Written by Samary Birkline, © 2020
In 1997 I wrote my parents a document, entitled 101 Reasons Why I Need a Big Dog. To date, it remains the most life-impacting document I’ve ever written. I was sixteen. My father grew up in livestock and scaled down the farmers’s education to fit into our suburban life: Miniature Dachshunds. Though they were great dogs, they were my parents’ choice in breed; not mine. I had my sights set on a much larger canine. A neighborhood family we knew kept a gorgeous purebred black hunting Labrador that I obsessed over. I spent countless hours in their backyard with that dog. When I begged for one, I was told that they shed too much for my sister, who was allergic to pet dander. My aunt had a Doberman, and my father had fallen in love with him during a trip.
My parents drove me almost an hour. I lost my sense of direction; had no idea where we got her. I wish I could find the kennel now. I was so awestruck by my surprise birthday present, that I forgot to note where they’d found her. Roxy was a black and rust female of the rarest kind. She was thicker than the American standard, but she was, as I recall, not a European cross. Back then, they called it a “warlock” trait. Though I’ve heard it “debunked”, warlock Dobermans were quality Dobermans, that tended to be on the thicker side. She was short like an American, but thick like the European trends. She had a majestic head, intelligent eyes, and a beautiful disposition.
Raising Roxie was a breeze. She was the noble, smart kind of dog who wanted to touch me at every moment. A true Velcro dog, a trait most Doberman owners understand well. This kind of dog will go to awkward lengths to touch their favorite person(s). For some, just this contact goes far beyond love. Roxie taught me how to worship; another Doberman trait most owners enjoy.
“Love is eighty pounds sitting on your foot, just to be near you.”– Mike Marburger
I won’t suggest that Roxie was the easiest or even the best Doberman I’ve ever owned. She possessed the potential to be, but I was a green Doberman owner, and there were so many things I had to learn along the way. For instance, when my mother and I spent six months sewing a pristine crushed velvet Renaissance costume, I learned that even though she was getting bigger, she still wanted to be a lapdog. We indulged her. She never did stop climbing up into my lap.
When I traveled to Europe for almost three weeks, when she was just a one year old, she stayed behind in our home with my parents. Upon my return, I learned that Dobermans are incredibly sensitive creatures. Roxie had searched for me for several days, finally settling in my closet to be close to my smell. When I didn’t return in what she felt was an appropriate amount of time, she shredded the costume. She didn’t look at me for a week after I returned, teaching me about the Doberman tendency to carry grudges short distances, then drop them without prejudice just days later.
She taught me that Dobermans are working dogs, too. When she felt she didn’t have enough work to do, she would give herself a job. Roxy’s self-appointed jobs included barking and fence lunging at the dogs next door, along with digging holes in the backyard. Trying to break her of those habits taught me that Dobermans can be stubborn when they think they’re the alpha. Research about being the alpha in a human-dog pack culminated in a literal bark-off with her after which, she was much better behaved, especially after she was given appropriate amounts of exercise for her high-energy breed.
Despite her puppyhood challenges, Shamrock’s Roxanna Valentino was incredibly special. She was a joy to be around; comedian and companion with the heart of a champion. She had another Doberman trait I can’t categorize as a true bad habit. Roxy sucked her blankie, and by that, I mean that over the course of a few months, the dog would turn any blanket into Swiss cheese. I couldn’t keep her in a bed, and at the time, I had no idea I was fighting her very nature. As I’d later learn with my subsequent Dobermans, it’s just a Doberman thing. I now offer beds that fit firmly in the crate, along with a supplemental sucking blankie to all my Dobermans.
As teenager, Roxie went everywhere with me. From my good friend’s houses to my sister’s apartment in the nearby city of College Station, Texas. I remember clearly planning to attend Texas A&M with my older sister and getting to know her neighbors upstairs. They had a dog who often played with mine, and since both dogs were unquestionably trustworthy, on one Sunday night they had both front doors open to allow the dogs to come and go. I remember packing up my truck, getting ready to make the drive back to Houston, and Roxy had taken the last few moments of her time to scurry upstairs to say farewell to her buddies. I finished packing my car, gave my sister hugs goodbye, and climbed into the car. The first thing I did was put my seat belt on, then rolled down my driver’s side window. In my busyness, I momentarily forgot Roxy, backing out of my parking spot and driving towards the exit of the complex. Still fully visible from the apartment balcony where she stood, I applied the brake, then backed the car up with the apartment building on the driver’s side. I reached for my seat belt so I could get out to call her, but by the time my right hand touched the button, Roxie sailed in through my open window. She cleared the doorway, aimed her way flawlessly passed my body, and landed in the passenger’s seat. She turned around, side-eyed me, then licked her lips to say, “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird. Let’s go.” She would have excelled in agility.
As a breeder, I’m often asked if Dobermans need special training to protect their owner. To answer this, I’ll finish my personal testimony about Roxy. After I graduated high school, I moved back in with my aforementioned sister in a very small duplex she’d previously lived in with a roommate. Her roommate moved out and I moved in, bringing Roxy with me. Though, family and friends helped me to move they naturally went home, leaving us alone on that first night together. We had a great time and went to bed late.
I awoke with a start as Roxie stiffened in bed. Her body was trembling, but she was alert, quietly staring towards the door jamb. At three years old, typically Roxy didn’t shake much unless she was wet and humiliated in the bathtub, so her body language spoke loudly to me. She wore a very serious expression, so I followed her gaze to the door, gasping when before me stood one of the largest men I had ever seen. For a moment he was looking at me, but after comprehending what he’d walked into, he only had eyes for Roxy.
In a split second, she shot off the bed and chased him down the hall, through the living room and cut off his retreat to the door. He headed into the kitchen and tried to hide behind our tiny, three-legged glass-top breakfast table. With her heading off the stranger, I was able to pull on some jeans and like a ten-foot-tall, bullet proof young person, I thundered angrily into the kitchen. “Who the hell are you, and what the f**k are you doing in my apartment?!” He stuttered out that he was the maintenance man, and I called back my dog, hollering for him never to come inside my apartment again without permission, then let him run.
One of the most eerie things about the incident was that Roxy, normally a fairly vocal dog, never made a sound. She didn’t bite him or growl. The only threat she ever made was with her teeth, bared from underneath trembling flews. My deep-sleeping sister slept through nearly the whole episode; aware only at the end, when my yelling woke her.
It wasn’t until twenty years later, when I’d grown up, married a pessimist, and told my husband the story of my first Doberman that I began to consider that the huge man, who’d been standing ominously in my doorway, that morning hadn’t been who he said he was. I had been such a naive young college student that I hadn’t stopped to ask myself if I had ever seen the man again. Once my husband challenged me to remember my next encounter with the “maintenance man”. The complex had only eight to twelve units, so only one skilled man would have been required. The truth is that I never have been able to recall another time I saw that man after that morning, and the regular man was a slight, small-framed man; nowhere near the stature of the invader.
The truth about Dobermans is that they are not the vicious attack dogs that the media sometimes portrays, neither are they leisure dogs. They are working dogs, and in most cases, they will assign the protection of their favorite person(s) at the top of their list of serious duties. Though training is usually required to form the necessary bond between dog and handler, the Doberman doesn’t require training to know intuitively when things aren’t right. It’s important to note that not every Doberman would have approached the situation the same way my Roxy did. Some would have let him leave. Some might have stayed by my side, loudly chased him, or even bitten the intruder. The idea is that the breed can be relied upon to deter crime, and in most cases, make fairly descent self-authorized decisions in order to protect their humans.
It’s almost impossible to write an article about Dobermans (even just a specific one) without mentioning their goofy inside, noble outside nature. To the outsider, most Dobermans are noble, proud, precision-protection machines, unchallenged in their authority. But once those dogs disappear inside the family home, most of them earn the well-used nickname in the Doberman community: Doberdork. They’re comedians by nature; goof-balls who are often frightened of ridiculous items, like balloons and raindrops, yet suddenly killer dinosaurs when announcing the mail has come for the day. They are hilarious pack animals, with diva-like natures, who keep their loved ones on their toes and laughing.
I’d move heaven and earth to acquire another Royalmead Doberman. Through my twenties and early thirties, I lived in apartments; not facilities conducive to responsible breeding. Naturally, I retired my stock to pets. During my hiatus, my line perished, and their genes are lost to me now. But over the years, I’ve developed a program I believe worthy of her memory. Roxy is on my mind often, and what I might be like today if that list of reasons I needed a big dog hadn’t worked on my parents. As a breeder, I strive to produce the same kind of companion she was for me, and provide that kind of experience with others. Through temperament and genetic testing, wise pairings, consistency,and training, The Kennel Birkline believes every Doberman owner should have the Birkline Experience.