans or other animals. Of course, a dog trained for police or military work may be a different story.
I've found that nearly every Doberman I've met thus far has what I'd call a sunny disposition. They're pleased to meet new people and enjoy being pet. They tend to act more gentle towards children and smaller animals than adults, of course. They seem to be very intuitive, even for a dog, and able to sense actual danger rather than raising a big fuss over something insignificant. The downside to this is that they are also somewhat easily depressed if they feel you are upset with or disappointed in them. They've got a strong drive to please and failure seems to get them down in the dumps. It's important to remember that most of the time they're paying attention to your tone, body language and eye contact - they're going to know if you're mad at them - so try and encourage them to try again when they mess up, rather than scold them.
If you're kind to your Dobie and as willing to work with them as much as they're willing to work with you there's no reason why you won't make a wonderful team together!
I've heard my share of bad hearsay about the Doberman Pinscher. When I was growing up, in the 1980s they were quite a feared dog. Television and movies regularly showed the snapping, snarling Doberman desperate to tear someone apart. Pretty scary stuff! Fortunately, Hollywood deals in fantasy rather than reality. The dogs you see in movies are trained rigorously to exhibit that sort of terrifying behavior that your average Doberman is going to reserve for the defense of his family's lives.
In fact, prior to the 1970s Dobermans weren't considered to terribly aggressive or evil. It was one movie that changed all this drastically. That movie was The Omen which featured Dobermans as well, the minions of the Antichrist. The movie raised a ruckus among the general public and people began to think more poorly of the breed. Once that downward slide began, things only got worse. People forgot all about the heroic Dobermans who alerted Marines to enemy snipers during World War II and focused on the negative. Absolute craziness ensued.
Some rumors are that the Nazis engineered the Doberman Pinscher to be viscious human predators incapable of anything beyond savage violence and mechanical following of commands. Obviously the Nazis did not create the breed of dog we know as the Doberman since records indicate it existed long before the rise of National Socialism in Germany. This didn't stop people from killing many German dog breeds during and shortly after the second world war.
It is also untrue that Dobermans have been bred to have skulls that are too small for their brains. This ludicrous claim states that since the skull would be too small it would exert pressure on the brain of the dog, causing it to be unnaturally aggressive. In real life if this occurred (which medically speaking, it cannot) the condition would be fatal to the animal. The same urban legend is told today regarding the pitbull, the modern dog breed people love to hate.
Be sure to check out silly stories like these whenever you hear them because the facts are out there and most crazy rumors can be easily put to rest with a minimum of research on your part.
Marilyn Curious About Cameras
How Puppyhood Went
I selected my dog from a litter of eleven puppies who were five weeks old the first time I met them. There were nine males and two females. I wanted a male, but my best friend (and housemate) would be doing the choosing for me. This isn't often advised - having anyone else choose your puppy - but I'd asked her to select for me so I'd be surprised. She had agreed to help me raise the puppy and I trusted her strong animal intuition. She chose a black and tan female who I named Marilyn and we brought her home when she was around eight weeks old. I was overjoyed to finally have my own Doberman pup and she was such a sweetheart that I fell in love instantaneously.
Then we got about ten miles down the road from the family farm where she'd been born and raised. She'd been quietly watching all that took place, but now she felt ready to explore. She tried resting but simply couldn't find a comfortable spot to lay down. The rest of the two hour ride home involved me gently wrestling her back into my lap - and whining. After getting home I decided it'd be fun to let her sleep next to me in bed, along with my eleven week old kitten. This turned out to be a huge mistake and I ended up feeling like I'd gotten in bed with a furry shark! Like all puppies, Dobermans explore with the world their mouths - which are full of needle sharp teeth. So, we decided a kennel crate would be the best sleeping option to keep her out of trouble overnight.
I say overnight, but we worked graveyard so perhaps "overday" would be a more apt description. My joyous young Marilyn had grown up in the barn on a farm. On farms people and animals get up when the sunrises, right about the time my housemate and I went to sleep. When young puppies wake up they like vocalize at their mother and the rest of the world. You might imagine a rooster and crank the volume up several notches, toss in incredible angst and crank all that up to the threshold of your tolerance for whining. A bit difficult to sleep through, so we decided to read aloud over the noise until she went to sleep. Guess what? It worked! Eventually she began keeping the same schedule we did!
I worked from home so I raised Marilyn myself most of the time. She quickly learned the use of puppy pads, rarely making an accident. She had to be encouraged to eat since she mainly cared about playing and napping - not too unusual for a young pup. Of course, the kitten (Alice) that we had made it her mission to torture her canine companion by sneaking up while she slept and biting her. This ignited a strong sibling rivalry. It also meant Marilyn got her naps interupted sometimes. The first couple months of her young life Marilyn and I didn't get along. In fact, I begged my best friend to please take this awful puppy away from me!
It's possible that not every puppy is such a nightmare, but mine definitely was. She yelled at high volumes, played herself into a frenzy, chewed on anything around her and generally made a pest of herself. During the first couple months of our time together she didn't particularly care to be petted, either. She'd far rather have me throw a toy for her or simply allow her to leap around or chase our kitten. Ironically, she loved nothing better than having my best friend hold her! So here I was stuck with this hellion of a puppy, completely discouraged and certain that all the awful rumors were true: she'd grow into a completely unmanageable dog that turned on me. My best friend steadfastly refused to return young Marilyn to the breeders. She gently insisted that these puppy days would soon end and Marilyn would grow into a wonderful companion for me - she just knew it.
Turns out, she was right! Yes, those puppy days were a test of my resolve and endurance, but Marilyn and I eventually built a strong relationship. In fact, she and Alice (our cat) have quite a strong bond between them, too, these days. I spent hours working with her on how to sit, lay down, pick up things and give them to me. She decided these "games" were fun and put her efforts into earning praise and the occaisional treat. She potty-trained like a dream and soon knew commands before I could finish getting them out of my mouth! I taught her both verbal and hand-signal commands. To this day she can do either of them and she barks on command (in case I ever need her to signal for help), too. Now I can confidently say that no matter how rough of a stat we had together we're a true team and she's earned her place as the best dog I've ever had the pleasure of getting to know!
Now that I've covered the less than pleasant aspects of owning a Doberman pup, please allow me to pass on some recommendations if you *still* feel you'd like to raise one.
Harnesses Are a Must for Walks!
Toys for All Age Dogs!
First off, and I cannot stress this enough, a Dobie needs your time. If you've got a busy schedule and won't be home more than a few hours a night this may not be the dog for you. They form incredibly strong connections with their families and have a deep need for their people. I do know people who take their Dobie to work and if you can do this I recommend it. I also suggest training as early as possible because a pup that begins learning early will learn to love it and continue their whole lives. Few things are troublesome as a bored Doberman and I certainly wouldn't want to see that cute puppy you fell in love with end up at the Humane Society, in the pound or with a Doberman rescue. Training gives your puppy a job and you'd be surprised how much a Dobie loves to work!
Good chew toys are a must with a young Doberman. You'll need solid, strong toys because these little guys and gals have amazingly strong jaws and perseverance when it comes to chewing. I recommend avoiding cloth toys because you won't want your puppy mistakenly going after your clothing or your children's stuffed animals. Tug of war is okay, but make sure not to do it too much because it's better not to give your puppy the idea that it's okay to challenge you because believe me, they will! A constant supply of chewies will keep your pup entertained and their teeth clean, too, so these are a good idea to have on hand at all times. They help calm the nerves, also.
The biggest crate you can get will make a nice, safe bed for your pup. When you aren't home you're not going to want it getting into everything and if you don't give them their own space to wait for you, they're going to. It'd be understandable to be angry if you came home to a torn up sofa or a television cord chewed in half, so please try to avoid this scenario ahead of time by thinking ahead. Eventually you'll be able to trust the dog in the house alone, but wait until you're absolutely certain they'll behave.
Besides the obvious leash, a harness is a good investment for your pup. The thin neck of a Dobie allows them to easily slip their collar if they decide to give chase while you're walking together. A harness lesses the direct stress on the dog's neck and gives you more control over where your dog goes. Dobies love walks, but start out gently so as not to wear them out (especially when they're young!) and always check their paws to make sure they're not getting to scraped up.
Other than lots of good toys, a vast supply of chewies, a large crate, a leash and harness, you shouldn't need too many more things to keep your Dobie sunny and upbeat other than vet care. Like all dogs, Dobies need a vet who understands them and doesn't dislike the breed so make sure your vet is ok with Dobermans before you ever take your puppy in. Nothing's worse than a veternarian that dislikes your dog!
Well, that wraps it up for me. Hopefully I've covered everything and given you a glimpse into what it's like to own a Dobie. They're not for everyone, but they are for me and I've gotten back far more than I've put in. Thank you for visiting my site and I wish you well in your pursuit of the ideal dog for you and your family!
I've written a novel!
I've also written an urban fantasy novel you can read for free online by clicking here: Swimming the Streets. Yes, there are a whole lot of dogs in it! :)