Home > Policy > In Defense of the Doberman (and other dogs banned by the Army)

In Defense of the Doberman (and other dogs banned by the Army)

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

File:Monument to Doberman, Military Working Dog (MWD), World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery. Navel Base Guam.jpg
In a quiet corner of Naval Base Guam, a Doberman Pinscher named “Kurt” sits quiet but alert atop the World War II War Dog Memorial. In reality, Kurt is a bronze statue. Kurt, along with 24 other Dobermans whose names are inscribed on the memorial, died fighting with the US Marine Corps against Japanese forces on Guam in 1944. Kurt was the first dog killed when he was mortally wounded by a Japanese grenade. These dogs served as scouts, sentries, messengers, and even retrieved wounded Marines on the battlefield not only on Guam, but on numerous battlefields in World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam. Countless Soldiers and Marines have been saved by these and other war dogs.

Fast forward to today.  In spite of the proud history of this breed, Dobermans are not allowed in Army family housing according to Department of the Army (DA) policy. The 2009 policy explicitly bans certain dog breeds, including Dobermans, despite evidence that breed bans do not make communities safer. This is a tragedy that DA should rectify immediately. The current policy is not only unfair to responsible dog owners, but more importantly, is unlikely to be effective.  As a dog owner, I am concerned that this policy unfairly targets specific breeds.  As an Army leader, I am concerned that this is a poor policy which fails to protect our Soldiers and Families.

Breed bans simply do not make communities safer from dangerous dogs because it is impossible to determine which dogs are dangerous based on breed alone. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill.”  The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) concurs with the CDC stating, “Breed-specific ordinances imply that there is an objective method of determining the breed of a particular dog, when in fact, there is not at this time.”  As a result, policy makers often resort to sensationalized media stereotypes and popular culture myths to decide which breeds to ban.

The current DA policy bans dogs which are stereotypically portrayed in the media as aggressive, or as “attack” dogs. Simultaneously, the DA policy omits breeds which should be of equal or greater concern. In fact, of the nine purebred dog breeds most often involved in fatal attacks, the DA policy only bans four.  The DA policy omits the German Shepherd Dog, Husky, Malamute, Great Dane, and Saint Bernard, all of which are large, strong and potentially dangerous dogs, and all of which appear in a CDC report on dog bite fatalities.  These dogs typically escape breed bans because they do not have sensational reputations, nor do they look like “attack” dogs. The DA policy also omits lesser-known but potentially dangerous dogs, such as Bull Mastiffs and Presa Canarios.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) asserts that breed-specific bans may actually diminish rather than enhance public safety. This occurs for two reasons. First, individuals who seek aggressive dogs turn to breeds which are not banned. Communities which enact breed bans often see dog bites increase from other, legal breeds. Second, breed bans may induce a false sense of security, leading communities to overlook more effective, breed-neutral “dangerous dog” policies. As evidence, the ASPCA cites studies in which dog bites remained high or went up in communities which enacted breed-specific bans, while breed-neutral policies were effective in reducing dog bites.

Another shortcoming of breed bans is that they focus exclusively on heredity to determine the potential danger of a dog. In reality, heredity plays a relatively minor role in dog aggression. According to the AMVA, there are multiple factors which influence a dog’s aggressiveness, including early experience, socialization, training, and health.  Additionally, reproductive status plays a large role in dog aggressiveness. According to the ASPCA (as cited from research), unneutered male dogs are responsible for an estimated 70 to 76 percent of reported dog bites, and are 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs. Unspayed females attract potentially dangerous roaming males.

The empirical evidence all points to a conclusion that responsible dog owners have known for many years: the problem is at the other end of the leash. All communities, the Army included, would be better off targeting bad dog owners than bad dogs. The truth is that any large breed of dog can become a dangerous dog in the hands of a bad owner. Accordingly, the Army should replace its flawed policy with the following guidelines, which are based on guidelines from the CDC and other organizations:

1. Enact a breed-neutral dangerous dog policy based on the “Model legislation for the identification and regulation of ‘dangerous’ dogs” found in Appendix 4 of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s report “A community approach to dog bite prevention.” (http://www.avma.org/public_health/dogbite/dogbite.pdf) All dogs should be considered potentially dangerous, and each dog should be judged according to its behavior rather than breed.

2. Enact mandatory behavioral evaluations of certain breeds by a veterinarian or other animal behavior specialist. While wholesale breed bans are ineffective, it is common sense to pay special attention to certain animals. Dog with a combination of size, strength and temperament that would pose a high risk of catastrophic injury to humans in the event of an attack should be screened for aggressive behavior prior to being allowed in Army housing. The list of breeds should be put together with the help of knowledgeable experts to ensure that breeds are selected based on science rather than stereotypes.

3. Enact a strict neuter/spay policy. A strict spay/neuter policy would not only make Army communities safer, but would decrease the population of unwanted and potentially dangerous dogs.

4. Enact strict and immediate penalties for owners with dangerous dogs. Penalties for violating any of the above policies should be swift and severe, up to and including action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Breed bans are not the answer to aggressive dog problems.  The answer is to address poor dog owners directly by strictly monitoring and enforcing breed-neutral dangerous dog policies.  Hopefully, the Army will update its pet policy to a more reasonable and effective one.


Special Report, “Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998”, http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf

ASPCA Position Statement on Breed-Specific Legislation, http://www.aspca.org/about-us/policy-positions/breed-specific-legislation-1.aspx

CDC Dog Bite Fact Sheet, http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/dog-bites/dogbite-factsheet.html

“A community approach to dog bite prevention”, American Veterinary Medical Association, Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions, http://www.avma.org/public_health/dogbite/dogbite.pdf

Categories: Policy
  1. May 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    I own my third doberman. I had owned other dogs before but become totally dedicated to the breed since dobermans are highly intelligent, easily trainable, loyal, really dependable, and much lower on the list of biters than for example German Shepherds that are allowed in the army.

    Whoever put this policy in place did not owned a doberman, or did not know how to train him/her, this is for sure!

    • Rachel Thompson
      April 17, 2017 at 3:46 pm

      Amen! I have 2 dobermans, both unaltered since they are show dogs. My mother’s neutered GSD is 10x more dangerous than my male. It is all in the early socialization and training that my boy got and continues to get as opposed to keeping them hidden from society and other dogs and then expecting them to know how to act when they come across strangers and other animals…Owner responsibilities are largely at fault here!

  2. Kenneth
    October 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    I am presently in the military and own two Dobermans, one being a rescue(my 2nd) from Gulf Coast Doberman Rescue. I love the breed and will only do rescues now. It is truly unfair that a breed(not just Dobies) has to suffer due to the owner’s inability or carelessness.

  3. September 19, 2013 at 8:57 pm

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  4. July 13, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Admiring tthe time and energy you put ingo your website and in depth information yyou present.
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  5. September 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    If it hasn’t, you have two good choices here.

  6. Josh
    January 26, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    This was a amazing read. I have a doberman and have had him since he was 8 weeks old. I have not been able to be with him for the past 4 years due to military pet policy and being overseas. I can’t wait to get back to states to be back with my dobie! I am trying to get a waiver for exception to policy for my next assignment to get my dobie on base I will let you and others know if it works. Thanks for all the great info. I look forward to more of your posts!

  7. Kathy
    January 20, 2017 at 6:05 am


    Yes. The problem is 9 times out of 10 the human.

    Dog training classes really are for the person not the dog. People seem to not understand the fact that a dog doesn’t know what the words sit or stay means automatically, they learn it over and over by repeat behavior. And with positive reinforcement.

    And getting dogs fixed would cut down on so so so many problems including aggressiveness and overpopulation. irresponsible people are at the peak of these problems.

  8. Rachel Thompson
    April 17, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    I just found this article!!! I fully agree with each statement you have made concerning the ineffectiveness and unfair banning of certain breeds while maintaining the allowance of other “dangerous” breeds on military installations. I want to continue to follow up regarding this policy. Are there any current updates and/or changes in progress?

  1. February 4, 2014 at 4:17 pm

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