Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Affenpinscher

The Affenpinscher is one of the least common pedigree breeds, and is a small, amusing character with a big personality. One look at an Affenpinscher is enough to understand why the breed is sometimes known as the “monkey dog”. Indeed, “affe” means monkey, or ape, in its native Germany, where it developed initially as an offshoot of the vermin hunting terriers that were kept in great numbers by farmers and shop owners. The breed’s charm and endearing looks meant that it became sought after as a pet, particularly it seems by well-to-do ladies, and to this day, these little dogs enjoy being in constant contact with a doting owner – being isolated does not suit them.

They are naturally fearless, being very quick to protect their owners despite their diminutive stature, and more than one has come to a sticky end as a result of tackling another dog many times their own size. They make excellent watchdogs, as they are intelligent, very alert, and quick to raise the alarm at the slightest suspicion of trouble. As a result, however, some may find them excessively vocal, and they do not tolerate children, so are not ideal family dogs. Affenpinschers have a light coat that does not shed heavily, and are generally very healthy dogs with an average life expectancy of 12–14 years.

About & History

As is the case for many breeds, the early history of the Affenpinscher is somewhat unclear. Although Dutch artists were depicting small bearded terriers bearing some similarity to today’s breed in the fifteenth century, clear written evidence of standardisation does not emerge until the nineteenth century. However, this does not mean that the Affenpinscher is a recent development, as vermin-hunting dogs of this type have certainly been commonplace in Germany for centuries, and it was from similar stock that the German Pinscher and Schnauzer were derived.

It is likely that the German Pinscher and Affenpinscher were closely related or crossbred in their early stages with Munich being the focal point for the development of the Affenpinscher. Though the breed long retained its hunting abilities, its peculiar appearance drew admiration from those that would keep it as a pet, and so more recent selective breeding has been focused on its facial features and temperament, reducing its size in the process. The modern dog is far smaller than its predecessors.

Though the Affenpinscher was used in the development of the Griffon Bruxellois, it was the Griffon that came to the rescue of the breed in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the Affenpinscher’s numbers plummeted, and back-crossing was necessary to re-establish a healthy breeding population. Even now, the Affenpinscher remains somewhat of a rarity, ranking as one of the least common pedigree dogs in the USA, despite it being recognised by Kennel Clubs on both sides of the Atlantic since the early twentieth century.


Affenpinscher Large Photo

One cannot help but smile upon seeing the Affenpinscher. This little dog is amusing, not only in its appearance, but also for its sense of importance and its “tough guy” attitude, all parcelled into a very small frame. In its stance and movements it conveys confidence and energy, and it is fearless when meeting strangers. Its head and face resemble those of a small monkey, such as a marmoset, with a small domed skull and a flattened face, though there is an obvious, if short, level muzzle. The breed has lively dark eyes, and ears that can range from dropped to erect. Most Affenpinschers have a slightly undershot jaw that accentuates the monkey-like appearance.

The body is short with a level back and moderately sprung chest. The tail is carried upright with a slight curve toward the back. Both fore and hind limbs are moderately angulated to lend power to this toy-sized breed, and the paws are small and rounded.

The coat is rough and harsh, and is around 2–3 cm long over most of the body, although the underside of the neck, chest and abdomen may have slightly longer, finer hair. Though the UK Kennel Club accepts only black coat colouration with some grey markings, the American Kennel Club recognises:

  • Grey
  • Silver
  • Red
  • Black and tan
  • Beige

Both males and females range in height from 24–28 cm (9.5–11 inches) with average weights between 3 and 5.5 kg (7–12 lb).

Character & Temperament

Affenpinschers are lovable rogues, full of mischief and self-confidence. Though the German name for the breed reflects its appearance, I think it is the French who were closest to the mark when they dubbed the breed the “Diablotin Moustachu”, or “devil with a moustache”! Though very loving and affectionate with their owners, they are stubborn little dogs, and if under-stimulated, they will find ways to make a nuisance of themselves. They are naturally very protective of their people and territory, and tend to be suspicious, if unafraid, of strangers.

Affenpinschers hold themselves in high regard, and do not take well to being treated or handled unkindly: if left without company they will become bored and destructive, if forcibly cuddled by a child they are likely to bite. The breed’s characteristic fearlessness can land it in trouble, as this big dog in a small body will not accept playing second fiddle to even far larger dogs, and will not back down in a confrontation with a Rottweiler, meaning they need to be controlled to ensure they do not bite off more than they can chew. This admirable trait can become a bit of a headache when wanting to exercise an Affenpinscher in a public place frequented by other dog walkers.


Photo of Affenpinscher puppy

Training can be difficult, as they see themselves more as little people than as dogs, and training sessions need to be made fun, cooperative affairs, with plenty of variety and reward for small accomplishments. For the reasons outlined above, even a well-trained Affenpinscher should not be allowed off the lead in a public space. House training can be difficult after acquiring a pup, and crate training is strongly recommended to accelerate the process.

Socialisation training is especially important to minimise the chances of aggression toward humans or other dogs, and should be initiated when the Affenpinscher is very young, and continued on a regular basis throughout life. Having friends and family call around to spend time with the dog, or even getting the postman to offer treats to the barking, furious little ball of fur can pay dividends in the long run.


In common with its close relation, the German Pinscher, the Affenpinscher generally enjoys excellent health with few significant health concerns in the breed. However, some conditions do occur with sufficient regularity to warrant mention.


This uncommon condition is sometimes seen in Affenpinscher pups, where abnormal amounts of fluid accumulate under the skin and within the vital organs of newborn pups. The reasons for its development are unclear, though some have suggested birth trauma as a possible cause. Severely affected pups will struggle to survive, though those less severely affected may respond to medical treatments aimed at draining the fluid deposits.

Cleft Palate

This is an inherited birth defect that may range from very mild to life-threatening. The two sides of the upper jaw develop separately within the womb with fusion normally occurring well before birth. Developmental abnormalities that affect this fusion can result in mild signs, such as defects in the upper lip, or can leave a permanent connection between the oral and nasal chambers, which causes severe difficulties in suckling and feeding.

Surgical repair is possible in most cases, but major defects must be identified and addressed at a very early stage, when the necessary anaesthesia and surgical procedure may themselves present a risk to life.

Elongated Soft Palate

Seen in many of the brachycephalic breeds (those with shortened noses), this excess of tissue hanging at the back of the mouth can cause snorting and snoring, and may obstruct breathing if severe. It can be corrected by trimming away some of the excess tissue under general anaesthesia, and although the procedure requires some surgical skill, it generally yields good results.

Legg–Perthes Disease

This developmental abnormality of one or both hip joints can manifest in growing pups from four months of age. Though the underlying cause is unclear, the common pathology in all cases is a failure of the blood supply to the femoral head to keep up with the bone’s rapid growth. This causes the “ball” of the hip’s ball-and-socket to become weak and painful, eventually leading to fracture if the problem is not identified.

Surgical treatment for most small dogs, such as the Affenpinscher, involves the careful removal of the ball component of the joint, which leaves a functional, if slightly shortened, joint that is usually pain-free. Hip replacement is an alternative approach, but due to its invasiveness (and cost) it is usually reserved for larger-breed puppies.

Patellar Luxation

The normal motion of the patella, or kneecap, depends on both muscular and bony alignment and health. A variety of subtle abnormalities can allow the patella to slip out of position, or luxate. This is noticed as a three-legged skipping gait in affected dogs, which may occur regularly or only intermittently. Surgical repair usually yields a good outcome, though some cases may be more challenging than others to resolve.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus

This condition describes the persistence of a foetal blood vessel connecting the major arteries and veins. In the foetus, this serves to bypass the non-functioning lungs, but after birth, it is essential this closes in order to allow proper oxygenation of blood.

Affected pups will be lethargic, ill-thrifty and may have a blue discolouration to their mucous membranes. Veterinary examination will reveal an abnormal sound, termed a murmur. Treatment requires surgery at an early stage and is essential for survival.

von Willebrand’s Disease

This clotting disorder is also seen in the other Pinscher breeds, including the Doberman. Failure of the tiny white blood cells, known as platelets, to respond to blood vessel injury leads to excess blood loss from even minor wounds. Mildly affected dogs may be asymptomatic until undergoing surgical procedures, often neutering, when the problem becomes obvious.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Because of its small size, the Affenpinscher does not require a great deal of exercise, and will be content with as little as half an hour of daily walking to spend most of its time living indoors. Nor does it need access to a garden, having long been bred as an indoor pet. For these reasons, they make a great choice for apartment dwellers seeking some canine company.


The breed’s coarse, shaggy coat is easy to maintain, with the main challenge being to keep it free of matts. Weekly brushing and combing should be enough to accomplish this goal, with stripping necessary only once or twice a year to optimise the quality of the coat. This involves pulling dead, but retained, hairs using a special stripping comb, and may be done by either an enthusiastic owner or by a dog groomer.

With their undershot jaw, Affenpinschers are sometimes prone to dental disease, and daily tooth brushing is advisable. This is easiest to introduce during puppyhood, when the foundations for good behaviour in later life are being laid. Likewise, gentle tipping of a puppy’s nails from a young age will mean that they are less likely to resist the nail clippers when they are older.

Famous Affenpinschers

Probably because of their relative scarcity, there are few very well known Affenpinschers, though Banana Joe V Tani Kazari – the first of the breed to take the prestigious Best in Show Award from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show – is famous among those in the know.


While sourcing a pedigree Affenpinscher can be difficult, finding a crossbreed is even more so, but the following are some of the hybrids that have been developed:

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