Attack dogs. Devil dogs. Mean dogs. If someone mentions the words “Doberman Pinscher” in casual conversation, these terms sometimes come to mind. Dobermans are Hollywood’s bad boys: they chase the good guy off of the bad guy’s property. They guard seedy back-alley residences. They appear to be the hit-men of the dog world. It is a commonly recognized fact that Dobermans are somehow meaner or more dangerous than other dogs. Why?

A handler recently had her dog at a park where there was a crowd of event onlookers. A young boy came over and asked to pet the dog. Consent was granted, and the boy proceeded to pet the dog, pull the dog’s ears, ask questions about the dog, and generally make friends. “Do you know what kind of dog he is?” the handler asked. “No,” the boy replied. “A Doberman,” the handler said. The boy, without a word, turned and walked away. He must have been fooled by the long ears. Yes, some Dobermans have long, floppy ears. But why was that name the deal-breaker for an otherwise enjoyable encounter?

The Doberman is a very old, historic breed of dog. Around 1890, Louis Dobermann, a tax-collector, sought to breed a dog suitable for both protection and companionship. His job at the time could prove dangerous, as he carried money with him on his rounds. By crossing several breeds including the Rottweiler, greyhound, and Manchester terrier, Dobermann achieved his goal: a medium-sized, powerfully built, obedient guard dog. The dog gained popularity as a protector and companion. After Dobermann’s death in 1894, the Germans named the breed after Louis Dobermann (the second “n” was dropped later on); Otto Goeller continued to refine the dog’s breeding to create the dog we see today. The German word for terrier, “pinscher,” was also later dropped, as “terrier” no longer described the dog in general.

The Doberman’s primary working-dog role is guard and protector of property. Back in 1945, the breed served in World War II, helping U.S. Marines in their patrols on Guam. By the end of the war, 25 Marine Doberman dogs had given their lives to protect the U.S. soldiers by detecting land mines, sniffing out enemy forces in heavy cover, carrying information communiques to different areas, and providing protection in foxholes so that the soldiers could rest. A few of these dogs were nicknamed “Devil Dogs” by the Marines for their fierceness in battle. Of course, the pointy, cropped ears helped complete the picture. The dogs’ ears and tails were cropped to minimize the ability of the enemy to grab the dogs if the opportunity arose. The cropped ears are still popular today, but are no longer necessary for any practical reason other than appearance.

Recent breeding programs and education about the Doberman have improved the breed dramatically. No longer bred for aggression, Dobermans are family-oriented, loving dogs. Their high intelligence and boundless energy require plenty of exercise and mental stimulation such as obedience and agility, but in their minds, they are indeed Man’s Best Friend. Perhaps in the years to come the Devil Dog persona can fade into history, yet never be forgotten.