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Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

“What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax assessor?” Mark Twain once asked, before answering with his customary wryness: “The taxidermist takes only your skin.”

In our polarized times, one certainty remains: Nobody likes to pay taxes. While we now pay the piper with electronic transfers or occasionally paper checks by mail, a century ago, that unpleasant task fell to the tax collector.

Not surprisingly, as they made their rounds, tax collectors worried about their safety. They were at risk of blows from angry constituents who disputed their assessments or just didn’t want to hand over any part of their income. Plus, they were also tempting targets for criminals all too eager to separate them from their hard-won tithes.

Though demanding work, tax collecting often was not a full-time job, particularly in smaller cities and villages. As a result, many tax collectors maintained other livelihoods as well.

That was the case with a certain late-19th-century entrepreneur from Apolda, Germany: Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann. He also was a night watchman, dog catcher, and – shades of that Twain quote – flayer, or skinner, of dogs. Brilliantly cross-pollinating his customs and canine careers, Dobermann created the breed that today bears his name, the Doberman Pinscher.

Dobermann’s Famous Guard Dog

Surveying the dogs in his pound, Dobermann selected the strongest, steeliest, and most intelligent to help with his tax collecting. The importance of an unflappable temperament for this perilous work could not be overstated.

The exact combination of breeds that Dobermann used to create his famous guard dog is unknown. However, there are some educated guesses. The old German Shepherd Dog, an influence in many European breeds of the period, offered intelligence, biddability, and stamina. The Rottweiler was one plausible source of the black-and-tan pattern that became inextricably linked with the Doberman, contributing strength and natural guarding ability. The German Pinscher – the latter word means “terrier” in German – likely added pluck and speed. And that all-around favorite hunting breed, the Weimaraner, may have provided the scenting ability that’s crucial in a working dog.

Ch. Barong the Warlock, Doberman Pinscher. 1955
Evelyn Shafer - Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

When he first set out to create the breed that would posthumously share his name, Dobermann worked with two other local dog aficionados: fellow night watchman Herr Rebel and Herr Stegmann, who often journeyed to Switzerland with his butcher’s dogs to purchase cattle. Together, they bred their first litters from dogs that reportedly were supposed to have been skinned.

One of those, presumably, was “Schnuppe,” a relatively smooth-coated, reportedly mouse-gray female. A surviving photograph from the 1870s depicts Schnuppe at Dobermann’s feet. He was a small, vaguely terrier-sized creature who resembled no recognizable purebred we know today.

Alton Anderson - Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

Streamlining the Doberman Pinscher

While they may have developed a reputation for their sharpness, the dogs were reportedly a success when first formally presented to the public. The Doberman Pinscher wouldn’t step into a show ring until 1897. But over three decades earlier, the fledgling breed was exhibited at Apolda’s inaugural dog market in 1863. Amid the various stalls with shaggy shepherds and lap-sized companions, Dobermann’s dogs stood out for their depth of character.

After Dobermann’s death, breeders began to pay attention to the breed’s appearance as much as its working ability. Around the turn of the 20th Century, crosses were made to two English breeds – the black-and-tan Manchester Terrier and the Greyhound – giving the breed some of its streamlined fluidity.

While Dobermann sparked the creation of his eponymous Pinscher, it was a liqueur manufacturer, Otto Göller, who fed it just the right kindling to ensure it would burn brightly until today. Five years after Dobermann died in 1894, fellow Apolda resident Göller founded the first Doberman Pinscher club (in a pub during that same annual dog market). He also helped write the first standard. At its peak, his von Thuringen kennel held some 80 dogs, many of which he exported abroad. A fervent promoter of the Doberman Pinscher, Göller even named a bitter from his distillery after the breed.

Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

Today’s Doberman

From those humble roots in Apolda, the Doberman Pinscher has  become one of the most recognizable breeds in the world, even if its name has morphed over the years. Outside of North America, the breed is called the Dobermann. In other continents, they’ve dropped the word “Pinscher” because the breed no longer resembles a terrier. In the United States and Canada, it’s the Doberman Pinscher. Somewhere along the way, they dropped second “N” of its originator’s proper name. But no matter how they spelled it, American soldiers were impressed by the breed’s loyalty and courage in the trenches of World War II, prompting the United States Marine Corps to adopt the Doberman Pinscher as its official war dog.

Today, at any given dog show, the Doberman Pinscher is usually among the most eye-catching breeds, thanks to its gleaming cost and chiseled head. Plus, its impossibly polished silhouette makes it look like it has been poured into its skin. However, judges, who understand what a premium should be placed on fearlessness, will rarely reward a Doberman Pinscher who shows even the slightest hesitation, regardless of its presentation.

Louis Dobermann today might be surprised to see how his rough-hewn protector evolved into such a smooth and peerless showman. But he would without question recognize its steady and watchful temperament, which was always the first – and most important – attribute of a Doberman worthy of the name.

Related article: Despite a Late Start to Diving, Doberman Pinscher Jet Loves to Fly
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