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Who’s That Dog? Meet the Doberman Pinscher, Friend and Protector

Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann was looking for a dog who was protective and had strength, intelligence, and companionship -- so he created his own.

Lynn M. Hayner  |  Mar 3rd 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our February/March issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home

A steadfast companion, the Doberman has loved and protected his family for centuries. Eager to obey and equally willing to join his people on a hike, the Dobe’s intelligence is only matched by his enthusiasm. Adventure? Bring it on!

Why read a breed profile?

Each breed has a story intertwined into man’s history. A breed might have been developed to herd in certain weather, control certain animals, or work on specific terrain. A companion breed might have royal roots because dogs were deemed sacred, and commoners weren’t allowed to own the dogs. Hunting dogs worked side by side with man to put food on the table. Guardian breeds saved the lives of both humans and livestock. And protective breeds have worked side by side with the police and military all the way back to ancient days. When we look at the country and timeframe of a breed’s development, we uncover new insight (through a four-legged lens!) into the ongoing, evolving relationship between man and dog.

Dobermans are active dogs that excel at agility. Doberman running by Shutterstock

Doberman running by Shutterstock.

Dobermann and his Dobermans

The Doberman Pinscher is one of the few breeds named after his breed developer.

So who was this Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann of late-19th-century Apolda, Germany? (And why was an N lost in the naming process?) Well, he held more than one job. Dobermann was a tax collector, often beleaguered by bandits. He was also a night watchman and was in charge of the local dog pound.

Fed up with harassment and wanting a companion, Dobermann began developing a new dog breed. He was in search of strength, intelligence, protection, and companionship all rolled into one dog. Because Dobermann controlled the dog pound, his breeding program could combine strays with his breeds of choice, such as the Rottweiler and German Pinscher. The precise ratios of mixing remain unclear even today — Dobermann wasn’t much for records.

The breed continued to develop in Germany under the influence of Otto Goeller and Goswin Tischler for military work, protection, and companionship. Biddable, intelligent, and naturally protective, Dobermans (as well as other breeds) were used by Germany in World War I as messengers, guard dogs, and mercy dogs searching for the wounded. The dogs, smaller and faster than humans, could maneuver obstacles and navigate rough, muddy terrain more easily than humans.

In World War II, Dobermans were used on both sides of the conflict. Sometimes dubbed “devil dogs” (early Dobermans were described as “robust, with no trace of fear — not of the devil himself”), the dogs guarded camp, searched for and rescued wounded soldiers, discovered enemy mines, and delivered messages. The dogs also kept watch at night and even slept in foxholes with the men. Along with wartime duty, Dobermans entertained audiences in a touring drill team developed in the 1950s by Tess Henseler.

For decades, various Dobermans marched in formations and performed agility maneuvers at parades, football games, and other public events. Other Dobermans, organized by Glenn S. Staines of Pathfinder Guides for the Blind, worked in service.

Dobe details

  • The average lifespan of a Dobe is 10 to 12 years.
  • The short, smooth coat requires weekly brushing. Dobes generally shy away from both the cold and the rain for good reason: The Dobe coat doesn’t provide weather protection for long. (I’m not sure what Herr Dobermann was thinking; Germany has cold winters!)
  • Coat colors are black, red, blue, and fawn — all with tan markings. According to the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, a white Doberman is believed to be a genetic mutation; the American Kennel Club tracks white Dobermans with special registration numbers. If you’re intrigued by the controversy, pursue this topic on the Web for the day.
Paul McKinnon / Shutterstock.com

Albino Doberman by Paul McKinnon / Shutterstock.

  • Male Dobes weigh about 75 to 95 pounds and measure about 26 to 28 inches, while females weigh about 60 to 80 pounds and measure about 24 to 26 inches.
  • Possible Doberman health problems include heart disease and some cancers.
  • Want to share your life with a Dobe? Research breeders carefully for a sound, well-tempered pup. Hopefully you can meet the parents, who should be alert, steady, and polite. Responsible breeders will also show you test results on the parents for health problems such as cardiomyopathy.
  • If you’re interested in rescuing a Dobe, check out the Doberman Pinscher Club of America’s rescue site.
  • If the Dobe could choose a motto, it might be: Bind faithfulness and loyalty around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

Forever faithful

Dobermans served as sentries and messengers for the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II. A granite memorial to the dogs who died in service on Guam during World War II now stands at the U.S. naval Base Guam.

guam-war-dog-memorial

The memorial, orchestrated by the dogs’ veterinarian, former First Lieutenant William W. Putney, along with the United Doberman Club, includes a life-size bronze statue, Always Faithful, created by noted sculptor Susan Bahary. The first Guam dog casualty, a Doberman named Kurt, was wounded by a Japanese grenade. In all, some two dozen dogs were buried on Guam, and to label these brave dogs “always faithful” accurately reflects their importance in the war. Putney himself has credited Doberman Cappy, a true and faithful scout, with having saved his life and the lives of his men. Cappy executed his job with precision, alerting the marines that the enemy was ahead but took a fatal shot in the line of duty to keep the Marines safe.

Celebs who dabble in Dobes

Set your stereotypes aside, for not all celebrities carry pint-sized pooches. Priscilla Presley, Raquel Welch, William Shatner, and Mariah Carey, along with our 35th president, John F. Kennedy, all have shown a soft spot for Dobermans. And Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte named his Doberman, Carter, after rap musician Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. (known as Lil’ Wayne).

Living with and loving a Dobe

Many of us might picture a Dobe mainly in a protection role, but few Dobermans are used in police and military work these days. Instead, they serve mainly as family dogs, excelling in rally, agility, dock diving, and any other sport the family suggests.

Dobermans are active family dogs. Boy and his Doberman by Shutterstock

Boy and his Doberman by Shutterstock.

Athletic and muscular, Dobes need daily exercise and concentrated, owner-directed activities. While they’ll don the couch potato hat now and then, Dobes are by nature working dogs. And remember, Dobes crave interaction, not solo workouts. They’ll match up nicely with active individuals or families, with the emphasis on the word active; Dobes don’t thrive with a purely sedentary lifestyle. A senior can handle a Dobe, as long as training and exercise are part of the mature lifestyle.

Training a Dobe is as easy as taking candy from a baby (just don’t try to take candy from a Doberman’s baby!). Because of their social temperament, they really don’t like being ignored and they will work hard for their owners’ attention and praise.

A natural what-can-I-do-for-you? breed, they learn new commands quickly and thrive on new activities. Not surprisingly, Dobes generally make outstanding competitors in obedience trials.

Do I know you?

Most Dobes show reserve around newcomers and save their I-love-you-like-crazy greetings for owners. But put aside the teeth-bared, “beware of dog” sign images. Although naturally protective, a well-bred Dobe should thoughtfully discern danger, not react impetuously.

Usually loving and protective with the family’s children, a socialized (and, of course, supervised) Doberman should show calmness and confidence around unknown children as well.

A Doberman brought up with other pets typically does OK with them. Some aren’t delighted to meet new, especially same-sex, dogs.

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About the author: Originally an attorney, Lynn Hayner has been writing for companion animal publications for 15 years. Hayner researches breed profiles, dabbles in animal law issues, and collects stories about dogs and their families in her travels. A lifelong dog aficionado, Hayner is shadowed by her “Who the heck needs a leash, I’ll follow mama anywhere” German Shepherd, Zoey. Follow Hayner (well, hopefully not quite as closely as Zoey does!) on Twitter @lynnhayner.