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German Shepherd vs. Doberman Pinscher: Breed Differences & Similarities

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

Kelly Wilson

Last Updated: June 21, 2021 | 10 min read

German Shepherd vs Doberman Pinscher

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.

German Shepherds consistently rank as the second most popular dog breed after Labrador Retrievers with the American Kennel Club. In 2018, Dobermans ranked number 17. Does that mean that Dobermans aren’t as family-friendly? Not necessarily!

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 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

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 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.

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 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.

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 they’re 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 need to be trained when it comes to protecting their areas.

In The Home

This loyalty makes them great family pets. Although German Shepherds are often considered 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 they are seen as leaders of the pack instead of 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 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. And the Doberman was bred to be a protector. Dobermans aren’t natural herders. However, they are so intelligent, loyal, and protective that they can be trained 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 get bored and exhibit destructive behavior. They may do this anyway if they’re 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! And this is something that you need to be prepared 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 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 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 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 should do well with kids if they’re raised 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 must be socialized well as a pup. 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 weightier 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. And by controlling it, the chances of developing hip and elbow dysplasia are minimized. 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 his healthiest life possible. High-quality brands will also list meat as the first ingredient and offer a protein content of at least 18% in adulthood. And 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 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. And this is more noticeable in longer-haired Shepherds.

Both breeds should be brushed regularly, and a regular brushing regime 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.

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. Don’t be tempted 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 dividends! 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 vaccinated and attending puppy health checkups all cost money. Not forgetting food, beds, collars, harnesses, toys, and much more. Although neither of these guys is the most expensive dogs to care for, they are usually higher than the average canine considering their size and needs.

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 giant stuffed animals. 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.

Leave a Comment

28 Comments

Brandon

May 30, 2021 at 10:06 am

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.

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Kelly Wilson

June 1, 2021 at 7:27 pm

Thanks for commenting, Brandon! Glad you found the article useful!

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Jeremy

May 26, 2021 at 9:57 pm

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.

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Kelly Wilson

May 27, 2021 at 8:32 pm

Thanks for commenting Jeremy, we agree! They are definitely misrepresented in the media!

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Jay

May 21, 2021 at 7:18 pm

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.

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Kelly Wilson

May 22, 2021 at 2:35 pm

Thanks for the comment, Jay! Appreciate you sharing your experience with the GSD!

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Jani

April 24, 2021 at 8:23 pm

I have 1 of each German Shepherd and Doberman. Personalities are so different.

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Kelly Wilson

April 25, 2021 at 3:17 pm

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

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Lynn Basa

March 21, 2021 at 12:26 am

Very informative. I adopted a Doberman Shepherd and still learning about his characteristics.

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Kelly Wilson

March 22, 2021 at 5:28 pm

Glad you found the article helpful, Lynn! Thanks for stopping by to comment!

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James Smith

February 1, 2021 at 7:16 pm

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!

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Kelly Wilson

February 2, 2021 at 3:31 pm

Thanks for stopping by to comment James! Sounds like it would be a great addition to your family!

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Christian

August 2, 2020 at 2:08 am

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

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Kelly Wilson

August 4, 2020 at 1:38 pm

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!

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Nicole Rubio

February 20, 2020 at 12:07 am

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.

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Kelly Wilson

February 20, 2020 at 4:30 am

Thank you for adopting Nicole! And thanks for taking the time to share!

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Lisa

December 16, 2019 at 8:05 pm

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.

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Kelly Wilson

December 17, 2019 at 2:52 pm

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.

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Ron Chukes

November 26, 2019 at 12:03 am

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.

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Kelly Wilson

December 12, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for commenting Ron!

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Vivian

November 11, 2019 at 11:15 pm

I love GSD's and learning about them made my heart flutter!!

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Kelly Wilson

November 13, 2019 at 12:45 am

Thanks Vivian, we love them too!

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Lauren Wright

November 10, 2019 at 12:09 am

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.

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Kelly Wilson

November 13, 2019 at 12:48 am

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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Bob

November 3, 2019 at 4:38 pm

I've had both breeds and prefer Dobie, purely as less housework for shedding fur but love them both.

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Kelly Wilson

November 5, 2019 at 11:02 pm

We love both as well, thanks for the reply Bob!

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Richard

October 11, 2019 at 11:31 pm

I love Dobermans and learning about them is just amazing ????❤️

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Kelly Wilson

October 14, 2019 at 3:38 pm

We love them too Richard!

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