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America vs. Europe: Should the Breed be Split?

By Ray Carlisle

This article was originally printed in the Fall 1998 issue of the Doberman Quarterly, in response to a previous article written by Mr. Rod Humphries.

Alida and Amida (littermates) on a downI started in the breed with show dogs more than 30years ago, and it was always very important to me that my dogs be good looking and have firm character with stable, social dispositions. The more I became involves, the more I wanted to learn about all facets of the breed, leading to an interest first in obedience, and later in Schutzhund. I maintained my strong interest in the show ring along the way, but even back in those early years I instinctively wanted a Doberman that was sound in mind and body-a total Doberman.

In the early Eighties I became very interested in Schutzhund. What attracted me was not only the intellectual challenge gained form this high performance dog sport, but also the information I could get as a breeder about the dog's inherent working drives and abilities. What Schutzhund provides is an accurate measure of the dog's trainability and firmness of character. Today the multiple advantages of Schutzhund training are taken for granted in the wider working dog community, but back in the early Eighties there was a lot of resistance from the mainstream American dog fancy and from within the Doberman community itself. This resistance can be explained in two somewhat related ways. First, people don't miss what they never use, and secondly, they were sold a false layman's perception that it was "teaching a dog to bite." These early misunderstandings have been getting dispelled as more and more mainstream dog people take up the sport and learn first hand about the benefits of Schutzhund. It is not only a safe and socially friendly form of sport for both you and your dog to enjoy, but the training and trial preparations also provide valuable information to the breeder about the dog's key inheritable instincts and general character framed within a formal test.

Breeding for good temperament is part of our responsibility to this unique breed. Rather than run away from our responsibilities because we might not understand them fully, we should embrace them by educating ourselves. If you love the breed, preserve and protect it. Because some do not understand what correct working temperament is, they would have us breed lesser dogs to fit their own limitations. They even talk of making it into another breed!

The first dog I had trained in Schutzhund was "Cara's Son of a Butch, CD, SchH1" (Chip), a loving family pet who developed into a versatile working dog for me. Unfortunately, his career was cut short by his early death from Cardiomyopathy at 5 years of age. His death was one of a series of signs I read to step back and take stock of the genetic problems I was repeatedly having to deal with. After years of breeding only American bloodlines, I had to face up to some hard facts: we have a lot of genetic health problems in the breed and, more importantly, we had very few breeders formally testing their stock for either their health or inheritable working abilities.

I wanted to find a way to break the cycle and began to look at experimenting with outcrossing to a new bloodline to give our domestic gene pool a chance to refresh itself. My thoughts were that a wider based gene pool would provide more possibilities to avoid doubling up on the inherited breed problems I had been regularly experiencing. There were no guarantees of success, but I felt that if the individuals were both excellent specimens of their respective bloodlines, then there should be room for optimism.

My friends in Germany encouraged me to consider returning to the source and, moreover, to start at the top. With the help of friends and a lot of arm twisting, I was able to inspect, negotiate for, and buy Alida v. Flandrischen Lowen, SchH 3, BH, FH, AD, a German Champion and Bundesseiger bitch, the only German Siegerin (best of breed bitch at the DV National) to be imported to America since Jessie v.d. Sonnenhoehe back in the Thirties. It is with great emotion that I say Alida has since passed out of my life after I put her quietly to sleep shortly before her 10th birthday, a victim of cancer. Yet it is with great pride I can also say that she was the cornerstone of a new beginning for me and provided me with the sort of genetic material I was looking for to start anew. Alida was a beautiful bitch, free of the health problems that had plagued me up till then and possessing a fine character and excellent working ability. You don't have to take my word for it; she showed many people what Dobermans were all about.

I bred Alida to American Champion Electra's The Windwalker. To my delight, the hoped for results were immediately apparent in the first generation, represented by the high percentage of Champion (5), Schutzhund (2), CD titled (4), and generally clear health results from a variety of tests.

My many successful outcrossing experiences since Alida underline why it is extremely important not to cut off our own noses to spite our faces. We must keep in mind the genetic base of the Doberman breed worldwide is extremely narrow. Therefore, it borders on insane irresponsibility to contemplate restricting it even further, preventing our breeders from having the choice of accessing broader based gene pools developed in other countries. Nor do I believe that anyone has the right to dictate to another fellow breeder that he or she cannot use foreign bloodlines to refresh or improve specific aspects of their breeding program.

In my opinion, breed policies based on an animal's nationality have nothing to do with the breeding of better Dobermans. This is short sighted "political genetics," pure and simple. As we've all seen, a crippled political mindset didn't help the Russian nation become strong but instead weakened it internally. If the same sort of illogical protectionism is applied to breeding American Dobermans, then it can be seen that it won't help us remain a strong and viable breed force, either at home or on the international stage. No one gains if we shut our doors to the rest of the world. Everyone loses, at home and abroad.

The new FCI standard has differences with which many, including myself, do not agree. Yet these differences are not so insurmountable that each other's dogs can't be easily accommodated within each other's show rings. (Indeed, how many dogs actually fit the description found in their OWN National Standards?) I've judged in several countries all over the world, including Germany, and it's my experience that a good Doberman is always appreciated as a good Doberman everywhere, no matter where its place of birth was or where it is being shown. Therefore, I think any differences in Standards are better addressed by encouraging dialogue rather than opting for elitism. Despite all the hoopla, I have yet to see one sound, concrete reason that would justify creating a separate breed.

In fact, I would be ashamed to have to admit to the rest of the world that Americans felt they had to embrace an isolationist policy in order to protect ourselves from foreign competition, instead of showing our grit and utilizing our breeders' common sense to breed the best to the best. We only reinforce our own strengths when we utilize the strengths of others. To do this, however, we have to be flexible in our thinking, and innovative in our breeding practices. The defeatist route is to take our ball and go home rather than play with the kid down the block.

Any breed has to have a "Breed type." But breed type first requires a specific function to explain that type. Function is not a by-product of the breed standard, but its very essence. What "function" of any new American Doberman is so radically different it would require a separate studbook? In fact, it's been the LACK of functional achievement in too many of our breeding programs in the past that has been responsible for our loss of respect in the domestic and international working dog community and our loss of leadership in the International Doberman community in general. Dobermans are not just a pretty face. The reason most people buy a Doberman in the first place is because they wanted a natural guard and companion dog. This natural protective instinct MUST be understood and respected, NOT FEARED.

This is a breed whose inherent strength and nobility is reflected in its utilitarian from and character. The ways in which different nationalities choose to pursue achieving these specific characteristics might differ from country to country, but the breed ideal remains the same the world over. Is the American Doberman now going to divorce itself from this ideal? To roll over and settle for a lap dog dressed up in Doberman clothes? Just because some can't be bothered to educate themselves about breed fundamentals? If we don't understand the relationship to type and function, that's no excuse to ignore it. If the functional qualities slip away, so will the breed type and then we really will have grounds to start a new registry. This is NOT the case NOW and we should NEVER allow it to happen.

Just as no dog is ever perfect, no country can claim total success at producing the ideal working, show, and companion dog. Official clubs in some countries have put real emphasis on developing an infrastructure aimed at stabilizing functional breed traits. Leading the way, Germany has been one of the most diligent. We should not see this industriousness as a threat, but as a challenge. Mostly we need to recognize that, internationally, our breed similarities are far greater than our differences, and in fact, even greater than our internal differences. Just because some nations place more emphasis on functional field testing than ourselves is no excuse to seek to discredit the other's exemplary efforts by underhanded and misleading propaganda about that country's dogs or policies. Remember no function, no type and no type, no breed.

The loudest advocates for selling the breed out seem to have the least understanding of what they are proposing to give up. With all due respect, Frank Grover has the least meaningful contact with Germany to test his odd assumptions. On the other hand, I and many other genuinely interested and open minded Americans have been liaisoning productively for many years and I can vouch that Germans are like people everywhere, and their dogs are just as good citizens in their society as our own are in ours.

It's true that Schutzhund is the number one dogsport enjoyed by the large majority of working breeds throughout ALL of Europe (e.g., Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, etc.) and it's true that no Doberman in Germany can become a Champion without a Schutzhund title. However, the very fact it is so popular and successful-as a form of competition, as a breeding tool, and as a means for social interaction-merely underlines how compatible this sport really is for successful integration into high density populations. Many Germans own dogs but very few start out knowing how to properly train or socialize them. Nearly every German town has at least one Schutzhund club in the area to which local dog owners can go for help and advice. The service that these local clubs render to their community is recognized by Schutzhund titled dogs being granted cheaper dog registration and insurance rates. When I first began my visits to Germany and saw the great number of Schutzhund clubs and the social interaction within them, it reminded me of how very similar it is to our own Little League baseball fields which also are found in almost every town. The same fundamental experiences were occurring in Germany as in America where a sport was being taught and through this sport social interaction and rules of fair play, skills, and community price were developed.

Therefore, ill informed people who attempt to portray the sport of Schutzhund as a trigger for producing dogs with poor or unmanageable characters are far off the mark. This portrayal is confounded by the factual reality found in societies where this sport is commonplace and their statements say a lot more about their own lack of knowledge of the sport than the reality.

There is even a theory being floated that if people use Schutzhund as a test for evaluating a dog's breed suitability, then dogs produced from such a test program cannot be socially suitable. People who promote this logic display their own lack of experience of the subject they seek to discredit. Their logic is equivalent to a witness of a car crash testing program saying that car models that pass such programs will be more susceptible to crashing. We all know quite well the opposite is true!

Generations of selecting for dogs capable of passing a high level performance and social test have naturally created a gene pool better equipped to produce larger percentages of highly trainable, socially adaptable dogs. Selection for suitable Schutzhund traits not only produces more readily usable working drives that render a dog easy to motivate and helps them learn more quickly, but they also need courage and strong, steady nerves in order to accommodate the stressful social and combative pressures of the tests.

I would say to those among us who advance shallow, emotional theories as a basis for promoting radical changes should instead be providing supporting data or have first hand experience as grounds to substantiate their theories. Rod Humphries' statements are also somewhat contradictory. On one page, he tells us that German dogs' "misbehavior" comes form their rigid Prussian upbringing; on the next page, he proposes this same behavior is caused by their having a "different" temperament (i.e., that of another breed). Is the argument for separation to be based on nature or nurture? Are separatists clear in their own minds on this-or anything-except their desire not to consider how our dogs fit into the breed as a whole?

There are other aspects of the separatist argument that are unclear. When Rod Humphries referred to courage and hardness, he doesn't appear to appreciate they have nothing in common with viciousness and aggression. In fact, a lot of temperament terminologies being used are used inappropriately. For example, "bitework" (found in the Protection Phase of Schutzhund) is equated with "unwarranted aggressive" behavior. I can only say the effects of training are far more distinguishable as a sound breeding tool. But admittedly it's difficult to debase sensibly with people who have no common background or understanding of the subject.

Instead of Frank and Rod providing practical grounds to support a separatist philosophy, there is this attempt to exploit others' ignorance by inducing groundless fears, conjuring up images of vicious, snarling German-blooded dogs let loose on an unsuspecting civil society. (I think Rod or Frank have probably been watching too many re-runs of The Doberman Gang.) Wrapping hollow theories up in the American flag only patronizes our intelligence. National pride is not grounds to isolate our American Dobermans from the mainstream genetic pool. The only clear result of this will be to leave our dogs vulnerable the debilitating effects of being trapped within the confines of an ever declining genetic base.

It does our breed a disservice to romanticize about the heroic yet lovable behavior of our home grown dogs while vilifying the "paranoid," "untouchable" behavior of the German dogs. It reflects poorly on our level of authority internationally when some of our best known breed personalities publicly stoop to airing irrelevant old wives tales about early German Dobermans are grounds to discredit the modern Dobermans being bred in Germany and elsewhere today.

Again with all due respect to Frank Grover as an American breed authority, he has been proven wrong many times before when it comes to verifying his opinions about Germany, its dogs, and their history. If these fanciful stories are to provide the grounds for separating the breed then we are in real trouble.

For example, Mr. Grover claimed in his magazine "Scribe" that "the war (WWI) had just about eliminated the breeding there" (meaning Germany). Yet this opinion of his is in direct conflict with the German records which show that between 1919 and 1924 approximately 20,000 Dobermannpinschers were entered into the German Studbooks. During the following 5 years, a similar number (approximately 20,000) were also born and registered. On the other hand, in the USA in the same decade, Dobermans were being founded as a new breed with approximately 750 registrations made between 1919 to 1924. In the following 5 years, approximately 2,650 Doberman Pinschers were registered with the AKC. Therefore, the actual comparisons between the two countries in the period referred to was approximately 40,000 registered in Germany compared to 3,400 registered in the USA. The evidence thus shows that German Dobermans were not, as Mr. Grover had claimed, "just about eliminated" during this period at all. Instead, what it shows is that the early comparative gene pool favored Germany.

Mr. Grover has also claimed that Mr. Gruenig's book "has never been available in the language of its writing." Yet the book is to be found in its original language in numerous homes around the world under it's original title, "Geschichte der Dobermannzucht und die Entwicklung der Rasse," von Philip Gruenig, published in Duisburg, 1934. The English translation by Maximilian v. Hoegan was published later in the USA in 1939.

Mr. Grover also claimed in his self-published magazine that there were no official German records before 1949, telling us that "a new club and new registration was started in 1949 amidst a general famine." Why is it, then, that the German Dobermann Club and also a number of private people in Germany (and elsewhere) do have complete sets of records, from Studbook No 1 (Dobermannpinscher Stammbush, Band 1,2.Ausgabe/1219) with the original entries from 1 to 207, and the following studbooks that came after? When the German breeder and judge Jens Kollenberg visited the DPCA National in 1987 he brought with him every original early German Studbook from Ban 1 (1,2. Ausgape) to Band IIL (40) for the perusal of interested parties. For example, the studbook entry number 1 was the black and tan bitch "Schnupp," DOB unknown, and the studbook entry number 2 was the black and tan bitch "Korvins Krone," DOB 13.06.1989, breed by Goswin Tischler out of Lux and Tilly (and they went on, up until studbook entry no. 77,700).

Rod Humphries addressed the topic of the German Dobermann Club (Doberman Verein) in his article. At face value he appears to speak with some knowledge on the subject, but his references are second hand interpretations of generalizations he has read. He has not filled the holes in his education before going to print with his conclusions. Quotes he lifts from a German breeder actually outlines ideas that support the opposite position he is representing. So I wonder, does he misunderstand those ideas, or his his intention to alarm by creating a tribal "them against us" atmosphere?

Given that Frank Grover's arguments, on which Rod Humphries draws, have been published repeatedly for a period of approximately ten years here in America, despite having been repeatedly refuted by other international authorities in numerous non-American publications, one can suspect that Rod, like most of the American fancy, has been denied the opportunity to hear the other-true-side of the history lesson. Instead they have been a captive audience for Frank Grover's historical inventions and fed his propaganda supporting his campaign to discredit German bred dogs. I think in light of the large discrepancies and inaccuracies found in all their presentations, both gentlemen are expecting a lot to be allowed to turn the breed upside down for reasons based on this sort of misinformation.

Rod Humphries used the example of the imported Thirties "Bundessieger Ferry v. Rauhfelsen" as an example of the aggressive temperament German dogs were said to possess. Yet it should be remembered that the early Americans importing Dobermans wanted to buy dogs with show titles, and they were not particularly concerned if they had passed any working tests or not. Americans back then had a reputation for not placing much value on proven working ability when buying a dog, which meant they never questioned the reasons why the Germans were selling some of these top winning dogs in the first place.

Photos of Dobermans being imported into the USA at that time showed that the preferred type being bought by American were dogs with rather straight fronts. Ferry represented this type of dog. In contrast, photos of his full brother, Frido (the one that the Germans wisely chose to keep and used heavily in their own breeding programs) show he had no such structural problem but instead had a beautiful shoulder and upper arm layback. The point that I'm making is that although the early American importers often TOLD their fellow countrymen they were "buying the best," there are any number of examples to show that they were not. Any breeder knows that buying a show winner is no guarantee you are buying "the best." The "best" is always subjective, and some of our early imports with temperament or structural problems were being sold simply because the German breeders (not unexpectedly) didn't want these problems either! Caveat emptor (buyer beware).

Another example of contradictory opinion is found in comparing Rod Humphries' assertion that temperaments like Lux v.d. Blankenburg were the goal of the German breeding program. Yet a first hand witness, Philip Gruenig, wrote about Lux: "His character was not especially good, he was a rowdy and a vicious one." Lux was exported to the USA.

The wide variations of German and American versions of breed history and the qualities of individual dogs are further highlighted in a passage found in Gruenig's original German edition of his book. This chapter "Der Dobermannpinscher in Amerika" was written by his close friend Mr. Howard Mohr of Whitegate kennels, who summed things up in a few lines by saying: "The development of the breed in this country (America) is severely handicapped, caused by the breeders neglecting scientific knowledge concerning breeding rules, as well as a lack of knowledge and also inadequate knowledge by its judges, connected with petty politics and jealousy." It seems that not much has changed when we see key breed people that are disinterested in learning about correct working temperament. They seem determined to withdraw the American Doberman from the rest of the world instead.

Howard Mohr's statement is just one amongst several critiques that were either excluded or poorly translated from the original German into the English version of Gruenig's book. Mohr's particular critique was most likely excluded to protect the American Doberman's image at home and abroad. Censorship in other forms continues today.

I'm not drawing attention to these factual discrepancies in order to criticize for its own sake. We, however, should be made aware of how an individual's personal recollections and second hand stories don't always match others' recollections or the actual official facts. That's why it's dangerous to base major decisions about the breed's direction on such recollections and stories. I don't intend to debate the accuracy of the recollections and opinions about early German dogs voiced in Rod's article. Some of it does make for rinteresting memorabilia, but it is NOT relevant today.

Early German Dobermans in the USA, Germany, and elsewhere most likely were often a handful, but not only was it 50 to 80 years ago, but 20 to 40 canine generations ago! In human ages, it could have been 400 to 600 years ago-before Columbus even thought of sailing to India!

Modern Dobermans living and working in Germany and elsewhere are owned by average people no different than you and I. Loved as normal family pets, these dogs are usually kept in the house. They are NOT kept "locked up in attics" and are NOT encouraged to act paranoidal, as Rod Humphries quoting Mr. Grover has stated. In the German homes I have visited, the Dobermans invariably live together with their families and lead normal dogs lives within normal suburban communities. Germany is one of, if not the most litigious nation in the world, so no breed or dogsport would be tolerated there if it posed a remote threat to the welfare of the general public. Despite the spin being put on this topic here at home by some with a political ax to grind, German Dobermans are not the unmanageable or dangerous predators being depicted by these spin doctors. Any problems that our own domestic bred Dobermans might have developed over the years will not be solved by attacking a handful of German imports or trying to lay blame elsewhere by spreading false interpretations of the breed's history.

Since importing Alida, I and many other American breeders have chosen to continue to introduce German and German related dogs into our American programs. I admit it has given me much satisfaction to see the continuity of the success these outcrosses have brought me. Apart from breeding numerous working and show champions, a ¾ German dog I co-bred became Reserve Winners Dog at the DPCA National in 1992. A broader reference for us to appreciate is the Dutch import, Dexter V. Franckenhorst. (Please note that Dutch and German bloodlines are practically interchangeable with each other as they cross each other's borders to breed to each other's dogs regularly. Nor are Dutch dogs' "drawing room manners" any more noticeable than those of their German cousins). Dexter received the 1990 DPCA Award for being the sire of the most champions that year, and his progeny and their progeny have continued to enjoy wonderful successes in the show rings throughout the USA ever since. Are his American-bred offspring so different they require separate registration?

Outcrosses have shown that short backs, good bone and substance, rich colors, beautiful heads and good fronts are only some of the welcome assets commonly provided by access to European lines. The show ring sparkle comes for free, as winning dogs in Europe must have outgoing personalities and exhibit natural showmanship in order to win there, because they cannot be hand stacked.

I felt Rod Humphries tried for a fairly even handed presentation when he also noted that the "American Doberman" has its problems and even expressed his personal preference for a dog with character. Yet he has no qualms suggesting that the monumental step of separating breed type from function is of little more relevance than having an extra benefit of a new variety class to show in. Not so. This wouldn't be a split in name, it would be a split of our breed into "Show" and "Working" Dobermans. Have we, as the supposed guardians of a specifically unique working breed, become so obsessed with fads, so shallow, so frivolous, that our historic responsibilities are forgotten? The spirit and intention of our clubs (DPCA/UDC) is not to cringe from the true nature of our breed, but rather to protect and preserve its heritage while trying to perfect its natural qualities. This means ALL its natural qualities. In fact, the American Kennel Club breed standards state the function (purpose/work) of the breed and judges are expected to evaluate the essence of the breed as well as the structure!

I wonder if the advocates for the new two breed policy of Dobermans have also stopped to think through the logistical implications of separating our Registry from breed Registries of other nations? Who would be the one to decide which Doberman is "racially pure?" How do we extract those American bloodlines long interwoven throughout other nations' programs throughout the world, and vice versa? Where would we begin to draw the line when our best producing modern bloodlines share exactly the same ancestors in common as the best producing modern bloodlines in European dogs today? Is this coincidence or proof of the persistence of their common genetic inheritance?

We should fiercely resist any elitist marketing ploy based on division or exclusion, because such policies seriously threaten an already limited gene pool: Greater, not lesser, diversity is essential for our breed to remain robust and vigorous.

My ultimate conclusion is that this breed is large enough to accommodate a great variety of interests without the need to put them into separate pigeon holes. Gruenig said, "within the breed no distinction arising from origin can be tolerated and all dogs must be accorded the equal right of being judged on merit alone." He went on to state that "as soon as partisanship enters into his judgment a breeder loses his foundation of objectivity and his deductions become worthless."

His authoritative words apply today more than ever.





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