By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
If you're looking for an athletic, energetic dog who's also affectionate, sociable and protective — or at least fancies himself as a protector — the shaggy, adorable affenpinscher might be the canine companion for you.
Also described as funny, loving and loyal, these pups are a good example of the diminutive dogs that think they're much larger and more intimidating than they really are. After all, "toy" versions of the affenpinscher breed, at their tallest, stand less than a foot high and weigh in at between 6 and 13 pounds. According to Vetstreet:
"This is an inquisitive and intelligent little dog. He's generally quiet, but anything or anyone who seems threatening will set him to barking a warning. When it comes to big dogs, he has no sense and will take them on at the least opportunity. In these cases, it's essential to protect him from himself."1
However, affenpinschers have the interesting moniker "mustachioed devil" in France because they're the bane of rodents of all kinds. People who have a mouse problem have found that it doesn't take long for these dogs to take care of them in short order. That's further proof that there's more "bite" to their "bark" than one may first suppose.
Not a big barker, necessarily, but smart and alert, that combination gives them what they need in the way of protecting their favorite humans. Rather than being temperamental, it's their highly observant and even vigilant nature that makes them effective watchdogs, even if they don't have the bulk to back it up.
Affenpinscher History and Characteristics
It probably comes as no surprise that affenpinschers originated in Germany. The Pinscher Klub was founded in 1895, and the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1936.
The upheaval of World War II almost destroyed the breed in Germany, but breeding them with the Brussels Griffons kept that from happening. The name translates to "monkeylike terrier" because the breed was just as much of a hit for organ grinders as monkeys were, which again hints at their "personality plus" characteristics.
But their looks also reveal how the nickname came about. Their wiry coats are usually black but can be black and tan, silver-gray, red or a mix, with hairy, ewok-like faces, a beard and walrus-type mustache and bushy eyebrows. Adding to their precocious look are dark, round, wide-set eyes nearly flanking a pushed-in, upturned nose.
Interestingly, the affenpinscher's history includes a concentrated effort to breed the affenpinscher down in size, which took place in the late 18th or early 19th century in order to make them more companionable pets for ladies.
That goes along with the directive to make sure these dogs always live indoors, never outdoors. It should be noted that affenpinschers are noted for being gregarious and almost without fear. In fact, the history of being a "ratting" breed — being bred for the express purpose of going after rodents such as mice and rats — is integral to their temperaments.
The term "pinscher" means "terrier," and a terrier, the American Kennel Club notes, is known not only for being feisty and energetic, but as having "little tolerance for other animals, including other dogs. Their ancestors were bred to hunt and kill vermin."2
Vetstreet assigns recognition for the attributes of pet breeds. Keeping the above information in mind, it's important to note that this impacts their relationship to other small animals, as well as children. In the "star" category, affenpinschers get three out of five for being cat or dog friendly (strangers, as well), but only one of five for children.
That's not to say they won't work, if they're raised with other animals and children as puppies, to understand how to interact with cat or dog siblings, and as for children, it's not necessarily the pup that's the problem but a natural reaction that could take place if a toddler should grab at them or hurt them, which is easy to do due to their small size.
As the formerly referenced "lap dog" of the aristocratic ladies of continental Europe of a bygone age, affenpinschers were often carried everywhere and seldom allowed to walk long enough to develop their leg muscles. In contrast, the breed nowadays is fully capable of being athletic enough to compete in agility courses, as well as obedience and rally events. They thrive on it and are very obedient, well-mannered and eager to please.
Even if they (or you) aren't up for extreme sports, a daily walk is excellent for both your health and theirs. On the whole, whatever level of activity you adapt yourself to, your affen will cheerfully adapt right along with you, whether it's hiking in Colorado, a camping trip or chasing balls at the shore. Their size makes them easy to transport and take nearly anywhere as a traveling companion. Caring for Affenpinchers is fairly straightforward.
The previously described wiry coat may have some feathering, and the hairs, being relatively short but somewhat shaggy, will need regular grooming with a brush — and perhaps regular visits with a dog groomer who will use a number of tools to maintain a neat-looking coat.
Affenpinschers are described as generally healthy, but knee problems related to luxating patellas are a common orthopedic problem in small dogs such as these. In addition, the dog may develop skin problems that may cause them to lose fur on their flanks.
Affenpinschers, Ear-Cropping and Ethics
While some dog-dedicated sites will say affenpinschers' and other dogs' ears (as well as tails) can be cropped or natural, as was (and still is, unfortunately) "accepted" as a matter of course for the breed when the puppies are only weeks to 4 or 5 months old, there's finally a question of ethics in such practices. Terrific Pets notes:
"Those that are against the practice ask why puppies are put through the painful surgery if the procedure is not medically necessary. In fact, the practice has been banned in countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, South Africa and Germany."3
While dog lovers lament that as long as kennel club judges approve of and even prefer dogs with cropped ears over natural ears, the practice will continue. Thankfully, empathy and common sense is curbing the popularity of unnecessary vanity procedures for the sake of winning a beauty contest. Terrific Pets is careful to note that cropped ears require suturing and taping for a minimum of three weeks and that, while healing, they are "very prone"4 to infection.
And after all is said and done, the cropping in an attempt to get your dog's ears to be "perky" may not even work or may be distorted, leading to a need for additional surgery. It should be noted that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) now opposes both ear and tail cropping of dogs.5 In conclusion, remember that when you love your dog, you'll do everything you can to protect them and ensure their safety and well-being.
Only in that way can they be the sweet, loyal, happy and healthy pets they were meant to be. There are many lovable affenpinschers looking for forever homes right now; visit your local affenpinscher rescue organization to find the right one for you.