German Pinscher

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

Although the breed is uncommonly encountered outside its native Germany, the German Pinscher was an important founding breed for many very popular dogs, such as the Doberman, Schnauzer, and Miniature Pinscher. The breed comes from a working background, having been developed from German farm dogs mainly to control vermin, a job that it still derives a great deal of satisfaction from. German Pinschers are extremely intelligent, but equally mischievous, and require a good deal of attention and training to reach their full potential.

They are renowned for their powerful voice, which sounds as though it should come from a far bigger dog, and are suspicious of strangers, making them excellent guard dogs. Most individuals are assertive and confident, which can present a challenge to a novice owner, as they will attempt to establish dominance in the household if so allowed. For this reason, they are not generally recommended as pets for young children. Due to their instinctive strong prey drive, they are not suited to homes with other smaller pets, and a securely fenced outdoor space is essential, as they are capable of jumping to great heights in their pursuit of rodents or birds.

While the Miniature Pinscher shares common ancestry with the German Pinscher, various outbreeding programs have resulted in some noticeable differences in the Min Pin’s personality, and though it is very similar in appearance to its larger cousin, it is generally a more gentle and pliable dog. Both breeds enjoy good health, with average life expectancies of 12–15 years.

About & History

The first recognisable reference to a German Pinscher dates to around 1780, when artists depicted a vermin-hunting farm dog with close similarities to the breed we know today. It is believed that the breed at that time represented an offshoot of more general-purpose guard and herding dogs that had been selected to keep grain stores free of rats and mice. When breeding these early Pinschers, both smooth- and rough-coated puppies could be born within one litter: these were later selected and bred separately, with the smooth-coated dogs giving us today’s German Pinscher, while the rough-coated variety eventually became recognised as the Schnauzer.

Further refinement was to occur later, when larger and more aggressive individuals were used to establish the parent stock of the Doberman, while smaller dogs were chosen to develop the Miniature Pinscher. The German Pinscher suffered an immense decline in popularity in the 1950s, for reasons that are unclear, and were only saved from extinction by the efforts of Herr Werner Jung, who was the head of the German Pinscher/Schnauzer Club at the time. Herr Jung managed to establish a healthy breeding population from his one surviving bitch and several large Miniature Pinschers, while staying true to the breed’s established standard. The German Pinscher was a late arrival to the USA, only being bred in the country from the 1980s, and did not achieve AKC or UK Kennel Club recognition until the early twenty-first century.


German Pinscher Large Photo

The German Pinscher is a medium-sized, elegant, but muscular dog with an upright carriage and fearless disposition. The breed has a short, sleek coat in a variety of colours:

  • Fawn
  • Red
  • Black & Rust
  • Blue & Tan

There is usually a sharp demarcation between coloured patches, with distinct patterns of colour distribution around the face, limbs, and abdomen described in the breed standard.

The head is wedge-shaped and angular, with clean cheeks, and a subtle demarcation between the crown and the long, deep muzzle. The eyes are ever-alert, usually a dark brown in colour, and the ears are set high on the head, triangular in shape, with a forward fold.

The body is athletic in outline, with no unnecessary fat or excess skin. The neck is strong, with a muscular arch behind the ears, while the back is relatively short, broad, and slopes to the base of the tail, which is carried high. The ribcage is wide but has little spring, the ribs appearing flat, and the abdomen is tightly tucked. Both fore and hind limbs are lean but rippling with muscle, and should be straight and free-flowing in movement.

The Miniature Pinscher is similar in many regards in terms of appearance, though it tends to have a more rounded skull and ribcage. A tendency to having a domed forehead has been all but bred out in recent times, and is strongly discouraged. In motion, the Min Pin has a shorter, “choppier” stride than the German Pinscher.

The German Pinscher is by far the taller of the two breeds, measuring 43-48 cms (17-19 ins) at the withers in comparison to the Miniature Pinscher, who stands 25-30 cms (10-12 ins) in height. Similarly, the two breeds have average weights of 11-20 kg (24-44 lb) and 4-5 kg (9-11 lb), respectively.

Character & Temperament

Pinschers are strong-willed and assertive dogs, and coming from a working background have high energy levels. They thrive on being kept busy, and are likely to develop problem behaviours if neglected or bored. They live in a constant state of alertness, and are always prepared to chase a smaller animal or to erupt into frenzied barking and activity at the arrival of a stranger to the home. Most individuals have a penchant for mischief, and will frequently test boundaries within the home, whether by stealing food, chewing clothing, or excavating a flowerbed.

With an experienced owner who is able to provide firm leadership and consistent discipline, a Pinscher is capable of being an obedient and devoted pet and an irreplaceable member of the family. However, a Pinscher who grows up in a permissive environment is liable to become domineering and potentially aggressive, most likely toward strangers, but potentially with the owners when challenged. They are also relatively intolerant of children, particularly those young enough to play roughly with the dog, and so Pinschers are usually best suited to all-adult homes.


Photo of German Pinscher puppy

The German Pinscher is a very clean dog, and housetraining puppies is usually a straightforward affair. It is important to begin socialisation at a young age, preferably before 12 weeks, to provide lots of positive experiences with other people and dogs. As mentioned above, aggression can be a problem in the breed, and some effort must be made to overcome this tendency.

This is a highly intelligent breed, and as is the case with many other clever dogs, the key to training is to provide variety, for the Pinscher will quickly tire of repetition. As discussed below, task-oriented training ,such as flyball or agility, is the ideal outlet for the breed, though simple routines, such as carrying groceries in a backpack or fetching the mail can also help satisfy their need to feel useful.


The German Pinscher suffers few significant health disorders, although developmental joint disease has been an issue, one that is now being combatted through elbow and hip scoring schemes. Pinscher pups being sold through a reputable breeder should have certificates of their parents’ joint scores: low scores indicate that the pup is unlikely to be afflicted with early-onset joint problems, such as osteoarthritis.

Behavioural Abnormalities

Many Pinschers end up in homes that are unsuitable or in which the owners are inadequately informed as to their exercise and training requirements. A neglected, bored, or molly-coddled German Pinscher is very likely to end up displaying one of a range of behavioural problems, most commonly aggression. The vast majority of these problems stem from the owner, rather than the dog themselves, and they are best prevented rather than treated, with discipline, obedience training, and socialisation.


The breed has a relatively high incidence of cataract formation. This may be either an acquired or congenital condition. Most cataracts occur in older dogs, and are due either to damage to the lens of the eye, or secondary to metabolic disease, for example, diabetes mellitus. Cataracts appear as pale milky or crystalline deposits in the centre of the eye, and cause visual impairment. If severe, they can be treated surgically in order to restore vision in the affected eye.

Colour Dilution Alopecia

This is a genetic condition, presenting as hair loss in German and Miniature Pinschers with fawn or blue coat colours. There is no effective treatment for the resulting alopecia, though blood sampling is required to distinguish it from hair loss due to hypothyroidism (see below).

Elbow Dysplasia

Normal development of the elbow joint relies on the ordered growth of multiple cartilaginous plates within the humerus, radius, and ulna. It is not unusual to encounter pups of 6-12 months of age in which lameness in one or both fore limbs is the result of some disturbance to this growth.

Elbow dysplasia describes a group of these growth abnormalities, which are hereditary and potentially debilitating, with arthritis and joint pain being severe in some young dogs. Corrective surgery is possible in some cases, while those more severely affected may be candidates for total elbow replacement.

Hip Dysplasia

In common with elbow dysplasia, this condition arises in young, growing dogs as a result of disturbance to one or more growth plates. It is a strongly hereditary condition, and the incidence of hip dysplasia has thankfully reduced over recent years as a result of the well-established British Veterinary Association hip scoring scheme.


Unexplained weight gain, hair loss, and low energy levels in middle-aged dogs may be the result of an underactive thyroid gland, something which usually occurs due to immune-mediated destruction of the glandular tissue. This may be easily treated with supplemental thyroid hormone therapy, although treatment must be continued for life.

von Willebrand’s Disease

This is a clotting disorder that has also carried through strongly into the Doberman Pinscher. Prolonged clotting times in affected animals can lead to significant blood loss from seemingly minor injuries. The condition is caused by subnormal platelet function.

These tiny white blood cells are largely responsible for the instigation of clot formation in healthy animals. Pinschers undergoing routine veterinary surgical procedures should be screened for von Willlebrand’s disease before surgery to avoid unforeseen intraoperative complications.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Flyball and agility are the kind of high-energy outlets that the breed most enjoys, and provide both vigorous exercise and mental stimulation. They also provide further opportunities for socialisation of an adult dog. Apart from these activities, any prospective Pinscher owners must be prepared to give one to two hours every day to lead walking, and although these energetic dogs will enjoy off-lead exercise, they can rarely be trusted not to pursue anything small and furry that disappears into a hedgerow. With adequate exercise, Pinschers can live comfortably indoors, although it is ideal to be able to provide access to a securely fenced garden.


The breed’s grooming requirements are light. The soft, short coat sheds a reasonable amount, but is easy to keep clean and in good condition. Weekly brushing should be sufficient, and professional grooming is rarely required.

Pinschers can be very resentful of having their mouths, ears, and feet examined, something that can make visits to the veterinary surgery unnecessarily stressful – for all involved! Teaching puppies to accept having their teeth brushed, nails clipped, and ears cleaned is valuable for this reason, as well as being essential elements of responsible pet care.

Famous German Pinschers

Despite being the forerunner to the Doberman, probably one of the most popular breeds to be featured in cinema, the German Pinscher has maintained a low profile outside of Germany, and the breed has not made a huge impact in the media.


German Pinscher crosses are few and far between, but the Miniature Pinscher is sometimes used to breed hybrid puppies, including:

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