Considerations before getting a Doberman

Lessons learned during the past two years.

Fans of Doberman—myself included—are apt to sing the breed’s praises: Doberman are smart, biddable, loyal, affectionate with family, a good visual deterrent, and highly athletic. Doberman have the intelligence and physical ability to participate in nearly any canine sport or activity, from Search and Rescue (SAR) to canine dance to dock-diving. They are, after all, consistently ranked as the fifth most intelligent breed.

But Doberman are also a handful, particularly when raising one from puppyhood. Any amount of research will warn of the “doberteens:” a highly destructive, unmindful period during a young Doberman’s maturation which can occur and last anytime between six months and two years of age. Doberteens are unaffected by training (although this helps in the long run, so keep doing it!), attention, gender, or desex procedures.

Now that Juneau is over two years old, has remembered his brain and his training, and has started calming down a bit, I notice how many friends and strangers compliment his training and his behavior. I am so proud of him when people who were previously frightened of dogs (or Doberman) feel comfortable around him and remark that he has changed their view. I am proud when he behaves on our outings, or when passerby stop to ask what kind of dog he is and tell me how well-behaved he is. But sometimes I am concerned that someone will reflect on our [seemingly] effortless relationship and think that a Doberman is the right dog for them. A Doberman is a great dog, but not for everyone.

Since Juneau was a puppy I have been a huge fan of Cutie and the Beast; Sienna and Buddha have a beautiful, healthy relationship, but there are no pretenses about the ongoing effort involved. Doberman puppies take a lot of effort to raise into well-adjusted dogs. In this post, I have included some of the things that I have learned during my two years of dober-parenthood.

  • Doberman cost money. There is no getting around it: they are big, energetic, and prone to injury and genetic illness. Doberman have sensitive digestive systems which require a high quality diet (I feed Orijen), and many have other issues such as copper storage or DCM, requiring special diets as well. They play rough and have the scars to prove it. Somehow, while I watched him playing by himself at the park, Juneau wound up with a 3″ gash in his ear. He never seemed to mind it at all, but it still cost me fair amount in an emergency vet visit, debridement, and antibiotics. Several months later he had a possible slipped disk after flinging himself out of the car in a bout of excitement (the vehicle was parked at the beach). X-rays, neurological consultations, anti-inflammatory pills, and painkillers easily ran $2000 in the span of a month. Doberman are genetically predisposed to a multitude of illnesses, which can be read about here. While purchasing from a reputable breeder can mean a decreased occurrence of some health issues, there is no guarantee. If you are not willing and able to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a Doberman puppy, don’t get one. If you are willing and able to make this commitment, congratulations! I recommend pet insurance. We have Healthy Paws.
  • Doberman need exercise and training. Until the growth plates close (around 18-24 months old) Doberman puppies should not have forced exercise—running, biking, skateboarding, pulling, etc. This means lots of structured play, and lots of training. Of course this is a blessing in disguise, because all of that time spent working and playing together will strengthen your bond in the long term. Certainly do not plan on any “you” time in the first year. Instead, plan your life around weekly training classes, daily walks and socialization*, and hourly training sessions and play. Trick and training books will be indispensable resources, breed-specific forums will be your support groups, and x-pens and treat-dispensing toys will provide sanity-saving moments of solitude. Many of my favorite books and toys can be found at the bottom of the page in the Resources section.
    *When I use the term “socialization” it is meant as controlled, safe, and structured exposure to people, animals, places, experiences, etc. which fall within the puppy’s stress threshold. I do not advocate pushing any puppy or dog beyond its comfort threshold in the name of socialization.
  • Doberman are velcro dogs. They thrive on interaction, attention, and training. If they do not receive ample attention and training, they are apt to become destructive (moreso than usual), and potentially reactive, aggressive, or develop obsessive behaviors. If you cannot commit to making a Doberman a member of the family and investing the time needed to properly train and socialize, do not get a Doberman.
  • Doberman puppies are destructive. Dobershark. Doberteen. My favorite—Doberdisaster. All of these names come from the inescapable fact that young Doberman are destructive. Crating helps, as does training and following their every movement like they are an escaped convict. As a large puppy, with large, powerful teeth and jaws, it doesn’t take them long to de-stuff a pillow or add some pizazz to wooden banisters or chair legs. They will watch where you put something of interest and B-line for it the moment you aren’t watching, as I learned with an unfortunate pair of Oakley sunglasses. Toys wont last long either, but be sure to replace them lest your puppy finds something else to claim as a toy. If you can’t handle a messy house or some chewed personal effects, don’t get a Doberman.
  • Doberman are not dog park dogs. A lot of people would argue this, and most of them would have Doberman who are still young and not fully sexually mature. Doberman were bred to work closely with humans, not with other dogs, and they are—in relation to other breeds—highly prone to Same Sex Aggression (SSA). I suggest researching SSA before even considering a Doberman. A Doberman is not, by nature, an aggressive dog; however, the AKC Standard states that, “an aggressive or belligerent attitude towards other dogs shall not be deemed
    viciousness,” meaning that such a temperament toward other dogs is acceptable in the breed. Doberman are also very rough players; they like to wrestle, growl, “doberstomp,” and box with one another, which is frequently misunderstood as dominance or aggression. This is not a dog that can play merrily and unattended with the other dogs at the park while you catch up on gossip. That is also not to say that your Doberman can’t have canine friends, they just have to be carefully selected and play in a secure area. If you are unwilling or unable to getting a Doberman puppy the physical exercise that it needs without relying on dog parks, do not get a Doberman.
  • Doberman have a stigma. Along with Pitbulls, Mastiffs, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Akitas, Doberman are often the victims of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). Cities with BSL can require a specific breed to be desexed, muzzled whenever in public, or can even outright ban them. Frequently people on the street, in training classes, or even family and friends will be reluctant to interact with a Doberman based on their perception of the breed, which can make socializing difficult. Many day-cares or boarding facilities do not allow Doberman. Some homeowner’s or renter’s insurance companies will not insure with a Doberman. If you rent, seriously reconsider getting a Doberman, and be sure to discuss any breed restrictions with your landlord. If you are not willing to put in the extra time and effort to properly train and socialize a Doberman puppy despite the difficulties, do not get a Doberman.
  • Doberman can be a handful and a liability, especially when untrained and unsocialized. Determined. Alert. Athletic. All are descriptions in the Doberman standard. These alone can make the Doberman a handful as a puppy when they want to go play with another dog or chase a neighbor’s cat, but combine these traits with an unsocialized, untrained mature Doberman and life becomes a battle of physical strength and stubbornness. Ask yourself: can you realistically restrain an 80 pound dog determined to chase a fleeing animal? Are you willing to work with your dog when you realize that he turns into Cujo anytime he sees a skateboarder, bicyclist, or scooter? Can you manage or are you willing to manage a situation where an off-leash dog runs up on your leashed dog? Are you willing to monitor all interactions that your Doberman has with other people and animals, particularly children? Due to their size, strength, and agility, Doberman are capable of inflicting a significant amount of damage on a person or another animal during a very brief encounter. If you cannot commit 100% to training and socializing to the best of your ability, and doing everything in your power to keep your Doberman and the people and animals around you safe, then please—for yourself, the dog, and the Doberman community—DO NOT get a Doberman.
  • Every dollar and minute spent is worth it. With appropriate dedication, socialization, and training, a Doberman will be your friend for life.

Resources/Library

Books:
The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell PhD
On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Reactive Dog by Patricia McConnell PhD and Karen London PhD
How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend by The Monks of New Skete
Click ‘n Connect by Teah Anders
The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller
Before you Get Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar
Canine Good Citizen by Jack & Wendy Volhard

Other Resources:
DPCA website
Paws Abilities blog

Toys:
Booya by Busy Buddy
Squirrel Buddy by Petsafe
Zogoflex by West Pay Designs
Kong by Kong
Anything by Planet Dog (four bones or higher ratings)

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