Are you in the market for a guard dog? If you are, which breeds would you consider? Current trends may steer you in the direction of a Cane Corso or a Rottweiler. But perhaps you prefer the classic German Shepherd, whose popularity has not waned much since the days of Rin Tin Tin.
Besides satisfying our natural curiosity, comparing dog breeds is paramount to performing due diligence before adopting a new family member.
In this case, we take a look at the similarities and differences between one of the most popular family dogs, the German Shepherd, and a close alternative, the Doberman Pinscher.
If you think a German Shepherd vs. Doberman Pinscher has more similarities than differences, you are correct.
We discuss the various similarities in size, guard suitability, and temperament and explore the subtle and substantial differences in personality, appearance, and health.
Shepherds and Dobermans have a German heritage
Louis Dobermann developed the Doberman Pinscher in Thueringen, Germany, about 1890. Shortly after that, around 1899, Max von Stephanitz was busy perfecting the ideal working dog from a champion he discovered at a dog show.
The Doberman and the German Shepherd became registered with the American Kennel Club in 1908.
What are the standout physical attributes of German Shepherds and Dobermans?
Both GSDs and Dobermans are large and powerfully built, just what you want to see in guard dogs. However, they are not so massive as to be clumsy or slow in their movements.
Athleticism should immediately strike you when you look at either breed. The pair possesses grace, an alert stance, and ground-covering, efficient strides.
Both breeds are traditionally black and tan, the Doberman with brown or rust points and the Shepherd with a black saddle and facial mask.
How do their appearances differ?
The Doberman, at 26 to 28 inches tall, somewhat towers over the 22 to 26-inch tall GSD. Dobermans have a square build compared to the German Shepherd’s rectangular and sloping silhouette.
Both dogs weigh close to 75 to 95 pounds, giving the German Shepherd a stockier appearance than the Doberman.
The Doberman’s muscles, however, appear more defined than the Shepherd’s. In each breed, the male should be larger and more muscular than the female.
Color variations differ, as well. German Shepherds can be solid red, tan, or black and red and black. Nonstandard coat colors you may also see are white, blue, and liver.
Dobermans can be blue, fawn, or tan in addition to black, but all must have rust or brown markings in designated areas such as above the eyes and on the lower legs. Rarely, you may come across a white Doberman.
Sometimes a video makes it easier to visualize.
Comparison videos have a lot of entertainment value with results often skewed by perception and subjective attachments to one breed or the other.
What this collection shows well is the athleticism of the dogs and the marked differences in attack styles. You also get a good feel for training commitment, exercise requirements, and grooming challenges.
Adult German Shepherds should have large pointed ears that stand up effortlessly. Many Dobermans’ ears are cropped or trimmed at a young age and look similar to GSD ears. Like the dog’s arched neck, however, the ears appear sleeker and more refined than a Shepherd’s.
If you do not crop your Doberman’s ears, they fold down near the base, wide and floppy but not exceedingly long.
In the United States, Japan, and other countries where it is legal, Dobermans usually have docked tails. Docking means the breeder or veterinarian cuts a dog’s tail to the breed-specific standard length when the pup is a few days old.
If you happen to have a Doberman with a full tail, it will be medium in length and rope-like, curving gradually upward from the midsection to the tip.
On the contrary, German Shepherds have a long plush tail that they carry low unless working or showing emotion.
There are unexpected effects of appearance on grooming
One of the most significant differences between Dobermans and German Shepherds is coat length. Although a German Shepherd’s coat can vary quite a bit, most have medium to long hair with a dense undercoat.
A few have long hair with no undercoat or short hair with a wooly layer underneath. Most are not like Dobermans, who have a short sleek semi-course overcoat with a second layer of soft, thin fleece.
German Shepherds require more attention to grooming than Dobermans, but both breeds need regular brushing to keep the undercoat in check.
German Shepherds require special attention to their fur when they blow their coats during seasonal shedding. These big sheds typically occur twice a year. Read more about how to minimize shedding in german shepherds.
Baths are similar for both breeds, neither showing much adversity to water. German Shepherds require more effort to dry, and with your Doberman, you should be more mindful of cold temperatures.
How does the weather affect German Shepherds versus Doberman Pinschers?
Dobermans, with their short fur and thin undercoats, understandably do not adjust as naturally as German Shepherds to being outside in the frigid cold.
Where your Shepherd may seem perfectly content at 25 degrees Fahrenheit in two feet of snow, a Doberman may tremble at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
German Shepherds are surprisingly heat-tolerant also, their undercoats insulating them. Dobermans, with their sparser hair, can withstand warm temperatures as well.
Make sure to know your dog and pay attention to his or her body language. Do not leave dogs outside in freezing weather without access to shelter from the wind and moisture, regardless of breed. Do not be afraid to put a coat on your Doberman.
Furthermore, dogs should not undergo excessive activity in extreme heat or linger outside without shade and plentiful water. Temperatures above 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit warrant restrictions on any outdoor excursions for either breed.
What are the exercise requirements?
Both Dobermans and German Shepherds were bred in Germany not only as versatile working dogs but also for endurance.
Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann perfected a dog, the Doberman, who could keep up with him through his many duties over the day. German Shepherds ran sheep and protected them from predators for hours at a time.
GSDs and Pinschers are similar in that their strong work ethic and high intelligence necessitate both lots of exercise and plenty of social interaction.
Left to their own devices for long stints or a lack of exercise can lead them to destroy the home or yard.
According to the PDSA, a pet hospital and charity in the UK, German Shepherds need as much as two hours of exercise every day. Others say at least an hour and a half daily. Dobermans have similar activity requirements.
You will not be able to decide based on intelligence
German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers need mental stimulation to keep their active minds busy.
According to a psychological analysis released by Science Focus, both the German Shepherd and Doberman Pinscher rank in the top ten most intelligent dogs, with the former at No.3 and the latter at No. 5. Other sources place the Doberman at the No.2 spot between the Border Collie and German Shepherd. What is a world where the Poodle is not on the top three list of smartest dogs?
When it comes to training, Dobermans exhibit more willfulness, but German Shepherds are more often involved with dominance aggression.
Professionals consider both of them easy to train. Nevertheless, experts do not recommend them for first-time owners because establishing consistent control over Dobermans and Shepherds is challenging.
Temperament is resounding evidence you don’t have the same dog
We know what personality traits Dobermans and German Shepherds have in common. They share loyalty, fearlessness, independence, protectiveness, and intelligence.
At this point, you may be thinking that other than a bushy tail, extra brushing, and some differences in appearance, you could get the same basic dog with a German Shepherd or a Doberman Pinscher.
Subtle differences in temperament and personality may pave the way for you to make a more obvious distinction between the breeds.
Substantially different backgrounds play significantly in the psychological makeup of both German Shepherds and Dobermans.
German Shepherds originated from a long line of herding dogs, whereas the Doberman’s sole original purpose was as a protector of people and property.
The German Shepherd’s herding genetics contribute to her intelligence, cooperative mindset, and a guarding tendency that encompasses groups as well as individuals. German Shepherds tend to be very smart and playful yet task-oriented.
Their willingness to please makes them easy to train. However, their high intensity and drive, common amongst herding breeds, can make them susceptible to anxiety and neurosis.
The Doberman Pinscher, who likely received a few character traits from the Rottweiler, Manchester Terrier, German Pinscher, and Weimeraner, once had a well-earned reputation for viciousness.
Using Dobermans as bodyguards, property patrol, and in the military, handlers encouraged the dog’s aggression and intimidation.
Dobermans still score exceptionally well in guarding tendencies, although breeders have successfully managed to produce a much friendlier pet more suitable as a family companion than his ancestors.
In comparing the two breeds, German Shepherds are likely to be a little easier to train and better with children and other pets than Dobermans. German Shepherds tend to bond closely with one family member, but a Doberman can be even more of a one-person dog.
Dog aggression is an acceptable trait in the show ring for Dobermans and one that breeding has propagated for generations. A well-bred Doberman, however, is more likely than a GSD to greet strangers in a friendly manner.
German Shepherds are often aloof, albeit civil, to unfamiliar people. For the most part, you should use caution when introducing these dogs to your guests and other canids.
Which is the better guard dog, and which is more dangerous?
Dobermans may seem more protective than German Shepherds, but this again relates to origins. In Dobermans, according to professional dog trainer John Soares, the hunter and mastiff-type ancestry causes them to defend their space vigorously and resort to biting as a last resort.
You may have witnessed a Doberman’s aggressive attack display that never resulted in any physical contact. However, reflective of the terrier and Molossoid influences, if a Doberman bites, he means to destroy or punish.
German Shepherds, on the other hand, move more readily into an intruder’s space and give less warning before biting.
They bite more frequently, sometimes resorting to nipping and bumping. The focus of their bites is often control rather than bodily harm.
All of this said, German Shepherds are involved in more severe bites than Dobermans. They are only slightly behind Pit Bulls at No. 3 according to a new AAHA study. Numbers may be skewed by the German Shepherd’s popularity and by mistaken identification by victims.
Both dogs have excellent protective instincts and usually do not require any guard training. Many experts discourage any formal watchdog instruction for German Shepherds or Dobermans, citing obedience as the more important goal.
Dobermans and German Shepherds are also similar in bite force. A Doberman has a stronger bite force at 305 pounds of pressure per square inch compared to the German Shepherd’s 238 pounds of weight.
According to Doberman Planet, GSDs fall a little short of the average for pet dogs, which is 269 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Socialization is crucial for both kinds of dogs at a very early age. Territorial aggression can lead to dire consequences if you do not train your pet to be discerning. Any dog becomes dangerous without proper training, socialization, and human interaction.
You may have insurance concerns.
Insurance companies commonly place German Shepherds and Dobermans on their uninsurable lists. Renting a property can be a serious hassle if you are considering owning either an Alsatian or a Dobermann. Many insurers will disregard your dog’s training or individual personality once they have ruled a breed dangerous.
Is apartment living for a large breed?
Provided you can have a German Shepherd or a Doberman in an apartment, should you entertain the idea with either breed?
Dobermans are more mindful of space and thus more adaptable to apartment living, but exercise requirements preclude a confined environment for either dog.
What are the health issues for Dobermans and German Shepherds?
According to PetMD, Yet another area where Dobermans and German Shepherds are remarkably similar is their life expectancy. Both breeds live 10 to 13 years with Dobermans having a slight edge.
Unfortunately, they suffer from common heritable ailments like many other purebred dogs. Breeders can screen for some abnormalities, decreasing the likelihood of problems arising in their litters.
As large deep-chested breeds, both Dobermans and German Shepherds are susceptible to a condition called bloat.
The stomach swells to several times its regular size from gas and fluid build-up after a meal and other exacerbating conditions. If the stomach then twists, it is known as volvulus and can be life-threatening.
Shepherds and Dobermans together are also vulnerable to hip dysplasia and corresponding arthritis, elbow dysplasia, diabetes, and structural eye problems.
Problems more common in German Shepherds
- Degenerative disc disease
- Hypothyroid disease – the thyroid has a lower activity than normal, requiring lifelong medication.
- Hemophilia – a clotting disorder that affects a different pathway than von Willebrand’s but has similar results.
- Epilepsy – seizure disorder that may be hereditary in some lines
Health issues more specific to Doberman Pinschers
- von Willebrand’s disease – a clotting disordered diagnosed with special blood tests
- Demodicosis – a type of mite most common in puppies that are associated with a problematic immune system.
- Wobbler’s Disease – affects the vertebral column causing impingement on the spine
- Liver disease – some liver problems are hereditary in Dobermans.
- Parvo – a life-threatening virus that more commonly affects puppies with compromised immunity, causing bloody diarrhea and vomiting
- Dilatative cardiomyopathy – Dobermans are overrepresented. An enlarged heart chamber with thinning walls greatly shortens the life of affected dogs.
Where do Dobies and Shepherds excel outside of family and guard duty?
A Doberman’s athleticism, bravery, and intelligence make her a formidable force in the military. Dobermans are also represented in the police force. You do not see them as much in search and rescue or therapy, but they can learn these occupations.
German Shepherds are among the most versatile working dogs, thanks to the foresight of von Stephanitz. They are standard in the military and an iconic figure on the police force. Check How Can the Best GSD Service Dog Do It All?
Shepherds also regularly engage in drug and bomb detection search and rescue missions, not easily distracted by outward stimuli.
There was a time when German Shepherds were the only guide dog for the blind. Labrador and Golden Retrievers have primarily overtaken the role of seeing-eye dogs.
If you are searching for activities that you can do with your Doberman or German Shepherd, try agility courses, Schutzhund, lure coursing, and flyball. You could also partake of dock diving with your Doberman or herding trials with your Shepherd.