German Pinscher (GP): Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

German Pinscher standing outside

 EAlisa / iStock / Getty Images

 

The svelte German Pinscher is one of Bavaria’s oldest dog breeds and is the forerunner to the larger and more recognizable Doberman Pinscher or the smaller Miniature Pinscher. But it might surprise you to know that this medium-sized dog breed is actually most closely related to the Schnauzer.

A highly intelligent and active breed, the German Pinscher—or GP, for short—is a great companion for anyone seeking a dog that can keep up with a busy pace. They make great running or biking partners, love canine competitions, and are very affectionate with their owners.

The coat comes in various colors, including black, brown, fawn, red, or blue shades. Adding to the diversity of looks within this breed, the coat may or may not have tan or black and tan markings. The ears are traditionally cropped and the tail docked, although some breeders steer away from this practice and some states or countries have legislation governing it. 

Breed Overview

Group: Working

Height: 17 to 20 inches

Weight: 25 to 45 pounds

Coat: Short and smooth

Coat Color: Black, brown, fawn, red, or blue shades; may be with or without tan or black and tan points

Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Characteristics of the German Pinscher

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the German Pinscher

The German pinscher was originally developed as a utilitarian farm dog. Its official history begins in the late 1800s and it is believed to have been the result of breeding between European farm dogs used for guarding and herding. The Rat pinscher is sometimes cited as an early forerunner of the breed, but these dogs became extinct in the 1800s.

Interestingly, the word ‘pinscher’ is a German word which describes the dogs’ original function—to seize or nip. The German Pinscher was often tasked with ridding farms of small rodents, most notably rats. Quick, agile movements, a keen prey drive, and nearly endless energy made this dog breed a valuable asset on many German homesteads.

The German pinscher and the schnauzer were originally considered to be the same breed. The GP with its sleek, smooth coat was considered the short-haired version of the longer, more wiry-haired schnauzer. The breed, with its two varieties of coats, was first registered in Germany in the year in 1885. In the 1900’s, the two breeds became distinct—with today’s Schnauzer establishing its own identity from the smooth coated German pinscher. GPs would go on to contribute significantly to the development of the Doberman pinscher and the miniature pinscher breeds—a fact that can readily be seen when comparing the breed appearances among these dogs.

World War I and World War II greatly affected the populations of many dog breeds, and the GP was not immune. In fact, for most of the 1950’s, no pinscher litters were registered in all of West Germany, despite the breed’s recognition by the FCI in 1955.

In 1958, a man named Werner Jung became the champion of the breed by managing to bring a female German pinscher from East Germany into West Germany. There, he was able to successfully revive the breed by crossing this female with 4 male miniature pinschers that were particularly large for their breed. As a result, the German pinscher breed avoid slipping into oblivion.

Over the next several decades, these dogs began to spread across Europe. By the 1980s, German pinschers were being imported to the United States. In the year 2003, the breed was granted official recognition by the AKC. 

However, the breed remains relatively rare, especially when compared to the more popular Schnauzer. Often mistaken for a Doberman pinscher or a miniature pinscher, the German pinscher continues to try and stake its claim as a forerunner to these breeds and make its case as a versatile companion dog for active families.

German Pinscher competing in the Working Group at the 140th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2016
A German Pinscher competes in the Working Group during the second day of competition at the 140th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden on February 16, 2016.  Matthew Eisman / Wire Image / Getty Images

German Pinscher Care

When considering the needs of a German pinscher, you can’t forget that this breed descends from a long line of working dogs. You’ll frequently see the word ‘active’ in the profile of a GP, and this is spot-on. Without sufficient exercise and mental stimulation, this active tendency can quickly spiral into hyperactivity.

A German pinscher needs an outlet for his energy and will benefit from several walks or runs each day; plan for at least one of these to be a two or three mile jaunt. One look at the athletic build of the GP and you’ll see that these dogs won’t be happy with a short stroll around the block. In addition to hearty walks, a vigorous game of fetch or time spent romping with another dog in a fenced location will give your dog room to stretch his legs and really run.

When a GP is subjected to a sedentary life or doesn’t receive enough mental engagement, these dogs have been to pace, whine, or even resort to destructive behaviors. If you don’t have the time, patience, or endurance to keep pace (physically and mentally with a GP), this may not be the breed for you.

Due to their working dog pedigree, the German pinscher is intelligent and thinks for himself. Plenty of owners report some resistance from their dog when it comes to carrying out certain commands that don’t match the dog’s mood or provide enough incentive. It’s important to teach the fundamentals of obedience from an early age and consistently assert your leadership every day.

Don’t mistake being an assertive leader with using fear and intimidation to train your German pinscher. This is an intuitive breed that ‘reads’ emotion from its owner; harsh training tactics can cause a rift between dog and owner.

There are conflicting opinions on whether or not the German pinscher is a good match for homes with children. The intensity of this breed might make it too reactive to the antics of young children or their clumsy handling. On the other hand, older children that have been taught how to properly interact with a dog will likely enjoy the affectionate and active nature of the GP. In any scenario, the key is to use caution and exercise proper supervision between your dog and children of all ages.

Similar caution is also in order when having guests at your home. The German pinscher is known for his watchdog abilities, in addition to his ratting skills. The alert nature of the GP has the potential to morph into aggression if these dogs are not properly socialized or trained in identifying and respecting guests that you invite into your home.

But make no mistake about it, the German pinscher has a big heart and grows very attached to its family. These dogs are known for being affectionate and will seek your company at every opportunity. Often called the do-anything-dog, the GP loves to be challenged with canine sports like agility, lure coursing, nose work, obedience trials and more. Exploring new activities with your dog is a great way to expend his energy while building your bond.

When it comes to other dogs and pets, this breed is often quite content living as a solo canine. However, they may do well with another dog within their pack if they’ve been socialized from an early age. Caution should be used when encountering unfamiliar dogs, like at a dog park or on a walk. The German pinscher is no wimp and generally won’t back down from confrontation. Due to a strong instinctive prey drive, they’re known to pursue animals smaller than they are and might not make the best housemates with cats or even smaller pets, like rabbits, hamsters, or gerbils.

Grooming the GP is a quick and easy process. The short, sleek coat only needs a brief weekly brushing to remove loose hairs and dander. You can use a slicker brush, a rubber grooming mitt, or even a towel to keep the fur looking shiny and clean. An occasional bath will keep doggy odors away. In addition, it’s important to brush your dog’s teeth regularly, clean his ears, and trim fast-growing nails. 

German pinscher puppy portrait
Andrea-Goitia / iStock / Getty Images
Red German pinscher sitting by flowers
German pinscher with red coat. Dixi_ / iStock / Getty Images
German pinscher standing in the woods
German pinscher with black coat and tan markings. MPirat / iStock / Getty Image

Common Health Problems

The German pinscher is a healthy breed with a relatively short list of common health ailments. However, it’s been noted that the breed is somewhat susceptible to heart problems and eye problems, so a cardiac exam and ophthalmologist evaluation are recommended by the National Breed Club. Experts also recommend a DNA test for Von Willebrand’s Disease and a hip evaluation.

Diet and Nutrition

An active breed like the German pinscher will benefit from a high protein dog food that is big on quality, low on fillers. Be sure that you don’t overfeed these svelte dogs; otherwise, they’re at risk for a host of health problems including diabetes, joint issues, and more. 

Pros
  • Excels in many canine sports

  • Highly intelligent

  • Medium size suitable for apartments or houses

Cons
  • Becomes bored and restless easily

  • May not tolerate other dogs well

  • Needs plenty of exercise

Where to Adopt or Buy a German Pinscher

Finding a German pinscher will require more patience than searching out other more popular dogs of Bavarian origin. However, the search will be worth it—if you do your homework on the breed and on any potential breeder you’re considering.

Additionally, if you have experience with training an intelligent and active breed, you might benefit from considering a rescue. Some inexperienced GP owners find themselves under-qualified and over-matched for this breed’s needs and personality. Look into local shelters or rescue groups to see if there’s a GP that’s a match for you.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Learn more about the German pinscher by talking with current owners of the breed. Breed clubs, dog shows, and reputable breeders are great resources for anyone interested in these athletic, spunky dogs.

Also be sure to check out these other Bavarian dog breeds: