Breed Comparisons

German Shepherd vs. Doberman Pinscher: Breed Differences & Similarities

Are you looking to adopt a guard dog and can't decide between a German Shepherd vs. Doberman Pinscher? Both breeds make fantastic companions and are highly active. Find out which one is better suited for your lifestyle.

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Last Updated: April 2, 2023 | 10 min read

German Shepherd vs Doberman Pinscher

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If you love big dogs, you might consider getting a German Shepherd or a Doberman Pinscher. You’ve probably seen both working with the police or military. But all large-breed canines are not the same. There are many differences when it comes to the German Shepherd vs. Doberman Pinscher.

German Shepherds currently rank as the fourth most popular dog breed with the American Kennel Club. Dobermans rank number 15 according to the list for 2022. Many people may think this means that Dobermans are not as family-friendly, but this is not necessarily the case. There is much more to each of these breeds than size, appearance, or reputation.

If you are considering taking in a dog, you need to know more information before making this major decision. A pet is a long-term commitment, and you should make sure that your choice is right for you and your family. Sit down with us for a few minutes and learn more about the Doberman vs. German Shepherd.

Breed Comparison

German Shepherd

  • Height 22-26 Inches
  • Weight 50-90 Pounds
  • Temperament Confident, Courageous, Smart
  • Energy High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 12-14 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and Up

Doberman Pinscher

  • Height 24-28 Inches
  • Weight 60-100 Pounds
  • Temperament Loyal, Fearless, Alert
  • Energy High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 10-12 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and Up

Key Differences

  1. German Shepherds have a longer lifespan, 12 to 14 years, vs. Dobermans, which live 10 to 12 years.
  2. Dobermans tend to be larger. They reach 60 to 100 pounds, while German Shepherds reach 50 to 90 when fully grown.
  3. German Shepherds are herders, while Dobermans are guard dogs.
  4. Dobermans are more protective and slightly more aggressive if they believe their humans are in danger.
  5. German Shepherds need more room, while Dobermans are more adaptable.
  6. Dobermans are more independent, making them harder to train, and they need firm boundaries.
  7. German Shepherds are a better choice for homes with children.
  8. Dobermans shed less and require less brushing.
  9. German Shepherds have a lower prey drive and are better with smaller pets like cats.

Breed History

German Shepherds and Dobermans were both bred to help people. However, although you might think they’re both working dogs, they’re not in the same category. They both come from Germany, but are their histories linked in any way? Let’s find out.

German Shepherd

Black and Tan Dog Looking at Camera
German Shepherds were bred to be highly intelligent herding dogs.

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. And after breeding the best specimens from each district, he created the German Shepherd. 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

Black and Rust Dog Looking at Camera
Doberman Pinschers were bred to be protective guard dogs.

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 breed, but they think that it may have genes from the following canines:

The Doberman 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 ‘Devil Dogs’ during that time. As the war came to a close, German Shepherds superseded Dobermans as the most popular military dog.

Appearance

Handsome Dogs Standing Outdoors
Both breeds are large dogs, but they have unique looks.

When it comes to Doberman vs. German Shepherd physical characteristics, these dogs have just as many similarities as differences. Both breeds are large-sized dogs that range from 50 to 100 pounds and stand about 26 to 27 inches tall at one year of age. Dobermans tend to be the bigger of the two once fully grown. 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.

Dobermans have short coats that require little maintenance that come in black and rust, blue and rust, fawn and rust, and red and rust. Black and rust is the most common color combination. German Shepherds have thicker, medium-length, double-layer coats that shed more and require more grooming. their coats are most commonly black and tan, but they also come in solid black as well.

Temperament

Two Dogs Tugging on a Toy
Both breeds make great guard dogs, as well as family pets.

There are a few key differences in the Doberman vs. German Shepherd temperament. 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 top 10 most intelligent dogs. Dobermans are #3 on the list. They’re almost so smart that they bore quickly 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.

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.

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 improperly socialized.

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 require training when it comes to protecting their areas. German Shepherds are more suited for high-stress situations, which is why they are more often used by police and other law enforcement.

In The Home

This loyalty makes them amazing family pets. Although German Shepherds are considered better with kids than Dobermans, both are adaptable to living with a high-energy family. It’s important to train your children as much as you train your dog. Kids must learn how to best interact with these large pets so they are leaders of the pack rather than puppies or enemies.

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 wonderful companions and are suitable 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. The Doberman was bred to be a protector. Dobermans aren’t natural herders. However, they are so intelligent, loyal, and protective that they can learn to herd other animals.

Exercise

Two Dogs Running Outside
Expect your GSD or Dobie to need around an hour of intense exercise each 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 become agitated and exhibit destructive behavior. They may do this anyway if left alone for eight hours at a time. Overall, they both need at least one hour of intense exercise every day. Many owners suggest that they need at least two hours a day. This is something that you should prepare for. Active families only, please.

As working dogs with lots of energy, their exercise needs to be vigorous if you want to wear them out. It’s safe to say that long, tedious walks around the block aren’t going to hit the spot for either of these guys. That’ll be the warm-up. They will want to get a bit more active.

They both make great jogging partners and love to partake in agility courses, fetching games, and practically anything you can think of. Dobermans rival Labs in their activity levels and German Shepherds likely will exceed both in the terms of exercise commitment as a dog owner.

They’ll also need plenty of mental stimulation throughout the day to keep them entertained. Be sure to invest in a bunch of doggy toys for both of these guys – look for tough, extra-durable chew toys considering their strength. Trust us when we say if they haven’t got a designated chew toy, they’ll find something else to chew that they shouldn’t, or raid your best sneaker collection.

Training

Impressive Dogs Sitting on Hind Legs
Since both breeds are very bright animals, they can be trained easily.

Although both breeds 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.

No dog should be considered a biter simply 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 trained to use their teeth.

Some people say 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 do well with kids if they grow up with them. It’s important to teach children how to behave with dogs and not bother them when they are sleeping or eating.

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. To teach both the German Shepherd and the Doberman polite pooch manners, they need early socialization. Mix them with as many humans, dogs, animals, and environments as possible to increase their confidence. And this will prevent them from becoming overprotective.

Health

Two Dogs Snuggling on a Bed
There are some genetic health concerns to be aware of for both breeds.

Because of inbreeding, both breeds have an inclination toward certain ailments. However, this is an issue for all purebred dogs. German Shepherds have a longer average life expectancy of 12 to 14 years, whereas Dobies tend to live for 10 to 12 years.

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.

Nutrition

Dogs With Erect Ears and Mouths Open
It is vital to feed your German Shepherd or Doberman a nutrient-packed kibble formulated for large dogs.

Being a little bit lighter in weight, the average German Shepherd will consume around three cups of food a day. Compared to the slightly heftier Dobie, who will consume around four cups. How much you feed them will depend on their weight, age, energy levels, and lifestyle. So be sure to follow the package instructions for tailored cup suggestions.

The German Shepherd needs high-quality dog food that can support their activity levels and rapid bone growth. Dobermans also need the same. Kibbles designed for large breed puppies will help to control this rapid bone growth. By controlling it, the chances of developing hip and elbow dysplasia are lower. So large breed foods are super important for both the Dobie and the Shepherd.

One of the best things that you can do for your dog is to feed them the best quality nutrition you can afford. The difference between basic store-branded kibble and high-quality, trusted brands can be your pup living the healthiest life possible. High-quality brands will also list named meat as the first ingredient and offer a protein content of at least 18% in adulthood. For large, energetic dogs like both of these guys, this is important for healthy muscle maintenance.

These guys are also prone to a life-threatening condition called gastric torsion, also known as bloat. Large dogs with deep chests are the most at risk, and both the Dobie and the Shepherd tick these boxes. Never feed your pooch immediately before or after exercise, and spread your dog’s daily food across at least two sittings.

Grooming

Dogs Lounging Outdoors
Dobermans are lower maintenance than German Shepherds when it comes to grooming.

It’s a common misconception that Dobermans don’t shed. They do, but Dobie’s fine, short fur may not be as noticeable as the long strands of 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. And this is more noticeable in longer-haired Shepherds.

Both breeds need a regular brushing regime. This is the best thing you can do to manage their shedding. Allow two or three brushing sessions in the week to keep them looking their best. If you have a longer-haired Shepherd, they will need brushing more often to prevent matting.

Thankfully, neither of these guys requires professional grooming, and it is something you can do yourself. It’s also a great bonding time for parents and pups.

Puppy Prices

Small Puppies Posing Outdoors
Expect to spend around $1,000 on a purebred puppy of either breed.

When it comes to prices, German Shepherd vs. Doberman Pinscher, the expense is roughly the same. The cost of a German Shepherd puppy and a Dobie pup from a reputable breeder will start from around $1,000. If you are looking for a puppy from an award-winning bloodline or a popular breeder, it will likely be a little bit more. Do not give in to the temptation to buy a puppy for much less than this because it is a sure warning sign that they are irresponsible. Or worse, part of a puppy mill.

It’s important to work with a reputable breeder for any dog breed. But especially for large, powerful dogs such as the Dobie and the Shepherd. The key window for important socialization is 3 to 12 weeks. So paying a little bit more to work with a breeder who will socialize your soon-to-be pup will pay off well. Otherwise, you’ll probably end up paying much more in behavioral training and liability costs should something happen.

You also need to remember the costs that pile up on top of initial puppy prices. Getting your pup vaccinations and attending puppy health checkups must factor in. Not forgetting food, beds, collars, harnesses, toys, and much more. Although neither of these guys is the most expensive dog to care for, they are usually higher than the average canine considering their size and needs.

Final Thoughts

We have discussed some of the key differences between the Doberman vs. German Shepherd. Although German Shepherds and Dobermans are about the same sizes, they look completely different. Dobermans are muscular and short-haired, and German Shepherds look more like giant stuffed animals. Besides their looks, though, they have many similarities.

Both of these dogs have similar histories and are loyal, working dogs that can offer a high level of protection. These smart dogs are loyal and can learn to follow many commands. Because they are so intelligent, they need regular mental stimulation.

Both 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, both German Shepherds and Dobermans should make great family pets.

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31 Comments

  1. I have a GSD and my uncle always had a Doberman. My GSD seems to be more business. He needs to know where everyone is at all times and the Doberman was always extremely playful. My GSD never gave me a moment’s trouble even as a pup. The only thing he’s ever chewed was my daughter’s dolls (when he was loosing his puppy teeth).

    I was thinking about getting a Doberman next time only because of the crazy amounts of shedding from GSDs. After reading this article, I believe I will stick with GSD.

  2. Unfortunately, movies have given Dobermann’s a name for being aggressive dogs. But in reality, they are extremely loving and gentle. They are great with children. But they will protect their family fiercely if the need arises. Most of the time, they are happy goofballs.

    Stubborn, but incredibly quick learners. They need companionship, which means, they need to be with you. They don’t do well being left out in the yard day after day. They need to be close to you.

  3. I worked in canine Military Police for 20years. Solely with GSD. Extremely intelligent and loyal and very protective. Obviously trained to bring out the protective nature. Presently I have 11week gsd female being potty trained and crate trained. There’s been a few potty accidents, that are gonna happen as she’s a baby.

    As for commands she’ll come, sit, stay, down and fetch(bring)Wr practice commands 3times a day.I have 3 kids with a fenced-in backyard, she gets all kinds of exercise. Her father is 110lbs, mom is 80lbs, GSD is the way to go with a family and protective instincts.

    1. Hi Jani! Yes, both breeds can be so very different! Thanks for sharing your experience with our readers!

    1. Doberman shephard is the best dog I’ve ever had ! He was so sweet and smart
      He passed recently due to inoperable cancer and I am left with a huge void
      Enjoy that baby 💕

  4. Thank you for this article! My partner and I currently have a Boston Terrier and a long coat German Shepherd. Before he left for boot camp we discussed adding another fur baby to our family and I casually mentioned a Doberman.

    While reading your article I discovered that the name “Devil Dog” came from Dobermans which I did not know. Since my partner is currently becoming a US Marine I think it would be fitting to add a Doberman to our family!

  5. Between a Doberman and a German Shepherd, which dog do you think is better suited at protecting at the owner family?

    1. Hi Christian! It really depends. Both breeds are excellent as family guardians. Every dog is going to be different. German Shepherds are known for being extremely attentive and quick to train, while Dobermans can be a little more headstrong. Ultimately, I’d say it’s best to visit breeders of both breeds, meet the parents, and get a feel for each dog to see which is better. I’ve owned a German Shepherd mix before, and have had close friends that have owned them and might be slightly biased. Good luck!

  6. I agree with your assessment of these two breeds. We adopted a cute puppy from the Humane Society who is a Doberman-German Shepherd mix. Our puppy, Bruce, is now a handsome three year old, and he has brought us so much joy! He does require two walks a day of at least a mile each time. So, we are getting plenty of exercise!

    We are first time dog owners, and training him has been a challenge because we are sometimes inconsistent. Bruce is a large dog, and I am not as strong as him, so I am very serious about ongoing, proactive training of appropriate behavior, especially on walkies. Bruce likes knowing what is expected of him and being praised for being a good boy.

    Bruce is very intelligent and has found ways to trick us into giving him extra treats. Sometimes he exhibits negative behavior just because he knows he’ll get a treat when he stops! Who is training whom here?!

    Seriously though, Bruce is a loving and loyal member of our family, but he sometimes doesn’t want to be petted. He likes to give kisses and sometimes lets us give him belly rubs. He welcomes members of our extended family but barks like crazy at door-to-door salespeople. One article I read about German Shepherds said that they’re not a pet, they’re a lifestyle because of the commitment it takes to be a good dog mom to them, and I think the same applies to Doberman Pinschers.

  7. Great article, and I see you actually answer people’s comments! I am just in the process of choosing between German Shepherd or Doberman. I have been a dog owner of four different breeds since 1986, most recently pitbull and Boxer.

    Would you give your opinion:

    I live alone on 100 acres with my horses but also with two household cats. I have small nieces and nephews, many friends, workers, and family that visit, some with dogs. I do not wish an aggressive dog but I do want somewhat of a guard dog. I mostly work from home – Lisa.

    1. Hi Lisa! Since you are at home, you have plenty of choices. Both the Doberman and German Shepherd need to be trained firmly but with love. It’s a good idea to avoid both breeds if you are a first time owner, but since you have experience with many different breeds either breed should be fine!

      You’ll get a lot of different opinions here, but I would say the GSD gives you lots of versatility, especially if you plan to have other farm animals. We’d also advise to look at the Anatolian Shepherd if you want a larger breed. They are headstrong like mastiffs, but do really well in space. We have family that owns 5 acres and they have 2 Anatolians and they love them. But with these two options, I’d lean towards the GSD since they like to guard the flock.

    2. I have had three Dobies..and they got along great with our cats, other dogs, and horses..I did have a bit of a problem with them chasing the chickens…
      I have had dogs all of my life and I have never loved any of them as much as I loved our Dobermans. You must socialize them, raise them with cats and kids…our first Dobie was our heart…he was funny, protective, loyaland kids would come to the door and ask if Buster could come out and play. But he was around people and other animals all of his life and we have plenty of land for him to run on. He would play tricks like waiting til my back was turned to pinch my butt and run so I would chase him. He would play hide and seek..he was just an amazing , beautiful animal. He was huge, a dark red and rust.. Zoe ..a sweeter girl you would not find. She lived to be 13. She was so gentle but alert to every movement. We got a rescue dob, he was beautiful, but more active then we could do..we are old now and not up for all the running it takes….he was 2 years old and had been kept in the back yard with little interaction with the family of other animals. He was good as far as not being mean, but just too much pent up energy.
      To me Dobermans are the best breed out of any. But they take allot of time, energy and love and you will get that love returned 10 fold.

  8. My Dad brought a puppy Doberman home when I was 5 years old in1974. What a great dog he was. Very smart and strong. My favorite breed to this day. I remember watching 2 great movies about Doberman’s in the 70’s.

  9. We love Dobermans as well but it is important to know that as a breed they suffer from a genetic heart disease, Dilated Cardiomyopathy. It’s a huge problem with the Dobes and nobody should rescue or buy a Doberman Pinscher, however well bred, without first doing research into this genetic disease that is causing such havoc in the breed. Just a warning from a Doberman owner who knows. I adore the breed but will never own another, sadly.

    1. Thanks for the reply Lauren! We own Mastiffs who also suffer from lots of health problems due to the size of the breed – but it’s definitely something to think about when buying any dog!

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