American vs. European Dobermans
It is time I weigh in on the debate since it is the question I get asked nearly every day in phone calls and emails. Everyone wants to know which is better American bred Dobermans or European Dobermans. By American bred I don’t necessarily ,mean dogs just born in America, I mean dogs bred to the AKC standard, or dogs in America not bred to any standard. Nice of me to lump them into that category huh? European Dobermans to me are dogs bred to the FCI or international standard or their direct descendents as long as they continue to be bred to the FCI standard. It seems funny to me that we call them European since the FCI standard is used even in central and Southern America. But the first thing is to understand that there is a difference between the two standards.
The second thing to understand is that it doesn’t make one better than another, it creates preference. It does mean that one group will be suited more to what you are after than another group. Contrary to what most people think about me, it does not mean that I don’t like American Bred dogs. In fact two of the people that dislike me the most have the most amazing American bred Dobermans I have ever seen. I can appreciate their beauty and their closeness to their standard, the same way I can appreciate the beauty and grace of Arabian horses while still preferring Quarter horses. I like to train Quarter horses, I like to ride them, rope off them, cut with them, I like to be with them. It is the same with Doberman Pinschers. The Arabian horse wins most every endurance event, that is what they were created for. They are graceful, efficient and correct in their movement, but a quarter horse is like the American muscle car, it is just raw power waiting to explode. So is this about Cars, or horses or Doberman Pinschers? It is about Doberman Pinschers of course!
The point I am trying to make is that the American Doberman was bred by fanciers and breeders to evolve into a different type of dog in type, structure and temperament than the original Doberman from Apolda Germany was. What most people fail to understand is that the “European Doberman” or those bred to the FCI standard also evolved to a different form than the original Herr Doberman dog. Today’s European type Doberman Pinscher is larger and more heavily boned than it’s ancestors. It’s temperament is still adequate for “Work” (by this we mean dog sports, personal protection, Police work, Search and rescue, etc.) but it is considerably less “sharp” than its predecessor. I don’t think I would have liked the original Doberman Pinscher very much, they were small compact muscle bound dogs with very sharp temperaments, fiercely loyal to their owners but wary of anyone else. Many judges and handlers were bit at shows and otherwise by these “Devil dogs” as they came to be known by the US military when they were pressed into service with the Marine corps. They provided a more than valuable service to our country and our soldiers, and they were perfectly suited for their job. They saved lives, they protected lives, but they were loyal to their handlers alone for the most part. The European Doberman Pinscher of today is still very protective and loyal, but much less suspicious. The American bred Doberman on the other hand as a generalization (naturally there are exceptions) has had the working temperament bred out of them, as a “job” was not part of their standard. In Germany the dogs were not allowed to be bred unless the dog met the breed standard of conformation, passed hip examinations, passed a temperament test, and at least one parent had to have a working title such as a schutzhund title.
This is why the working traits have been preserved. Now there is also indiscriminant breeding going on over in Europe and elsewhere but the dog remains fundamentally different. In America I see two basic groups of Dobermans evolving in the last 100 years. The first group is the result of the Dobermans incredible popularity in the early 70’s when they were literally mass produced. The AKC did not have any breeding regulations, nor does it today with regards to health, temperament or structure. They have a standard that constantly gets revised but it is voluntary to adhere to. This first group of people are the group I call backyard breeders. Not because the dogs are actually bred in the back yard as I like to joust with so many people that pass out that label, but because they don’t have a clear goal and standard in mind in their breeding program. Their motive is only to produce puppies. These are different than the group I label as puppy millers. Puppy mills to me are people who on a large scale produce puppies with only a profit motive, no standard to breed to or clear program goals, and most importantly the condition the dogs and puppies are kept in. This one point gets me in more arguments than any other. But between the Back yard Breeders (often abbreviated byb’s) and the puppy millers often abbreviated (pm’s) they ruined what the Doberman was as well as what it became. They produced dogs that now range from 45 pounds on up to over 120 I hear people boast from time to time, and there is not a set of traits that really identifies them as a group other than their coloring and the fact that they are registered as Doberman Pinschers. There is too much variability in the group and fails the fundamental definition of a breed which is that “parents produce like offspring.” There is now so much variability in structure, temperament, marking and even color that I would not call the offspring “Like” meaning the same as the parents. There was another group in America that was breeding dogs with a goal in mind, they are the show people. They were breeding dogs for the conformation ring. Now I will say something here that likely will offend many people, but it doesn’t make it any less true. The goal was the structure alone of the dog, temperament was not fussed about, nor were health traits. I know there have been some big changes in the last few years with very good health testing, but one of the most talked about and bred to studs not long ago also had a history of very bad temperament, but he was gorgeous so they kept breeding him. One of my favorite kennels despite their lack of appreciation for me :) had wobblers in their lines and now the whole line has been retired in favor of healthier lines now that health testing and genealogy has become more important.
The American Doberman Pinscher is a beautiful dog and I can appreciate their elegance and grace. In my opinion they lack the structure and power to do their original job. The Doberman Pinscher was the only breed of dog ever bred specifically for personal protection. There are many breeds that do this job well, but they were bred as multi-purpose dogs. The Doberman was created by Herr Doberman specifically to be a companion and guard to it’s owner. I have not met any American Champion Dobermans that could adequately perform this job and if someone has one please bring it over and shut me up as I put on the bite suit. This to me is why I prefer the European Bred Doberman Pinscher. They still can do the original job they were bred for. I love the story of how the Doberman came to our nations aid in time of war not many years ago, but if the same call came out today for Doberman Pinschers to be war dogs, the ones America could send would be predominantly European dogs. The AKC champions would fail us, the Back yard Bred dogs would fail us, and the puppy mill dogs would fail us. I now understand very clearly what it takes for a dog to actually do this kind of work, and so much of it is bred in to them.
Let’s be specific about some generalizations in the breed standard. American bred Doberman Pinschers are typically smaller over all, they are shorter at the withers and lighter than the European Doberman. They are also finer boned. Those physical traits make them less suited for working dog sports that I enjoy. If they were slightly smaller and still had adequate bone they may make better ring-sport dogs than the standard European Doberman. Very few Dobermans do well in French ring primarily because of the palisade wall they must scale and jump off. The typical Doberman is too heavy to jump 7 to 9 feet with all his weight on his front end and not sustain injury. The American bred Doberman lacks the drive and temperament and is too fine boned also for this task.
Although health testing occurs with most reputable American Doberman Breeders now, it wasn’t always the case and in my opinion we see higher frequency of many maladies, and some others that typically do not show up in the European dog.
So which dog is better American or European? You can see now it comes down to what you want the dog for. They both can make great family pets, which is what the majority of people getting Doberman puppies are interested in. Generally the European Type Doberman Pinscher is going to be better suited for working dog sports, but an American bred dog can still do great with obedience, agility, flyball etc. Some even track well despite their lack of selection for it. I did Search and Rescue with American bred Doberman Pinschers, one was a grandson of my favorite show kennel. But doing SAR with my European Dobermans has been much more rewarding and easier to train. I used to pheasant hunt with my American bred Doberman Pinschers back in 1998 but I have no doubt whatsoever that Ruby and Athena today would hunt faster with more desire, drive and stamina. But I never did have a good protection dog from American lines. I had some that learned the job, but none were as powerful or as driven for the work, and if I found dogs that were, they were not as stable in my house with children.
Both the American bred Doberman and the European Doberman are good dogs for their intended purposes, it really does come down to preference. You even have some people crossing the two which although not my goal, since the gene pool is very shallow anyway, it may save the genetic health of the breed in the long run.
Naturally my preference is and remains the European Doberman Pinscher because of the jobs I do with them. I prefer the health, temperament, size, structure and working ability of a European Doberman that is why I have them, and that is why I breed them to share with other people.