German Pinscher vs Dobermann article

Back to Basics: A Comparison of the Doberman Pinscher and German Pinscher

While both breeds share short coats, wedge heads and similar body types, the biggest thing they have in common is their last name "Pinscher."

By Linda Krukar | Posted: May 19, 2014 12 p.m. PST

The Doberman Pinscher has long been associated with the Miniature Pinscher, the belief being that the MinPin is a toy version of the Doberman, which is not the case. Then in 2003 a new Pinscher was introduced to AKC and became the "middle” version linking the two breeds. The German Pinscher, also referred to as the middle Pinscher, is not a smaller version of its very distant relative, the Doberman Pinscher. While the two breeds share similarities in their standards, they are two very distinct breeds. In the show ring, some consider the Doberman a robot, trained to stare at a piece of bait while standing motionless at the end of a lead like a statue, and view the German Pinscher as a Doberman wannabe in a smaller package. In some cases this may appear to be true, but neither statement is accurate and does not define either breed correctly.

Doberman and German Pinschers

History of the Breeds

To understand the two breeds, it is important to know a little about their original functions and some history. Although the Doberman Pinscher and German Pinscher might be considered closely related by many, their relationship is really very distant. The German Pinscher (smooth-haired Pinscher) dates back to the 1800s, when it was closely associated with the Standard Schnauzer (rough-coated Pinscher). Both were represented in the same litters and later became recognized as the two distinct breeds they are known as today. Losing their popularity following World War II, German Pinschers were brought back through the use of oversized Miniature Pinschers as recently as 1958. Some MinPin characteristics are sometimes seen in today’s dogs. In 1996, German Pinscher and Standard Schnauzer crossbreeding was approved in Finland. The goal was to increase the gene pool to introduce new blood after generations of inbreeding, and through that, to decrease the health issues. Another goal was to improve the conformation and temperament, and to bring back some of the original breed characteristics. Because of some of the close associations with these breeds, the German Pinscher may have similar characteristics of each breed but should not resemble them. The German Pinscher is known for its vermin-hunting skills and instinctual desire to protect, although its original function as country ratter or stable guard is practically nonexistent today.

The Doberman Pinscher, perhaps the first "designer” dog, is a younger breed (1897) and a compilation of many breeds, including the old German Shepherd, Beauceron, Rottweiler, Gordon Setter, Manchester Terrier, Greyhound and German Pinscher. The German Pinscher’s contribution to the Doberman wasn’t significant. The breed was named for its creator, Louis Dobermann, the local dog keeper, tax collector and night watchman, who created a medium-sized guardian and watchdog to take on his rounds. He wanted a fearless dog with a short, dark coat so as not to be seen at night, cropped ears and docked tail to appear more alert and fearless, and nothing to grab in the event of a fight. A compact body for more agility and a dog that was "not afraid of the devil himself” completed the picture. Because the Doberman was a smaller dog in its early days, it was stated that it would be equally difficult to distinguish a small and delicate Doberman from a coarse German Pinscher. That statement could be true today. Through the years, Dobermans were used as war dogs, in police work, as guide dogs, in search and rescue, and service work. While being bred for their character, correct physical characteristics are important for them to perform their jobs properly. Both breeds are excellent guardians and companions.

The two breeds are unique and should never take on the characteristics of the other. Because the standards are so similar in many areas, how do we interpret them for each breed? The Doberman standard is clear in its descriptions, but because of the close relationship of the German Pinscher to the Standard Schnauzer, many of the statements in the GP standard are defined more closely to the Standard Schnauzer standard. To clearly understand the German Pinscher and Doberman, it’s necessary to be familiar with all three breed standards.


Doberman Pinscher Profile
German Pinscher Profile

Both breeds should have balanced outlines, with weight evenly distributed. Photos by Linda Krukar.
The importance of size can’t be emphasized enough. Correct size is one of the most important factors in maintaining breed type and refers to a combination of height, bone and substance. Neither breed has a disqualification for size, but that doesn’t mean size should be ignored. I’ve heard many times that "if something was important, it would be a DQ.” Think about your own breed and ask the DQ question. Size is very specifically defined in each of the breeds and leaves no room for interpretation.

While both standards state that the dogs are medium-sized, in the Doberman standard, the males range from 26 inches (271/2 inches ideal) to 28 inches, and the females range from 24 inches (251/2 inches ideal) to 26 inches measured from the top of the withers, not shoulders, to the ground. Adult bitches can be the same size as a 26-inch male (which is usually a puppy) but should not be taller than males. Most adult males are at least 27 inches tall. As a reference point, the Akita states the same height ranges as the Doberman, the Giant Schnauzer is a half-inch shorter in both sexes than the Doberman, and Bullmastiff bitch heights are comparable to Doberman bitches.

The German Pinscher, known also as the "middle” Pinscher, considers medium to range in height from 17 to 20 inches and includes both dogs and bitches. All German Pinschers within these limits are to be equally considered. As a reference point, the German Pinscher has the same range as the Standard Schnauzer, (dogs/bitches together) with a DQ under 17 inches and over 20, and Portuguese Water Dog bitches range from 17 to 21 inches. A German Pinscher over or under the height range takes on the characteristics of the MinPin or Doberman and should not be rewarded. While it’s unusual to see an adult Doberman smaller than the standard, it’s all too common to see bitches well over the standard. When dogs are outside their standard ranges, fundamental breed characteristics can be lost, and we begin to lose breed type.


The heads have similar descriptions, and although there are similarities in the heads, the two breeds should never be confused based on their heads. In this case the head does define the breed, although a German Pinscher head is almost identical to a Standard Schnauzer head. Both standards call for elongated, blunt wedges, with a full compliment of teeth and correct occlusion. The Doberman has a DQ for four or more missing teeth, or a bite that is overshot by three-sixteenths of an inch or undershot by more than one-eighth of an inch. The numbers precisely define what is considered an acceptable range for the bite. Check a ruler to know what constitutes a correct scissors bite according to the standard.

The only way to assess a correct bite and correct occlusion is to examine the mouth closed. The mouth must be opened to determine the correct number of large teeth. Wry mouths, small teeth, extra teeth and poor occlusion are becoming very common in the Doberman. There are three DQs concerning the mouth, so the importance of the mouth should not be ignored. A correct mouth is necessary to keep a strong muzzle and underjaw. Dobermans are comfortable with a mouth exam and will stand patiently. The German Pinscher, on the other hand, which overall has better occlusion, can be impatient and less tolerant of an exam. Checking a mouth can sometimes be a challenging experience. Both breeds should have good fill and underjaw (which can be seen when the mouth is closed). Overall the Doberman is lacking in this area, and the German Pinscher is stronger here.

Eye shape is almond on the Doberman, and oval (egg-shaped) on the German Pinscher. All German Pinschers have black eye rims, black lips, black noses and black nails, regardless of color. Both breeds come in four allowed colors: black, red (brown), blue (dark gray) and fawn (taupe), but all Dobermans have markings, whereas only black and blue German Pinschers have markings. Reds, ranging from clear red to stag red (with black hairs throughout the coat), and fawns do not have markings.

Dobermann noses are black on black dogs, brown on red dogs, dark gray on blue dogs and dark tan on fawn dogs. Ears are set high on both breeds and normally cropped and carried erect on the Doberman, while on German Pinschers they are carried erect when cropped, or if natural, carried erect or are V-shaped with a folding pleat. It is not unusual nor is it a fault to see German Pinschers with natural ears and tails. The head should always be viewed from the full front looking down on the head, full profile, and half front to assess the proportion of the head to the body. Both breeds should have strong heads that are readily identifiable as a Doberman or German Pinscher.


Outline (Balance and Proportion)

Both breeds call for a square body; the Doberman is measured from the forechest to the rear projection of the upper thigh (or the rump in the German Pinscher) and the withers to the ground. Both breeds should have equal depth of body to length of leg, good shoulder layback and a well defined (Doberman), or distinctly marked by the prosternum (German Pinscher), forechest. The Doberman is stronger in this area. There is no allowance for bitches to be longer than dogs in either breed.

Both breeds should have some width and fill when viewed from the front. The Doberman has heavy (round versus oval) bone, and the German Pinscher is well boned, but not heavy boned as compared to the Standard Schnauzer. The German Pinscher is a medium-boned, medium-bodied dog.

The German Pinscher has gotten a reputation for having a "unique” topline, but this is not the case. The topline is the same as the Standard Schnauzer and similar to the Doberman. There are no dips and rises; it is firm and straight from the withers to well muscled loin to the croup. The croups are the same on both breeds. The Doberman standard describes "slightly” rounded, and the German Pinscher states "faintly” curved. The definition of both words is "to a small degree.” German Pinschers should not have rounded croups or low tail sets. The tail is moderately set and carried above the horizontal, and the Doberman tail is a continuation of the spine and carried slightly above the horizontal (at 10 or 2 o’clock, not at high noon), when the dog is alert. Although not desired, flat croups are fairly common in the Doberman.

Both breeds should have balanced outlines. For example, the weight should be evenly distributed when the dog is standing. Many times dogs in the show ring are stacked so the head is held high with the nose down, leaning too far forward to give them the appearance of more forechest, more arch of neck, a smoother transition of neck into shoulder or a straighter topline. A balanced dog will appear to be standing so that he couldn’t be knocked off balance from any direction.

Too many dogs are rewarded that have rounded croups, low tail sets and generally poor structure. Because these breeds have short coats, many judges don’t examine them thoroughly because they can "see” everything, but it’s important to put one’s hands on the dog to determine muscle and coat.


Doberman Pinscher Gait
German Pinscher Gait

Both breeds should move with a firm and level topline and use very little effort. In the ring, dogs are often moved too fast or held on a short lead close to the handler's body in order to hide movement faults.

Photos by Lisa Croft-Elliott.

Because breeds perform different functions and have different builds, they will bring a unique breed trait to their movement. So even though movement is generically described, each breed puts its own spin on it. When you see a Doberman or German Pinscher move, you should be able to distinguish one from the other. While both may have reach and drive and single track, it is similar yet different.

The best time to see how these two short-coated breeds are built is when they are moving. Dogs can be trained and manipulated to stand correctly for an exam or to free bait, but when they move, their structure becomes apparent. When it comes to movement, the bar seems to be set very low for both these breeds. Both breeds should be sound enough to move with a firm and level topline; reach to the plane of the nose when the head is just above the shoulder with a gentle arch in the neck; drive from the rear that propels them forward with the tail just above the horizontal; and should have a well balanced rhythm like two pairs of scissors opening and closing, with feet close to the ground and moving with little effort. Coming toward you, there should be no excess motion of the elbows, and feet should be coming toward a center line. The Doberman is usually trained to move with ears up so it looks like it is moving with purpose, while the German Pinscher rarely moves with ears up.

In both breeds, movement tells a lot about structure, and it should be important in the evaluation process. To control and hide poor movement, many dogs are moved too fast, or on a short lead and held against the handler’s body. Some common movement faults for both breeds are lack of reach and/or drive, and lack of balanced gait. It’s getting more common to see sickle hocks, loose elbows and flipping feet in Dobermans. German Pinschers have issues with hackney gait, moving high in the rear, sagging toplines and overall poor movement. You should get the same impression of the dog when it’s standing and moving. Movement is important, and these agile breeds should be well-conditioned athletes, able to move properly.


Although both standards state some similar temperament characteristics, such as watchful (vigilant), alert, fearless, determined (tenacity) and energetic (vivacious), they are displayed differently by each breed. German Pinschers are Terriers at heart, and while they enjoy being comedians, they are smart and quick to learn. They are also stubborn, bull-headed and still a bit "primitive minded” at times. In the ring they may not stand still, behave or stay focused for long. Dobermans are also smart, quick to learn and love being comedians, but they are more patient and willing to do what’s asked of them. A confident Doberman will look you in the eye with a vigorous, energetic expression, while a confident German Pinscher may ignore you and focus on something more interesting. Dobermans are very tolerant of a thorough exam in the show ring, but German Pinschers can be impatient and refuse to stand still for too long.

While the original Dobermans had jobs in security and protection, many were not family companions. Today’s dogs still perform their jobs as guardians but are also trusted family members. Early German Pinschers had a reputation for being aggressive or shy. Many are leery of strangers in "their” space. Today’s dogs are more tolerant, and temperaments on the whole are steadily improving.

Those who consider getting a smaller version of the Doberman need to be reminded that while both breeds share short coats, wedge heads and similar body types, the biggest thing they have in common is their last name "Pinscher.”

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