Training Secrets for Doberman Pinschers
Use these expert tips and techniques to train your Doberman Pinscher.
Wendy Bedwell-Wilson |
July 10, 2012
Loyal and devoted, very intelligent and versatile, fearless and watchful yet sensitive and caring companions to people of all ages, Doberman Pinschers’ unique personalities and temperaments set the breed apart from its Working group cousins.
Though “Dobes” or “Dobies,” as their owners endearingly call them, have endured a bad reputation for decades as aggressive guard dogs, careful breeding practices have resulted in an amiable companion that’s far from its attack-and-watchdog history, writes John Brueggeman, a member of Doberman Pinscher Club of America.
“On the whole, present-day breeders are doing a good job of producing sound temperament in their breeding efforts,” he writes in a club profile on the breed’s temperament. “There still is a small percentage of shy, as well as vicious, Dobermans in existence, but fortunately they are diminishing. Once you have had the pleasure of owning a Doberman Pinscher of correct breed temperament, you can’t help but be spoiled for life.”
Two Dogs, Two Personalities
Because some Dobermans retain their guarding and protecting instincts, it’s critical that you first understand your dog’s bloodline, or his genetic lineage, when purchasing or adopting a pup or rescue, says Dawn Vendegna, a professional trainer of 28 years currently with Thinking Dog Dog Training in North Lake, Ill., who specializes in working with Dobermans and Rottweilers. Your pal’s bloodline forms the foundation of his temperament and personality, she says.
“I’ve trained tons of Dobes, and their temperament really depends on where you get them,” Vendegna says. “The bloodlines will come out if you don’t train them by the time they’re 8 months old. If your dog was bred from a line of show dogs, that can be a good thing; if your dog was bred from a line of security or guard dogs, you really have to train him and snap any of that aggressive or dominant behavior back.”
Vendegna, a longtime Dobe owner, has first-hand experience with the gamut of Doberman temperaments and personalities, from sensitive companions to guarding protectors. She discovered one of her first Dobermans abandoned alongside the road in rural Illinois. Because he was a rescue, Vendegna wasn’t sure what temperament type to expect, she recalls.
“Maxxwell was so intelligent, sensitive and people-pleasing,” she says. “With consistent training, he learned to do just about everything. We worked with Delta Society [now Pet Partners], he worked the prison program with me, he worked with children with severe deformities, and he visited nursing homes with me.”
In fact, the elderly residents gave Maxxwell his name — or at least its spelling. “They said he was extra special and extra loved, so I had to put two X’s and two L’s in his name,” Vendegna says. “Maxxwell adored those seniors.”
When Maxxwell passed away, Vendegna adopted another Doberman — a breeder rescue named Kaiser — but his temperament is completely different from Maxx’s personality. “Kaiser had severe guard and security bloodlines, so I really had to work with him using positive reinforcement,” she says. “Kaiser is cooperative, but he constantly has to be working. Because of his personality, I can never bring him into a nursing home or a prison facility. He just doesn’t have that mentality.”
Whether your Doberman Pinscher is sweet and people-pleasing like Maxxwell, protective and work-focused like Kaiser or somewhere in between, you can use his temperament type to customize his training. Read on for details.
Be a Strong Leader
Though not as aggressive or sharp as their predecessors, Doberman Pinschers retain their fearless, determined and watchful personality traits. When combined with his fierce loyalty to his owner, a Doberman will have your back — and then some, Vendegna says.
“Remember that you have a dog who is in love with you and wants always to be by your side,” she says. “He will protect you to the death.”
Because of that unbridled devotion, Dobe owners must be strong leaders, says Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass.
“You have to establish yourself as a trustworthy leader,” he says. “That’s done by various programs, but one that trainers commonly use is called ‘no free lunch,’ in which owners make their dogs work for everything.”
Vendegna explains the “no free lunch” method means “no free rides: They don’t eat until they do a cue, be it a sit, down or stay. Every single time they want something, they have to work for it. That’s imperative with Dobes.”
They also need to be instructed on what to do, Vendegna says, and that’s where obedience training and proper handling come into play. “They’re good dogs and insanely loyal,” she says. “You absolutely have to know how to handle them, however. You never ask a Doberman; you always tell him what to do. You have to show him what you want.”
Whether your dog has a sweet temperament or a protective one, enroll him in an obedience training program immediately after you bring him home, Vendegna says. Keep bad behaviors in check from day one.
“Don’t let your Doberman jump on you, because that’s showing dominance,” she says. “Make sure the dog respects people entering and leaving your house, because if you don’t teach him door manners, he can get a little funny about people coming and going. Because they tend to be extremely possessive of their front and back yards, walk your Dobe around your house, and let him see people coming up to your door.”
Hopelessly Devoted to You
Loyal, obedient and devoted to their owners, Dobermans have earned the nickname “Velcro dog,” Vendegna says. Dobes don’t want to leave their owners’ side. “They’re one-person and one-family dogs,” she explains.
Dodman agrees, noting that the Dobermans he’s encountered in his behavior clinic have been “very sweet dogs who are a bit subdued,” as opposed to feisty terriers or busy Beagles. “They’re gentle giants who seem to be very close and very loyal to their owners in an affectionate, trusting way,” he says.
These dogs will do anything for their people — as long as the direction from their owners and families remains clear and consistent, Vendegna says. “Everything, including training, has to be consistent,” she says. “If you break their pattern, they may revolt.”
For instance, Vedegna continues, if you come home consistently at 4 p.m. but are running an hour late one day, your Dobe might show some form of anger or frustration.
“They’ll get upset because everything has to be a ritual,” she says, noting that they’re not destructive dogs. “It helps to give them something creative to do and take them for a long walk before you go somewhere.”
As part of their loyal disposition to their owners or handlers, Dobermans tend to “shut down,” Vendegna says. “When I first started working with Kaiser in class, I’d give the leash to someone else during exercises, but he would just sit down and look at them, totally shutting down. He wouldn’t work for anyone but me!”
Vendegna learned a lot from that lesson. Socializing Dobermans to as many different people and circumstances is critical, she says. “I have a class with three Dobes now, and I have the owners trade off their dogs to other people,” she says. “Even small puppies can show that fierce loyalty trait.”
Must Work for a Living
Intelligent and versatile, Dobermans need activities that will challenge their brilliant minds. They’re designated by American Kennel Club as a Working breed, which means they constantly need jobs to do.
“Even when you wake up in the morning, you have to give them something to do,” Vendegna says. “Just give them a job, even if it’s something like hiding things around the house and telling them to go find it. If you don’t, they’ll lose their purpose and get bull-headed and won’t listen.”
Because of their strong work drive and off-the-charts intelligence, Doberman Pinschers can be taught to do just about anything, Vendegna says. “Just look at Maxxwell,” she says. “He was my dad’s service dog. Other Dobes have done scent determination, agility, rally obedience, therapy work and more. You just have to teach them.”
As when training any dog, Doberman or otherwise, use positive reinforcement — treats and praise to reward good behavior — rather than harsh correction or physical punishment to train them, Dodman advises.
“The age of militaristic training using prong collars or shock collars is completely passé and inappropriate,” Dodman says. “It’s much better to train a Dobe what to do rather than punish him for not doing something or for doing something wrong.”
Positive training uses rewards to mark or capture a behavior that the dog does well, Dodman says. “The dog sits following a cue to sit, and he gets rewarded profusely,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s all a means to an end. It’s a method of training the dog to respond to a voice cue. If you always reward positive behavior and you always ignore bad behavior, you will get good behavior. Remember: The opposite of reward is not punishment. The opposite of reward is no reward.”
Sweet and Sensitive
Despite their tougher-than-nails appearance and work-centered disposition, Dobermans have an extreme sensitive side, too. It comes out in their desire to be comfy and cozy as well as in their uncanny ability to sense and mimic humans’ emotions.
“They have to be warm and will even go under the covers if they’re cold,” Vendegna says with a laugh. “Your personality will rub off on the Dobe. Everything you feel goes right down the leash, right to the dog. If you have a bad day, he has a bad day, so he shouldn’t be in a turbulent environment.”
Vendegna says her dogs have sensed illness and trauma in people they’ve met. “All my Dobermans have been very intuitive,” she says. “When Maxxwell and I did therapy work, he would not go into the room of someone who was going to pass away. He gravitated toward children with severe illnesses and wanted to be with them.”
Kaiser does the same thing, she adds. “If you’re feeling bad or not feeling well, he puts his head on you,” she says. “Recently, he kept nose-bumping my stomach — and sure enough, I needed surgery. He knew something wasn’t right.”
When interacting with and training a Doberman Pinscher, keep in mind this sweet sensitivity. “They’re food-motivated, and they love being told they’re good boys or good girls,” Vendegna says. “When you come home from work, you really need to spend a few minutes with your dogs. I know it sounds crazy, but you need to take a good five minutes and go take them into a room, tell them you’re home, and get them organized and situated. They’ll perform better.”
Your Friend for Life
Doberman Pinschers might have been developed more than a century ago to guard and protect their owners and households, but today’s Dobies add sensitivity and versatility to the mix. The result: a loving and devoted companion who will add excitement to your life.
It all starts with training for the dog and the owner, Dodman says. “It’s all about learning,” he says. “It’s all about modifying an owner’s behavior, modifying a dog’s behavior and instructing people who are approaching the dog for what they should and shouldn’t do.”
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