Owning a Doberman Pinscher is a truly unique experience. It’s very common to be approached by other people out in public who want to talk about your beautiful, proud, noble-looking dog. People have many questions about Dobermans when they see one, but the most common questions have to do with how aggressive or dangerous Dobermans are. In fact, many people have told me they thought these dogs were just plain mean.
With years of experience and involvement in the Doberman community, I feel I can answer that question with confidence. It’s time to set the record straight so people will know the truth about this impressive breed, and not just what the movies tell them.
Dobermans are built to work in a personal protection roll. Because of this, it’s easy to see how many people see them as potentially overly aggressive and dangerous. Just looking at these dogs can strike fear into many people, and frankly, it’s understandable.
They have many physical features that were originally bred into these dogs to help them perform their desired role. These are some of the physical traits that help them excel in the role of personal protection.
- Large: These dogs are on the larger side, but not so big that their size will interfere with their agility. Males average between 75 to 100 pounds and 26 to 28 inches tall, while females average between 60 to 90 pounds and 24 and 26 inches tall.
- Muscular Build: With low body fat and a muscular build, they’re built for speed, strength, and stamina. In fact, they can run up to 40 mph and maintain these high speeds for an impressive length of time—thank you greyhound genes!
- Broad Powerful Chest: A broad muscular chest is perfect for hitting large prey hard and taking them to the ground.
- Proud Posture: Dobermans have a unique posture that makes them stand out from other breeds. They sit tall, alert, calm, and proud. They are known for looking people directly in the eyes and not breaking eye contact.
- Blunt Wedge Shaped Head: The head itself is considered to be a blunt wedge shape, but a large portion of the head’s profile view is taken up by the dog’s powerful jaws and
- Cropped Ears: Traditionally, Dobermans have cropped ears that stand straight up. There are many reasons for this, but some of the original purposes of the erect, cropped ears were to help locate the source of sound during guard work and to eliminate a potential handhold on the dog and prevent damage during a fight. Erect ears are more difficult to grab than floppy ones.
- Short Sleek Coat: Their sleek short coats certainly makes the dog more difficult to hold onto or control in a fight.
- Docked Tail: Their natural tails are long, thin, and prone to breaking. Thes tail also provides another way for a potential attacker to get ahold of the dog. This is why they traditionally have docked tails.
These physical traits make the Doberman have a distinct look that often strikes fear into people who aren’t familiar with the breed. These dogs are very often incredibly gentle and not as dangerous as they look. Unfortunately, this unique combination of physical characteristics make them the perfect “villain dog” in movies and television, and they’re often portrayed as such.
In addition to the physical traits listed above, there are also many typical temperament traits that help to make the Doberman a great guard dog. Just like with the physical traits, the casual observer may see some of these as a sign that the dog is dangerous to be around. However, that’s far from the reality.
- Reserved with Strangers: By nature, Dobermans are a little reserved with people that they don’t know, at least initially. After a short time, and once they decide that you’re not a threat, you’re likely to see a very warm side of the dog.
- Protective of their Owners: They have a natural instinct to protect their owners. After all, this is what they were bred to do over a hundred years ago. If they sense something is wrong, they’ll act. This is true of even the most docile Doberman in my experience. For example, if a stranger closely approaches you with a large object (like a rake or large stick) while you’re out for a walk with your Dobie, talks loudly, and moves their hands abruptly as they speak, it wouldn’t be surprising for the dog to become agitated and warn the subject with a series of loud barking.
- Loyal: These dogs are incredibly loyal, and love to stick by the side of their owners. That’s why they’re often referred to as “velcro dogs.” They love their owners and will defend them to the death. They’re also very in-tune with people and tend to bond strongly to one specific member of their family, yet they’re still content being “part of the pack” of the family as a whole.
- Intelligent: Dobermans are consistently ranked among the smartest dog breeds in the world. They’re great at problem-solving, following commands, and understanding what is expected of them. It’s because of their extreme intelligence that they’re also considered one of the most trainable dogs in the world.
They do possess a number of other impressive temperament traits that really makes them great family dogs. Read Are Dobermans Good Family Dogs for more information on exactly why Dobermans really do make an amazing family pet.
Unfortunately, many people will see a large, impressive, noble-looking dog sticking close to their owner’s side and will assume that they must be aggressive or just mean. Some even think that every Doberman should wear a muzzle all the time. This is far from reality.
A well-socialized Doberman is an extremely loving and gentle dog and they’re even often used as service dogs due to their intelligence, trainability, and kind nature.
The Scissor Bite
One of the common reasons people see Dobermans as ferocious is
In addition to the strength of their bite, Dobermans also have what’s called a “scissor” bite. This means that their teeth come together in a fairly precise, interlaced way (like interlacing your fingers) as they bite down. This allows them to hold onto what they bite very effectively. It also allows them to cut through objects with ease.
Lastly, the Doberman tends to bite in a fairly unique way. Whereas the American pit bull terrier is known for biting down and refusing to release, the Doberman does the opposite. They tend to bite, release, and re-bite in very rapid succession. This rapid biting movement inflicts a significant amount of damage in a very short period of time.
Have I scared you yet? Well, you really shouldn’t be. Although Dobermans have impressive abilities, they’re not likely to use them unless they’re threatened. In fact, the modern-day Doberman is known to be gentle, kind, and great with kids. This wasn’t always the case though.
How Dobermans Were Bred to Protect
Yes, the Doberman breed is man-made. In fact, they’re a fairly recent creation and only came to be a little over a hundred years ago. Understanding why and how they were created will shed light on why they behave the way they do. Quite simply—it’s in their genetics!
During the late 1800s, Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann lived in Apolda, Germany. He worked at least two jobs at that time. He was the town’s tax collector (a fairly unpopular position), and he ran the local dog pound where he had access to dogs of many different breeds. Louis decided he needed a dog to accompany him on his rounds through the town collecting taxes for his own safety. Louis set out to produce the perfect dog for personal protection through selective breeding. He did this by using the various dogs he had access to at the dog pound.
Louis needed to produce a dog that was strong, fast, smart, fearless, completely loyal and very trainable. The dog also had to be large and intimidating to discourage potential attackers, as well as truly ferocious if need be. Louis set out experimenting by selectively breeding dogs and after many generations, he ended up with the Doberman Pinscher—the perfect protector.
Louis never documented exactly which dogs he used to produce the Doberman, but it’s commonly believed that he used some combination of the greyhound, rottweiler, German shepherd, great dane, German pinscher, English greyhound shorthaired shepherd, Weimaraner, Beauceron and black and tan terrier (which is now extinct, but is an ancestor to the Manchester terrier).
DID YOU KNOW?
The European Doberman is a much closer relation to Louis Dobermann’s original dog than the American variant. Read my article all about the differences between the European and American Doberman here.
In World War 2, Dobermans were used extensively by the United States Marine Corps during the various battles for control of the pacific. In the Battle of Guam, 25 Dobermans died serving their country in the battle against the Japanese. They were referred to as “Devil Dogs.”
The modern-day Doberman, is a far cry from the “Devil Dogs” of the past, however. They have far fewer aggressive traits than the Dobermans of many generations ago. The main reason for this is because modern breeders have bred out many of the aggressive traits from these dogs to make them more docile and better suited for a family environment.
Breeders are now breeding these dogs for companionship rolls much more often than guard duty rolls. They still retain their natural protective instincts and will certainly take action if necessary, yet they are very kind, loving, and predictable. All great qualities for a family pet.
Statistics: How Likely are Dobermans to Kill Someone?
According to a thirteen-year study which looked at the different breeds of dogs involved in fatal dog attacks, the Doberman ranked 11th. That’s pretty far down the list. Even the Labrador retriever killed more people during that period that Doberman’s did. So what kinds of dogs were involved in more deaths during the thirteen-year study? Take a look at the table below.
|Breed||Deaths||Percent of Total|
|Mastiff (including bullmastiff)||14||3.2%|
For a full breakdown of these statistics, including sources. Please see Dogsbite.org: U.S. Dog Bite Fatalities (2005 to 2017).
Did you know? There’s a common myth that Dobermans are prone to randomly snapping, and turning on their owners for no reason. Some say their brains grow too big for their skull size causing this viciousness. Is there any truth to this? Find out in my article Do Dobermans Turn on Their Owners? Brain vs. Skull Size Myth.
Are Dobermans Mean?
Doberman Pinschers are not mean by nature. They will generally only act out to protect themselves or their owners from a perceived danger. Any overly aggressive behavior from a Doberman is likely the result of a severe lack of socialization or mistreatment from their owner.
A lot of people ask me if Dobermans are mean. Asking if they’re mean is asking about their general state of mind and it’s not a straightforward answer. In general, no—I have not found Dobermans to be mean, but of course, there are always exceptions.
During my time offering consulting services to Doberman owners, I have come across a few dogs that appear to have a bit of a mean streak in them. But once you get down to the real root cause as to why they’re acting out and destroying things, trying to bite someone that comes to the door, or struggling from other behavioral issues, it’s not because they are mean. It is almost always related to their upbringing.
If a dog, any dog, isn’t socialized enough at a young age or lacks positive human interaction, it means that the dog will feel fear a lot more often. Even in what seems like normal, every-day situations to you and me and they may act out. Dobermans aren’t mean, but their owners can be.
Are Dobermans Dangerous?
While Doberman Pinschers certainly have the physical abilities to be quite dangerous animals, the modern-day Doberman is generally well suited for a companionship role and is not likely to be overly aggressive.
People will see a Doberman walking by with its owner and they’ll cross to the other side of the street. A father will pick up their toddler as they stroll past your leashed Doberman. The pool guy will be afraid to step in your backyard just by seeing your dog staring at him. Why does this happen? These people all believe that this is a dangerous breed.
I can tell you from personal experience that this is confusing to a Doberman owner. Especially when we often spend the evenings sitting on the couch with our dogs stretched out over our laps. Or tossing the ball endlessly for him. Dobermans are loving animals, yet they do have the physical ability to be dangerous if they need to be (they’re large, strong, and have a powerful bite). But they’re just great loyal protectors and are generally only dangerous to those threatening the ones they are close to.
Are Dobermans Aggressive?
Doberman Pinschers are instinctually much more protective than they are offensive or aggressive. They will generally only become aggressive while attempting to protect themselves or their owners from a perceived threat.
These dogs were bred to be protectors, that means they protect. They will stick close by your side and keep you safe at all costs. They generally don’t have any desire to pick a fight with a person or animal if they don’t feel threatened by them.
Of course, each dog has its own personality, but this is typical of the breed in general. They get their reputation because they can become ferocious if their owners are threatened, but honestly, isn’t that a good quality? I think so.
Reputation vs. Reality
While all the above questions are similar, they’re all asking something slightly different. No, Dobermans are not mean, yes they have the ability to be dangerous (but rarely are), and they are generally never aggressive without the need to protect either themselves or their owners. I am asked all three questions quite regularly when I’m in public with my dog.
The reason people want to know how aggressive these dogs are is because of what they see in movies and on television. The Doberman has been traditionally portrayed as the evil villain dog who will stop at nothing to attack anyone it sees. Luckily, this is just fiction. The reality is that these are wonderful family dogs, each with their own personality, but none of them “evil” at heart.
Do Dobermans attack their owners? It’s a common misconception that Doberman Pinschers are prone to turning on their owners. In fact, the modern-day Doberman is a great family pet that is very people-oriented and will protect their owners from harm, even at their own peril.
Are male or female Dobermans more aggressive? While every dog has its own personality, female Dobermans have a reputation for displaying more aggression than their male counterparts.
Are Dobermans aggressive towards strangers? Dobermans can be aggressive towards strangers, but this is usually only if they feel threatened or that their owners are in danger.
Are Dobermans aggressive towards other dogs? Dobermans can be aggressive towards other dogs, especially while on a leash. However early socialization can prevent this. Male Dobermans have also been known to have issues living with other male dogs in the same household.