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Featured How The Doberman Pinscher Temperament Has Changed

Discussion in 'Doberman Talk and Discussions' started by FredC, Jun 9, 2016.

  1. FredC

    FredC Guest


    When many people think of the Doberman Pinscher, the image brought to mind is of a vicious, aggressive dog that is dangerous around children and strangers and difficult to handle. On the whole, this has never been true to the breed, although there was certainly some cause for concern in the past. But has the Doberman truly earned this bad reputation, and is it still true of the breed today? In this article, we'll take a closer look at the temperament of the Doberman Pinscher and how it has changed in the last few decades.

    First, we must consider for what purpose the Doberman was bred. The Doberman Pinscher is one of those happy few breeds that has a clear history and we know the exact circumstances under which it was developed. When Karl Friedrich Louis Doberman was developing the breed, he wanted a dog to work as personal protection. The dog needed to be large enough to be intimidating but not so large as to be too difficult to handle and strong enough to take on a thief or a mugger. He had to be smart enough to be trained and to understand commands and have the discipline to wait until the command was given to act. All in all, the dog had to be both intelligent and fierce.

    Dobermans went on to become very popular as a guard dog, police dog and even war dog. There is no question that the Doberman was indeed an aggressive breed, especially when many dogs were encouraged to be so. Its image in movies and television only helped perpetuate the idea of a vicious, dangerous dog.

    Around twenty-five or thirty years ago, this started to change. The turning point may have, in fact, been in thanks to a Doberman judge. In an article about Dobermans on dogchannel.com, Audrey Pavia suggests that it was Peggy Adamson, a well regarded Doberman expert and conformation judge that turned the tide. In the middle of a prestigious dog show, Adamson disqualified a well known Doberman contestant for displaying viciousness in the ring. Although it may be a coincidence, around the same time the attitude regarding Doberman temperament began to change.

    Since that time, breeders have consciously tried to breed out some of the harsher qualities of the Doberman such as aggressiveness and encouraged its better qualities, such as its confidence, intelligence and sense of playfulness. Although Dobermans may always be suspicious of strangers, since this is one the hallmark characteristics of the breed, they should be able to accept them readily when they see that their handlers are comfortable with the stranger.

    Today, much of the sharpness that was formerly associated with the breed has been bred out, but this doesn't mean that there aren't a few sharp Dobermans still out there, or that Dobermans don't have the potential to become so. There are two factors that will help shape the temperament of any dog - where the dog comes from and how it will be raised. If you're interested in purchasing a Doberman, you should pay a visit to a breeder, look see how the puppies and its dam are living, spend time with the puppy's parents, if possible, to get an idea of their temperament, and ask the advice of the breeder. Once you bring a puppy home, the rest will largely be up to you. Dobermans require a high level of interaction, play and exercise and the lack of these could turn any puppy into a dog that will lash out at others. But if your major concern is the idea that the whole Doberman breed is too dangerous, you can put these fears to rest, as this is no longer the case.
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  2. obbanner

    obbanner $ Premium Subscriber $ Hot Topics Subscriber

    I've been doing a lot of thinking about temperament lately. Pardon me while I think 'out loud'.

    I know my dogs are people friendly, and know that the Doberman breed has been 'softened' since the '60s. To be fair, the general public has also been softened and pet owners today are nothing like my parents who were farmers born in the first decade of the 1900s. My experience doing sheep herding over the past few years brought me into contact with dogs that are bred to be aggressive (a must in herding) and I've compared them to my Dobermans.

    The question I've been considering lately is what do we really expect out of dogs? On the one hand, some of us want pets we trust with our families and friends, and on the other hand, some of us want working dogs. Dogs from the same litter can go to two very different environments, as one home may want a Golden Retriever-type personality to play with the children and the other home may want a DDR GSD-type personality in their protection dog.

    Because of my involvement in the dog world, I sometimes get emails from prospective first time owners who want a Doberman with a harder temperament. They remind me of a middle aged man getting a Harley for his first motorcycle. If they succeed in getting what they're asking for, they may end up with the canine equivalent of road rash and the dog will be blamed.

    I have failed dogs for being suspicious and not letting me touch them during the examination of a CGC test. But the suspicion of strangers that causes a dog to fail the CGC is the type of temperament that would be necessary in a good guard dog.

    The dog world seems to be going bi-polar. Take Golden Retrievers. There's the big, fat conformation Golden and there's the smaller lean, mean, retrieving machine field Golden. They're almost separate breeds at this point. Should we acknowledge we really want two versions of each breed to keep both the pet owner and the handler happy?

    As a final thought, I was helping in Herding Instinct Tests several weeks ago. Three collie owners tested their dogs. One was a breeder and the other two had her dogs. The dogs passed the HIT and one of the owners started joking that she doesn't dare mention to other owners at the conformation shows they're going to start herding. Then all three got into a discussion about how they'll keep it to themselves because herding is looked down on by the conformation people! And we wonder why dogs no longer do what they were bred to do.

    Anyway, that's my midnight ramble. Thanks for reading.
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  3. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    Thank you for such insightful thoughts. I have quoted just one of your paragraphs for now and it appears below, as it really struck me.

    In my mind the Doberman could perhaps be divided into two major sections: Working and Conformation. I know some will argue – and often rightly – that their conf.-line Dobe has a lot of working drive, and some will argue their working-line Dobe could get lots of points in the conf. ring; however, I really see quite a difference between the two general groups.

    My Oji is a good example. Let's just take size and appearance for now. He is considerably smaller than most Dobes in the conf. ring, and his build deviates from the standard – and it seems to me – does so in favor of agility and speed. Supposedly the breed standard for the Doberman is the perfect design for performance. Why, then, are hardcore working Dobes built so much differently?
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  4. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    To your question: Really, I would be happy with the Doberman breed being divided into two types: Working and Conformation (well, Conformation would not be an adequate descriptor. Maybe "Companion?" or "General Purpose?")
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  5. FredC

    FredC Guest

    That would move the gene pool from endangered to critical. The breed would most certainly disappear forever in short order. Same goes for splitting off the AKC and FCI versions of the American Doberman Pinscher and the European Dobermann.
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  6. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    Well there is that. But actually isn't it already the case that it is rare for working line to be bred to conformation line? Aren't they already largely separated from each other in terms of breeding?
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  7. FredC

    FredC Guest

    I suppose that's mostly true but for the breed to survive breeders are going to have to change the way they think and cutting a already endangerd gene pool in half will just accelerate the trend. And really this trend is mostly an AKC thing where as in the FCI most Doberman are a combination of working and conformation lines. Which is probably good because I think only a few members here could handle a high drive working dobermann. Ever notice it's a lot more difficult to recognize a working dobermann versus a conformation Doberman in the FCI? In the USA it's pretty easy to tell one from the other. OK I'll stop there before I get any more off track.
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  8. kashi

    kashi Hot Topics Subscriber

    Hope no one minds me bringing an old thread to life again. Interesting post and discussion. I have no experience of American dobermanns ( sadly). I have met many South African bred dobes off mixed European linage and a couple of direct euro imports. I will say that the South African dog does not sound much like the American breed in many ways. Most SA breeders still want to produce guardian type dogs ( read personal protection) and there are a few breeding them a little too large with the DNA of some rather gigantic Russian sires. A lot of the SA dogs have St Kreal, pimms number one, Pride of Russia, altobello and some Del Nasi blood. There's also to some smaller extent Italian, French and polish blood in them. The litter I would have loved to buy from in SA would have been an Elite house x St Kreal line ( both Dam and sire direct imports) sadly it could not be just don't have the money for it . My husband thought I was crazy to even consider it and he is the main bread winner.

    As @FredC rightly mentioned it is very common in Europe to mix lines that are thought of as more working with lines considered more conformation. Also it is quite common even for conformation line European dobermans to partake in IPO etc. Although there is doubt to the legitimacy of some the dogs out of Eastern Europe as far as health tests and working titles go

    My good friend from Finland has a dobie that's a mix 50/50 working and show. I love that dog she's so confident and game for anything yet not sharp. She's also solid enough yet still agile and sleek. She has shown her successfully and she successfully aquired her BH title before moving from Finland to Namibia. She was training to do IPOI before she left.

    Anyway I do think there's a trend towards dogs being either grossly deformed for the show world or softened/dumbed down ( often both). In SA we see this most sharply with German Shepherds, Boerboels and of course your labs and retrievers.

    I know most pet homes could not handle a true working line dobie ( or Gsd or Mal or B/C). However it's sad to think we should not maintain some of their original character. Luckily they are not overtly popular dogs in SA and less so in Namibia. Yes it's a problem with size of gene pool etc but they are popular enough to have quite a few good breeders etc. I think the show world has kind of lost the plot a bit when it comes to their purpose of preserving and improving breeds.

    Anyway i love my dobies and I am very comfortable having them be suspicious of strangers where I live.
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  9. adhahn

    adhahn Notable member

    Many descriptions of the old/origional Dobermann temperament exist. No doubt some are exaggerated and others are products of selective memories. In spite of that, there is enough information about the Dobermann temperament all the way up through the 1970's to conclude that the temperament has been irreparably damaged.

    Sure there may be some individual dogs with strong temperaments and/or a few breeders trying to preserve temperament, but in the big picture the breeds temperament has been destroyed.

    All dog breeds should have a purpose for existing. The Dobermann could (and at one time apparently did) fill a niche. Possessing the intelligence of a German Shepherd Dog but Sharper and more "aggressive"; more agile that dogs like the Rottweiler, etc, etc, etc.

    By watering down the temperament, the Dobermann no longer has a purpose or niche to fill. Any function that we ask modern, toned down Dobermann's to perform can be done just as well, if not BETTER, by a different breed.

    The German Shepherd Dog was created as a utility dog and has long been touted as 'second best at everything'. The Dobermann was a specialty breed, he was created to be the best at ONE thing. We've taken that one thing and watered it down to levels where other breeds can perform better! Now, as a breed, the Dobermann isn't even second best at what he was created for!

    The destruction of the Dobermann's extreme temperament has destroyed the breed itself; the breed no longer has specialty. And as I already pointed out, anything we ask a toned down Dobermann to do, some other breed can actually do better. When a breed can no longer perform it's specialty, purpose or function better that a different breed, the breed is broken.

    The Dobermann had one job. He was never intended to be a 'second best at everything' utility dog, there isn't anything else he's second best at doing.

    If you want a Herding dog there are better breeds and the Doberman isn't 'second best'.

    If you want a Protection dog there are better breeds and the Doberman isn't 'second best'.

    If you want a Bird Hunting dog there are better breeds and the Doberman isn't 'second best'.

    If you want a Pig Hunting dog there are better breeds and the Doberman isn't 'second best'.

    If you want a Racing dog there are better breeds and the Doberman isn't 'second best'.

    Etc, etc.

    The breed is well on it's way to becoming extinct and it's not because of health issues; it's because the breed (as a whole) lost the one thing that gave it a specialty and reason for existence- the extreme temperament.

    It may look like a Dobermann, we may be able to map out a pedigree or measure the conformation, but once the breed evolves into a generic, domestic "pet" dog then it will be extinct- no matter how it looks or how healthy it is. Kaput. Game over. The end.

    Can it be brought back from the brink of extinction? Of course it could, but people are short sighted, impulsive and typically more interested in societal 'norms' instead of the big picture, right & wrong aspects of life.
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  10. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    Boy, are you going to get some blowback :)

    I actually agree with you mostly.

    I have taken to going for Dobes from proven working lines, as they should have stronger, sharper harder makeups. My first Dobe was a wonderful pet – just the best – but I always pretty much knew he'd back down if he ever got into a real fight with someone. Second Dobe I don't think would back down. This third one, while from working lines, unfortunately seems to have too much fearfulness so I have to believe he is mostly a deterrent.

    Unfortunately, dogs from hardcore working lines can be worse pets in every day life. Harder to live with.

    Some of your ideas here are very interesting and might just tie into my thread "My Grim Fearful Prediction" which (in part) talks about how the breed might go the way of what I see of today's Boxer – a popular pet among the young and hip, but an ineffectual shell of what it once was.

    I recognize, though, that you are pointing out that the breed has already changed very dramatically from what it was inteded to be.
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  11. adhahn

    adhahn Notable member

    My interest in dogs has evolved around the amazing way they can live and work with people. I don't own or train hunting dogs but find it mesmerizing to watch a hunter and good dog work together. Same with herding, seeing eye dogs and so forth. It's incredible. It does however require that dogs have the correct temperament for the job at hand.

    I converse with a Veterinarian on a regular basis. Her opinion is that the vast majority of dog owners don't have a clue about breeds or temperament. Her experience mirrors a lot of what I read online, which is that the vast majority of dog owners simply think of temperament as being "Good" (the dog is 'nice', submissive and compliant) or "Bad" (the dog is 'aggressive', self entertains when bored, etc).

    These dog owners have varying reasons for choosing the dogs that they end up with. Very seldom do they pick a dog based on the job the breed was supposed to perform. Many, many people acquire a mixed breed mutt from the humane society/shelter/BYB with zero thought given to what temperament is going to be correct, based on the job(s) the pup's ancestors would have been be suited for. They are mad/scared/frustrated when their dog kills cats, tears up the sofa, bites someone, etc.

    This same type of dog owner chooses a breed then "Rescues" or buys from a breeder and only gives lip service with no actual understanding about breed specific temperament. Heck, there are Rescue organizations that euthanize or refuse to adopt out dogs with "aggression" or "behavior issues" that are entirely correct for their breed. Why not kill the soft, weak nerved Rottweilers and adopt out the correct hard, "aggressive" ones? (Yeah, I understand there are a variety or reasons why they don't, but you get the point.)

    In the big picture, not many people have any business owning Malinois/Dobermann's/Rottweilers/German Shepherd Dogs/Black Russian Terriers/Coon Hounds, or a number of other breeds. These are working animals created to possess temperaments suitable for a particular job(s).

    People who desire to keep working dogs as pets should adjust their expectations and lifestyle to accommodate the dogs temperament. If they don't like or want the temperament then they ought not keep them as pets.

    Doesn't matter what breed is discussed, turning working dogs into pets by watering down their temperament destroys the breed.
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  12. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    Very good point. In most people's minds, "being good" means laying still and being quiet.
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  13. Horselady

    Horselady Member

    A few observations, because the Doberman is not the only breed to have its show world not represent the working world. I have some thoughts:

    1 the majority of dogs in America are just pets. Not for working not for show, not for anything close to what they were bred for. This largely drives the market. The Doberman, like the breed of horse I love, is not for the average everyday owner. This means you either breed for those owners or you narrow your gene pool or you only produce for those elite few and I assure you the price will go way high as well. Regardless the second option generally really will lead to at least being severely endangered.

    2. The breed standards for AKC were set by breeders as the goal for that breed and the theory that more of what they were seeing would make them better for the job. Then we all interpreted that standard and what the judges awarded is what they bred for. So if you look at an AKC show lab, he has a big block head with deep stop, stout body, a bit on the fat heavy side.... You look at the UKC working labs and IMO they are ugly. But I feel like when we breed for pretty we aren't breeding for the "undefinable things" that make a dog good at his breed sport. Heart, drive, work effort, etc. The show world is getting so far from it that we basically should have one group "non sporting". AKC should have made working titles go hand and hand with confirmation titles. To the point that you don't have a champion until you get a pass in both areas. Then you would see pretty dogs doing real work. Even then, AKC trials are not nearly as tough as ukc for hunting dogs and I can only imagine it would be true of anything else. AKC is guarding the purebred pet world, not the purebred working world.

    3. Our world has evolved. We don't really need protection dogs like we used to. Today we have video cameras, electric fences, electric gates, security alarms, and other ways to guard property, so the purpose is basically extinct too.

    Side note, I'm one of those watered down dobe lovers. I thought about trying to teach protection work to my new buddy, but with two little kids who don't understand that swinging their arms in his face is a threat, I don't think I want to try to wake up that side of him.... I'm probably a decent representation of middle America.

    I did have two GSDs, they were from a show and working line, they were known to be crazy high drive, the cops were starting to buy them for their program etc. They were great family dogs, they were giant sissies, but they had drive. They could go all damn day and not blink
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  14. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    Some very good points there!

    Above: Great idea! Agreed.

    Above: I must disagree.
  15. Horselady

    Horselady Member

    I respect that. I'm just coming from my point of view. In all the people I know with dogs, they aren't looking for true protection (not in the sense of what this breed was bred for). Yes, they want a dog that is intimidating and barks, and one that would growl or bite a threatening stranger, but well, even my poodle would have done that for me. I was hers human and that devotion was deep. Even the old English bulldog we have is protective of me and the kids. They're bred to fight bulls, not protection. But I think most people don't need or want a dog more protective than that.
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  16. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    Yeah. I would say not very many people want it, but most people need it. Now, hardly anyone really knows how to handle it or is in a position to handle it logistically.

    Me, I don't want a Dobe that is a warning only. I want one that will defend, and is hard enough to keep fighting even if the attacker fights back. It's hard to get, I know. The training that it takes to come close to ensuring you'll have that is expensive, or you have to have people to help you – people who your Dobe will not be expected to accept afterward.
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  17. Drogon

    Drogon Hot Topics Subscriber

    What breed(s) is/are better protection dogs? These are all just opinions but I'd be interested to hear yours. To me there isn't a better breed for a protection dog. Malinois are too small IMHO, Rottweilers too slow and tire too quickly, GSD are good but I wouldn't say better than a Dobermann.
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  18. Oh Little Oji

    Oh Little Oji Formerly Tad Hot Topics Subscriber $ Forum Donor $

    I assume @adhahn is saying that the breed has, for many many years, been lacking the temperament to be a good protection dog. I think you, @Drogon, are assuming a Dobermann with a suitable temperament and are looking at physical characteristics. I agree with you, I think that the Dobe physically has the toolbox to be one of the ultimate canine protectors. When this is coupled with the breed's intelligence, trainability, extreme alertness and watchfulness and its loyalty to family it may be, on paper, the ultimate protection dog. You've got to work hard to find one with the temperament it takes, and even with all the research and money paid, you still might get a dud. :whistle: :anonymous :
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  19. adhahn

    adhahn Notable member

    To answer your question we must first establish some sort of criteria for a protection dog. My general statements are based on the presumption that the criteria would involve the potential for significant levels of mental stress and physical force. Work that requires a dog to have a strong temperament.

    We can look to professions that use dogs in a protection capacity. In the USA these are primarily Police and Military. Dutch Shepherds, Mailnios and German Shepherd Dogs dominate these professions. Occasionally you see other breeds working but not Dobermann's. Modern day Dobermann's are virtually non existent in these fields.

    We can look to sports that include a Protection Phase as part of the competition. Dobermann's do not occupy first (or second) place in these venues. In fact, not long ago I was looking at the results of some international competition and Hovawarts were doing as well or better than Dobermanns!!

    We can look to successful private business that provide security services. These tend to be somewhat low profile and statistics are going to be difficult to nail down. I'm not aware of any of these businesses using Dobermann's though, are you?

    We can look at the breeds reputable Protection Dog trainers recommend for serious family/home protection.

    As another poster mentioned- alerting and barking along with maybe taking a weak bite at a someone is nothing special; lots of dogs will do that much. That isn't protection work.

    People like me still want to give the Dobermann a chance. However, I also drive a 21 year old truck and hunt with a lever action rifle. I make those choices knowing that there are better tools for the job and I won't pretend otherwise.

    The breed could be restored. Will it though? Show dogs and Pets are where the money's at...........
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  20. Gelcoater

    Gelcoater Expert ThreadCrapper $ Premium Subscriber $ Hot Topics Subscriber


    If you say so. ;)

    The Hovawart was bred as a guard/ protection dog so it's no surprise they do well. I actually considered one before getting Dobermans. The fur though, the hair like a golden retriever. Ugh.

    A Doberman, a 21 year old truck and a lever action. :)
    Despite what may have sounded like an antagonistic post on my part you sound like someone I would hang out with.
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