The Doberman pinscher has an undeserved bad rap, but the dog is physically powerful and bred specifically for aggression. Teasing out your pup's rambunctious play from actual aggression can take some doggy detective work, but it makes all the difference between an energetic, devoted pet and a dangerous, uncontrollable animal.
Doberman puppies love to play, and this usually involves teeth. They bite, growl, shake things and generally exhibit all the behaviors that, in another context, signal aggression.
But puppy play is obviously that -- play. Your dobie pup is not exhibiting fear, the behavior doesn't escalate or cause injury, your doggy is happy, play-bowing and wagging his tail, and wreaking havoc on the world at large.
This can be tiring, but with training and maturity you (and your personal belongings) can survive puppyhood by providing appropriate objects -- toys and chewies that belong only to your pup -- and discouraging "attacks" on your stuff, including your shoes, hands and feet, friends and family members, and every little thing around the house.
True play between Dobermans (or between Dobies and other dogs) is not aggression. Dogs that are roughhousing may play growl and bite, wrestle and slam chests, or even drag each other around the yard. But there is no escalation: The dogs are both relaxed, not fearful, and no one is getting hurt. Their body language says, "This is just a game."
When there's bristling, snarling, squealing, sharp or sustained barking, actual biting or injury, or dominance or fear behaviors, there is an aggression issue and you need to step in.
Doberman pinschers were developed for police work and personal protection. They're bred to be very strong, aggressive, intelligent and willing to take orders from only their personal trainer -- the alpha of their pack. Functionally, this means that every Doberman is bred to be alpha but trained to be beta.
Danger lies in interpreting behaviors as "play" that are actually dominance challenges. If your dog ignores commands, jumps up uncontrollably, refuses to allow you near food or toys, growls, bites, mounts or roughhouses with you incessantly, these are warning signs that your dog does not understand his role beneath you in the dominance hierarchy.
Doberman owners are advised not to engage in or allow rough play with their dogs. This is not the breed to wrestle with, play tug of war with, or allow to play-bite.
The delicate balance between your dobie's dominant and aggressive temperament and her role as your pet makes training your Doberman absolutely mandatory. It also means there is no such thing as play aggression when it comes to dobies and their owners.
Here's a fact of canine life that's easy to forget when you're cuddling with Brutus on the couch: Dogs evolved to live in hierarchical packs. When an alpha dog shows weakness, the beta dogs challenge. Any time you allow your Doberman to misbehave, you allow him to challenge your status and his role. Dobermans can be gentle, loving and fanatically loyal, but to reap the rewards of dobie ownership, training is essential.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.