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Love and Responsibility

February 02, 1986|VICKI HEARNE

Dr. Helen Anderson and Dr. Helen Ranney have a noble Doberman pinscher named Bismarck. He is a splendid representative of one of the first animals bred specifically for companion-dog work. That means Dobies are bred for the kinds of courage also known as gentleness and love.

Unfortunately, not all of Bismarck's neighbors know this. Anderson takes him on a morning walk each day. On their route are a number of other dogs who have seen the wrong movies about Dobies, and those dogs tend to make accusatory remarks to Bismarck. They are not stupid; the fear of Dobermans is all too easy to understand in light of the bad press they've received.

One of the dogs who used to make unpleasant remarks to Bismarck was a female golden retriever. Bismarck never returned the insults; he is a nobleman and forgives others for their poor judgment. Besides, male dogs usually know that when a female takes pains to insult them, it means she's interested. I have tried to explain this to a number of male humans, in attempts to bring peace to certain relationships. I usually fail, but this little golden succeeded.

One morning the goldie was in the house instead of the backyard when Anderson and Bismarck came by, and the front door was open. The goldie charged out, and her owner was terrified, both because she was sure Bismarck would kill her dog, and because if Bismarck should fail to kill her, she was bound to be killed by a car--there is a lot of traffic on that street.

What happened was that Bismarck fell instantly in love and leaped forward to hug the goldie around the neck with his front legs, thus simultaneously saving her life and opening a deep relationship.

But Bismarck's nobility doesn't always manifest itself quite the way you might expect. Bismarck is a trickster. At least, that's what some say. I say he worries about the moral soundness of his human charges. He feels that people should be up and about bright and early, so he sometimes goes about the house, poking any exposed bits of sleeping human he finds with a cold, wet nose and insists that he needs to go outside, that it is urgent . As soon as everyone is up, Bismarck goes back to bed and relaxes.

Some of his detractors say that he isn't as honest as he ought to be. When Ranney is undressing, Bismarck waits alertly by the bed, hoping that some piece of clothing will be left there. Quite often there is, and he nabs it and takes it to his bed, for extra comfort as well as entertainment. The reason he doesn't do so with Anderson is that this habit of his has caused her to become much tidier. Bismarck explained to me that he does this because he believes that his beloved Dr. Ranney would be happier if she kept her wardrobe in better order. Ranney claims that she is quite happy just as she is, but as I've said, Bismarck is from a line bred for serious responsibility and companionship.

Also, Bismarck's bloodlines are American almost from the word go, and his breeders, Judy and Edward Weiss of Levittown, N.Y., tend to breed for a somewhat "softer" dog than German breeders do. Germany is the location of a splendid tradition of serious dog training, and German breeders and trainers tend to prefer a "sharper" dog. That doesn't mean that German-bred Dobies are nasty--far from it.

The truth is a funny thing. I was talking with a friend who asked my advice about what sort of dog to get. She wanted a large dog that would be easy to train and groom, safe around her children, and a reliable protector. I said she was describing a Dobie. She believed me, but said she couldn't get over her irrational terror of the dogs. She grew up in Nazi Germany, and remembers Hitler spreading propaganda to the effect that Dobies were of impure blood and therefore vicious and unstable. His generals used Dobermans in World War II, of course, as did the U.S. Marines, but Hitler's anti-Dobie speeches appear to have occurred before war broke out.

In any event, a good Dobie from any line is a dog I'd choose if I had a child who needed a reliable pal.

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