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Doberman History


    The Doberman, as we know the breed today, is of comparatively modern origin. It is also one of the few breeds of dog that have taken their name after the man who first originated the breed, Herr Louis Dobermann. The breed, however, did not in fact receive this name until five years after Herr Dobermann died in 1894. The breed was then called the Doberman Pinscher and it has retained this original name since then, with minor deviations, in various countries. Originally in Germany the breed was known as Thuringer Pinscher or Polizeilich Soldatenhund. In 1899 the breed was officially named the Dobermannpinscher (spelled in one word), and it kept this name until after World War II, when the word "Pinscher” (meaning “terrier”) was dropped in 1949, as the breed was not considered to be a terrier.

     In the U.S.A. the breed is still known as the Doberman Pinscher (Dobermann being spelled with one “n”). This, too, is the name by which the dogs are known in Mexico, Central America and South America. In England, the breed is simply known as the Dobermann, which is spelled again with two “n”s in honor of the originator of the breed, Herr Louis Dobermann. In some ways it seems a pity that the dog should not have one name and one spelling throughout the world, as some breeders on both sides of the Atlantic get very upset if “Pinscher” is added or omitted!

     The Doberman was unknown as a breed before 1865, although the foresters of Switzerland and southern Germany used a type of dog not unlike the Doberman. This type was used particularly as a guard dog and for herding cattle.

     Herr Louis Dobermann was a real countryman who was extremely fond of dogs, and he was particularly interested in breeding. He was born on the 2nd of February 1823 in the little town of Apolda, Thuringen, which is situated in the southern central part of Germany. In those early days communications were bad, and the local inhabitants of the area made their own hobbies and pleasures. One of the interests of these country people was dogs and dog breeding.

     Herr Louis Dobermann held a number of jobs, which included being the local butcher, the local dogcatcher, and the official tax collector. He was also the Administrator of the Chamber of Accounts, and at night he seems to have been the night police officer, and possibly at one time a night watchman. Many of these jobs were extremely suitable for his pastime of dog breeding. As a butcher he could obtain cheap food for his dogs, and as the local dogcatcher he could probably acquire dogs that were suitable for his breeding purposes. For his night watchman and police work he obviously required a good dog to accompany him on his rounds, and one of his first dogs was a dog called Schnupp, meaning “Snuffler,” a common name for many dogs in the area. For one reason or another, he never bred from this dog, as he had him castrated before he was a year old. For some years it was impossible for Herr Dobermann to breed dogs himself because until 1874 he lived in a small apartment. In 1880 he was able to move to a larger apartment but there was still not sufficient room for dog breeding other than perhaps an odd litter. Finally. Herr Dobermann was able to buy himself a small house and it was here that he eventually started his serious dog breeding.

     The people of Apolda were obviously dog lovers and many of the inhabitants were keen dog breeders. Since the year 1860 there was a regular dog market there held annually. The object of this dog market, besides the buying and selling of dogs, was also to promote dog breeding. In this yearly show the dogs were all classified. There were hounds, butcher’s dogs, guard dogs, little luxury dogs, and many others. In fact, the market was so big that there were generally at least one hundred dogs exhibited. Herr Dobermann was a regular visitor to this dog market, as it was here that he could view all the types of local dogs. He was thus able to choose the dogs with the physique and character that particularly interested him. Herr Dobermann, therefore, had the opportunity, not only as the local dogcatcher, to also buy suitable dogs to form the type of dog that he particularly wanted. This was apparently a large terrier type dog that would be utterly fearless, highly intelligent, and a first class guard dog. 

     Luckily for Herr Dobermann, he had in the same town two enthusiastic friends who helped and co-operated with the breeding of his dogs. One was the gravedigger and the other was the church bell ringer. One of his helpers, Herr Rebel, was also a night watchman. 

     After a period of years the three men became renowned, with Herr Dobermann as their leader, for the fierce guard dogs that they bred. These dogs were in great demand and were sold as fast as they could breed them, fetching for those days a very good price, and their litters were large.

     He also seems to have collaborated with the local shepherd, Herr Stegmann, who owned some particularly large, strong and useful dogs, which he used for herding his cattle and took with him on his frequent visits to Switzerland, where he went to buy in new cattle. The route by which he traveled was by small, narrow roads that were frequently dangerous. Not only from the elements but also from robbers. To make quite certain that his money was safe, Herr Stegmann used to tie it to the collars of his dogs because the robbers were less likely to attack the dogs than him.

     By the end of the nineteenth century, some years after Herr Dobermann and his two friends were dead, Herr Otto Göller, also of Apolda, started to take a keen interest in the breed, which was by then already established, and it is really he who took over the rough breed and commenced to improve it enormously. Herr Göller was quick to realize the use of the excellent brain and exceptional intelligence of the breed, its alertness and its excellent qualities as a guard dog. But he realized at the same time that the dog was too fierce and vicious and set about changing the breed in order to make it generally more amenable and useful. 

     Herr Göller produced his own superstar in 1904, Hellegraf v. Thueringen, a red male that historian of the breed Philipp  Gruenig called in his book, "one of the mightiest stud dogs of any age or breed... Let the name be written in letters of fire." His stock was of course in great demand and two animals were sent  to the United States together in 1908, Annagret II v. Thueringen and a Stud dog Claudius v. Thueringen.

     The early dogs from Otto Göller`s Kennel looked more like the Beauçeron than they did modern Doberman Pinschers. To establish the look we know today took a long process of experimentation and refinement. Herr Göller was clever enough to be able to retain its superb guard dog characteristics. He softened the breed so much that he even turned it into a good housedog. He eventually streamlined it so well that it became one of the most popular of all dogs in Germany.

     Like all serious dog breeders, breeding with an aim other than purely financial, Herr Göller became utterly absorbed with his breeding, and it is really he who the breeders of the present day have to thank for this superb dual-purpose dog.

     Unfortunately, Herr Göller found, as many other dog breeders have discovered that many of his neighbors complained about the noise that his dogs made and eventually he had to send many of them away. This in itself was sad for Herr Göller, but it proved excellent for the breed, because other people bought the dogs and found them useful and highly trainable. Gradually the popularity of the breed grew all over Germany, and in 1910 Herr Göller himself founded the first Dobermannpinscher club in Apolda. Only one year later the breed was officially recognized in Germany.

     The cult of dog showing became almost universal from the time that the first dog show was held in England in 1859, followed by the first show in Hamburg, Germany in 1863. The first dog show was held in the U.S.A. in 1874. It is interesting that the first studbook in Germany was produced in 1876 and the breed today can trace its history back to the Dobermannpinscherverein studbook of 1890. In 1899 there was only one color recognized, and that was black and tan. In 1901 two other colors were permitted, namely, brown and tan, and blue and tan.

     Unfortunately, the early breeders did not keep any records of their breeding, or, if they did, the records must have been thrown away or destroyed. It is therefore unfortunate that there are no real records of the early dogs that were used to make up the modern Doberman. On this subject, since there is no proof, breeders have differing opinions, but there are certain breeds that have clearly been used to contribute to the present-day Doberman, some of which have had a very strong influence.

     There is obviously a great deal of the old smooth coat, bobtailed German Shepherd dog blood (not to be confused with the German Shepherd as we know it - which is only a little older than the Doberman) and some strong influence from the old German Pinscher, now almost extinct. The latter is indicated particularly by the name “Pinscher” being incorporated in the generic name. There is also considerable influence from the Manchester Terrier, which can be clearly seen in the great similarity in form and particularly in the markings and color, both having the same rich rust-red markings. The Manchester is a great deal smaller than the Doberman. It was originally bred in the area of Manchester in England, hence its name. It was originated from a terrier-whippet cross, and it was a dog much used for coursing rabbits. But they were perhaps most famous as being excellent ratters. The Manchester Terrier could, in fact, be described as a Miniature Doberman, although Manchester Terrier breeders would probably prefer Dobermans to be called Giant Manchester Terriers!

     Another breed, which certainly had a very great influence and was one of the first breeds that were used, is the Rottweiler (meaning Village Pack). Its color and markings are similar, and in the early days many of the Dobermans produced the longer, thicker coat.

     The Rottweiler was originally an ancient central European breed and it was used for centuries as a cattle-herding dog. Later it was used for hunting and was frequently kept in large packs by many of the German nobility. For a very long time they were known as the Rottweiler Metzgerhund (meaning Village Pack Butcher Dog) and so it was not surprising that the second name was dropped at the beginning of the century. The Rottweiler was also used for boar hunting and was probably descended from the Sauranger and Hatzrude (pack of hounds) and other Jagdhundrassen (hunting breeds).

    Other breeds were incorporated in the make-up of the Doberman, such as the old German Pointers, particularly the grey ones, the Weimaraner and the Vizsla Pointer of Hungary. One of the French breeds, probably the Beauçeron, and the large blue Great Dane were probably used too, as also was the blue German Mastiff. There is strong evidence that the English Greyhound was used as well. In 1902 a Gordon Setter was introduced to improve the coat color, but this it failed to do, and since the Setter coat is recessive to the smooth coat it still appears occasionally. Sometime between 1900 and 1910 a very savage black Greyhound bitch was used. From the look and speed of the modem Doberman it appears to have considerable Greyhound influence. There is a theory that there is some Dachshund blood in the breed, but this does not seem particularly likely since Dachshunds suffer from a hereditary malformation of the bones, known as achondroplasia. This is a congenital disease of the growing bones in which the cartilage does not develop correctly, and this results in the shortening and deformity of the leg bones. Other breeds that suffer from this are breeds like the Corgi, the Basset Hound and the Pekingese. It is interesting that a dominant gene causes it. The Doberman shows no possible sign of any achondroplasia, and so the Dachshund theory can be dismissed.  

     In summary, the breeds that are generally believed to have contributed in the development of the Doberman Pinscher are the Rottweiler, Great Dane, the old bobtailed German Shepherd, the original black-and-tan German Pincher, the Weimaraner, the German Short haired Pointer, plus the French herding and guard dog the Beauçeron and two English breeds the Greyhound and Manchester Terrier.

     The original German standard for the breed is of interest, because standards frequently become changed, not always to the benefit of the breed and often at the whims of strong willed officers of club committees or because the breeders cannot breed their dogs to the standard required. It then becomes easier to alter the standard than to alter the dog. In the original standard the qualities required were: “Pleasant in manner and character, faithful, fearless, attentive and reliable watchdog, sure defender of the master, mistrustful of strangers, intelligent, gay, very capable of training, ideal house dog and companion. Running gear must be light and free, temperament lively and ardent.” The size of the original Dobermannpinscher is interesting. Male dogs were 58—65 cm. (23—26 inches) and bitches were 55—60 cm. (22—24 inches). In England the present day standard is males 27 inches and bitches 25½ inches, and in the U.S.A. males 26—28 inches and bitches 24—26 inches, the heights preferred being males 27 inches and bitches 25½ inches, although it is rare to find dogs under 28 inches. This shows that the breed has increased in size considerably, and if this continues it may not be entirely to the benefit of the breed in the future. Measurement seems to be very elastic, since one never sees a Doberman being measured in the show ring.

     Dogs have been used in wars from the very earliest times, and many countries have employed them with enormous success. It was, however, the Germans who first officially recognized the tremendous value that dogs could have in wartime, and they developed their trained dogs from 1870 onwards. It is ironical that the Germans imported most of their original war dogs from Britain, and they encouraged village clubs, where people were to breed and train dogs. Matches were frequently held between clubs, and dogs became champions. By the time that the First World War broke out the Germans had 6,000 beautifully trained war dogs, and these alone saved more than 4,000 Germans, who would otherwise have died or have been taken prisoner. It was not until 1910 that the British started to train dogs.

     During the years of WWI Phillip Gruenig wrote with pain about how dogs were trapped and used for food by desperate people. Many breeders sent their dogs to neutral countries, hoping they would be spared. In the U.S.A., after they had come into World War I, an appeal was launched for 125,000 dogs, Special instructors were sent from England to the U.S.A. to train the Americans in war dog training. France also had a very large dog training organization.

      The popularity of the Doberman went from strength to strength and they were soon being exported all over the world. They are exceedingly good dogs in all climates, but they do not care for sudden changes of temperature. In 1904 they were sent to Holland and from there they quickly reached the Dutch East Indies. Most of the European countries imported them, and in 1907 a number of Dobermans went to Russia. In 1919 the Austrian Dobermanpinscher Club was formed. The popularity of the Dobermans continued to spread and there were some in South Africa long before 1914.

     After the war the German breeders began with great vigor to rebuild their breeding stock. The 119 Dobermans at the Munich Sieger Show in 1921 where considered excellent. Just 1 year later 223 dogs represented the breed at the Berliner Sieger Show. Authority William Sidney Shmidt remarked, "The breed had reached almost perfection. It was at its pinnacle carrying through on the same level during a number of years to follow."

     In 1921 the Americans already had some excellent Dobermans. Many of these were imported from Holland and later from Germany, Switzerland and Russia. It was in that year that the American Doberman Pinscher Club was formed. The Americans did a great deal for the breed, as many of the original dogs had an aggressive and often vicious temperament. The Americans set to and calmed the breed, turning them into fine, useful, amenable and intelligent working dogs. There were four great dogs imported from Russia in 1930 that influenced the breed considerably.  

     By World War II the Germans had 45,000 trained war dogs, and of these they sent 25,000 to Japan just before they attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. In Britain there was practically no dog training done before 1910. In 1940, however, a special army war dog training school was started, and this was sent to Belgium in 1945 with the British Army of the Rhine. Today the importance of war dogs is realized throughout the world.

     The type of dogs found most suitable for war are extremely interesting. Out of nearly 16,000 dogs that were offered for training in Germany in World War I only 18% were found suitable, and the top breeds were surprisingly the British Airedale and two German breeds, the Boxer and the Dobermannpinscher. The German Shepherd came fifth.

     Finally, I would like to mention the most famous Doberman of them all. Much like "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer," that would of course be the Doberman know as "Warlock."