Monday, July 23, 2012

Dobermans - What It's Like To Own One

I wanted to write something factual about what's near and dear to me - my dogs. Also, as a researcher, I wanted to share what I learned by scouring websites, reading books, talking to Doberman owners, and my direct experience as a Doberman's person, about the Doberman breed.

The Doberman are commonly regarded as the fifth smartest dog breed in the world, and are one of the best guard dog breeds - rated second only to the bull mastiff. The benefit of the Doberman (also the Rottweiler and German Shepard - both among the top 10 dog breeds for both intelligence and guarding tendencies) is that the breed is smart enough to discriminate between friend and foe. Our dogs (one full Dobie, and one Rott-Dobie mix) accept strangers into our home with their tails wagging. They take their cues from their owners (as long as you've trained your dog and they respect your judgement!) and they want people to visit as long as you want them there. Our dogs won't even bark when someone knocks on the door, as long as we've told them to expect visitors (seriously, SO smart).

Though these breeds can be suspicious by nature, training and early exposure to lots of different situations/people/places/noises often produce well-balanced and very friendly dogs. Our dogs LOVE people. However, when they are out of their territory, on walks for example, they go 'on duty.' They will allow people to touch them, but they remain aloof, watching everything to make sure their owners are safe. Even people that they know and love are largely ignored when they are out of the house. But come in our house and it's a whole different scenario. They just want  NEED love, love, love. It's worth noting that some of these dogs are very aloof with strangers, though I've never met any.

You were gone for almost a minute and we missed you SO much!
Both our dogs are bonded very strongly to our family. However, Odin, our Doberman, especially loves his mommy. If someone is at the house, he'll often stand between them and me - in a friendly way, usually trying to get petted. Most people don't even notice what he's doing. This tendency becomes more apparent if the guest is an unfamiliar man and my husband isn't home. This is not something I trained him to do, he does this instinctively. Dobermans do not need to be trained to be guard dogs, they have been selectively bred to guard their people (and property, though that's secondary) since Louis Doberman began breeding a dog to protect him on his tax collecting rounds in the 19th century.

Our Rotten Dobie keeping tabs on the neighborhood.
Though our dogs are very well trained, they are reluctant to take orders from anyone outside of the family. If someone else gives Odin a command, he will either ignore it or look to me to see if it's mandatory that he listen. Karma, our Rotten Dobie, is much more likely to listen to someone besides my husband and myself because she wants the attention. However, you can't make that dog do anything. You can ask, and she will do it because you ask, but she's very stubborn (this is a Rottie tendency).

Speaking of training, these breeds tend to be 'social climbers,' meaning that they are always jockeying to be top dog. As a responsible owner, you have to be consistent with obedience training and do it regularly. If you stop making them do things, they'll start testing your leadership. These are not breeds for someone who is not committed to obedience (if you think it's mean to give your dog commands these breeds are NOT for you!), and are generally not a good breed for an inexperienced dog owner. Training is not optional for these breeds, it's mandatory. If you are going to have a smart dog with strong, protective tendencies that is as athletic as a Doberman, you need to be able to control it!

However, it's worth mentioning that as working breeds, Dobermans and Rotties love to have a job to do and obedience is a good job to give them. Our dogs love obedience! They love the direct attention and they love to please (the treats don't hurt either). The fact that they are smart breeds means that they learn fast, too, so it's fun for both dog and owner.

In this instance, obedience = drooling while thinking about how cruel mommy is. So very, very cruel.

There are other aspects of the Doberman breed that are a little quirky. First, the Doberman needs its people, all the time. They do not like being left behind - after all, it's their job to protect you. This means that some dobies get separation anxiety. This can make it hard to leave your dog to go on vacation or even leave it alone all day while you are at work.Odin, for example, will sometimes stop eating if I'm away for a few days - talk about a guilt trip!

A typical day: one dog on my lap, the other under foot.

Doberman are super smart dogs. They need to be kept busy. They get bored. They can keep themselves amused (and if you haven't trained them well, you will seriously regret this tendency!) but they'd prefer you interact with them. This is especially true if you are on the phone. Basically, it's like having a toddler forever.

This breed is also super sensitive - emotionally. That's right, Dobermans are big babies. You can easily hurt their feelings, and that means that training needs to be upbeat and focus on rewards, not punishment.

Odin needs love...all the time.
Dobermans tend to be super lovey. They really want to be lapdogs, and will be if you let them. They are often called 'velcro dogs' because they are stuck to their owner's side. I am followed into the bathroom, I am watched while I get dressed, and my foot often becomes a pillow as soon as I stop moving. Guests frequently remark that Odin never takes his eyes off me, and that's the truth. Most of the time he doesn't have that far look, either, because if he's not laying on me he's leaning against me. If you need your space, a Doberman is not for you. A Doberman is always going to be all up in your business.

Odin leaning up against my husband while he does the dishes: a regular occurrence at our house.

Doberman are not quiet dogs. Now, they can be taught to be fairly discriminating barkers. Our dogs learn who are neighbors are and do not bark at them (because of that training we've been talking about). We have also taught them to stop barking if we acknowledge what they are barking at and reassure them that it's not a threat (they will bark initially, though, because it's their job). BUT, it's not the barking I'm referring to. Doberman are talkers. Odin grunts, whines, whistles, woofs, yops, squeaks, grumbles, and has a variety of barks to let us know what he wants. He likes to communicate. He'll let you know if he's happy or unhappy. These are not quiet dogs.

There are other random Doberman tendencies that make this breed unique. Doberman generally don't like water and are not strong swimmers. Even though they have tight lips, many Doberman are messy drinkers. They can be finicky eaters. Doberman are high energy dogs, and it's generally recommended that you have a large, fenced yard so they can get plenty of exercise.

Energy, I has it.
Many people are intimidated or afraid of Dobermans, so even if your dobie is the sweetest, best behaved dog ever, there will be people who are uncomfortable around it; this can lead to complications with neighbors, guests, etc.  Like many guard breeds, most landlords will not rent to someone with a Doberman. Many insurance companies have blacklisted this breed. These are important things to consider before getting a Doberman! It's never easy on a dog to be given away by an owner, but because of this breed's strong emotional bonds with it's family, it can be devastating. Please, don't get a Doberman unless you are committed to keeping it for life.

In conclusion, Doberman are great dogs for the right owners. They require a lot of work, especially in those first four years when they are maturing. They are high maintenance, requiring much more of your attention than most other breeds.

 If you would like additional information on the breed, please check out the following sites [] or contact a reputable Doberman breeder or Doberman Rescue near you.

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