Because dogs are distinct individuals, it's difficult to ascribe a specific trait common to all members of a breed. Dobermans can be dangerous, but so can Chihuahuas and poodles. Dobermans have an undeserved bad reputation because of their service to the police and military, and because they look so competent.
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During World War II, Doberman pinschers were employed by the Marines as messengers, scouts and sentries. As a unit they were called "Devil Dogs." In 1944, 25 Dobermans were killed during an invasion of Guam, and a year later there were Dobermans with the Marines when they stormed Okinawa. The Germans also used "Dobies" for guarding prisoners in concentration camps, tracking escapees and helping to find wounded soldiers. This call to duty might have been responsible for the bad reputation that saddled Dobermans, despite the fact that not one dog bite was reported when Marine Dobermans came back to the United States in retirement to live out their lives as family dogs.
So, Are Dobermans Dangerous?
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The AKC standard for the Doberman pinscher describes the dog's temperament and personality. The Dobie should be "energetic, watchful, determined, alert, fearless, loyal and obedient. The judge shall dismiss from the ring any shy or vicious Doberman." Furthermore, the Dobie is described as being intelligent and as taking well to training. Their intelligence and ability to retain training are why the police and military incorporated them into service. However, the AKC clearly states that any Doberman who displays vicious behavior should be disqualified. Therefore, the official AKC stance on Dobermans is that they should be watchful and alert, but not vicious.
Do Dobermans Bite?
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All dogs bite. That should be stated from the beginning. To dismiss a dog as a non-biter simply because of his breed is ludicrous, as is believing a dog to be a biter because of his breed. Dobermans, like any other powerful dog, should be trained as early as possible because when they are older, they can be stronger and harder to handle. They are a working breed and should have a job to do; if they don't, they will surely get into trouble by doing naughty things such as barking excessively and digging. Dobermans can do anything that calls for athleticism, such as agility. They also do well with activities that rely on the dog's intelligence, including search and rescue. Their keen intuition makes them natural therapy dogs; many have been spotted in nursing homes and hospitals. Spending time with your Dobie doing things together keeps him occupied and out of trouble.
Show Me the Love
There is nothing you can do to guarantee your dog won't grow up to be a reactive or dangerous dog. You can do a lot of things, however, to stack the deck in your favor. Always use positive reinforcement when training your dog; never use physical violence such as hitting. Show your dog an abundance of love, patience and kindness and your dog will reward you in kind. In the words of the late Roger Caras, who served as president of the ASPCA, "There are no bad dogs, just bad owners."
- American Kennel Club: Doberman Pinscher
- Vetstreet: Doberman Pinscher
- Doberman Pinscher Club of America: The Doberman History
- United Doberman Club: Breed Versatility
- Terrific Pets: Doberman Pinschers: Their Origin And Service In World War II
- Doberman Pinscher Club of America: The Doberman Versatility - Military
- American Kennel Club: Dog Registration Statistics
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.