Ana Oliveira
Dr Ana Oliveira (DVM, University of Lisbon)
Photo of adult Doberman

The Doberman is a powerful and proud dog, a natural protector of its family, with whom it creates one of the strongest animal-human bonds seen among dog breeds. Dobermans are medium-large sized with a noble appearance and sleek looks, being extremely intelligent and energetic. They are mostly known for being loyal guardian dogs, also playing an important role as police and military dogs, search and rescue, and therapy dogs.

Despite being stereotyped as being aggressive and having an evil character, nothing could be further from the truth. Needless to say, the level of responsibility exerted by their owners pretty much determines the temperament of a Doberman. Still, they tend to be loving, stable-minded, and gentle dogs that do not go looking for trouble. They are great with children and make wonderful family dogs.

About & History

The origins of this dog breed are quite recent, as the first Doberman was bred in Germany in 1890. The Doberman was developed by Karl Dobermann, a tax collector who was also the dogcatcher of Apolda, the German town where he lived. Because Dobermann had to perform the dangerous task of collecting taxes, which at that time could be fairly risky, he started to crossbreed different types of dogs in order to develop a guardian dog for his personal protection. He aimed to combine strength, speed and ferocity, coupled with intelligence and loyalty, to create the ideal protection dog. The Doberman or Dobermann, as it may also be spelled, was thus named after its creator. The term Pinscher, sometimes seen after the name Doberman, means Terrier in German, but it has been dropped by both the German and the British.

Being the town’s dogcatcher, Dobermann had easy access to different dog breeds. Although the exact ratio of the mixtures and which breeds were used to create the Doberman is unknown, they probably included the Beauceron, the Rottweiler, the Weimaraner, and the German Pinscher. The old German Shepherd is also thought of as a major contributor, although there is a large uncertainty around the subject. The only records available regarding these crossings mention the Manchester Terrier and the Greyhound.

After Karl Dobermann’s death, two other breeders continued developing the breed, including Otto Goeller and Philip Greunig, further contributing to the Doberman dog we know today. After World War I, the best German dogs were taken to the United States and during World War II the Doberman was considered the official war dog of the US Marine Corps. From then on, Dobermans increased their popularity in America, later becoming the second most popular breed. In Europe, on the other hand, the breed almost disappeared after the second World War and during the Cold War era. Werner Jung is believed to have saved the European Doberman by crossing typical German Pinschers found in German farms with oversized Miniature Pinschers and a female Doberman that he managed to smuggle from Eastern Germany.

Although they were initially bred to be fearless and aggressive, over the years breeders kept selecting dogs to become more and more friendly, nevertheless maintaining their protective instinct, along with the obedience and loyalty traits. The result was today’s Doberman, which is a well-tempered dog with a character that make it desirable not only as a pet, but also as a police and defence dog. Besides their role in the police and the military, Dobermans are also used in search and rescue work, as well as therapy work. They are well-known for their gentleness and subtlety among patients from assisted living facilities, towards whom they act with the utmost care, making sure they walk at their speed and do not stumble upon the IV tubing and other equipment.


Doberman Large Photo

Dobermans are medium-large dogs, compact and athletic with a short coat that can have the following colours:

  • Black
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Fawn

Dobermans typically have their ears cropped and tail docked in the countries where these practices are permitted. In most European countries, however, ear cropping and tail docking are banned. The Doberman’s natural ears are medium-sized and pendant, while its tail is long. A curious feature is that Dobermans stand on their toes, not on their footpads, which gives them a graceful and elegant gait.

A male Doberman weighs around 40 to 45 kg (88-99 lb) and is 68 to 72 cm tall (27-28 inches). A female Doberman weighs between 32 and 35 kg (71-77 lb) and is usually 63 to 68 cm tall (25-27 inches).

Character & Temperament

Dobermans are best known for being devoted companions and loyal guard dogs. They are always alert and watchful, being extremely skilful and versatile. They are mostly family dogs and they need to be part of the household, participating in everything and being always around. Dobermans are not happy as backyard dogs, though they will sure appreciate a fenced yard where they can run, play, and exercise, as they are very active and energetic.

When correctly socialised and trained, Dobermans are well-rounded and have a very stable character. They are driven and usually know what they want, having a tendency to be stubborn if proper leadership is not enforced. They can be dominant, so it is important that the owner establishes him/herself as the leader of the pack, with a consistent and firm attitude. Dobermans are highly intelligent and need commitment and care from their owners, as well as sufficient stimuli – both mental and physical – to strive as healthy, happy dogs. They value companionship and attention, and are also good giving them back, which makes them a good family dog that gets along well with children and other pets.

Because they are essentially guard dogs, they tend to bark, which is why it is important for owners to know how to control inappropriate barking habits. They can also become destructive when they are bored, as they crave activity and adventure. They are also known to mature quite late, keeping their puppy traits until they are 3 or 4 years old. In spite of this, Dobermans have great instincts, being able to predict potential dangers or threats, which goes along with their natural protective tendencies and guarding skills.

Dobermans were first bred to be personal protection dogs, thus an aggressive and intimidating character was valued. Nevertheless, decades of tactful breeding have reshaped the Doberman’s character and temperament. In fact, despite popular belief that they are among the most menacing and dangerous dog breeds, they actually show less aggression than other dog breeds that do not carry such reputation, like Dalmatians or Cocker Spaniels. It is possible for Dobermans to show aggressive behaviours towards other dogs and strangers as part of their natural protective instinct, if they feel their owners are under threat, but they are not among the breeds that will actually act aggressively. Moreover, ferocious behaviour towards their owners is definitely not seen among Dobermans. It is the responsibility of owners to exercise their power to correctly train and socialise their Doberman – a task that does not require too much effort, as Dobermans are very trainable and extremely fast learners.


Photo of Doberman puppy

Dobermans are smart and talented dogs that learn quickly and are very easy to train. They will try to become the alpha leader of the pack, so owners should pay special attention to this dominance tendency and act consistently and firmly so they assume the role of the leader.

Socialisation is extremely important from an early age, so that puppies become accustomed to other animals and people, which will prevent future tendencies for showing aggressive behaviour due to their innate sense of protection.


Dobermans usually live from 10 to 13 years and are prone to some health issues, such as:

Wobbler Syndrome

Wobbler syndrome is a neurological disease affecting the neck and spine of Dobermans. Due to cervical vertebral instability or a malformation in the spinal canal, the spinal cord is compressed, causing neurological disability that results in paralysis of the limbs. Treatment may be surgical or medical, with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart disease that results from the progressive weakening and enlargement of the heart muscle, eventually leading to death by heart failure. Clinical signs include intolerance to exercise, cardiac coughing, decreased appetite, weakness and fainting. Treatment is symptomatic, aiming at slowing the progression of the heart changes that lead to heart failure and usually include the use of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

von Willebrand’s disease is a blood disorder that interferes with blood clotting. It is an inherited condition and dogs that have it have decreased production of von Willebrand’s factor in their blood, a substance needed for blood clotting. Surgical procedures on dogs with this condition may lead to uncontrolled bleeding and can be fatal. There is a DNA test that can be done to rule out the disease.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is caused by abnormalities in the formation of the hip socket that prevent the femur bone to fit appropriately. The defective articulation is thus subjected to a constant wear and tear that leads to inflammation, painful arthritis, and, eventually, lameness. Hip dysplasia is a genetic trait that can also be affected by environmental factors.


Hypothyroidism is a disease originated in the thyroid gland due to an insufficient thyroxine production. The thyroxine hormone is responsible for controlling the metabolism. Dogs with hypothyroidism have the following clinical signs: hair and muscle loss, weight gain and lethargy. The disease is diagnosed by blood tests and treatment is achieved medically with hormone replacement.


Albinism is caused by a genetic mutation associated with severe health problems, such as behavioural changes, skin cancer, photosensitivity, immunological disorders, abnormalities in the eye retina, and kidney and liver problems. White or cream Dobermans should not be bred and prospective owners should be aware of breeders claiming that albino Dobermans are rare and thus more valuable and expensive.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Dobermans love to play and need lots of exercise and mental stimulation to keep fit and not get bored, which could lead to destructive behaviours around the house. They will be the happiest living indoors, but as a large, energetic dog breed, Dobermans require their daily amount of exercise and a fenced yard is a good option to give them the opportunity to run.


Due to their short coat, Dobermans are easy maintenance dogs, requiring a weekly brushing with a bristle brush to keep their coat shiny, healthy and good-looking. They shed little but their nails grow quite fast, so they need to be trimmed regularly if they do not have the opportunity to wear them down naturally.

Famous Dobermans

Famous Dobermans, either popularised in films or real life heroes include:

  • Cappie, the first K-9 dying in combat; Cappie alerted the US Marines to Japanese soldiers, saving the lives of 250 American soldiers in 1944
  • Blackie, the Doberman from the film, Hugo (2011)
  • Alpha, the Doberman from the film, Up (2009)
  • The Dobermans from Jackie Chan’s last movie, Chinese Zodiac (2012)


Dobermans are a favourite when it comes to cross-breeding. Some Doberman mixes include:

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