Doberman Pinschers

The Doberman Pinscher is a dog of contradictions. Seen by many as a very sharp dog with an almost sinister reputation, his many devoted fans consider him the most loving and loyal of companions. And no, "loyal" isn't a euphemism for "only likes his owner." It's the real thing, a tremendous bond between dog and human that lies at the heart of the Doberman's enduring popularity. Believe it or not, a good Doberman is a stable, friendly dog -- unless you threaten his family.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

If you're ready to provide loving leadership to your dog, train him consistently and fairly and give him plenty of exercise and outlet for his considerable intelligence, then yes, the Doberman is right for you.

Don't underestimate that intelligence, either. This is among the smartest of all dog breeds, and one whose owners need to pay attention lest they find themselves outsmarted. If you expect your dog to spend his days in the backyard and his evenings keeping you company while you play video games, you'd better be prepared for a barking, bored, destructive dog instead of the loyal companion you thought you were bringing into your home.

Developed as a guard dog, the Doberman has an innate ability to not only protect his family but also to anticipate danger and threats. Because he's so smart, he's not often wrong, but if the dog isn't socialized and trained to behave appropriately around strangers, he may show excessive suspicion of guests in your home -- suspicion that can turn into aggression.

Many people want a Doberman for purposes of protection. But almost no one really needs a trained protection dog -- most people or families simply need a watchdog and a deterrent. The Doberman's reputation, intelligence, instinctive ability to evaluate threats and his loyalty to and innate protectiveness of his human family are all that's needed to accomplish those goals, so don't get a "trained protection dog" that you don't need and probably can't handle. A well-bred, well-trained, properly socialized Doberman who lives with his family will protect them as part of his nature.

One of the key phrases there is "lives with his family." While some Dobermans are raised successfully in kennel situations, these are working dogs that have demanding and interesting tasks to do that give them the exercise and mental stimulation the dogs need. If your Doberman is a family pet, he needs to live indoors with your family. Otherwise, he'll be lonely, bored and destructive -- and less, rather than more, likely to protect you.

If you do share your home with a Doberman, you'll find him to be a fairly easy dog to care for. Just keep his nails trimmed, his body lean and exercised, and brush him weekly to keep shedding to a minimum.

An alert watchdog, the Doberman can be a barker, so help yours develop appropriate barking behavior when young so it doesn't become a nuisance later on.

Variations of the Doberman Pinscher

While most people are familiar only with the black Doberman with rust markings, they actually come in a number of colors: Black, with rust-colored markings; blue (actually gray) with rust markings; various shades of red-brown with rust markings; and a light tan color called "Isabella," which also has rust markings.

Be aware that white or cream Dobermans are a genetic mutation that is associated with severe health problems; they are not the prized and expensive rarity some people will try to market them as. There is no test for the albino gene, but good breeders do everything they can to avoid producing albino Dobermans. Avoid these dogs and the breeders who produce and sell them.

Health Issues Common to Doberman Pinschers

The most serious breed-related health problem in the Doberman is cardiomyopathy, which causes an enlarged heart. Dobermans suffer more from cardiomyopathy than any other breed, and tend to get it in a more severe form and die more quickly from it as well. An annual heart exam is critical in catching this condition early, and no dog with cardiomyopathy should ever be bred, nor should any Doberman be bred without a comprehensive heart examination by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and OFA certification in the previous year. The sad reality, however, is that a dog who tests fine one day can develop heart disease the next, and the puppy of two parents without heart disease can still develop it.

Another breed-related condition affecting the Doberman is cervical vertebral instability (CVI), commonly called Wobbler's syndrome. It's caused by a malformation of the vertebrae within the neck that results in pressure on the spinal cord and leads to weakness and lack of coordination in the hindquarters and sometimes to complete paralysis. Symptoms can be managed to a certain extent in dogs that are not severely affected, and some dogs experience some relief from surgery, but the outcome is far from certain. While CVI is thought to be genetic, there is no screening test for the condition.

Dobermans are also more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.

Finally, Doberman's are very prone to the bleeding disorder known as Von Willebrand's disease. In fact, according to a study done by the College of Veterinary Studies at the Ohio State University, the Doberman is 806 times more likely to be at risk for VWD compared to all other breeds.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Doberman Pinscher before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Cardiomyopathy High $500-$1,500
Chronic Inflammatory Hepatic Disease High $500-$5000
Gastic Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) High $1,500-$7,500
Mitral Valve Disease Medium $500-$2,000
Copper Hepatopathy Medium $200-$1,000
Lick Granuloma High $100-$1,000
IVDD (Wobbler's Disease) High $2,500-$7,000
Pemphigus High $500-$3,000

8 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Doberman Pinscher Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, and locate a breeder who has agreed to abide by its Code of Ethics. A breeder whose dogs are part of the DPCA Longevity Program is an even better bet.

Obtain your puppy from a breeder who has DPCA Working Aptitude certification for his parents. Proper Doberman temperament is so important that the Doberman Pinscher Club of America has developed a certification program for its member breeders, to ensure that their dogs "demonstrate the characteristics required of a dog to be a stable companion and resolute protector." There's an added bonus: Breeders who go to that extent to prove their dogs are temperamentally sound are going to be among the best and most ethical sources for a puppy.

Look for a breeder that has tested her dogs for the long list of genetic health problems that can affect the Doberman. All breeders should be able to show written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) clearing your puppy's parents of hip dysplasia, the bleeding disorder known as Von Willebrand's disease, and eye problems. PennHip certification of hips is also accepted, as is the DPCA evaluation for Von Willebrand's.

Don't fall for the lies of bad breeders, who will tell you they don't need to do such tests because they've never had problems in their lines, their dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the thousand other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs. The minute you hear something like that, walk away.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Because many young Doberman Pinschers are a handful, and many healthy defects hide until maturity, you can avoid both problems by adopting an adult Doberman (or mix) from a rescue group.

Puppy or adult, take your Doberman to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about what to do it if you suspect your dog is bloating, and how best to monitor your dog for other potential health risks.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Doberman Pinschers

Pet insurance for Dobermans costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Dobermans are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Dobermans are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Doberman is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.