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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
Although the Doberman has a reputation as a sharp and even sinister dog, his devoted fans consider him the most loving and loyal of companions. Believe it or not, a good Doberman is a stable, friendly dog -- unless you threaten his family.
Doberman’s get a bad reputation as attack dogs. Alpha in the Academy Award-winning film “UP” embodies every stereotype of the Doberman Pinscher: he’s both mean and not very smart. Fortunately, he’s also fictional and nothing like a real Doberman.
The Doberman Pinscher is a dog of contradictions. Although he has a reputation as a sharp and even sinister dog, his devoted fans consider him the most loving and loyal of companions. And no, "loyal" isn't a euphemism for "only likes his owner." It's the real thing, a tremendous bond between dog and human that lies at the heart of the Doberman's enduring popularity. Believe it or not, a good Doberman is a stable, friendly dog -- unless you threaten his family.
But the bad reputation isn't entirely undeserved. Health and temperament problems became a serious issue in the breed with its growing popularity, and continue to plague the carelessly bred dogs you'll find in pet stores, through Internet retailers, and at many of the big kennels advertising in the backs of magazines. If you want the steady, protective, intelligent Doberman of your dreams, be prepared to do your due dilligence to find him.
A Doberman is right for you if you're ready to provide loving leadership to your dog, train him consistently and fairly and give him plenty of exercise and outlet for his considerable intelligence. And don't underestimate that intelligence: the Doberman is among the smartest of all dog breeds, and one whose owners need to pay attention lest they find themselves outsmarted. If you expect your dog to spend his days in the backyard and his evenings keeping you company while you play video games, you’d better be prepared for a barking, bored, destructive dog instead of the devoted companion you thought you were bringing into your home.
Developed as a guard dog, the Doberman has an innate ability not only to protect his family but also to anticipate danger and threats. Because he's so smart, he's not often wrong, but if the Doberman isn't socialized and trained to behave appropriately around strangers, he may show excessive suspicion of guests in your home – suspicion that can turn into aggression.
Many people want a Doberman for purposes of protection, but almost no one really needs a trained protection dog – most people or families simply need a watchdog and a deterrent. The Doberman's reputation, intelligence, instinctive ability to evaluate threats, and his loyalty to and innate protectiveness of his human family are all that's needed to accomplish those goals, so don't get a "trained protection dog" that you don't need and probably can't handle. A well-bred, well-trained, properly socialized Doberman who lives with his family will protect them as part of his nature.
One of the key phrases there is "lives with his family." While some Dobermans are raised successfully in kennel situations, these are working dogs that have demanding and interesting tasks to do that give them the exercise and mental stimulation the dogs need. If your Doberman is a family pet, he needs to live indoors with your family. Otherwise, he'll be lonely, bored and destructive – and less, rather than more, likely to protect you.
If you do share your home with a Doberman, you'll find him to be a fairly easy dog to care for. Just keep his nails trimmed, his body lean and exercised, and brush him weekly to keep shedding to a minimum.
An alert watchdog, the Doberman can be a barker, so help yours develop appropriate barking behavior when young so it doesn't become a nuisance later on.
While most people are familiar only with the black Doberman with rust markings, Dobermans actually come in a number of colors: black with rust-colored markings; blue (actually gray) with rust markings; various shades of red-brown with rust markings; and a light tan color called "Isabella," which also has rust markings.
Be aware that white or cream Dobermans are a genetic mutation that is associated with severe health problems; they are not the prized and expensive rarity some people will try to market them as. There is no test for the albino gene, but good breeders do everything they can to avoid producing albino Dobermans. Avoid these dogs and the breeders who produce and sell them.
Tax collector Louis Dobermann needed a guard dog to keep the monies he carried safe from thieves. To create the intelligent, reliable guard dog that he had in mind, he crossed shorthaired shepherd dogs with Rottweilers, black and tan terriers, and German Pinschers. Sleek dogs such as Greyhounds and Weimaraners may also have been part of his “recipe.” Before long, he was producing dogs of a distinct type. The first Doberman Pinschers, as they became known, were seen at a dog show in Erfurt, Germany, in 1897. Three years later the breed received official recognition as a German breed.
The American Kennel Club registered its first Doberman in 1908, and the Doberman Pinscher Club of America was formed in 1921. Throughout their history, Dobermans have made a name for themselves as police and military dogs.
During World War II, the United States Marine Corp used Dobermans in combat as sentries, messengers, and scouts. While liberating Guam, 25 Marine war dogs died. Dobermans are seen in archival footage of the battle on Okinawa, one of the bloodiest conflicts in American history. In 1994 a bronze memorial statue of a Doberman commissioned by the United Doberman Club was erected in Guam. The memorial is called "Always Faithful." In 2001 when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, search and rescue Dobermans looked for survivors and bodies at Ground Zero.
The Doberman still has a fearsome reputation, but the secret that has made him one of the AKC’s most popular breeds over the years is his devotion to and love for his family. It’s no wonder that the Doberman is 14th in AKC registrations, up from 23rd a decade ago.
The Doberman’s qualities of intelligence, trainability and courage have made him capable of performing many different roles, from police or military dog to family protector and friend. The ideal Doberman is energetic, watchful, determined, alert and obedient, never shy or vicious. That temperament and relationship with people only occurs when the Doberman lives closely with his family so that he can build that bond of loyalty for which he is famous. A Doberman who is left out in the backyard alone will never become a loving protector but instead a fearful dog who is aggressive toward everyone, including his own family. Never do that to a dog. When the Doberman is loved, socialized and trained, there is no more wonderful companion.
The perfect Doberman doesn’t come ready-made from the breeder. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Doberman, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
One of the most serious breed-related health problems in the Doberman is cardiomyopathy, which causes an enlarged heart. An annual heart exam is critical in catching this condition early, and no dog with cardiomyopathy should ever be bred. Nor should any Doberman be bred without a comprehensive heart examination by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and OFA certification within the past year. The sad reality, however, is that a dog who tests fine one day can develop heart disease the next, and the puppy of two parents without heart disease can still develop it.
Another breed-related condition affecting the Doberman is cervical vertebral instability (CVI), commonly called Wobbler's syndrome. It's caused by a malformation of the vertebrae within the neck that results in pressure on the spinal cord and leads to weakness and lack of coordination in the hindquarters and sometimes to complete paralysis. Symptoms can be managed to a certain extent in dogs that are not severely affected, and some dogs experience some relief from surgery, but the outcome is far from certain. While CVI is thought to be genetic, there is no screening test for the condition.
Dobermans are also prone to the bleeding disorder known as von Willebrand disease, as well as hypoadrenocorticism, or Addison's disease.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Doberman Pinscher Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Dobermans can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip, heart and thyroid evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). PennHip and Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) hip certifications are also accepted. The heart evaluation requires echocardiography and a Holter examination. Other required tests are an OFA or DPCA evaluation for von Willebrand’s disease and a working aptitude test issued by the DPCA.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every Doberman visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. Dobermans are one of the deep-chested breeds likely to bloat, a condition in which the stomach expands with air. This can become the more serious condition, gastric torsion, if the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Gastric torsion, or gastric dilatation volvulus, strikes suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Gastric torsion requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it’s wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Doberman at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
Grooming is a breeze. Brush the Doberman with a slicker brush or hound glove every week, or even just run a wet towel over him. On the days he needs a bath, use a dog shampoo, not a human product. Rinse thoroughly and let him shake dry or towel-dry him.
The Doberman sheds moderately. Regular brushing will help keep him and your home neat. As with any dog, brushing before a bath helps eliminate more dead hair, which leaves less hair to shed. Your vacuum cleaner will work longer if you brush your Doberman regularly.
The rest is basic care. Trim his nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Brush his teeth for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him.
The Doberman Pinscher Club of America is a good place to start your search for a responsible breeder. Look for a breeder who abides by the club's code of ethics, which does not permit the sale of puppies through brokers, auctions or commercial dealers such as pet stores. Breeders should sell puppies with a written contract guaranteeing they'll take back the dog at any time during his life if you become unable to keep him, and with written documentation that both the puppy's parents have had their hips, eyes, elbows and hearts examined and certified by the appropriate health organizations. Seek out a breeder whose dogs are active in agility, obedience and other sports that require athleticism and good health, and not just ribbons from the show ring.
A breeder whose dogs are part of the DPCA Longevity Program is an even better bet, as is one who has DPCA Working Aptitude certification for his breeding dogs. Proper Doberman temperament is so important that the Doberman Pinscher Club of America has developed a certification program for its member breeders to ensure that their dogs "demonstrate the characteristics required of a dog to be a stable companion and resolute protector." There's a bonus: Breeders who go to that extent to prove their dogs are temperamentally sound are going to be among the best and most ethical sources for a puppy.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Doberman Pinscher puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and show and, ideally, working or versatility titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Doberman Pinscher might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Doberman Pinscher may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Doberman in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Dobermans available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Doberman. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Doberman rescues in your area. Most people who love Dobermans love all Dobermans. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Doberman Pinscher Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Doberman rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Doberman home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Doberman, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Doberman to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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