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Judging the Dobermann – An issue of breed standards


by Rajvinder Singh, Singapore


The subject of this article is to discuss the main differences of the current Dobermann standards. Although the Dobermann has had a short history as a breed, its development and evolution has differed on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, today, one can even discern  the two distinct Dobermann types: the American Doberman Pinscher and the European Dobermann. For me, they are more like two different breeds already, both in conformation and working abilities.


Presently there are three breed standards for the Dobermann. Most applicable are the FCI [Federation Cynologie International] standard, last revised in 1994, and the American Kennel Club [AKC] standard. The FCI standard is used by the International Dobermann Club [IDC], FCI member countries like South Africa, Indonesia and all European Dobermann clubs. The AKC standard is adopted by most of the American continent, Australasia, and countries like Malaysia, Philippines, Guam and elsewhere. Thus, one can imagine the difficulties and problems in judging this breed when there exists two distinct types of dogs. The UK has its own standard as well, but for the purpose of this article, we shall only discuss the major differences between the two common types, the American [AKC] and European [FCI].


A comprehensive discussion of both the FCI and the AKC standards is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I will simply highlight the major differences between the two standards, and illustrate with examples of actual dogs.


In general appearance, both standards call for a medium sized, square dog, whose length shall almost equal his height. He is compact, powerful, muscular and both elegant and noble. However, the FCI allows for a deviation of 5% in the length of the male and 10% for females to be longer than the height. This reflects the very strong toplines of the European Dobermann, and the need for females to have longer loins for suckling.


In terms of temperament, the AKC standard only states that the dog must be “energetic, watchful, determined, alert, fearless, loyal and obedient”. The FCI standard, however, goes to a greater length, stating:


“The disposition of the Dobermann is friendly and calm; very devoted to the family, it loves children.  Medium temperament and medium sharpness (alertness) is desired.  A medium threshold of irritation is required with a good contact to the owner.  Easy to train, The Dobermann enjoys working, and shall have good working ability, courage and hardness.  The particular values of self confidence and intrepidness are required, and also adaptability and attention to fit the social environment”.


This reflects the value placed on the Dobermann’s roles as both working and family dog, and emphasises the importance of character and temperament tests for breeding, which is mandatory in most parts of Europe.


In looking at the standards for a Dobermann head, both standards call for parallel planes. This is where the similarity stops. The working ability of the breed forms the basis of the greater emphasis of the head in the FCI standard, especially in the strength and shape of the jaw line and muzzle. but the AKC standards do not disqualify overly snipey or long muzzles. What is most disconcerting is that the AKC only disqualifies the dog if he has 4 or more missing teeth! The FCI standard disqualifies any dog with a missing tooth, and any type of undershot, overshot or level bite. Thus, we see a difference in the working purpose of the dog, with regards to its dentition and muzzle. Moreover, the lengthy FCI standard reflects the importance of having a good head, which constitutes more than 30% of the dog’s bone structure.


The neck is a good example of the difference in the breed types. The AKC calls for a neck that is well arched, with nape of neck widening gradually toward body. Often you will see such dogs with a convex neck, swan like and lacking in substance. However, this also adds to an extremely showy and graceful look. The FCI calls for a neck which is softly curved, dry and muscular, carried upright with nobility. In reality, if you look at the dogs presented, you can see this difference clearly.


In body, the major differences are in the belly tuck up, angulations and forechest. The AKC requires a very well tucked up belly, often resulting a triangle shaped body. Moreover, it allows for extreme over-angulations in the shoulders, arms and rear loins. The FCI emphasises a gradual belly tuck, a very muscular and well-built body, with a well-developed forechest. Also, emphasis is placed on the croup placement and its angulations, as this greatly affects the rear drive and momentum of a dog. A very strong and straight top-line, combined with good substance of limbs are desired. The FCI standard actually discusses the various sections of the Dobermann body in length, always with emphasis on the working abilities of the dog and its speed and strength. If you see a continental Dobermann move, you will appreciate his great power and drive, and ability to work. However, the American type has a more pinscher-like movement, resembling a horse, and looks more elegant in the show ring. The obvious differences in movement point to the obviously different purposes for which the two breed standards are developed – one for showing and the other for working and protection.


The tail in both standards are to be docked at the second joint, but in practice, most American-type dogs are docked much higher up, to emphasize a more elegant image in the showring. This actually departs from the original working conditions for docking the tail, mainly to prevent anyone having a grip on the dog. Thus, to dock it but leave much of the tail left, is purely cosmetic and for the show rings. However, in Germany and Scandinavia, the Dobermann is now left undocked, with a long tail for political reasons and is not related to the revision of the standard or the breed attributes. In fact, it is much appreciated that the Americans are staunchly against the ban on cropping and docking the Dobermann, preserving these aspects of functionality and form as envisioned by the breed’s creators.


The FCI standard requires the Dobermann to be of strongly developed bone and substance. This is reflected in need for well-developed and muscular legs and forequarters, including the shoulder, with elbows close in and not tucked out. The length of the arms and legs must be in harmony with the whole body, to produce a square, medium and compact dog. The AKC standard is not as stringent on the angulations and development of the body, and often you do get dogs of very long arms and legs on a narrow body. Once again, we see how the working and athletic abilities of the Dobermann are seriously emphasized by the FCI.. Both standards, however, require the feet to be cat-like, with nails short and black.


In terms of movement, or gait, the FCI standard is:


“The gait is of special importance to both the working ability as well as the exterior appearance.  The gait is elastic, elegant, agile, free and ground covering.  The front legs reach out as far as possible.  The hind quarter gives far reaching and necessary elastic drive.  The front leg of one side and back leg of the other side move forward at the same time.  There should be good stability of the back, the ligaments and the joints”


The AKC standard for gait:


Free, balanced, and vigorous, with good reach in the forequarters and good driving power in the hindquarters. When trotting, there is strong rear-action drive. Each rear leg moves in line with the foreleg on the same side. Rear and front legs are thrown neither in nor out. Back remains strong and firm. When moving at a fast trot, a properly built dog will single-track.


From the above, one can tell that there is obvious similarity in the standard for movement! However, in practice, the build and angulations of the dog will affect its movement.  A well-built continental Dobermann has a more vigorous and powerful drive in his movement. In comparison, an over-angulated American Dobermann Pinscher moves on a trot, similar to a mini-Pinscher or equestrian horse and will look superb in the show-ring.


In terms of coat type and colors, there are very distinct differences in the standards.  Both require the hair to be short, hard, thick and close-lying. However, while the FCI forbids any undercoat, the AKC allows a grey undercoat on the neck. The American standard also allows for a white patch on the chest, which is forbidden under FCI rules.


However, the greatest difference is in the colors allowed in the two standards. The FCI only recognizes the Black and Brown Dobermann. This is primarily to discourage breeding in the other colors due to long associated genetic and coat problems. Moreover, in the continental show rings, there is a separate classification for the black and brown dogs. However, the AKC recognizes all four colors – black, brown, fawn [Isabella] and blue.


In terms of size and weight, there is a small difference, with the AKC standard requirement of 66 to 71 cm for males. The FCI standard is between 68 and 72cm for males, though in reality, most of the dogs are a little taller. Of late, however, there has been a strong adherence to this rule, to discourage European breeders from producing over-sized Dobermanns. Such dogs may look powerful, but can be compromised on its agility or ability to work. The FCI also has a weight chart, requiring males to weigh between 40-45kg, with a medium size desirable. The AKC does not have a weight requirement and very often the American dog looks taller, mainly because of the long convex neck it has.


Finally, if you study the breed standards, you will realize the difference in emphasis for faults in the breed. The FCI goes to a great length to describe the different parts of the dog which can be faulted with serious disqualifications such as eye color (yellow eyes), missing teeth, white spots on coat, long wavy hair, poor character and reversal of sexual impressions. Moreover, there is also a list of each body part like the head and limbs, and even temperament, with their corresponding possible faults. In contrast, the AKC only faults dogs of a different color and poor bite, and more than 4 missing teeth.



Thus, one can now appreciate the significant differences in the standards for this breed. This makes judging the Dobermann more difficult and challenging than most working breeds, and often requires a specialist. A judge from a country of origin which adheres to the AKC standard will be presented a very different type of dog he is used to, when judging a continental Dobermann. Therefore, in practice, an IDC breed specialist is the best judge both types of Dobermann, due to the more in depth study of the breed in that standard.  In any show ring with both types of Dobermann, it is certainly interesting to evaluate a judge in how he discerns and appreciates the exhibits. In FCI judging a written critique from the judge is required for each exhibit he places, and at times also testing the dog’s character by making advances on him. Today, the IDC is also seriously considering awarding World Champion status only to Dobermanns with working and breeding qualifications such as ZTP and Shutzhund.



To summarize, it is very obvious that here are two very different types of Dobermann. I would venture to say that the American Dobermann Pinscher has already become a different breed altogether, the result of special historical and evolutionary developments in the breed in the USA. After WW2, many top European Dobermanns were imported into the USA by notable breeders like Francis Fleitmann and John Cholley. But they imported dogs of their typology and preferences, which were more elegant, angulated and long muzzled. Over the decades, the Dobermann was bred and utilized mainly for the show ring, being very popular for their undisputed elegance and beauty. Rancho's Dobe Storm won the Westminster Kennel Club Show in 1952 and 1953! But the American Dobermanns soon lost a lot of their European characteristics, especially in its working abilities and build.


Thus, we are presented today with two different standards for the breed, and at the same time, a good test of a judge’s abilities to switch between breed types! A good Dobermann should always be appreciated as a good Dobermann anywhere, regardless of origin or standards.



We wish to emphasise that this article reflects the views of the author and website, and may not necessarily be accurate or judgemental. We welcome any discussion of the above, do email us. Thank you

Always your best friend, the Dobermann

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