The German Shepherd vs. The Doberman Pinscher: Breed Differences & Comparison

If you love big dogs, you might consider getting a German shepherd or Doberman Pinscher. You’ve probably seen both working with the police or military. But all large-breed canines are not the same.

German shepherds consistently rank as the second most popular dog breed after Labrador retrievers with the American Kennel Club. In 2018, Dobermans ranked #17. Does that mean that Dobermans aren’t as family-friendly? Do they make good pets?

In this article, you’ll learn more about each breed. If you’re looking to take in a dog, you’ll have more information to use to make this important decision by the time you’re done reading. A pet is a long-term commitment, and you should make sure that your choice is right for you and your family.

Like our other GSD comparisons, you’ll come away with some interesting and useful facts about the different breeds.

Breed Differences

German shepherds and Dobermans were both bred to help people. However, although you might think that they’re both working dogs, they’re not in the same category.

Histories

Many people associate German shepherds with police operations. They’ve been used to sniff out illegal drugs and have served in the armed forces. The breed was developed by Captain Max von Stephanitz in western Germany in 1889.

Von Stephanitz prized utility and intelligence in these animals. He wanted a canine that was an efficient servant. He also wanted to standardize the herding breed. All herding dogs in Germany were referred to as shepherds, but they didn’t always share the same traits.

The characteristics that they did have in common were intelligence and loyalty. Von Stephanitz also wanted to create a dog with inherent beauty.

German Shepherds were used extensively during World War I. Some American soldiers brought these dogs home, and movies like Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart made the breed somewhat famous.

Doberman Pinschers were also developed in Germany, by Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann. Like the German shepherd, the Doberman is also a relatively new breed of dog, as it was standardized at the end of the 19th century.

Dobermann owned a local dog pound, and he mixed a variety of breeds to produce the Doberman Pinscher. No one is sure exactly which breeds went into the creation of the Doberman, but they think that it may have genes from the following canines:

  • German Pinscher
  • Rottweiler
  • Greyhound
  • Great Dane
  • Weimaraner
  • German shorthaired pointer
  • Old German shepherd dog

This dog has also been used in the military and police service over the years. U.S. soldiers noticed that their enemies used dogs as sentries and scouts. In 1942, the Doberman Pinscher Club of America was asked to provide canines for the Marine Corps War Dog Training Facility in North Carolina.

The Doberman became the official U.S. Marine War Dog during World War II. These animals were nicknamed “Devildogs” during that time. As the war came to a close, though, German shepherds superseded Dobermans as the most popular military dog.

Herding vs. Working Group

German shepherds are part of the herding group, whereas Dobermans are in the working group of canines. But these groups were classified together until 1983.

Herders tend to be easy to train and loyal. They gather the people or animals under their protection so that they can keep an eye on them. For this reason, they make great companions and are often used for protection work.

The working group of dogs has fewer specifications. For example, a Husky is a working dog because it can pull a sled. A Newfoundland was originally bred to help fishermen because it is such a good swimmer.

German shepherds were developed from various breeds of sheep-herding canines. Dobermans were bred as protectors.

Dobermans aren’t natural herders. However, they are so intelligent, loyal and protective that they can be trained to herd other animals.

Physical Differences & Similarities

When it comes to physical characteristics, these dogs have just as many similarities as differences. We have broken them down in the list below:

Similarities:

  • Both are medium-sized dogs that range from 65-95 pounds and stand about 26-27 inches tall at 1 year of age.
  • Both shed regularly, although the Dobie’s coat is easier to maintain, as you’ll read below.
  • Both have a tendency to bark. Teaching them the “Quiet” command may make your life easier and allow them to bark only when they’re protecting you against intruders.

Differences:

  • Dobies have short coats that require little maintenance; shepherds have thicker, medium-length, double-layer coats that shed more and require more grooming.
  • While both of these dogs have an athletic build, Dobermans are taller and thinner, whereas shepherds are stockier and shorter. Their back also slopes more than Dobies’ spines.
  • German shepherds have an average life expectancy of 7-10 years, whereas Dobies tend to live for 10-12 years.

Health Comparison

Because of inbreeding, both breeds have an inclination toward certain ailments. However, this is an issue for all purebred dogs.

The main health concerns for German shepherds are:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Cataracts

They should get regular checkups and have special attention directed to the joints.

The main health concerns for Dobermans are:

  • Heart problems
  • Spinal instability
  • Hip dysplasia

Dobermans should have their hips and heart examined regularly. They should also be tested for von Willebrand’s disease, which is directly inherited and can cause serious blood loss from minor wounds.

Personality Differences

Herding dogs tend to be more intelligent than working dogs. However, Dobermans are one of the two working-class canine breeds that have made it onto the list of top 10 most intelligent dogs. Dobermans are number 3 on the list.

Dobermans:

  • Need companionship – Dobermans are incredibly loyal, which makes them great protectors. They may latch on to one member of the family, though. Socializing them early can prevent them from being shy or snappy.
  • Require daily exercise—A leisurely stroll isn’t enough for these athletic dogs. You should be able to take them for a brisk walk or all-out run at least once a day.
  • Need mental stimulation – Because they’re so intelligent, these dogs want to work. You can use advanced obedience training methods or agility work to prevent them from getting bored.
  • Can be stubborn – They’re almost so intelligent that they get bored with menial tasks and try to outwit you, which can make them hard to train. You need to establish that you’re the dominant member of the pack as early as possible.

German Shepherds:

  • Learn quickly – These dogs usually aim to please. They learn commands quickly and tend to repeat them consistently.
  • Are playful – German shepherds may be more mischievous than Dobermans. Dobermans tend to appreciate straightforwardness when people interact with them. German shepherds usually become high-strung when they’re improperly socialized.
  • Have a lot of energy – German shepherds need daily exercise. If they can’t get their energy out, they may become anxious or nervous.
  • Like to work – These dogs enjoy working because it lets them work their minds and bodies. A bored German shepherd can get destructive or antsy.

Both of these dogs score high on a trait called the guarding tendency. They’ll defend their territory as well as their people or animals. But territorial behavior can become a problem if dogs become overly aggressive. Therefore, both of these breeds need to be trained when it comes to protecting their areas.

This loyalty makes them great family pets. Although German shepherds are often considered to be better with kids than Dobermans, both can adapt to living with a high-energy family.

It’s important to train your children as much as you train your dog. Kids should understand how to best interact with these large pets so that they are seen as leaders of the pack instead of puppies or enemies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Dobermans Called Pinscher?

In the U.S., these dogs are often referred to as “Dobermans,” whereas in other countries, they’re called “Doberman Pinschers.” The term “Pinscher” may come from the fact that German Pinschers were probably bred with other dogs to create this breed.

Do German Shepherds or Dobermans Have Any Typical Problematic Behavioral Traits?

Some people say that Dobermans aren’t good around children or small pets, but that depends on the dog’s training and personality. German shepherds tend to be less stubborn and more easygoing around children. Both breeds should do well with kids if they’re raised with them.

Because these dogs have guarding tendencies, they may bark at strangers or friends who come to the door. You may have to use specific training methods to curb this irritating characteristic.

Can German Shepherds and Dobermans Be Left Alone During the Day?

Both of these breeds need plenty of exercise and get bored easily. If you don’t walk them before and after work, they may get bored and exhibit destructive behavior. They may do this anyway if they’re left alone for eight hours at a time.

Do These Dogs Shed?

It’s a common misconception that Dobermans don’t shed. They do, but their fine, short fur may not be as noticeable as the longer strands from a German shepherd. Shepherds also blow their coats twice a year, which can leave you with tumbleweeds of fur all over your home as they transition from winter to summer and vice versa.

Both breeds should be brushed regularly. However, neither are prone to matting issues, and they don’t require professional grooming.

Do You Have to Crop Their Ears?

Most people recognize the Doberman’s wedge-shaped heads and tall, pointy ears. They’re born with long, floppy ears, however. Many owners and breeders crop Dobermans’ ears. This practice began to improve the protective dog’s hearing. Now, some argue that it helps the breed look fierce or allows it to be recognized as more than just a goofy canine.

German shepherds’ ears are naturally erect and pointed. They may appear floppy when the dogs are puppies, but the ears will stand permanently once the cartilage has developed properly.

Are Dobermans and German Shepherds Dangerous?

Although Dobermans and German shepherds have been bred as guard dogs, they’re not inherently more dangerous than other breeds. Chihuahuas can be just as dangerous. However, a hard bite from a Chihuahua isn’t as damaging as one from a larger dog.

Dobermans have been said to have a bite force of 600 PSI, but most experts agree that it’s closer to 245 PSI on average. German shepherds have a bite force of about 238 PSI. No dog has a mechanism that allows it to lock its jaws.

No dog should be considered a biter because of its breed. Aggressiveness is often a result of improper training or fear. Dobermans and German shepherds are reactive, but they bark more than they bite unless they have been trained to use their teeth.

If they’re bored, however, they can chew up your clothing, upholstery, and furniture fairly quickly with their strong jaws. Still, both of these dog breeds are loyal and loving. Training or neglect usually create dangerous dogs.

Which Breed is Better Suited for Apartment Living?

Because of their size and energy levels, neither a German shepherd nor a Doberman should live in an apartment unless they can run or walk on a leash several times a day.

Final Thoughts

Although German shepherds and Dobermans are about the same size, they look completely different. Dobermans are muscular and short-haired, and German shepherds look more like a giant stuffed animal. Besides their looks, though, they have many similarities.

Both of these dogs have similar histories and were bred as working dogs that could offer a high level of protection. These smart dogs are loyal and can be trained to follow many commands.

Because they are so intelligent, they need to be mentally stimulated. These dogs want to work all the time. Therefore, they’re always protecting you even if you’re on a leisurely walk in the park. Understanding this and catering to their physical and psychological needs can produce an ideal relationship between humans and these canines.

As long as you’re willing to keep them entertained and give them plenty of exercise, German shepherds and Dobermans should make great family pets.