Why a Doberman?
When most people think of service dogs, they think of Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. Without a doubt, these breeds are well suited to the work. They are intelligent, a convenient size for serving most disabilities, friendly and calm.
But for me, a Doberman is the perfect dog.
I have both physical and psychiatric disabilities. No dog fills my needs like a Doberman. Dobermans are intelligent and trainable (yes, there is a difference!). A male who meets the breed standard—26-28 inches at the shoulder—is the perfect size for me, tall enough that I will be able to touch his back without leaning over (I'm pretty short). There are situations where I will need my dog to lead me, or just provide forward momentum, and the fact that his vest handle will naturally be at the right height is a huge plus.
Dobermans are “velcro” dogs. They want to be with you all the time (ask any Doberman owner when the last time was they went to the bathroom alone—most won't be able to remember), and are terrifically in tune with their person's emotions. They want to please you and keep you safe—and they're smart enough to know when they should employ “intelligent disobedience” for your own good. Again, perfect for me!
To some people, Dobermans can be intimidating. While I will be sure to turn my little guy into an ambassador for his breed, the intimidation factor is not necessarily a bad thing for me. A huge problem service dog handlers have is members of the general public touching, talking to, feeding, and otherwise distracting their service dogs. I'm hoping (probably in vain) that a Doberman will not be as likely to get molested as a cuddly looking Golden.
On the practical side, Dobermans also require minimal grooming due to their short, sleek coats. When you have frequent problems getting your hands to work without pain, that's a big plus. What about the ear-posting, you might ask? That's a lot of work on your hands. Well, my Doberman's ears will NOT be cropped. They will be adorably floppy, and thus require no more out of my hands than constant gentle stroking!
I chose Gatehouse Dobermanns after a ton of research into Doberman breeders and breeding. One of my big limiting factors was that I was not willing to compromise about my puppy's ears. Some people think that cropped ears are what make Dobermans look like Dobermans; I respectfully disagree. I love the natural look!
However, a breeder in the U.S. who will sell you an uncropped puppy is likely (though not necessarily) one of two things: either he/she is an unethical breeder just looking to make a buck, or he/she breeds working-line Dobermans. Obviously, going with an unethical breeder was never an option for me. A good breeder will take care of the cropping for the puppies before they ever go to their new homes; and most good breeders will not allow puppies to go home uncropped because should the dog be returned for any reason, it is much harder to rehome an uncropped Doberman. I don't know why this is so, but it is.
Most working-line Dobermans are just too much dog for me and the job I envision for my service dog. The reason I originally planned to go with Von Luka, a working-line Doberman breeder, was 1) for the uncropped ears and 2) because the breeder was planning a European show line litter—lower drive than your average Doberman competing in Schutzhund. She knew exactly what I needed in a dog and knew that I would get what I was looking for from that litter.
But once I could no longer wait for the Von Luka litter, it meant I would need to look for a pup in Canada. In Canada, cropping is seen as optional. Gatehouse puppies are cropped before they go home, if their owners desire; but if you want your puppy's ears left natural, that's fine too. Gatehouse had a litter coming up in spring, from parents who have been titled in the show ring as well as extensively health and temperament tested. My pup's mom is quite the velcro dog, and his dad is a big, laid back guy. Mom is black and Dad is red; I am hoping for a black male as my service dog candidate.
Why a male?
Generally, for peace in the household, it's a better idea to have two dogs of the opposite sex, rather than two of the same sex. Juno's a girl, so I had always planned for her successor to be a boy.
Boys also get a bit bigger than girls, and I want a dog on the bigger side. (That is not to say that breeding dogs specifically for large size is acceptable—it is decidedly not.) I would just rather have a taller, heavier Doberman, and with a boy, that's what you get.
All dogs are different, obviously, but from what I have heard from other Doberman owners, males tend to be more eager to please, more goofy, more affectionate, etc. I have definitely experienced the bitch personality with Juno—sometimes you just get the look: "You want me to what? Um, no, not right now. Stop bothering me." I think the whole boy-girl personality thing applies, to an extent, with all dog breeds. I train a lot of different dogs, and I almost always have a better rapport with the boys. Except when it comes to Juno, naturally!
I realize it's a big generalization, and I'm not saying girls or boys are better. I'm just saying I think a boy is better for me, right now, and for what I want him to do.
My puppy will be named for Detroit Tigers great Al Kaline. His "call name" anyway—his official registered name is still up in the air. Al Kaline is in the Hall of Fame, hit 399 home runs over his career, won a batting title at the tender age of 20, and played on the 1968 World Champions. He is also a complete class act, known as Mr. Tiger. He is a constant presence around the current Tigers. In case it wasn't obvious, the Tigers are my favorite team!